A job source for the wandering MBA

January 15, 2013: 3:10 PM ET

Daniel Mullaney's MBA Project Search offers B-school grads a glimpse into the freelance and consulting worlds outside the confines of their school's career services office.mba_project_search

By Lauren Everitt

(Poets&Quants) -- Daniel Mullaney's family joked that he would wind up pondering the mysteries of life on a mountaintop. He double majored in philosophy and premed at Georgetown University.

While Mullaney didn't exactly end up on the slopes of the Himalayas, his penchant for seeking answers led him back to Georgetown -- this time to the McDonough School of Business -- and eventually to the steel and glass peaks of Dubai for a class project. Here, Mullaney experienced his own kind of mountaintop revelation -- a website connecting MBAs to opportunities worldwide.

As part of Georgetown's required international consulting project, he'd teamed up with four other students to draft a business plan for United Arab Emirates communications provider Mobily, which was looking to expand into the business-to-business sector. Mullaney was struck by the expertise the MBA students brought to the table. His team researched the market, outlined opportunities, and drafted recommendations for the company.

He recalled his own startup venture in 2005, an automated mortgage qualification service that never took off. Maybe if he'd had a team of MBA students pitch in, the business could have succeeded. "I saw the type of work that was delivered from the projects, and I thought back to my own shortcomings in the previous startup," he says. "I could have used the type of … output that was provided by the students."

On the flip side, freelance gigs could provide MBAs with invaluable experience and extra cash. "I felt like there was an opportunity to align a startup with an MBA student base," he says. "MBAs are able to provide the expertise required and startups need that, and they also need it at a fraction of the cost." MBA Project Search was born.

Mullaney, 34, envisioned a site similar to Monster or Careerbuilder, but strictly for MBA students. It would reach businesses and business savvy registrants worldwide. Employers would post opportunities, from freelance projects and internships to full-time jobs. MBAs would apply for them, and the employer would select the best fit.

Mullaney wrapped up his MBA at Georgetown in May 2012 and then "jumped right in." He recruited four other Georgetown graduates, including his older brother. He's the only MBA among them.  "We wanted a multidisciplinary approach," he says.

The team launched the site in August 2012 as a bidding platform -- employers posted projects and their budgets, and students attempted to underbid each other.  But the bidding concept caused too much confusion, so the team went back to the drawing board. They launched the second version of the site just a month later. "We made some pretty dramatic changes, and at this point, the site functions as a typical job site with a quality control element," Mullaney says.

On a recent visit, MBA Project Search boasted more than 1100 opportunities -- a mix of freelance jobs, internships, and full-time employment. Postings range from a business partner opportunity at Superfoodium, a startup that produces vegan health bars, to an accountant opening at The Siegfried Group. The vast majority of gigs are paid. Mullaney estimates the site is growing by roughly a dozen new registrants per day. A recent freelance project to work remotely for a consulting firm attracted more than 300 applicants, many from among the top business schools, he says.

The candidates set MBA Project Search apart from other career matching portals, Mullaney argues. "I see some intimidatingly qualified people looking at some of the opportunities."

The service is free for both students and businesses. But employers looking to draw more eyes to their posting can pay a $10 upgrade fee to display their openings in a prominent place on the site, or fork over $5 to hide the opportunity from search engine results.

Mullaney also introduced an eBay-type feedback system for students and employers. Either party can leave comments on the other -- allowing users with positive reviews to attract more opportunities.

He's confident that the site's reach also gives it a competitive edge. Employers can connect with MBAs worldwide. "I try to sell employers on the remote work," he says. "I know oversight is lacking in that regard, but I think in terms of the volume of candidates and finding the best fit, the work remote situation allows for that."

The concept is slowly gaining traction among the MBA crowd. Take, for instance, Darryl Glover, who received his MBA from the University of Chicago's Booth School of Business. Originally trained as a clinical pharmacist, Glover was looking to make a transition back into health care after a career in biotechnology.

But Glover faced an added challenge -- he's located in a tiny village 30 miles outside the capital of Slovenia. After scouting out MBA Project Search, Glover found an temporary consulting opening with qliqSoft, a Dallas-based company that offers secure messaging for healthcare providers.

Glover got the gig and the temp gig turned into an "open-ended" opportunity. But he says these openings are few and far between. "You talk to 99% of people in business and you try to explain what it is to run a virtual company, and they just have a blank look on their face," Glover says.

For Duke MBA student Grace Webster, the opportunity to connect with employers in far-flung areas holds appeal for another reason -- reaching outside oversaturated university networks.

"When you're talking about career services resources, everyone is drawing from the same pool, and everybody is applying to the same thing. So if you had a competitive advantage with an outside firm that's connecting you to companies … it's just one more thing to differentiate your job search," she says.

Part of the site's appeal is the founder himself. Mullaney admits to being very hands on. "I don't like the site to function as a typical post-away job site. I believe there's a lot more to be had in terms of actually being involved in the volume of applicants," he says.

Mullaney links users together if he sees a great fit and often sends opportunities out to his own network. Glover can attest to the personal touch. "I wrote to him out of the … blue.  He doesn't know me from anybody and he facilitates this introduction, sends things off," he says. "He's constantly looking for people and looking out for them."

But the site's growth will pose some thorny questions. How will the site vet non-MBAs, block spam, and keep that personal touch users enjoy? Mullaney is vague about the company's revenue model, only revealing that it's based on user activity.  It's up in the air if the site will become a go-to source for MBA opportunities. In the meantime, B-school grads can enjoy another chance to get ahead, earn some cash, and get some work experience.

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