Career Advisor: Refining Your Target List

By Lee Ettleman ‘15

Lee Ettleman '15

Lee Ettleman '15

Picture this. It’s about a week after Thanksgiving and you’re fast asleep, dreaming about the ski trip. You’re heading down the slopes, not a care in the world (except perhaps that someone discovers that Taylor Swift song in your iTunes playlist). Then, you notice a dense forest to your left. As you get closer, the trees morph into stacks of resumes – one pile for each of the 30-something companies to which you’re applying. Terrified, you turn to ski the other way. But to your right, you notice a wide abyss – the no-man’s-land of missed opportunity. As dream turns to nightmare, you wonder – how can I get through here alive?

One question many first-years ask is to how many firms they should apply. Too few, and you could miss the right firm for you; too many, and you’ll be overwhelmed. With application deadlines around the corner, now is the time to refine your target list. In this article I’ll discuss how to strike the right balance.

Know what’s important to you

This part you’ve heard before, but it’s worth repeating. Take stock of what’s truly important for you. What’s the right combination of industry, role, geography, salary, culture and prestige? You’re in a better place now than you were a month ago to know where the trade-offs are. And of course, don’t forget to value your own time. If 30+ firms fit your criteria, you’ll need to draw the line somewhere to keep yourself sane.

Have a compelling story for each company

One method, both to add firms not already considered, and to remove firms you thought were important, is forcing yourself to verbalize your answer “why are you right for this firm?” It isn’t enough to just like the industry and geography – you should have some specific story from your past that linked to something unique this firm wants. Telling this sell story convincingly is an amazing tool for refining your list.

Watch your blind spots

Depending on how your industry and career interests evolved in the first few weeks of b-school, you may have inadvertently put blinders on and are ignoring another field or set of companies where you’d be a great fit. Now’s one of your last chances to re-evaluate. Did you rush into consulting without considering that internal strategy might be your cup of tea? Did you focus on the big names that come on campus, without seeking out a few hidden gems off-campus?

Remember to breathe

If after doing all this, you still end up with a lengthy list – that’s fine! Yes, you may end up with a busier winter than others, but the important thing is that you’re giving yourself all the chances you need to be successful. And if your list ends up shorter – again, there’s no magic number. Chances are, you have a very targeted set of criteria – there’s no sense applying to places you wouldn’t consider working anyway.