February 4, 2013

Veni, Vidi, Vici - How to strategically conquer your post-MBA career goals

So you’ve decided to pursue an MBA degree – maybe you’ve selected your school, maybe you’re still on the fence. However, you’ve already thought about how your life and career might be transformed once you’ve imbibed yourself into the holistic experience that is business school. In two short and extremely busy years, you expect to fill up the educational quiver, weave a professional network and build the foundations for your career goals – all of which will last a lifetime. It will require strategic thinking, proactive execution and a dash of champion’s luck to succeed in a highly competitive global market of type-A personalities.
Meenakshi Sharma, Director of Career Management Office
As the director of Weatherhead’s Career Management Office (CMO), I am often asked to speculate on ways to help meet career goals following graduation. I would like to share with you a few pointers to consider as you move through your MBA program.

The Target – What might a post-MBA career be like?
The answer really lies in what you “want” to do with an MBA. We understand that in spite of having spent countless hours debating the merits and timing of a graduate business degree, many students struggle to define a particular career goal. Hence, it might be difficult to identify and start working toward a post MBA career path that would best serve to reach their goals. At CMO, we’re here to help you help yourself. You’ll meet a knowledgeable and friendly team of professionals who strive to help you objectively evaluate your strengths and weaknesses and identify career options that you would feel passionate about. We utilize a variety of resources and developmental methods, including self-assessment tests like “CareerLeader” (designed by Harvard Business School), resume critiquing, cultural and professional awareness, mock interviews, networking assistance, etc. to help you in strategically identifying a focal area. Once you know what you want to do, you will be able to leverage informational interviews, external projects, and/or a summer internship into that dream job and long-term career.

The Preparation – Momentum is key
A rigorous recruiting process starts almost immediately after you start any MBA program. To manage your time through a demanding schedule of classes, clubs and other extracurricular activities, it is best to build momentum by preparing ahead of your arrival on campus. Start working on the following:

  1. refining your “marketing materials”—i.e. resume, elevator pitch, etc.), 
  2. walking and talking business – i.e. regular reading of business news and journals, developing an understanding of certain industries/markets, and
  3. building a network of friends, alumni, industry professionals, etc. Practice “selling yourself”—i.e. defining who you are, showcasing your background and bridging how a background rounded out with an MBA makes you one of the best candidates for a position/career. You’d be surprised at how much practice it takes to develop a succinct yet effective pitch that would convince a stranger to call you for that first interview.

It is also important to investment in a business-ready wardrobe, particularly a couple of nice suits and appropriate accoutrements. At Weatherhead, we will address professional and business casual attire early on in the program. We expect all students to attend all career related events, whether on or off campus, in business formal attire. Although you’re likely to come across several companies that promote business casual attire for their employees, it is important for candidates to make a smart, professional first impression at a networking meeting or interview.

Once you arrive in school (whether fully prepared or still thinking through things), schedule a meeting with CMO staff as soon as possible. We can assist in various respects – be it refining a well-prepared resume, guiding you in thinking from scratch, identifying career avenues and networking opportunities, etc. The earlier we can get to know you and your goals, the more effective we can be in helping you craft and execute your strategy.

Execute! Execute! Execute!
Solid preparation and momentum will help you start executing your battle plans early and effectively.  Networking is key for any graduate business student – a critical internship leading to that coveted job may be never formally posted. The CMO will offer various events like networking nights, mock interview sessions with alumni, career treks to cities like New York, etc., to help you in your job search and career development. In addition, you will need to independently research, outreach and interview externally via national MBA career fairs, club related events, etc., to broaden your available opportunities. Certain industries like financial services (particularly investment banking) and consulting recruit very early in the academic year, making it all the more pertinent to hit the market early.

Special Note for International Students
International students (anyone on an F-1 or J-1 visa) joining any MBA program should be aware of certain legal and practical nuances that will affect your career management strategy. While the CMO will host special sessions to talk about legal aspects of working in the United States, it is imperative that you know your limitations before arrival. From a practical standpoint, several employers, ranging from global corporations to small local firms, refrain from sponsoring U.S. work visas for MBA recruits. Therefore, in case you’re targeting a certain specific employer, it is important to think through your levels of flexibility in relocating outside the U.S. post MBA. Learning about these limits ahead of time can help international students identify and focus on feasible opportunities, as well as build networks in appropriate countries. The CMO team also spends considerable effort in educating prospective employers on the benefits of hiring international students and the relative ease of navigating through legal aspects.

We’re eagerly awaiting your “veni.”  Hope to “vidi” you soon and be a part of your “vici”!

Meenakshi Sharma
Director, Career Management Office