How to keep your eyes on your own lane and not be distracted by classmates’ job/internship search success

By Ike Zhang, MBA 2021, Spring Fellow

For many of us, going to business school is a fresh start both personally and professionally. I came to Sloan as a way to pivot away from my career in management consulting at EY-Parthenon. While my time there was engaging and rewarding, I always felt a gravitation towards the arts, specifically film and television production and development. I knew that coming to business school was probably my best shot at breaking into this network-driven and insular industry. I also knew that this career path is one that would take a lot of patience and focus, particularly during the recruiting season. Keeping my eyes on my own lane and not being distracted by my classmates’ job/internship search success became one of my biggest challenges during the Spring semester of my first year at Sloan.

Like it or not, recruiting is a large part of the MBA journey. Regardless if you are pursuing an internship in the more structured fields such as banking or consulting, or taking a completely independent path in start-ups, or fall somewhere in between, there’s no question that it’s a stressful endeavor. This stress is often accentuated by your fellow classmates on the ‘highway’ recruiting path, who hear back from their respective firms in the late Fall or early Spring. While we cheer for the successes of our peers and congratulate them on their offers, we also feel the impending pressure from the conclusion of their recruiting cycles.

It is not uncommon for us to begin questioning our own processes: ‘am I not doing the right things?’, ‘am I not networking enough or talking to the right people?’, ‘I should have applied to those jobs…now it’s too late’. Those thoughts raced through my head last year as my friends locked up their summer internship plans left and right, while my recruiting process for entertainment was largely still in the beginning stages. There were moments where that anxiety made me question if I had made the right decision, and whether I should have recruited for more established firms with structured internship processes just in case…especially considering the uncertainty around Covid-19 and budget cuts within Hollywood.

I remember vividly during early March of last year, frantically calling my parents, my mentors, and anyone who would listen, to talk about my situation. I had just begun first-round interviews with entertainment companies, but several of them had told me that their internship process was on pause until they figured out how to deal with the coronavirus pandemic. It was a mad scramble of emailing firms that I’d applied to, indicating my ‘continued interest’ in their company, and trying to confirm that there would still be some sort of an internship program. It took me a few days, but I finally was able to center myself after many conversations and some time for self-reflection. Here are my key takeaways from that wild week:

  1. I had the benefit of knowing exactly what I wanted professionally post-Sloan; reminding myself why I wanted to get my MBA helped me re-focus my efforts.
  2. The timeline for recruiting is different depending on the industry you pursue. I knew this going in. While circumstances are unique with a pandemic, the recruiting schedule has not changed. I was never going to get an entertainment internship in February or March, regardless if there was Covid-19 or not. Most non-traditional industries give offers starting in late March, some as late as June.
  3. There are many others who were in the same boat I was – those looking for jobs in consumer/retail, tech/startups etc. Seek them out. Help each other!
  4. There are resources (e.g., The CDO, Martin Trust Center, Media Lab, alumni connections etc.) within Sloan and the greater MIT community that are there to help navigate this process.
  5. Worst case scenario – you can find creative ways to craft internships with people within your network.

Continuing to remind myself why I decided to get my MBA ultimately became my most helpful tool in re-focusing my efforts from distractions. There will always be temptations and enticing opportunities, not just in business school, but in life in general. While it’s easy to be swayed by the success of your peers, it’s important to realize the path you’re on is likely not the same as your classmates’. By focusing on those who’ve gotten early job offers, you overlook all the other students (current and previous) who are in the same situation as you are – pursuing a career track that is less traditional and less structured. Thousands of students and alumni in the past have been in your shoes and have found their path, one way or another.
Don’t let temporary anxiety and stress distract you from your ultimate goals. At the end of the day, you’re not alone, there are many Sloanies in the same circumstances as you are, with the same anxiety and dealing with the same stress. Last year many of us formed a WhatsApp group chat as moral support, encouraging each other on our recruiting process and sharing resources. I encourage you to do the same.

I ultimately got my offer with Paramount Pictures in early April as an MBA film marketing strategy intern. All of my friends in that group chat also got jobs in their respective fields, some as late as June. Keeping your sights on what you want is a large part of your development in business school. At the end of the day, everything will work itself out, just be patient and don’t lose focus.

Ike Zhang is a 2Y MBA and a Spring Core Fellow at MIT Sloan.

By Ike Zhang, MBA '21
Ike Zhang, MBA '21 *Spring Fellow