August 19, 2016

7 Career Tips Before You Start Grad School

Meenakshi Sharma is assistant dean of career and student affairs. Follow Weatherhead's Career Management Office on twitter @weatherheadcmo.

As we start putting final touches to our presentation for orientation for the Career Management Office, I am also putting myself in your shoes and trying to wonder what’s going through your mind. Some of you must have left your current job and pondering how you are going to survive the next two years without a paycheck. Some of you might be thinking about life in a new country/culture. I am going to keep this piece focused on topics related to your career. We understand that you spend a lot of time thinking about what type of positions, functions, industries and employers you might like to work for during your summer internship and upon graduation from the MBA/MS programs. That’s why you are pursuing these degrees, isn’t it? Well, let me tell you that it’s very common for students to lack focus and clear direction about the role, functional area or industry to target from a career search perspective. It’s very important for you to discover who you are and your interest in terms of industry, functions etc. Narrowing down distinct areas of interest is essential for you to have a successful internship and career search process. 

Someone recently asked me what tips/advice I will give to incoming students. I thought about an interview I did with Businessweek a few years ago and have compiled a list based on my experience and hearing from partners from other schools:
    1. Pre-orientation groundwork: We strongly advise students to familiarize themselves with as much of the online resources we provide as possible prior to arriving on campus. These resources include intranet resources, the school’s social and professional networking sites, student blogs, list of professional organizations in the area, etc. A certain degree of familiarity with the school’s specific systems and tools can help a lot during the fast-paced academic year.
    2. As most of the incoming students will be seeking internships for the following summer, it is necessary to have a solid foundation for your resume by the time you start the program, considering how quickly the career search process begins once you are here.
    3. Networking works: Speaking from experience, the majority of jobs are landed by networking effectively. The concept of networking can seem overwhelming, but developing a strategy and establishing a customized approach to one’s own strengths and weaknesses can help facilitate the process. For example, students can develop a structured networking plan that helps them figure out where they fit in and how they need to grow. Students who come from industry are also encouraged to maintain dialogue with senior executives at their current organizations to see what kinds of opportunities might open up after graduation.
    4. Students should prepare personal target lists of employers/companies and research their patterns of recent MBA employment. For example, a student who might be interested in capital markets sales and trading should evaluate options based on current market volatility and be prepared for a broader set of opportunities in the financial services industry.
    5. Market knowledge: Being up-to-date with what is happening in the business world is very important. In addition, you should be able to communicate your market knowledge to appropriate audiences, be it a general HR person or an industry expert. If you haven’t already, start reading The Wall Street Journal and other relevant business publications on a regular basis.
    6. International students: Research and try to understand legal and practical limitations of employment options in the U.S. prior to starting the program. For international students coming to the U.S. for the first time, it is also important to talk to current students and recent alumni to understand the job search process in the U.S., so that you can leverage your skills accordingly.
    7. Professional wardrobe: Having a smart, effective wardrobe will be very important throughout your business career, starting right here in school on day one. This goes for both business formal attire as well as business casual attire. Having a smart suit for interviews and appropriate clothes for various networking and related events is a must. Stay on the conservative side, the suit and related accessories are not meant to divert attention from you.
      Enough serious talk. Let me welcome you to two years of fun. You might question your sanity at times, but you’ll keep these two years with you for the rest of your life. The career search process is just that – a process that needs a lot of reflection and guidance. Think not just about the first job out of school, think about the path you’re about to set yourself upon. We’re here to help; will look forward to seeing you all smiling on the day of your graduation!

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