January 26, 2013 in Business

MBA students ante up for shot at job in Vegas

Hannah Dreier Associated Press
 
Associated Press photo

Rajashree Todmal, of Carnegie Mellon University, plays poker during the MBA Poker Championship and Recruitment Weekend at Planet Hollywood in Las Vegas.
(Full-size photo)

LAS VEGAS – Forget the firm handshake and networking chit chat. Business students who want a job at Caesars Entertainment need to work on their poker faces.

Nearly 300 Master of Business Administration students and alumni anted up for a three-day Texas hold ’em poker contest last weekend in hopes of hauling in a corner office. Hiring managers and corporate executives schmoozed with candidates during breaks in the action.

The annual MBA tournament on the Las Vegas Strip was little more than a marketing gimmick until last year, when Caesars decided to add cocktail hours and high-level interviews, said Tijuana Plant, who works in the company’s human resources department.

Now, the event is a serious recruitment tool. The festive atmosphere and real-money stakes help the company screen for the critical thinking ability and social aptitude needed in the gambling industry, where business is often mixed with pleasure, Plant said.

“We like to see analytical people,” she said. “Poker players are analytical and are willing to take strategic risk, and that is what we’re looking for.”

Caesars held a networking reception Friday and a two-hour presentation about its corporate culture Saturday. On Sunday, 20 lucky MBAs were invited to formally interview with casino bigwigs for a spot in the company’s 10-week management trainee program, which pays $16,000.

Apprentices perform a variety of high-level jobs, including masterminding marketing strategies and working with general managers to troubleshoot on properties, Plant said. Last year, four of the 12 people accepted into the trainee program played in the tournament.

Students flew in from prestigious programs including Harvard Business School, the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, and the MIT Sloan School of Management. But executives were on the alert for nerds.

“We’re not selling insurance. This is a fun industry, and we’re selling a lifestyle,” Plant said. “We’re watching for whether they’re not having a good time at all and just focusing on the job, or if they’re having fun and looking for a job at the same time. It’s kind of our test.”

Caesars appears to be the only casino to pit potential hires against each other around a card table. But more companies are turning to this kind of recruiting to compete for top candidates.

Last fall, a division of Amazon.com Inc. sponsored a Friday-night party for Haas students, said Emily Taylor, who teaches career management at UCLA’s Anderson School of Management. Neutrogena Corp. invites students to write essays about skin care to win admission to a cocktail party. And one real estate investment management firm in Newport Beach, Calif., flies standout students to a golf tournament.

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