Your career expectations for after your MBA may be sky-high – but how do you navigate the opportunities available to you at business school to make your aspirations a reality?
The main thing to remember, says Shelley Hogg, Head of MBA Career Development at Cambridge Judge Business School, is that your job search, or at least your preparation for it, needs to start as soon as you arrive at business school, if not before. Leave it until the end of your MBA studies and you run the risk of finding yourself unprepared and panicky – two sure-fire ways of ending up in a role you’re disappointed with.
Here are Shelley’s tips for approaching your job search:
- Know yourself
“What people think they want to do when they start their MBA is not always what they want to do when they finish. They can start with an aim that may be to do with societal or family pressure, or pressure from within themselves, but which is ultimately not right for them. The year at business school gives them a chance to really think about who they are and what they want. If possible, this process should even start before they come to business school so they get the most out of their time here.”This self-assessment often gets overlooked but it is absolutely crucial to understand your own personal ‘product’, your values, what kind of company you would thrive in. It can be difficult to do this yourself. It’s easier to do it with others to help you. That’s where your business school can really help. I don’t think there are many other times in your career when there are so many people willing to give you frank and constructive feedback. Certainly not in the workplace where there is so often so much politics. At business school you are not competing with anyone and everyone is very willing to help each other. At Cambridge we in the careers team offer 1-to-1 support to all students, as well as arranging guidance from ‘industry experts’ to help guide you.”
- Focus but be flexible
“The MBA here at Cambridge is 12 months in duration. About half way through, many students are well into their job-search, many hold job offers or are mid-way through a selection process. For those who aren’t, it can be ‘panic time’. When you panic you lose focus and it’s tempting to go for a scattergun approach of applying for anything. But if you haven’t researched and networked carefully in the sector you want to break into, it is unlikely your application will get noticed.”You need to carefully target the sectors and companies you really want to work in, and then research and network within these parameters. Find out exactly what and who they need. This will make you a much more credible and well-positioned candidate. And networking within these boundaries doesn’t just mean attending a few drinks receptions. Really get to know people, and get yourself known.
“It can be difficult, particularly in a place like Cambridge, where so many opportunities present themselves, to focus in this way. But we’re here to help you define your goals and give you tactical guidance on how to achieve them.”
- Be geographically flexible
“It’s easier to switch locations within a global company than to move from one company to another so, if you’ve found your dream job but it’s not in your dream location, be prepared to be flexible. Put in a year or two in the less than ideal location and a move to your dream one may just come up. If you have set your heart on working in ecommerce in Vancouver, for instance, that is very limiting.”
- Keep faith with your dreams
“Sometimes your job immediately after business school will be different from what you expected at the start. But as long as it is a step in the right direction in the arc of your career, you can use it to build up experience and a network. It’s never wasted. And for most people, their ideal job is three to five years down the line from business school. That can be hard to hear! But as long as the jobs in between are leading towards that ideal job, there’s no need to worry. And a sudden change in the jobs market can help you move along faster – say a big consultancy firm suddenly needs people in a place you want to be or with skills that you offer. Then you can make your move.”
- Going back is still going forward
“If you’re returning to a role you held before business school, you still need to be thinking about where you want to be in three, five, or 10 years’ time so self-assessment is still vital – mapping against what skills you will need in a few years’ time is very important and business school is the time to do it.”
- Under pressure? Have a plan
“If you’re feeling the pressure from family, peers, the bank, your own expectations, it really helps to have a plan for where you are going in the next few years. If Plan A is taking a bit longer to happen, you may need to have a Plan B – and even a Plan C, D and E! But if you have to adopt Plan E it doesn’t mean Plan A won’t happen. You just have to make sure the steps in between are taking you in the right direction.”
So whether you’re apprehensive about re-entry into the world of work after your MBA, or looking forward to the challenge, your job search will be a learning experience in its own right. Tackle it with optimism, courage and good planning and who knows where it may take you…