Ask the Expert pfeatures

Welcome to the Financial Times Ask the Expert MBA Jobs Clinic 2014. Are you an MBA graduate seeking careers advice, perhaps looking to change careers or hoping to create a start-up? Or are you a recruiter wanting to learn more about what MBAs can offer?

Our panel of experts answered readers’ questions on Thursday 12th June 2014.

Also take a look at our MBA Careers site to read the latest features on the MBA jobs market and careers advice.

Our panel of experts included:

Steve Dalton
© David Purvis

Steve Dalton, a senior career consultant at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business in the US

Prior to entering the career services industry, Mr Dalton was a strategy consultant at management consulting firm AT Kearney and an associate marketing manager at General Mills, the food company. His debut book “The 2-Hour Job Search” was published in March 2012 and its concepts are now taught at over fifty universities.

Mary Slater-Jones

Mary Slater-Jones, a global consultant at Shell Oil company

Ms Jones is an MBA graduate from Purdue University’s Krannert School of Management, At Shell, she works with diverse business teams to solve some of the biggest challenges in and across the downstream businesses. She also leads the company’s campus recruiting efforts at Purdue University.

Carola Hoyos
© Charlie Bibby

Carola Hoyos, recruitment editor of the FT Executive Appointments section

Ms Hoyos writes and commissions features about job moves and career management topics. She 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.

Ann Hargraves

Ann Hargraves, director of graduate campus recruiting at Liberty Mutual Insurance, in the US

Ms Hargraves’ team recruits from graduate campuses in the US, Asia and Europe for the company’s leadership development programs and the internal strategy and research group. In her global role, she is responsible for overall strategic planning to meet the company goal of identifying and hiring talent from top business schools.

Susan Caraviello, director of consultant recruiting at Bain and Company’s Boston office in the US

Ms Caraviello helps the company identify, screen and hire talent from top business schools. A former client-facing partner, she joined the firm in 1991 and advised clients in the healthcare and consumer products industries on growth strategy, new business development and cost reduction. She earned an MBA from the Amos Tuck School at Dartmouth College and a bachelor’s degree from the University of Virginia.

Wai Kwen: Welcome everyone, here’s our first question.

I’m an MBA student in the US and I did my undergraduate in civil engineering. Currently, I’m working as an engineer for the biggest public utility in the US. I am hoping to find opportunities in the area of finance in the South East Asia region after I complete my MBA – I will be switching my career. How should I approach this best? ~ Ray, US


Mary: You’ll need to use a multi-prong approach. If you’ve yet to do your internship, try to secure an internship in finance with an international company. As a global organization, we work to recruit globally and to understand where students have a desire to work and match it if we reasonably can.

However, keep in mind that it’s quite costly for companies to sponsor you for work visas and they might only do it for exceptionally high performers, for development, or for a lack of local expertise. Be sure to showcase those skills that make you the right person to send to your areas of geographic interest during your internship. Also, leverage your classmates and their connections in that part of the world, especially if your MBA program has a significant international student population. Alumni from your school may also be living/ working in the areas you’re interested in geographically and can be of help as well.


Steve: Short answer: find people working in finance in Southeast Asia on LinkedIn and ask them why they’re so good at their jobs.

Online job postings are black holes – the only predictable way to get interviews is to get referrals, and the only predictable way to get referrals is to get informational meetings. In “The 2-Hour Job Search“, I teach a method called the TIARA Framework for systematically building likability during those informational meetings. That builds likability, which is the single best precursor to a referral.

The most common misperception about the job search is that employers are only interested in those with previous experience. Whenever possible, employers will prefer candidates with previous relevant experience. However, internal referrals are the fastest and most effective way to get an interview, whether or not you have relevant experience already.

Hiring managers are more interested in finding a good enough candidate quickly rather than a “perfect” candidate slowly, and the ability to turn strangers into allies to get the information or resources you need is a quintessential skill in any business job. If your job search efforts demonstrate you possess this skill, the hiring manager will find a spot for you.


Ann: I might suggest you find opportunities within your education program to gain finance experience so you have direct experience to talk about in the interview. I recognize this is sometimes difficult for a working professional, but it’s critical to show you have experience to complement your academics. Some ideas might be a consulting job through a club or class, volunteering at a non-profit or taking a lead in organizations on-campus.


Susan: Good question and one that many people have as they take the opportunity of getting their MBA to switch careers. Your engineering background and work experience combined with the new financial skills that you will develop as part of your MBA should position you well to find a finance position. There are many different types of finance positions and it’s helpful to think through whether you want to work in a financial role in a company, or work in a financial services firm, or work in a consulting firm.

If you are interested in consulting, your problem solving and quantitative skills from your engineering background are highly relevant to consulting. These are the core skills that attract a lot of great people to Bain and they are what drive the success of our business. Without the ability to take a very difficult problem, identify the most important issues and then solve the issue we wouldn’t be able to constantly innovate and provide creative solutions to some of the hardest business problems facing our world. There are other skills that are important too, such as the ability to influence and lead clients, as well as to inspire and coach your consulting teams.

And finally, if you want to work in South East Asia, there are a number of global companies that are based in the US that have a strong presence there and also have a global hiring process. For example Bain & Company is continuing to build upon our strong presence in that region and you could initiate the application process from your business school through our online application process, apply to one of our many offices in the South East Asian region. In response to the high client demand in the region, Bain & Company has increased our investment in South East Asia with newer offices in Bangkok, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and Jakarta.


Wai Kwen: Here’s the 2nd question.

I want to ask a question about my career progression. I have done an MCA qualification (Microsoft Certified Architect) and I have been working on Microsoft SharePoint technology for the last 8 years. Apart from that, I have completed an EMBA (Operations and Finance) and I am waiting for my results. I am looking for a change but not so confident on the management side. Can you please guide me as to which job I should go for – either technical or management? ~ Sandip, India


Steve: Which would you rather do? That’s the right answer. People can be mediocre at whatever they set their mind to, but they’ll only be great at things they care about.

My personal recommendation is to err on the side of new experience. You may love a managerial role, and if you don’t, thankfully people tend to love “prodigal son” stories – where a person who makes a mistake returns to their roots, much wiser for having made the effort.

You can always go back to what you’ve done before, but it gets harder and harder to switch directions the more senior you get in your career. Take the risk now, I say, so that you can then proceed down whichever path you prefer – if for no other reason than to avoid a lifetime of having to ask yourself “what if?”

Mary: It depends on where your passion is. If you’re passionate about the management track, but less experienced, consider trying to leverage your existing employment and experiences to gain access to projects/opportunities where you can build your management skills.

Taking a short-term assignment can also help you test your management capabilities, but work to make sure that you’re positioned for success in the assignment or project you take. It also can be a bit less stressful if you know you have an appropriate fall-back option and/or sponsors to help you should you get into a situation that’s not a good fit.


Wai Kwen: Question number 3.

I’m a female MBA student graduating this year. Having recently read Sheryl Sandberg’s book “Lean in”, I’m very aware of the importance of making a conscious effort to stand out. What advice would you give me?


Carola: Good for you for reading “Lean In”. It’s important though that you realise you need to first fit into the role and place to which you are applying. So, even more important reading material for you than “Lean In” is anything you can find on the industry, company, department and individuals with whom you are interviewing.

Know your basics, but if you want to leave an impression, find out more. A shared hobby with your interviewer or experience can create a connection that will make you be remembered, as will deep knowledge of an important case, sale, event for the organisation. Choose a positive one. Don’t, for example, bring up the Gulf oil spill if you are interviewing with BP.

1. There’s nothing special about unearthing one of the biggest news stories of 2010 2. It’s a negative topic and a minefield

Don’t try too hard to stand out. Let your experiences speak for themselves and make sure you are able to tell a good story about where you’ve been, what you’ve done, where you want to go and why.

Be yourself, be straightforward, use spell check in correspondences, dress appropriately, research, research, research and then go prepare some more.


Susan: Great question. As a female partner at Bain this is a very important question to me. Personally, I’ve continued to define what “lean in” means to me. I joined Bain after receiving my MBA from Tuck and was immediately put in an environment where I was able to develop and nurture these skills. My experience at Bain has been that I’ve been encouraged and supported to develop these skills – my mentors have been an integral part of this process. Based on my personal journey, I have found that the ability to be an astute listener, to zero in on the key issues and to concisely, confidently convey my insights has helped me to be effective.

Ann: “Standing out” and “leaning in” are a bit different. Be prepared to take risks, accept challenges when you’re not sure you are quite ready, and have confidence that if you are asked to take a role, you’re probably ready. Good luck!

Mary: Be selective in where you stand out – standing out can be a really good thing or a not so good thing. It’s all about the “how” you stand out. Are you standing out because you’re delivering work that exceeds expectations or because someone needs to hold your hand to get anything done?

Working to build genuine relationships, taking smart risks, and delivering will help you stand out in a very positive way. Seek out mentors and sponsors that can help you understand the political landscape, especially when you’re new to an organization or working on a special project, and help you get the right opportunities to showcase your capabilities. But, don’t be afraid to create those opportunities yourself by identifying issues, finding solutions and taking credit for the work you’ve done.


Wai Kwen: Question 4.

I graduate from my MBA in July and I have an undergraduate degree in petroleum engineering with procurement experience in the FMCG area (fast-moving consumer goods). I have also taken professional courses in supply chain and currently I am a procurement and logistics intern. For my next career move, some of my considerations are;

a) Procurement and supply chain in exploration and production (E&P) – the major influence here is my engineering background and my desire to play a vital role in the oil industry

b) consultancy with a supply chain focus. I have been told that a career in procurement in E&P is limiting and would like to ask:

1) Are these career options realistic?

2) How can MBAs like myself position themselves for opportunities in the oil industry? What roles best suit our profiles?

3) Outside of the oil industry and in general, is supply chain a good career choice? ~ Sanmi, Italy


Steve: Resilience in networking makes almost anything realistic. In the best case, you’ll get an interview for those jobs (and right when you get your MBA is a perfect time to transition into a new career). In the worst case, your advocates you develop at your target firms will give you advice on what interim step you’d need to take before you’d be considered. In this worst case, you’re hearing that information from the source rather than trying to guess. And demonstrating the ability to seek out and execute advice responsibly will keep that advocate in your corner for a very long time. This is how mentor/mentee relationships form, and few things are more powerful.

The best way to position yourself for a role in the oil industry is to get to know people already in the oil industry. If you’re not sure which role fits you best, talk to a person or two in each of the roles you are considering. After doing so, decide if you like one or more areas better than the others, and focus there.

Ultimately these same people are the one making the hiring decisions (not to mention the raise and promotion decisions as well), so a wonderful predictor of fit and success is how predictably you’re able to build rapport with those who gravitate towards a particular role. Likability builds trust, which builds advocacy.

Regarding whether supply chain is a good choice, do you enjoy it? Is getting better at it every day easy or tedious? Anyone can be mediocre at whatever they set their mind to, but you’ll only be excellent at things you care about. If you care, you’ll improve naturally and it won’t feel like work. If you don’t care, you’re likely working with people who do, and they eventually will move ahead while you stagnate. If you’re not sure you’d like a particular path, I’d say err on the side of trying something new – you can always go back.

Susan: We know that everyone is motivated by something different so if developing a single, deep area of expertise is what excites you, then focus on that. Or if you are interested in a diversity of experiences and tackling a wide range of business problems then consulting may be the path for you.

At Bain, you’ll be exposed to a variety of industries – including oil & gas, which is an important and growing part of our business. You’ll also have the opportunity to work on many problems organization are facing – including supply chain and more. Our goal as a firm is to give you a broad exposure to help you build a general management skill set so you can take on any role or challenge you wish in the future. That’s what the first few years at Bain look like. Beyond that you’ll have the opportunity to develop expertise and specialize in oil and gas as well as supply chain.

Mary: Yes, both of those career options are realistic. Moving into procurement and supply chain in E&P would be an “easy” progression for you as it builds on your existing experience and education. There are a number of consulting firms that specialize in oil and gas or in supply chain, so it too would be a viable option. An option you may not have thought much about is the combination of the two. Many of the larger oil and gas organizations have internal groups that function as consultants within their organization – my current role is an example. Frequently, these groups are smaller groups within the organization and/or sit within strategy.

MBAs can position themselves a number of different ways in the industry. Leverage your specific experience and the transferability of the skills that you have. Procurement in fast-moving consumer goods will look a little different than in E&P because of the types of materials you’re acquiring and the duration that you need them, but ultimately, you’re still working with a supplier or portfolio of suppliers to acquire something in the time frame and for the duration that the organization needs it. You may find that an integrated oil and gas player who has a consumer-facing business (e.g. packaged lubricants) might also be an easier transition into the industry as it will also leverage your existing experience but let you use your business skills.

Yes, regardless of industry, supply chain is a good choice. It’s a highly transferable skill and knowledge set that can add value to any organization. Companies must have a few key things to survive – a product or service that the market needs, financial resources to produce it, and a way to get it to market. In today’s global market, a highly effective and professional supply chain that can acquire materials and get the finished product to market in a cost effective way may be a key competitive advantage to enable the success of the company.


Wai Kwen: Question 5.

After an MBA, to what degree does age play a role? If I work in a call centre what are my chances of getting a good job? ~ Ajit


Carola: Age shouldn’t play much of a role, but of course let’s not kid ourselves – everything matters. This is a little tough to answer because you have not said whether you are 22 or 72.

A French banker I know used to put on glasses with plain lenses to make herself look older as she looked young and was already at a reasonably senior level at age 22.

If you feel you may be too old, then don’t act your age. Mrs Moneypenny, who is a columnist I work with and is published in the Executive Appointments section of the FT, strongly believes it is not how old you are, but your level of energy that matters.

Even at a call centre where your customers may not see you, you have colleagues and managers who do. A first impression matters – make sure it’s appropriate, but tinker with it and make yourself look youthful, or wise in years, whichever is called for.

Lastly, don’t bring up your age, in many countries you shouldn’t have to.


Ann: Age should not play a part. The key will be looking for a role that takes advantage of your employment skills, tenure in your field and ties in your new academic technical skills. Managing people in a call center, leveraging your process improvement and service skills to create better operations. Companies are keen to find people that have strong process improvement skills and the ability to operationalize new and innovative ideas.


Mary: If you position yourself with the right skills and education, you should be able to get a good job. It’s key to understand the organization that you’re seeking to work for and what their values are to understand what challenges you may face with that company.


Steve: With the right advocate, anything is possible. It’s hard for a hiring manager to compare candidates from different backgrounds – for a marketing job, how would a hiring manager know is one person’s finance experience is better or worse than another’s IT consulting experience? It’s really stressful to try to do so, so a lot of hiring comes down to trust. Are candidates easy to work with? Do they express their interest proactively and represent minimal risk to the advocate and the hiring organization.

While there is a lot of discussion of transferable skills for CVs and resumes, a study by last year showed that on average recruiters spend six seconds per CV before making a go/no-go decision on a candidate. In six seconds, it’s impossible to draw out transferable skills from a candidate coming from a different industry. Therefore, if you’re interested in making a career switch, don’t spend a lot of time and energy trying to optimize your CV. Instead, spend that same amount of time getting to know people who have the job you want. Ask them what skills and insights make them good at what they do, and what trends are impacting their industry. This will help you gain credibility when you speak to the next person, and you’ll be getting smarter with each call.

Age will be a barrier for some employers, but a networking-based strategy helps you inoculate against one common concern regarding hiring more experienced professionals – that they’ll be difficult to manage. By proactively networking, and using that informational meeting time to pick your contact’s brain about their take on their industry (rather than to “sell yourself”), you’ll help remove that concern because you’re demonstrating a willingness to learn and an ability to be teachable.


Wai Kwen: Question 6.

I need advice regarding a career change. I have 8 years of experience working in IT and I am not a technician, instead I have worked as a project manager and in service management. After my graduation in February 2015, I plan to land a job in management consulting because of demand for this role, the intellect required and rewarding salaries. How can I take advantage of my previous experience and background to land a job in one of the top management consulting firms? Are there tips that can help me increase my odds? ~ Vidal, Czech Republic


Carola: Your timing is good. Many consulting companies have IT consulting at their core and more and more are moving that way as rapid technology changes are requiring companies to go through big strategic and structural changes.

The important question for anyone looking at your CV or interviewing you will be whether you can think strategically, work with clients and eventually sell work.

Make sure anything you write is flawless and that you are someone who can make complex subjects easy to understand to non-technology experts. If you want to work with the big guys – and even many of the small ones – they will need to know you can deliver a pitch at board level, even if that won’t be something you’ll be doing right out of the gate.

Languages and a willingness to live out of your suitcase also helps.


Susan: Your background and experience in project and service management is highly relevant to work in management consulting and is something you should highlight in your consulting applications. When our global team at Bain & Company sets out to look for talented individuals to join our firm, our focus is to get an understanding of three components. The first is understanding your academic background – where did you go to school, what did you major in, what is your GPA, and other ‘quantitative scores’. This proven academic success lets us know you have a strong foundation to take on the challenging and complex business issues we face daily.

Second, we take a look at professional maturity and examples of where you have been effective in a variety of client environments. You’ll constantly be exposed to a variety of clients and situations while at Bain – the ability to adapt to those situations by working as one-team is crucial. The third item we look at is, leadership ability. It’s not enough to be able to solve a problem – we as consultants aim to make real change for our clients. Leadership is a key part of working hand-in-hand with clients to help them achieve success.

You should think about your prior work in project management and highlight the professional maturity and leadership skills that you have developed. Specifically reflect on specific examples you could highlight that demonstrate your ability to effectively motivate individuals to change and the results that you have achieved.

Ann: Think not only about consulting companies, but positions that would use your previous skills in IT project management and your new skills in consulting. This opens up Leadership Development Programs in a number of industries. The skills you have are the skills we look for in our future managers. LDPs give you the chance to learn the business and industry while you move towards management opportunities. And you have the ability to be part of the organization that you are working so hard to affect change.


Steve: I myself used to be a management consultant – it was an amazing experience that gave me ten years of experience in just three years of employment, it seemed!

Performing well in case interviews is critical when you’re interviewing with such firms – demonstrating that you possess the ability to negotiate ambiguous constraints and can bring structure to chaos. However, getting the interview is the first challenge, and that means networking with people who currently have that role.

Previous experience unfortunately doesn’t speak for itself anymore when you’re changing careers, so the onus will be on you to explain why your IT experience will translate well to a consulting environment. However, before a consulting firm will be willing to hear your sales pitch, you’ll need to develop some likability with them, and that means getting them to talk about their own experiences and using their time wisely to extract as much of their expertise and advice as possible during the conversations you’re able to secure with them.

Consulting is unique in that a candidate’s case interviewing performance really can trump a strong referral in the final round, but the referral is the only predictable way to get the interview. Therefore, don’t overinvest in practising case interviewing at the expense of relationship-building first to see if you can get traction. Once you sense you’re building advocacy, ask your advocates what their secrets were to becoming a good case interview, and follow their lead. Not only will it help you prepare, it will strengthen the advocacy you get from that particular contact down the road as well.


Mary: Focus on the skills that you possess, what you did with them, and how you applied them. As a recruiter, I’m interested in the application of the skills as much as the actual knowledge and circumstances where you used them. Project management and service management are key elements in any consulting organization. Be prepared to answer questions and to provide examples about how you can use your experiences in those spaces across other industries and projects beyond IT. Alternatively, consider starting with an IT consulting firm or in IT consulting at a large firm that has both IT consulting and business consulting. You can gain consulting experience that leverages your knowledge and builds your consulting skills and then transition to other areas of consulting.


Wai Kwen: Question 7.

I have very recently graduated with an MBA (merit) from the Open University in April 2014. I have gained a merit or distinction in all modules. The advice I need is in connection with finding a job or a graduate scheme as I’m sending my CV and covering letters to companies but I’m not getting any responses. I’m getting a bit worried as I have worked really hard for my MBA and now employees really don’t seem interested.

I think an issue could be that I’ve got good qualifications – I also have a BA in Psychology. But I don’t have much experience, the problem is I need to start from somewhere. Ideally, I love to work in consulting, taking on any junior or associate consultant position. As I’m bilingual – English/Italian – I would be delighted to work for a British/American company in Italy. ~ Ginevra, Italy


Ann: Congratulations on your accomplishments! Yes, you have to start someplace to get experience, but the jobs are there. You might just need some help finding them. We receive thousands of resumes for jobs and we try hard to read them all, but it’s difficult. Networking with peers, school alumni, faculty, neighbors etc. will help you get your name in front of the right people. A recruiter pays attention when a name and resume comes from someone in the organization.

We do look twice at that resume and give it a bit more consideration. Start working your network. Let people know you are looking, what you are looking for and the skills you can bring to that position – make it easy for them to determine where in their company you might fit in. Don’t just think about your professional network, expand your circle to those in your neighborhood and community. I recently learned that a women gardening next to me in the neighborhood community garden works for a company that can help me significantly in my work. I would never have known if we just talked about our gardens!


Mary: You may be encountering a couple of different challenges. While most companies hire year round, you may be trying to find a position when the quantity of options is less because of the time of year, the economy or the geographic area.

The other challenge is one you can more directly impact – your resume/CV and cover letter. Does it position your skills and highlight the areas that are relevant to the industry and type of job you’re trying to get? Does it have the ‘impact words’ that are relevant to the type of work you want to do? Check the length as well – is it appropriate for the amount of experience you have? Seek out feedback on it.

Keep in mind that a recruiter may only spend 15 seconds to decide if they want to even scan down the page, then another 30-60 seconds scanning to decide if they want to read it. Does your resume/CV make them want to slow down enough to get to the scanning and reading steps?


Steve: I’m assuming most of your job applications are through online job postings, either on companies’ websites or through aggregators like Indeed? The hit rate on applications through such postings is very low – almost to the point of being negligible.

Whenever an online job posting goes online, it gets hundreds of resumes very quickly – from qualified and unqualified candidates alike. The only fair way to look at 500 CVs is to not look at any of them and try to find a better way – hiring managers may start by trying to identify candidates who worked at their competitors for example, but they soon would turn to their colleagues to ask if they have any candidates they’d recommend.

The biggest misperception in the job search is that it’s not fair. I think it’s entirely fair, but the rules have dramatically changed very recently – it’s no longer about who has the best CV, and it’s more about how well do you turn strangers into allies, which is a critical skill in pretty much any professional job in existence today. At some point, you’ll need to get a stranger to be your ally, whether to sell new business, share knowledge you need, or make an introduction to someone else. The process of networking with your target employers is exactly that – in this sense, the job search now is fairer than it’s ever been, because the behavior it rewards is directly relevant to the behaviors that ensure success on the job (far more than any CV could predict success, at least).

So, don’t stress over your CV or your background. Instead, just focus on getting people who have the jobs you want to share their time, insight, advice, and expertise with you. Some will become your mentors, and they will help you make introductions at your target employers and ones you haven’t even considered before. That said, I’d say only about 20-25% of people are this sort of person (an archetype I call “Boosters” in my book), so you may have to kiss a few frogs before you find one!


Wai Kwen: Question 8

I have several questions regarding consulting jobs. Which profile and professional background is the one that strategy consulting firms look for? Which are the most important key drivers that strategy consulting firms are interested in among students? Are these accomplishments equally valuable when it comes to looking for a job in the strategic /business analyst area within the industry sector? ~ Javier, Spain


Ann: Javier – if you take your interest and skills in consulting, there are numerous opportunities in the industry. Many of the skills we look for in our managers include: building value for our customers, identifying symptoms that develop problems, drawing conclusions from data and making recommendations. All skills that are similar to a consulting company. Industry looks for hires that can impact change and be a strategic leader. Think outside the consulting box and broaden your search and you will find you can use the same skills.

Susan: We hire from a variety of backgrounds and professional work experiences. Undergraduate schools, various advanced degree programs such as PhDs and MBA students each make up a key part of our team. I personally work with colleagues who have diverse backgrounds, including teachers, scientists and individuals from the non-profit sector.

At Bain, we know that the best solution to a complex problem comes from different perspectives and so we invest heavily to make sure our team can bring the creativity, insights and collaboration required to create impact with our clients.

The common characteristics we look for are strong analytical skills, intelligence, integrity and the passion to make a difference. We invest in training and supporting our people to develop the skills necessary to work side-by-side with our results-oriented clients to help tackle their most demanding business problems.

Carola: Consulting companies hire a wide range of types. Many will have MBAs, some accounting qualifications, some a law or IT background, and some will have experience in various sectors, while others will be right out of university or another consulting firm. A concert pianist, a teacher of inner city children, a person with a masters degree in public policy, are just a small number of people I know who have ended up as consultants.

Others may disagree with me, but I feel you are putting the cart before the horse. You need to figure out what experiences you want to have in life, what you like learning about and doing, and the kind of life you want to lead (i.e., how do you rank: travel, money, flexibility, influence, family/life balance). Make your decisions with open eyes, look at what the economy needs right now and which jobs are realistic for you. Once you know what you are interested in, then find the job. Don’t try to guess what the job wants.

In consulting especially, there are people with many different stories. The most important thing is that you are able to tell yours well and that’s impossible if you are just trying to fit into an imagined requirement.


Wai Kwen: Question 9.

My questions are directed to Ms Susan Caraviello.

A) Since M&A activity has significantly increased in the last quarter and is expected to increase in the near future, I’m assuming that you would hire more people in the M&A department. What are the qualities you would like to see in a candidate to qualify for an entry-level role in this department.

B) Also, does Bain & Company have any plans to expand their base in the Middle East region in the near future? ~ Aakash, Singapore


Susan: Bain & Company has significant experience in M&A across a wide variety of sectors and we have built a track record of helping companies create real economic value from their acquisitions. Our research found that 70% of all corporate acquisitions fail but through our work with successful mergers and research on more than 1700 companies, we have developed insights into what drives a successful merger.

Our approach to M&A is grounded in our overall general management approach to any business. When we think about hiring folks to work in M&A at Bain & Company, we look for the same skills we seek in any new consultant we hire. We seek people who have strong analytical skills and are eager to learn, people who take ownership of the clients’ need to drive change, and people who are confident and passionate.

Once at Bain & company, you will work across multiple industries and experience many types of business challenges. You will learn from our partners, teams and clients, and you will develop the leadership skills to be able to help our clients be successful in M&A.

Bain has been serving clients in the Middle East for more than 20 years now. We serve a large and diverse mix of clients, including local companies, multinational corporations, family-owned conglomerates and private equity funds. We are committed to capitalizing on our growth in this region for further investment.


Wai Kwen: Question 10 for Mary Slater-Jones only.

I am not yet an MBA graduate, but I am starting next year at a business school in Europe. After my MBA, I am considering a move to an oil major and Shell is one of the companies that I am looking at. My question is what is Shell looking for in an MBA job candidate and how are applications from people with a non-technical background looked at? The last part of my question comes a bit from my experience with oil companies, although this experience is a bit one dimensional. I am currently working in the operations of the offshore division of an offshore oil and gas service company. We primarily serve the exploration and production segment and work with different oil majors, and in this segment, as well in my company, the people most sought after have a technical background. ~ Delyan, Belgium


Mary: A good question. Shell in particular looks at the CAR elements – capacity, achievement and relationships, as part of our assessment irrespective of the level of student. For capacity, we want to ensure that you can see the big picture, the details, and connect the two appropriately. For achievement, we’re looking to see that you can set goals, overcome obstacles, and achieve an outcome. For relationships, we need to make sure that you can work well with others because much of our work is done in cross-functional or cross-business teams. Our expectations of an applicant’s capabilities all stem from these areas.

Many of the companies appreciate the knowledge that a technical background provides as it makes it easier to understand some of the opportunities and challenges in front of the company especially when you’re consulting or drafting business strategies, but it’s not compulsory to be able to gain an opportunity in the industry.

Be conscious that you don’t underestimate the value of the experience you already have as a basis for “technical” knowledge. I do not have a technical background, but I have strong understanding of the way hydrocarbons are produced and create value as they move through the value chain.

The key, when you don’t have a technical background, is an ability to ask very good questions and to leverage the subject matter with experts/technical experts that you’re working with to ensure that you deliver a highly valuable and implementable output.


Wai Kwen: Last question, number 11.

I did my MBA with a major in finance in 2009 from a top business school in Pakistan. After my education, I started my career in the family business. Along with my professional responsibilities, I started my external programme (distance learning) in an LLB (law degree) with a UK university. This year I have taken all my exams for my LLB (Hons). Due to the current situation of our country, I don’t want to stay in the family business anymore and I want to work somewhere away from such a problematic state. Please advise me. ~ Tariq, Pakistan


Mary: Start with leveraging your network. Have any of your classmates gone on to work in other states? Reconnect with them to learn about where they are now and what they’re doing. They may have connections that will help you land a position using either your MBA or your law degree in another state.

You may find that using LinkedIn can be a helpful tool for reconnecting and staying in touch with them. Don’t forget about your professors as part of your network. Recruiters establish relationships with professors as we see them year after year when we work with universities and may ask them for recommendations on students or welcome introductions from them.


Wai Kwen: Thank you so much everyone. Any readers interested in sharing their MBA experience, we are currently looking for new bloggers.

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