Most people invest in an MBA program because they are looking for some form of change in their careers. Students’ expectations can include changing sectors, functions, location, or even a combination of all three. Some students are also looking to build on their managerial skills in order to take them to the next level.
Either way, doing an MBA is a significant investment in time and money, and leveraging this experience implies using what the MBA gives you in terms of knowledge and skills to make the transition you are looking for.
The MBA no doubt exposes students to a variety of career options – from financial services roles in its many forms, management consulting, healthcare, energy, or the fast-growing options in technology and e-commerce. This is part of what you are investing in, but beware on two counts:
- The opportunities you have as an MBA do not mean that you are not part of the regular forces of the labor market. You will for sure have many opportunities, but you will also be competing for them not only with the MBAs of your own class, but with those from other top business schools around the world. Only the most prepared will succeed.
- A variety of choice can also cause what Barry Schwarz defines in his book “The Paradox of Choice” as decision paralysis. Unable to home in on equally attractive options, you choose neither and hence are unable to prepare with the depth and commitment you need to succeed in the process.
Choice is particularly important when it comes to leveraging the MBA experience. As former baseball coach Yogi Berra put it, “If you don’t know where you are going, you will probably end up some place else.” If you are looking to change sectors or functions, for instance, you will need to build knowledge (and skills) to make you a credible candidate for that position/sector. You cannot do this in depth for every career option out there.
What can you do to reduce the number of career options? Our recommendation is to use these weeks/months that you have before you start the program to schedule informational interviews with different executives from diverse sectors to learn about both their roles and career paths.
How Do I Find Who to Contact?
As a first step, you should ideally come up with a matrix of sector and job options that you are considering and schedule three to five informational interviews for each option. Why so many? The more you do, the more validated the information.
Once you have your matrix, you need to start using your network to find the contacts. You know a lot more people than you think you do, and people generally love to help.
In the past, finding contacts was difficult. Today, with social networks such as LinkedIn, the process is far easier. Send those you have contacted a very short email that simply explains that you are looking to invest in an MBA and are exploring post-MBA career options so you can get the most out of your MBA experience. The email should not be more than 150 words.
Once you have set up an interview, there are a variety of questions you can ask, but at the very least, there are four key questions that you need to address:
- What are the key responsibilities of this role? You need to understand how this person spends their day so you can quickly identify whether you would like to spend your day doing likewise.
- What are the key skills and knowledge required to do this well? This information is essential to understand what you need to build during the MBA to make you a credible candidate for this position.
- What is the typical career path to get to this position? In an ideal world, one would want to jump straight in to this new role, but this is not always possible. By understanding what you need to do short-term, you will ultimately achieve your mid-term career objectives.
- How to people typically get jobs in this? Different sectors and roles source talent in different ways. Some sectors, such as investment banking and management consulting, have a clear MBA intake and use business school career services to attract and identify talent. Others sectors, such as the social sector and private equity, source talent through personal contacts. By understanding how people get jobs, you will be able to set a job search strategy that is effective for you.
The process of making the right career choice to leverage the MBA investment is not that different from the process of maximizing your investment in a car that suits your needs: you read brochures, visit different distributors, talk to people who already drive the car, and test-drive the car yourself. What you need is information, and as the Zulu saying goes, “If the future doesn’t come to you, you need to go in search of the future.”