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Tips for Face-to-Face Recruiting of International Students

The Challenge of International Recruiting

Just showing up at an international career fair is no longer enough to attract international students to your program. You need to have a strategy, a message, and direct answers to many tough questions.

Liz Reisberg knows this from experience. She has been the executive director of The MBA Tour since its inception in 1992. Headquartered in Massachusetts, the company hosts career fairs, seminars, and admissions forums so that business school representatives and potential students in Asia, Latin America, and now the United States, can meet. (About 45 business schools meet 500 potential students at each fair.)

Why do people pursue MBA programs abroad? GMAC learned from Global MBA Graduate Survey 2004 that graduates in the MBA class of 2004 who studied internationally chose to do so because they felt—

  • the quality of the education abroad is better than in their own country
  • they would have better career opportunities in another country
  • international education would broaden their international and cultural experience
  • the international reputation of the given school would be an asset to them
  • the value of the international degree is higher than one from their own countries

As we have recently seen in the GMAC Application Trends Survey, there has been a serious decline in the number of international applicants to business school. Last year, U.S. business schools were experiencing the drop off, but now schools worldwide are seeing a dramatic reduction of their international applicant pool. Some of the change can be explained by population trends that have caused a smaller number of people within the age range of the typical business school student, but other reasons people may not apply internationally include—

  • a growing number of options for attending a high-quality program in their home countries
  • job growth in their home countries
  • difficulties obtaining study visas
  • the cost of the education and relocating to another country
  • the difficulty of finding a job in a country where one is not authorized to work
  • doubts about the MBA degree’s return on investment

Five Tips for Successful Recruiting

Reisberg suggests some strategies for face-to-face recruiting of international students that take into account people's concerns about the value and utility of international MBA study: 

1. Differentiate your program. Potential international applicants find it difficult to distinguish among MBA programs and often don’t know what to ask. Describe your program’s philosophy and practices. Tell prospective students, for example, whether your program uses case method instruction, whether your students are required to travel abroad, and the size of your typical classes. Also, describe the school culture and the opportunities students have to get to know each other; these are important aspects of the business school, especially to potential applicants who may be wondering how they will fit in and whether they will have the opportunity to network and form lasting relationships with their colleagues.

2. Communicate your message clearly. Have international students review your website, brochures, and other marketing collateral for clarity and tone. In person, try not to use idiom, slang, and sports analogies when describing your program; this kind of informal and very culture-specific communication may be confusing, or even off-putting to potential international applicants. If prospective applicants don’t understand the business school representative at a school fair, how confident will they be about keeping up in the classroom? Plus, when you communicate clearly and directly, you seize an opportunity to connect with prospective applicants and say something they will remember.

Make sure your answers to prospective applicants’ questions are specific, factual, and concrete. Avoid answering questions with “it depends.” Many international students find “it depends” confusing and irksome, particularly in light of their very real concerns about the benefits of earning an international degree. Be honest with them, and make sure their expectations—and your statements—are grounded in reality.

3. Exercise the power of anecdotes. Potential international students like to know how former students are using their MBA degree. To do this, involve your regional alumni and current students in the recruiting process. They can help at in-person recruiting events and by hosting informal gatherings, speaking with potential students one on one, and hosting online chats.

4. Advertise financial aid and loan programs. The cost of study abroad is often a major obstacle for potential international students. In an informal survey of MBA admissions directors, Reisberg found that schools are trying to meet international students’ financial needs: 97% of the schools responding to her survey award financial aid to international students, and half of those have made these financial aid opportunities available to international students within the past five years. Schools that have loan programs that don’t require cosigners are especially appealing to international students.

5. Answer questions about post-MBA employment directly. One of the biggest reservations potential international students have about going to school abroad, said Reisberg, is their fear that they will not find a job outside their home country once they graduate. This fear is justifiable. A year ago, the Corporate Recruiters Survey, a global survey of MBA employers, revealed a strong and pervasive preference on the part of recruiters to hire only people authorized to work in the country where they would be employed. That hiring practice can make it very difficult for recent MBA graduates who require work visas to find jobs in the countries where they studied.

Reisberg acknowledges that answering questions about job opportunities for international students outside their country of citizenship is tough. She suggests that business schools share data about their own international students, including where they have found employment in the past few years. Sometimes the best approach may be to encourage prospective applicants to study internationally but then return to their home countries to find jobs. Highlight how your school alumni network can help graduates find jobs, particularly in their home countries. The more factual information you can give, the better—even if the information you have is anecdotal.

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Finally, when you are recruiting international students, learn as much as you can about their countries’ cultural, social, economic, and political environments, said Reisberg. Business schools that participate in the full package of The MBA Tour spend two weeks in seminars learning about different cultures and meeting influential people in each region.

If you are interested in joining The MBA Tour, contact for more information.


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