After the honeymoon of Orientation and Global Institute, Fall Term 1 hit me like a wall of bricks last year. Gone were the days of reading cases by the pool, margarita in hand, followed by a night of socializing. Fall Term 1 took real work and it was exhausting. Accounting, finance, statistics, and management communications classes, serving as a teaching assistant for public policy class, as well as team meetings, mock interview practice, corporate presentations, networking events, homework, writing thank-you notes, grading papers, Fuqua Pride cabinet work, General Management cabinet work, applying for leadership positions or jobs … there was a lot going on.

In the middle of this, some of my classmates were preparing for the Reaching Out MBA Conference (ROMBA) and asked if I was planning to go. ROMBA is an affinity conference where LGBT students and allies attend information sessions grouped by industry, network with LGBT employees at companies like Google and Accenture, and even interview for summer internships and jobs. The benefit is that students can lock down a summer internship way ahead of their school’s recruiting schedule and get a leg up on networking. But in order to do this, students have to miss class since the conference starts on a Thursday, and they have to cram for interviews before they’ve completed any core MBA classes. Also, in the case of Fuqua, students have to take their finals nearly a week early since the conference coincides with the end of the term.

All of this initially led me to decide against going to ROMBA. I still wasn’t sure what I wanted to recruit for and I didn’t know how I would possibly squeeze in interview prep when I was already running on about 5 hours of sleep a night. But the more I thought about it, I realized that the reason I came to business school was to meet with recruiters from top companies from all kinds of industries. How could I walk away from this opportunity when they were looking for people just like me? I registered on ROMBA’s website and began reaching out to companies to schedule informational interviews. A few companies like S.C. Johnson even reached out to me, and asked if they could interview me for a summer internship.

Conference Helped with Career Direction

By the time the conference rolled around, I had coffee chats set up with Accenture and A.T. Kearney, invitations for private receptions hosted by companies like BCG, Citi, and McKinsey and interviews with S.C. Johnson and Target. Having Duke on my resume seemed to make a big difference, and I was surprised by how open recruiters were to speak with me or invite me to private events. My interactions with companies gave me an insider’s look at what it would be like to work there and gauge how supportive they were of their LGBT employees.

Most importantly, it also helped me to figure out what I wanted to do. I went to ROMBA intending to recruit for CPG marketing, and I left wanting to recruit for high tech marketing and strategy consulting. Although I didn’t leave the conference with a summer internship, I benefited in other unanticipated ways. First, I got a huge leg up on recruiting by speaking with other LGBT business leaders and business school students. Many of them were helpful later when I was reviewing companies for on–campus recruiting. Second, finishing my finals early, so that I could attend ROMBA ended up being a huge relief. It forced me to buckle down on academics and then pivot quickly to recruiting. And third, ROMBA was a blast. I got to know my classmates a lot better, and met and bonded with other gay MBAs. Plus, the sessions featured a number of insightful panels and speakers, including Dan Savage, who gave a side-splitting keynote.

Going to ROMBA was one of the best decisions I made. It was one of the most memorable and formative professional experiences I have had at business school, and put me on track towards my career. This year, ROMBA will be held in New Orleans (Oct. 17 – 19) and like last year, it coincides with the final week of classes so I’ll have to take finals early again. As a second–year student, I expect my recruiting will be pretty much finished by then, but I am still planning on attending ROMBA. It will be my last opportunity as a student to interact with other companies and feel certain about the company I ultimately sign with. It will also be a chance to hang out with the first-year LGBT Duke MBAs and to see some of the other MBAs that I met at last year’s conference. I’m sure we’ll reminisce on our first year in business school, and will dream about our second. And, that alone will probably ensure that going to ROMBA again will be one of the best decisions that I have made.