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Welcome to the Financial Times Ask the Expert Jobs Clinic 2013. Are you an MBA graduate still looking for a job? Or are you a corporate recruiter hoping to employ MBAs this year?

Peter Whitehead

On Monday 10th June 2013, between 14.00 and 15.00 BST, Peter Whitehead answered reader’s questions.

Peter Whitehead is launch editor of the weekly Financial Times Executive Appointments section. Peter writes and commissions features about job moves and career management topics. He is also the editor of the FT’s Non-Executive Directors’ Club website, responsible for its coverage of boardroom issues aimed at both those already in a non-executive role and those aspiring to join a board.


What has been the most interesting / controversial job move you have covered in your role as editor of the exec appointments section? What career management topics do you think are the most worthwhile? And for those looking to get onto a board, particularly women, what advice would you give to them?

Peter: The beauty of appointments is that all job moves are in some way interesting because they involve people. We all want to know what a new person is going to be like. Few are truly controversial, because there is usually no right or wrong. Although James Caan, who I interviewed a while ago, managed to stir controversy over the employment of his daughter in his businesses. Personally, I don’t think he did anything wrong in principle - and if he hadn’t been spearheading a government campaign for social mobility, no one would have complained. But he was and so he was rightly criticised.

The more we look at career management topics in the section, the more topics we find - the field is endless. I am concerned at the moment about the mismatch between people’s skills and what employers seem to want - the so-called talent shortage. It’s just that different skills are now needed and schools and employers are slow to invest in meeting that need. People are still full of potential and keen to learn. In the UK last year 6m people completed vocational qualifications - so the problem does not lie with people.

The biggest underlying issue around career management, as I see it, is the very idea of talent - that it is somehow innate and that some people have it and others don’t. This is obvious rubbish. It is all about learning, practice and experience. The Williams sisters were not “born” tennis champions any more than Richard Branson is a “born” business leader. They all learnt it. Employers should remember this - or for ever be disappointed in their search for “naturals” - which can actually be a very dangerous course to take.

And in answer to your final question - getting a job on a board is easy. All you need is to have one already. The requirements on a board member mean that no single person in the world meets all the criteria and so a few key factors rise to the top - financial knowledge, business experience, and time in your diary. That means men in their fifties, mostly. Given the economic mess of the past few years, perhaps those highlighted attributes need re-thinking and diversity should be given a chance. For all the talk, little is happening on diversity. At the current rate of progress, women might reach parity with men in the boardroom in 110-120 years. If today’s women are prepared to wait that long, fine. If not, demand quotas. Men would, in their situation - be in no doubt about that.

At the end of August, I graduate with an MSc in International Business, specialised in strategy and innovation from Maastricht University, Netherlands. I have completed a degree in the same field (international business, major in strategy) at Maastricht University.

I did several longer internships, two of them in a successful Berlin-based start-up in the field of business development and one in the marketing department of UniCredit Bank. It has always been my dream to pursue a business/management-oriented career in the fashion industry. However, without having specialised in the field, I ask myself how to best position myself for applications. I would like to apply for trainee programmes/jobs at major fashion companies. So my question to you is: How to best approach these companies and sell myself in a cover letter/interview?

Also, I have considered applying for strategy consultancies. Many times, I was told that without an internship in a major consultancy I would not have a chance. What would you advise? Should I apply nonetheless, try to convince the recruiters with good grades and personality? Or should I first apply for an internship - but would that not look “bad” on my CV (after graduating with an MSc)?

Laura Steinbach

Peter: Laura - you have given yourself a superb platform with some excellent qualifications from a go-ahead university (I speak with a little knowledge, as one of my daughters is studying science in Maastricht at present). And those internships sound interesting. Sadly, there seems to be nothing “fair” about getting a job these days if you are a new graduate and you will need to sharpen your elbows to secure a post - especially in fashion.

I think there is nothing wrong in trying for another internship, post MSc, in either fashion or strategy consulting. But place a limit on it, or you could end up in internship limbo.

The three key factors to consider are: contacts/networking; research; and making yourself indispensable. One of the values of an internship is the chance to meet the right people and impress them - and make that case for yourself. It involves being confident and making sure you spend time with influential people. Your research on any organisation you apply to - whether for an interview or an internship - should be geared towards finding out what the business does and where it’s weaknesses might be. Who are the main competitors, for example, threatening to take a chunk of its business? This is where you focus so that you can put forward your own strategy.

Also - leverage your contacts - people you have worked with, your parents, your friends’ parents, teachers, etc. Get yourself introduced to influential people in the areas that interest you and then make your case. For example, I would have thought your strategy and innovation skills from the business side would score highly in the fashion world. It’s up to you to make the case completely compelling.

I recently graduated with an MBA from one of the top one-year programmes in India. I haven’t been able to find a job; I have been actively looking for six months. I have a fairly well-rounded resume, high GPA, leadership position, 4-years international work experience and education. I haven’t been able to get any traction from consulting firms, what other options would you advice me that can provide a good career growth in management that consulting can provide? My interests are strategy, finance and analytics.


Peter: You are not alone in struggling to find a job that interests you. You sound as though you are amply qualified - but in some respects, there is a surplus of well-qualified people. Businesses in some parts of the world complain of talent shortages - but what they really mean are skills that match their new requirements. The snag is that as things are changing so rapidly, no one is teaching the new skills - even if they know what they are.

The related problem is that well-qualified people want roles that match their levels of education - of which there are too few.

For me, the most important thing is to get an “in”. Perhaps take a job below the level you might have hoped for, or in a different but related field, or with a small company. Your training and background - plus experience gained in the business you join - should mean you rise rapidly. If you are not prepared to do that, you will have to rely on making a compelling pitch, as outlined in my earlier answer.

My name is Barjinder Badwal and I am in my last year of completing my MBA at Warwick Business School. The focus of my MBA is predominately strategy. I want to land a role as a strategy consultant is a top consultancy firm and I am targeting a move to the US from the UK.

My background is in software consultancy but I have been working as a business consultant for the last few years. My question concerns how I should approach a move to the US using an MBA as a leveraging tool? Are there any recruitment companies in the US that target international MBA students? How can I differentiate myself from the wider pool of international MBA graduates?


Peter: Differentiating yourself from all the other MBA graduates is tough. But we are all different and have something different to offer. You need to find that in yourself. And to do that, you might need help. There are global recruiters who offer various services. The problem is that most work for their clients, the employers, rather than you, the candidate.

However, have a look at the likes of Hays, Michael Page, Reed, Adecco. They have clients looking for people like you and if you make a good connection with the international search firms, there might be openings.

But as in previous answers, the most important thing is to get a job somewhere. You need to judge whether you are pitching too high - because if you do and meet endless rejections, you could be wasting time that would be better used building experience and a record of success in a lesser role that serves as a launch pad for what you really want.

I’m an Executive MBA candidate at Manchester Business School currently undertaking my final project, due for completion in July 2013, following which I’m due to be awarded my degree in October 2013.

I’m an experienced management professional in the packaging industry, with significant exposure to global companies in sectors such as home & personal care, food & beverages, pharma, oil lubricants etc. Along with my MBA qualifications, I’m looking to leverage my skills and experience into the management consulting industry with a focus on strategy building. I would appreciate if you can advise me on how to approach an entry into this industry.

Renoir Mazarello

Peter: Renoir, you will be trying to push yourself into an extremely crowded market. As with previous questions, the key thing is to get started - so take a job that meets certain minimum criteria, even if it’s not what you hoped for. You’re shifting paths, and so there will be learning to do and gaining experience is vital.

And don’t forget that the management consultancy world is much much more than just the big players. You might find a smaller firm that feels a perfect fit. The primary attribute required of a management consultant is to think widely and consider all options. That includes career options, too.

I am starting my MBA in September 2013. I have worked as an operational professional for the last seven years and I have also done two years of undergrad in bachelor of business and commerce, majoring in logistics and supply chain management from 2007-2011 part-time. I am now looking to work in a management consulting firm. How do I position myself to develop a career progression in a management consulting firm?


Peter: If you google “how to become a management consultant” you will find virtually no useful information beyond the blindingly obvious…lists of required attributes, advice on honing your CV and covering letter, etc.

But in a crowded, extremely competitive market, the firms are only looking for people who stand out and make an instant hit. That is where you need to focus your energies. Plus - network. Your best chance of getting the job you want is through networking and contacts. Leverage them. Join professional networks - both online and physical - and get involved. Turn up to events, drink a glass of wine, collect half a dozen important business cards, and follow them up. Your job interview starts the moment you walk into that event, or join that forum. If you know your stuff and have a good CV and letter, then “who you know” is your top priority.

Visit our MBA Jobs Clinic homepage to find out out how other experts answered reader’s questions.

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