Reflections on the National Black MBA Conference experience

This sign proved to be a metaphor for the National Black MBA Conference experience.

A great metaphor for the National Black MBA Conference experience.

“Stand clear. This door may roll down at any time.”

The very first sign I saw when I arrived at the Orange County Convention Center for the National Black MBA Association Conference and Exposition (National Black) elicited a quick laugh and confused looks from the group of second year MBAs I was with.

At the time, I didn’t pay much attention to those words (which were related to ongoing construction). But later, I was struck by the realization that the sign was a great metaphor for what first- and second-year MBA students were walking into.

National Black is the premier networking event for MBA students to get in front of the companies they dream of working for. The event connects thousands of high-potential candidates from hundreds of universities with recruiters hiring for full-time, internship and startup positions.

Each of us had one opportunity to make a great first impression on these recruiters. If we didn’t, the door to those opportunities could shut at any time – just as the sign warned.

Scenes from the 2015 National Black MBA Conference.

Scenes from the 2015 National Black MBA Conference.

Attending National Black as a second-year MBA was a completely different experience for me. I was less distracted and more focused. I knew which industry I was interested in and had done ample research on the firms that were attending. My classmates and I had practiced and prepared for weeks and weeks until our pitches and resume walks became second nature. This was my opportunity to close and I was ready – but my National Black experience took an unexpected turn when I stumbled upon the Golden Snitch.

In the world of Harry Potter – an appropriate reference as the 2015 conference was held in Orlando, home to Universal Studios – the Golden Snitch is a magical ball that flies around at very high speeds. A player must capture the Golden Snitch to win a game of Quidditch.

At National Black, the Golden Snitch was Facebook.

Scenes from the 2015 National Black MBA Conference.

Scenes from the 2015 National Black MBA Conference.

In pure Facebook style, the company took a very unusual approach to the event. They weren’t listed on the official attendee list and didn’t have a booth. Instead, the company flew in employees who sported Facebook t-shirts as they walked around the event.

I spotted Erik, a brand manager at Facebook, in the crowd and stopped to chat with him. That’s when I learned that Facebook was actually there recruiting and was invited to the company’s official reception.

Receptions are an excellent opportunity to even the playing field for students who are intimidated by the size of a networking conference like National Black. If you’re lucky enough to get invited, you can expect to enjoy great food and drinks while learning more about the company and its culture. At these events, the ratio of students to recruiters goes from about 50:1 at the conference to about 10:1. A prepared candidate will leave these events with an interview.

At the Facebook reception, I learned that it was the company’s first time attending this kind of event. Facebook was using the experience to gauge the caliber of candidates in attendance to determine if attending these types of events would benefit their recruiting process. But I didn’t let them get away that easy – I asked why they made the event so incognito.

UNC Kenan-Flagler students and staff at the 2015 NBMBAA Conference.

UNC Kenan-Flagler students and staff at the 2015 NBMBAA Conference.

Their answer:

We are looking for candidates who show initiative and want to work for us. The best way to identify those people was to see who would be bold enough to take initiative and simply ask about opportunities when they saw us.

That’s exactly what I had done. With the Golden Snitch in hand, I joined my classmates for an AMBS group dinner to close out the event before heading back to Chapel Hill.

By Brandon Copeland (BSBA ’12, MBA ’16)