Mixers vs Panels for Budget Challenged MBA Programs

Troy Hopkins

by: Troy Hopkins
MBA Career Development Specialist
Rockwell Career Center, C. T. Bauer College of Business
University of Houston

I have mentioned the power of relationship development in advancing the job search in previous articles.  One of the challenges on my particular campus is getting employers out to campus to interact with MBAs to network. As those in Career Services know, hosting Mixer type events for students and employers to meet that are worth attending costs money. Food and Drinks (often just desserts and soft drinks) can be expensive. Guess work on how many students will show up makes planning these events difficult at best.  Because of budgetary issues, we often would ask employers to pay to come to the event. While a lot of companies make this part of their recruiting budget, it still seemed like an awkward conversation at times: “We would love to have XYZ Industries come to our campus to network with our MBAs! Oh and that will be $50 to do so… Hello? Hello?”

After a few semesters of lackluster results, we decided to move a different direction: Panel discussions focused around specific industries.

So for this semester, rather than hosting one mixer for MBAs and asking employers to come network, we are hosting multiple panel discussions throughout the semester: Oil & Gas, Real Estate, a Panel on Corporate Norms & Politics, Entrepreneurship, Marketing, & Supply Chain. In some cases we are partnering with student organizations for these events. No food, no drinks, and thus no overhead costs to cover. Just Q&A with industry professionals.

When we were calling for employers to come on campus to network at a Mixer, our success rate on cold calls was around 3%. You read that correctly. We called (and often re-called) 450 different employers from April 2009 to February 2010 and got 13 companies to show up for our March 2010 MBA Mixer.

For the panel discussions we often were able to book speakers on panels within 2 weeks of making initial inquiries. In some cases we have alternate panelists in case a panelist has to cancel at the last minute.

On the student side the feedback has been very positive. They are able to attend events in the fields that interested them and talk to professionals in these areas after the event. They do not have to guess if an employer from a specific industry will be at an event. In addition, based on RSVP numbers, we expect that the combined panels will greatly surpass the student turnout that a single networking event would have.

So if you are at a school where “Party on the Patio” is not a viable option due to budget constraints (but still need as many employers on campus as possible to positively impact placement numbers) you might look into the Panel format. I didn’t think that students would rather attend something closer to a class than a party, but they do surprise me from time to time. 🙂

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