Nearly a third of students in some of the top MBA programs are international, which offers great professional and cultural diversity and enriches the classroom experience. But sometimes, international students face unique challenges during recruiting, when it comes time to start networking with potential employers.
Culture Shock, a new student group recently launched by second-year MBA students at the Michigan Ross School of Business, uses role play, one-on-one chats, and detailed tips to help boost the comfort level of international students during this stressful experience.
Taylor Johnson launched the group in partnership with fellow second-year MBA students Abhi Das and Parker Caldwell and said the idea for the group sprung from a year of chatting with her international student friends.
“One of the most enriching parts of coming to Ross has been meeting so many people from all over the world,” Johnson explained. “And as I became friends with international students and we were going through recruiting, we were all dealing with a lot of the same challenges.
“The challenges of recruiting are often amplified for those coming from other cultures, especially for non-native speakers. If it was hard for me, it was even harder for international students,” Johnson added.
The majority of international students at U.S. MBA programs come from Asia, where the cultural differences related to networking are stark. However, even European or Latin American students often find it awkward to send introductory emails or chat up strangers at networking events, even though both practices are commonplace in the job-search process in this country.
“My friends from Latin America will say that things are very informal there and it’s all about conversation and connections,” said Johnson. “It’s much more to the point in the U.S.”
Business school career centers do worry that these cultural differences can put international students at a disadvantage during their internship and job searches. But, through forums discussing communication differences, coaching workshops designed to help students develop elevator pitches for potential employers, and mock-interviews to troubleshoot areas of weakness, many of today’s MBA programs are making the networking customs of the U.S. much less daunting for international students.
Cultural acclimation can challenge even the most well-traveled individuals, but international MBA students have much to offer their American peers, and learning how to network “American-style” will put them on equal footing with their classmates when competing for those prime employment opportunities.
However, as Johnson points out, “This isn’t just ‘here’s how to recruit in America.’ This is about valuing each other’s culture and helping our international peers bring forth the richness of diversity in the recruiting process. We’re at an interesting time in our country and diversity is really important. The more that we can support that, the better off we’ll all be as people and the better off our community will be as a whole.”