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At the start of an MBA, it is important to pay a visit to your school’s careers office rather than at graduation time. Students’ career development is at the heart of what business schools do. Let the team there get to know you and be proactive about looking into what support and resources you can use.
The trick is to invest a lot of time early on, ideally even before you get to business school, researching jobs and sectors of interest. Once you are a student, a school’s career service can help you put together a job-search strategy.
Develop plan A and B
Approach a careers advisor or coach to help you build milestones into your plan so you know when it is time to start working on plan B if your first option is not looking hopeful.
For example, many students get hung up on management consulting or investment banking jobs, which have early recruitment processes. As these sectors are also highly competitive, not everyone is able to get these jobs, and the best students I see are able to pick themselves up quickly and pursue relevant alternatives such as corporate strategy.
Equally important is to identify your skills gaps and address them. To do this, many business schools offer students the opportunity to prepare professional development plans based on a combination of methods such as 360-degree feedback, personality assessments and career coaching sessions.
A 360-degree feedback is a tool that enables students to develop their self-awareness by gathering personalised feedback data from a range of sources, such as peers, direct reports, senior managers, suppliers, customers or friends and family and themselves. This breadth of feedback can give students a richer, more informed view of how others perceive them, enabling a more holistic perspective of strengths, interests and development areas, which are key components of any career strategy and personal brand. This greater self-awareness can then be applied to develop a richer variety of career options following some reflection, research and networking.
Another important piece of advice is to stay authentic as there is a temptation in business school to follow the crowd to certain opportunities. Candour throughout the networking, application and interview process is critical to achieving satisfaction and success on the job. Follow your instincts. Which articles are most interesting to you in the newspaper? Are there employees of certain companies you have enjoyed meeting more than others?
Provide support with the application process
A careers advisor can assist you with many aspects of the recruitment process, for example, reviewing your CV if you intend to switch professions. If you need to investigate unfamiliar sectors, the advisor may have contacts in the field who you could talk to. Many business schools have connections with companies and you can uncover vacancies before they are even advertised.
Before reaching out to people, it is important to know your unique selling points and turn these into a brief “elevator pitch”. What do you want people to remember about you so that your transferable skills stand out? The careers service can help you learn how to sell yourself and develop your elevator pitch which is also the foundation for your CV, cover letter and ultimately your interview. The more specific you can be about your background and motivation, the more that person will remember you and be able to help you.
It is also possible to get interview practice. For example, some companies conduct video interviews, so if you are camera-shy perhaps the school can provide help in this area.
Stay informed of career events
Find out from the careers service about the myriad of networking opportunities such as company presentations. Despite a busy study schedule, it is critical for students to show up and stay motivated.
One of the most common questions students ask me is, “Do you think it’s worthwhile for me to go to this event”? Generally, the bottom line is: no risk, no reward. A large portion of job opportunities are generated from networking.
Knowing which event will generate that one lucky lead is tough to predict, which is why it is so important to build into your plan plenty of time to attend events where you can meet people and encounter that one magical opportunity.
One of my favourite stories is that of a first-year MBA who was struggling to find a summer internship with an investment bank. It was already May and the banking recruitment season was over. It was also the night before an exam. He had the opportunity to attend an alumni networking event and I advised him to go. He ended up meeting a senior banking alumnus who had attended the same high school as he did. The banker helped the student secure an internship at a bank, and seven years later, he still works there — that one encounter changed his working life.
Stay in touch after graduation
Many schools also offer career services to their alumni. It is a great idea to keep in contact with your career services team in case you find yourself looking for work or changing jobs. Develop a life-long relationship and your network — it could help your working life.
Lara Berkowitz is executive director of the career centre at London Business School