An Interview with Sunshine Singer, MBA Career Advisor

Sunshine Singer’s experience gives her a unique perspective on recruiting, and informs how she works with students who come in for advising appointments at MBACM. The Journal sat done with Sunny to get a better sense of what her past experience taught her about recruiting, and what advice she has from working with MBAs – on both sides of ‘the interview’ – as recruiting season begins in earnest.

Sho Shetty: For those who haven’t met you, can you give a quick overview of your background?

Sunny Singer: I started as an auditor out of undergrad. After I realized that wasn’t going to be my career, I interviewed for HR roles and got offers from McKinsey and Goldman Sachs. Ultimately, I accepted GS’s offer, and began as an MBA recruiter. Over the next 10 years, my role expanded until I ended up as the Vice President of MBA/Undergrad/Experienced Hire Recruiting and the Analyst Program.

Sho: And, what made you decide to leave that life and come to Wharton?

Sunny: After my second child, I decided to leave GS and spend more time with my kids. Maryellen Lamb used to have my job and was going on maternity leave; since we had become friends through MBA recruiting events at Wharton over the years, she asked if I’d be interested in covering for her, which I was. There were a few more one-off events – Resumanias, Mock Interviews, things like that – that I was invited to before accepting a full-time job with Wharton.

Sho: So, you’ve gotten to see MBA students from both sides of recruiting. What have you observed from your experience? What do you think is most important for students to think about as they get ready for recruiting?

Sunny: It’s most important to be prepared and do your homework. There are a couple of ways to focus your recruiting efforts to make sure you wow them when you get your interviews:

  • Bring in your Authentic Self: Employers want to hire achievement-oriented people first and foremost. But, at a place like Wharton where that’s not limited, they also want people that they just like. They want interesting people, those who their clients will like and their peers will like. Likability is usually under-emphasized in recruiting because it seems like it’s random. But, it really goes a long way. There’s an easy way to be likeable for recruiting – talk about *you*. It’s easy to create a pitch, but employers a lot of times want you to go deeper than the practiced/memorized speech. Because, they hear that speech from so many candidates! So, talk about where you grew up; work in your likes and dislikes; talk about the unique parts of your story as part of your pitch. The more authentic and genuine you are, the more memorable you are to an employer. And, that’s what makes the difference in a lot of times when resumes are pretty even.
  • Show Firms You are Interested: If you really want a job at a company, you really need to work hard to make sure they know you do. The easiest way to do this is to meet as many people from the firm as you can. Go to the events (Editor’s note: more on this later in the interview!), connect with alumni at the firm, get to know more about the specific office/group/geography that you’re interested in. Another great opportunity to show interest is to ask questions. Whether it’s at the end of the EIS or during a coffee chat, you’ll be expected to ask questions. And, a tip for these is to get to know the person in the room as well as the company. That is, ask them about their decisions, their career, their challenges. People love talking about themselves. And, honestly, it gives them a better impression of how the interaction went. They come out of the meeting thinking “I really answered that question well” or “I really feel good about how that went” which has a halo effect on your candidacy.
  • Be Honest with Yourself: Recruiting has an element of randomness. A lot of it is out of your control, despite how hard you work to prepare and get ready. If you aren’t getting invited to events or as deep into the interviewing process with firms as you’d like, don’t be in denial. Often, you can get a lot of information from the signals companies are sending you early on. Are people getting back to you? Do they want to help you? Are they being an advocate for you? If you haven’t been getting invited, either you need to course correct or you need to expand your search. Your advisors are here to help. We’ve been doing this for a long time, and we have experience working with students who aren’t getting the results they want. And, it’s easier/more helpful to have those conversations in December, rather than February.

Sho: How would you advise students prepare for various recruiting events to make the most out of their opportunities with employers?

Sunny: Before the interview, there are two main recruiting events students should prepare for (and prepare differently for): the EIS and the coffee chat/informational phone call.

For the EIS, don’t worry about making a huge impression; just don’t make a bad impression. A lot of students who aren’t familiar with recruiting in the U.S. tend to have a lot of anxiety about the EIS. They’re worried that if they don’t make their mark with the employer, they’re going to lose an opportunity to interview with the firm. But, that’s just not the case. In many cases, the EIS is an opportunity for the firm to see how you interact with your peers. Are you polite and conscientious? Or do you dominate speaking time? Try to leave them with at best a good impression and at worst a neutral/no impression.

The coffee chat is the first real chance for you to make an impression. This is something that you really want to prepare for and focus on how you’re going to be evaluated by those across the table from you. There is some information-gathering component (that is, where you ask questions about the firm and them), but mostly this is their first chance to really evaluate you. The goal for the coffee chat should be for you to walk away with starting a relationship with that employer.

Sho: Do you have a list of “Absolute Do not Dos” from being an MBA Recruiter

Sunny: There are just a few “absolute don’ts” that I would recommend:

  • Don’t write the wrong company/person name
  • Don’t blast the whole firm with the same thank you email; they all send it to the same person (that used to be me once)
  • For the EIS specifically:
    • Don’t be someone who stands right next to the employee the entire Q&A and monopolize their time
    • Don’t barge into a conversation, and make sure you’re polite and courteous to your fellow MBA students
    • Don’t be too casual, even if everyone is wearing jeans or makes it feel like it’s a very casual company (they are still evaluating you)