For MBAs with a passion for branding, a company that works with Fortune 500 companies could provide the perfect stage on which to apply a combination of creative and strategic skills.
Interbrand is one such company, and one known to take on MBAs for their strategy and verbal identity departments, even if they tend to avoid traditional MBA recruiting methods, such as coffee chats.
To learn more about Interbrand’s recruiting process and what they look for in MBA hires, we spoke to Kara Freedman, a talent acquisition partner with Interbrand’s New York office.
What makes Interbrand different from other consulting firms?
We have the pleasure of partnering with many Fortune 500 companies that, together, represent a myriad of sectors - financial services, telecommunications, automotive, CPG [Consumer packaged goods], nonprofits, Etc.
We pride ourselves in being able to serve clients such as these by excelling in both strategic and creative execution through our in-house team of highly talented consultants - all of whom are uniquely capable of balancing a strategic and creative perspective through a brand lens. Additionally, our focus on collaboration and partnership has fostered a distinct professional culture - one that highlights mentorship, motivation, and passion.
How does your MBA recruitment process work?
We have an MBA residency program that starts in the summer, for which the recruitment process kicks off in February, when we start to accept applications. While we position the opportunities across different channels, networks, and select universities, we remain open to other universities and interested candidates.
Selection is based around a standard three-round interview process that entails targeted and structured interviews addressing specific competencies and ways of working. We finish the interview process off with a tangible case study focusing on a brand in the marketplace, where we see how the candidates approach the challenge, before making offers to our final two summer residents.
The interview process is built to see how the candidates apply their respective backgrounds and experiences to the world of brand. To ensure we are benchmarking candidates accordingly, we’ve structured their interviews in both a behavioral and case-based approach. Doing so gives candidates a sense of what a ‘day-in-the-life’ of an Interbrand MBA resident could look like.
What are the most common job roles for MBA graduates at Interbrand?
Often, candidates who are straight out of business school become interested in opportunities within our strategy department. Our strategy consultants apply research methodologies (qualitative and/or quantitative), and identify trends and insights to build brand strategies.
In addition, we have had recent MBA graduates who love writing and creating content. They have found success in joining one of our ‘Verbal Identity’ teams, where they can utilize their creative writing backgrounds, along with their strategic chops. As members of the verbal identity team, they develop brand stories, messaging, names, and tone of voice for businesses across the board.
What do you look for when evaluating a candidate’s résumé and experience?
We have a pretty open mindset when it comes to a candidate’s previous professional experience. We want students who are eager to dig deep to help a brand with its challenges, or help it to seize opportunities.
Of course, an understanding of, or background in, consulting - or even a stint in the agency world - is ideal, as it better equips one to thrive in our fast-paced environment. However, we are open to those coming from the client side, nonprofits and other industry sectors. The key is how a candidate takes his/her previous experience and makes it transferrable, relevant, and needed for the success of Interbrand—and for the clients we serve.
To ensure our MBA residents come on board and are set up for success, we like them to have about three to five years of professional experience under their belts. We find this helps them to truly function as a contributing member on the greater Interbrand team.
How many MBA students do you typically recruit each year from the US? Globally?
We hire approximately two to three MBA residents per summer. We are selective so that we can create the best experience for the residents - and for our internal team. Our New York office is currently the largest office, with the largest strategy and verbal identity teams, so we have the backing and investment of our people to support the effort.
From a full-time perspective, Interbrand typically hires on a more needs-based basis, so our recruitment efforts largely depend on timing and where we need the resources. Other than our annual summer MBA residency program, we do not actively recruit MBAs, or have classes of people we bring on board on an annual basis. We do, however, currently have about 15-20 MBA graduates on staff.
Is MBA hiring up or down this year?
MBA hiring has remained consistent for us. We always say, ‘We would rather have two residents and execute the program the right way, than hire five residents and execute the program the wrong way.’ We are about creating a dual-value partnership for both Interbrand and for the residents themselves. As our business evolves, we will continue to improve the program to ensure it is the best experience for the residents and for our team.
Which business schools and MBA conferences do you recruit from and why?
Over the past four years, Interbrand has worked hard to build relationships with universities across the US. Overall, it has been an awesome and successful experience. Whether it’s due to leveraging alumni relationships with those who currently work for Interbrand, or a random connection due to networking, Interbrand has increased its presence on both undergrad and MBA campuses.
Annually, we do a bit of a ‘trek’ where our team visits various campuses to conduct presentations for a variety of students who are interested in learning more about the ‘Brand’. These universities have included Harvard, Yale, NYU Stern, and Columbia.
Given Interbrand’s unique business, culture, and hiring process, we typically steer away from the traditional campus recruitment processes, such as coffee chats, 'Super Day', etc. We are selective and we typically go after a more proactive and inherently brand-passionate candidate who understands and values the coveted opportunities on our team.
What should MBAs keep in mind when it comes to presenting their own personal brand?
Differentiate yourself from the pack. A lot of MBAs have similar backgrounds – financial services, consulting, etc. Come prepared to discuss what makes you different. Formulate and have an opinion. Stick to your convictions and be able to articulate them. At Interbrand, we do our best to not hire ‘DNA matches’ as we want to leverage different ways of thinking both internally and externally. Client challenges differ across the board and we’re pushing into new areas with our service offerings, so we want people who are going to help us get there.
What should MBAs avoid doing when approaching recruiters?
From my own personal experience in recruitment, it is great to show your interest and put yourself out there. It can, however, be taken too far. Some candidates can have misconceptions about how to approach the recruitment process and decide to reach out to as many recruitment team members as possible.
Our own recruitment, or Talent Acquisition, team creates a process and is here to make sure a candidate goes through the right channels. We advise any candidate to view Talent Acquisition as your partner so that you can optimize your candidate experience - and make it as efficient and seamless as possible. Internally, all of us on the Talent Acquisition team connect regularly and are very much aware of what each of us is working on. We just want to ensure that we aren’t duplicating our efforts.
What are the biggest misconceptions that MBAs have about Interbrand and brand consultancy work?
It’s common for those outside of the industry to erroneously assume branding is synonymous with marketing, traditional advertising, or perhaps even PR or media.
At Interbrand, we are brand consultants who create strategic, creative and technological solutions to our clients’ business challenges - we use both the left and right sides of our brains to bring brands to life. What we deliver to our clients is less of an executional ‘product’ than something an advertising agency might typically deliver. In many cases, however, advertising agencies adhere to the brand guidelines that we have developed when creating their campaigns.
Is there anything else you think MBAs should know before applying for jobs at Interbrand?
Have a passion for brands, and for the work Interbrand does. Do as much research as you can about our business, and the competitive landscape. Bring a unique and diverse perspective. It’s not about where you’ve been; it’s about where you want to go - and how you and Interbrand can work together in getting there.
*conversation edited for reasons of length and clarity*