Darden just yesterday released its acceptances for the first round applicants in the admissions process. A student named Katie, whom I first met in Boston at the recommendation of a friend, was accepted. I’m so proud of her and of Darden for recognizing her talent. Though I never saw Katie’s application, I was confident she would get in because her approach to applying to Darden demonstrated to me a deeper character to which I was attracted. I believe the same approach Katie took to getting into Darden will serve her well in her job search and will reveal to employers skills that employers are seeking. So what are the skills that employers seek?
First, prospective employers want applicants who are focused. When a job search applicant can articulate what she wants and what she can do for the company, the employer begins to imagine the applicant within their organization and how that person will fit in. When I first met Katie, she clearly articulated why business school and why Darden. I got the impression of a woman who knew what she wanted and had a good idea of how to get there. Most importantly, she gave me the impression (I had no doubt that) she would get there.
Second, prospective employers want applicants who are prepared. Companies want to hire students that have done their homework, know their business and know to whom they are talking. As an employer, it makes you feel that the person values your time and as an employee would use her time with you and other senior leaders wisely. Again, when I met Katie, she had researched Darden, spoken to alumni, visited on her own and memorized the Web site. She knew how she would fit in and how she could contribute to the community. I began to think about how I could make sure she met the admissions director and the dean, because I knew she’d make a good impression.
Third, prospective employers want applicants who are inquisitive, critical thinkers. I heard a great quote a few months ago: “if you can Google the answer, you asked the wrong question.” As pointed out above, prospective employees need to be very prepared from all available sources of information about the company, so that their questions to the employer are focused on issues of why and demonstrate an interest and inquisitiveness that is sought after in the job. Katie’s research of Darden allowed our first discussions to be about how I felt about Darden, what I believed our opportunities (and challenges) were. Our conversation and her questions derived from the moment rather than from her predetermined list of questions. I could tell she was thinking on her feet and listening to me. As Darden is a case method school, I could imagine that she would ask questions in the classroom that would advance the discussion, not recall case facts.
Next, employers seek those who can build networks. A critical skill in most large organizations is the ability to build a lattice of networks — connecting to people across functional lines and hierarchical barriers, reaching out to potential customers and suppliers, and getting to know potential employees and alliances. I first became aware of Katie’s interest in Darden via email through a former acquaintance of mine and current colleague of Katie’s. Katie had obviously helped him make the connection. Then Katie cold called me, inviting me to “meet” her at the upcoming Boston reception. She then sought me out at the reception. Next she sent me a thank you note, recalling something clever I had said that deepened her interest in Darden. She scheduled a visit through the admissions department, contacted me to let me know she was coming and requested a minute or two to ask a few more questions. Then she followed up with a thank you note. You get the picture. The impression I am left with: this is a woman who networks naturally, has incredible social skills, and will get what she wants. She engendered in me a desire to advocate her candidacy. Let me be clear: it wasn’t that she checked the boxes of thank you notes and meetings. It was that she demonstrated a capacity to do that for Darden and for herself in the job search that gave me confidence she would be successful.
Finally, prospective employers want to be wanted. Nothing is more flattering than being desired. It’s human nature. At one of my former employers, if you couldn’t demonstrate in the interview process that this employer was your number one choice, you wouldn’t be hired. Katie wasn’t afraid to tell me genuinely that Darden was a top choice for her and why she liked it. I felt drawn to her and began to imagine her in the third row of Section D.
Now all I can say is she better say yes.