Ask the experts: Jobs clinic

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If you are an MBA student worried about your career prospects, or a recruiter hoping to take advantage of the oversupply in the MBA market this year, get the latest news and views from the FT’s monthly online Jobs Clinic.

Answering questions this month, on, are Roxanne Hori, Assistant Dean and Director of the Kellogg Career Management Center at Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management in the US, and Andrea Buck, Global Head of MBA-Direct, the European MBA recruitment agency.

I am currently looking to start an MBA program to allow me get into strategy consulting or EU government. I am about to graduate with a bachelor in Business this summer and do not have post graduate experience. However, I will have a bit more than a year of full time experience from internships in commercial and wholesale banking, and a year part time in finance/accounting and management consulting. Would you recommend applying for an MBA now and what would be the effects of my future prospects? I know MBA is more or less the standard for consulting, so should I wait longer when I know what I want to do and what will bring me there?
Deyan Mihov, Netherlands, Amsterdam

Roxanne Hori: Working for a few years will allow you to take full advantage of all an MBA program has to offer. Your work and life experiences add value in the classroom to both your classmates as well as for yourself. Likewise, companies seek people with some prior work experiences in addition to the MBA. Their perspective is that the combination make you more likely to be able to contribute to their organization, and in your case, to the clients with whom you would work. Take a look at the typical profile of the students at the programs in which you are most interested. I encourage you to see what the average years of work experience are and aim for that for yourself. The other thing to take into consideration, is that over time our own career interests change. Working after university is a great way to find out what you truly want to focus on in an MBA program and what you might want to do upon graduation.

I just finished my degree in business and aim to do a masters programme, and I am also interested in MBA’s, but I learnt that universities will not enrol anybody without work experience. I would like to get some work experience but with the present situation, things are difficult. Please advise. Is it true that I need to have work experience before studying for an MBA? Thanks for your help
Adetunji, UK

Roxanne Hori: Work experience is not required for every MBA program, but most seem to prefer some work experience after you receive your undergraduate degree. You should review the profiles of current students attending the programs in which you are interested to see how much work experience makes the most sense for you.

Andrea Buck: Many courses have a minimum work experience requirement and this is for good reason; a key element of studying for an MBA is not just about what you learn in the class room but how you draw upon your experience to enrich your learning and understanding of the theories and practices you study. Experience will give you context to appreciate the scope of your MBA.

I am self-employed, running my small real estate company for 12 years. I do not have an undergraduate degree but have been accepted at a very good business school in London. This summer I will complete my ExecMBA. Not having an undergraduate degree, are there possibilities to get a job in Investment Banking, PE, and/or similar? Would an undergraduate degree fill the gap and increase my chances to make a career switch or would you recommend a CFA? What are my career possibilities considering my background?

Roxanne Hori: I think it depends. It is unlikely that a bulge bracket investment bank would be willing to hire you without an undergraduate degree. Not knowing what sector your real estate company focuses on and what exactly you’re doing (sales vs. financing vs. development, etc.) makes it difficult to say for certain that a PE firm would or would not consider you. If you were to try to stay in the real estate field and leverage that experience, you might have more success than trying to make a dramatic career shift.

I work for a beauty company in LA and I am looking to start studying an MBA in Luxury Marketing in France. What are the current prospects for securing a job in the luxury sector in Europe or US, being Latin American?
July Zuloaga

Roxanne Hori: Finding a job in the US, if you are not already work authorized to remain in the US will be a challenge. It is not impossible, but given the current economic climate and the skittishness of some employers in hiring international students, it might be a huge challenge. The luxury goods industry does very limited hiring and it is most likely you would have to network in those companies to find something. Being in the beauty industry is a plus, but not knowing what exactly you’re doing makes this harder to give you a definitive answer.

I am a hotel management graduate and want to do MBA in future. I want to know what MBA program will be suitable. I prefer to go for an international degree.
Shubham Jaiswal, India

Roxanne Hori: If you want to remain in the hospitality industry, I suggest you research which programs have either a specialty in this area or where they have students who have gone this route over the last 2 years. This is not an MBA-centric industry, but that said, there are MBAs working in the industry. I am unaware of any programs which have a specialization in this industry, but there may be some out there.

Andrea Buck: It all depends on why you want to study for an MBA and what you think you want to do once you have completed. I’d suggest using resources such as MBA Basics - and MBA Gym -, both of which can give you information about where to look for programs, course content and possible specialisms.

I’m a Computer Engineer with just 1 year’s work experience. I want to switch careers and move into finance as I love number crunching. The major confusion I have right now is, whether I should go for the MFin right now or have some more work experience and go for the MBA. I want to go to the US for graduate studies and expect to land a job there in the US after graduation. Would having a Mfin be beneficial for me to get a job in finance?
Sagar, India

Andrea Buck: Competition for jobs is, as I’m sure you appreciate, heightened in this present climate. Employers really do have the opportunity to pick the very best candidates and more importantly, the candidate that directly fits the specification of any job. In reality I think it will be harder for people to declare I want to move industry, job function and/or geographical location if they do not have a clear understanding of both how their skills and experience stack up against the competition, what differentiates them from their peers and specifically how they will add value to any future employer. If you are armed with this level of insight then think about how you would match (or not) the kind of job/career you are interested in pursuing.

Roxanne Hori: If you decide you want to come to the US for an MBA, please be mindful of a couple of things:

1. Most of the top 30 US MBA programs require at least 2 or 3 years of work experience

2. Given the current economic environment, unless you have work authorization in the US, it is going to be difficult to get a company to sponsor you for a work visa. It is not impossible, but it has gotten much more difficult in the US. Many of the companies who have traditionally sponsored students for work visas are either not doing it at all or have cut back. Those who are still doing it are seeking relevant work and life experiences prior to the MBA.

In terms of your question on which degree to pursue, something to keep in mind is that if you think you will love number crunching as a long term career and working in finance, then give serious consideration to the MFin. If you like it now, perhaps in the same way you like computer engineering in university, you may want to work a few more years and begin to do some self-assessment and further career exploration before you decide which degree you would like to pursue. Finance is a great career path, but as you are aware, because of what has been happening in the global economy and job market, there are far fewer jobs available today than 2 years ago.

I’m 25 and working for one of the Oil & Gas service companies. I have 4 years of experience and I am thinking of a career reinvention. I know that changing career at mid-career takes a long time, three years on average and the process is not so easy. You say that having an engineering background and an MBA is one of the best combinations in today’s economy. I plan to start my MBA in 2010. So, taking all this into consideration, what area would you suggest for me to get into? This question may sound broad but I am looking for a new path and it is very important to know what to expect from business education.
Slava Bolshakov, Russia

Andrea Buck: Why do you want a new path? What do you mean by career reinvention? What is it in your current role and industry that no longer engages you? These are the questions you need to ask yourself and be clear about in order to look ahead and begin to consider what your future career might be. I don’t think career advice can be offered just based upon the subjects you have or intend to study; you need to explore what motivates you, what your aspirations are, what’s happening in the current job market, what your strengths and weaknesses are. If you have a better understanding of all of these, you will be able to decide how best to progress your career. Good luck!

Roxanne Hori: Not sure what functional area within your industry you currently serve, but will make some assumptions. If you like the industry (Oil & Gas) and feel like you’ve developed some level of expertise, you might be able to go a couple of different directions: stay within the industry, but in a business focused role; look at services to the industry i.e. consulting, banking, equipment; stay within the industry, but go the clean tech route which will grow over the next 10 years given the environmental concerns countries are facing.

I suggest that as you explore MBA programs you talk with the Admissions representatives, at the forums, about what they see students going off to do with a background like yours.

I am a Telecommunications Engineer with 3 years work experience. Almost two years ago, I came to London to improve my English and to look for MBA options,. Due to financial problems, I took one of the cheaper options from one of the non-ranked colleges of a non-ranked university. They did not ask about your work experience. I met nice people and I had good teachers but I feel, sometimes, disappointed with the time and money invested. I want to be working in IT business management positions in a few years time, so what is the next step you would recommend to me relating to my education process. Thanks.
Unknown, London

Andrea Buck: Network, network, network! If your school has an alumni organisation then get active and participate. If it does not then maybe this might be the right time to start something that could have a business exchange/networking focus. If there are professional organisations to belong to, then look at what these might offer you in terms of industry insight and exposure to thought-leadership and leaders; many have speaking events built around an opportunity to network. Keep an eye on what’s happening in the job market with specific reference to the role you are aspiring to and identify the skills and experience being sought. Think about how you might fill any gaps you see in your own experience to bolster and enhance your progression.

My sister is a finance professional, working in corporate banking in India. She has applied to the Masters in Finance at London Business School and has had her interview. A lot of people have been advising her that doing an MBA is a better bet. However, since her concentration is in finance and she already has an MBA from India, she is keen on the program. At the same time, she is worried about the job prospects next year. What would you advise? From the standpoint of a recruiter, how does the LBS MBA compare with the MiF?
Piyush, India

Roxanne Hori: I am not familiar with their MiF program, but know that their MBA is highly regarded. If she gets the MiF, she is focusing on a fairly narrow arena. That is not a bad thing, but the MBA gives her more breadth and potentially more flexibility career wise. That may not matter if she truly knows she wants to do only finance.

How important is relevant experience in finding the dream job? I graduate this year and have been through the various recruiting rounds but, like many of my colleagues, I haven't been successful in landing a job. Many students have taken an MBA to enable a career change. In my case I left a career in medical research to move into consulting or corporate strategy. However, I'm finding my lack of commercial experience a turn-off to many companies. My CV has always got me to the interview, but I'm turned down for not having relevant experience for the position. Do you have any advice for people in my position? Thanks for your help.
Richard George, Sydney, Australia

Andrea Buck: In this market it is very important. I’ve said in response to an earlier question that the market is candidate rich and employers are looking for the very best fit for the role they have to fill. You will likely have to make many more applications to get the visibility you need and these must be tailored. Play to your strengths and be specific about your transferable skills. What is going to make your CV stand out in the pile? What’s your differentiation? Be flexible; don’t just dismiss options because they might not have been in an industry you originally wanted to work. Be focussed; no one has as much invested in your career as you do so give it its due attention. Network, network network! And think about how you could get that missing experience which would enable you to move into your dream job.

Roxanne Hori: Sometimes to get to your dream job you need to take a half step or sometimes a couple of small steps to get there. In your case, you may be a victim of the poor job market and economy. A few things I would suggest you be sure you’ve done:

1. Work with the career center that supports your program to make sure you are doing all the right things to get in front of your target companies

2. Have someone in consulting, perhaps a friend or someone who has worked in the industry before, take a look at your CV to make sure you’re positioning your experience correctly. What a consultancy seeks is going to be different than what someone hiring for medical research might be screening for

3. Have someone in your career center or a classmate who is experienced at interviewing, do a mock interview with you. For consulting you need to be adept at both the behavioral and case interviews

4. Explore possibilities in the health care field, but along business lines (strategy, marketing, finance, business development) as an interim step to perhaps go back to consulting in a few years.

I am a chartered Civil Engineer with 8 years experience. I also obtained a BSc (Banking and Finance) from LSE and passed the CFA Level but I have no I-bank or management consultant experience. I've applied to a couple of blue-chip management consultancies but I got rejected. I wonder if my qualifications and experience are not attractive to the business market or if my job-hunting is using a wrong approach. Can anyone tell me how do I get into management consulting?
Sarah, London

Andrea Buck: Management consulting is being very conservative in its recruitment this year and with little direct experience you need to take a different approach. All the things I’ve outlined in my previous answer to the above question (by Richard George) apply in the sense that you need to be flexible in seeking out where you can get your missing experience and what will make your application stand out. Utilize your LSE alumni network and speak to the careers service there to see what they can do to support you. If you haven’t already, then register at where you will be able to keep an eye on what’s happening in the market and you can set up email alerts specific to your requirements.

Roxanne Hori: Perhaps you want to broaden your search with the consultancies. In this environment targeting only the handful of blue chip firms is not a good idea. Their needs are limited and many are taking only from their target schools. You need to decide how important working for a blue chip firm is compared to being in consulting. If the latter is the most important, seek out other firms where you may be able to leverage your experience for the last 8 years. There may be firms who do a mix of work including some for government agencies which focus on infrastructure development. Not knowing the details of your civil engineering experience, it’s difficult to give you advice about particular companies to search out and how to specifically leverage your experience.

Do you think that the social networking (strategic, operational, professional networks)may be very helpful for both the MBA/EMBA graduates and the recruiters from American, European and Asian businesses in the process of young talents search and employment globally?
Viktor O. Ledenyov, Ukraine

Roxanne Hori: Absolutely. Earlier this year I was with a recruiter from a very large company who said to my audience (job seekers) that they are very dependent on using LinkedIn for any search they are conducting. In talking with job seekers and employers across a number of industries, it seems to me that social networking sites are becoming a very rich resource for companies who are looking to fill positions. Doostang posts opportunities from companies (my guess is primarily US) on their site (I believe you pay for access to those postings). If you are able to find a workshop in your area on how best to use these sites for your job search, I encourage you to attend. There is a lot of depth that some of them provide and I’ve heard a number of success stories from people about connections they’ve made as a result of digging deep into the sites.

Do you think there is an oversupply of MBA in the US/EU market?
Dennis Poon, UK

Andrea Buck: In my experience it is not just about the qualification, it is about the package you can offer an employer that includes your MBA. An MBA shows an employer that you’ve been through a process and as a result will have acquired a particular way of thinking about business and business practices. As an MBA you also offer the capability of being an effective and value adding ‘package’. There is no doubt that there has been an explosion in recent years in the number of people deciding to study for an MBA and the number of global providers. In this climate it is up to you to maximize the opportunities your business school offers you and to make the most of all the elements that make you the person you are, in relation to the career you seek.

Roxanne Hori: There is a tremendous supply of very talented people right now in most developed markets. The economic downturn has increased the number of highly talented individuals in the market. Because there are fewer jobs available the competition for those positions is significant.

I am a Law graduate with a Masters in Law and a Masters of Science in Business Management. I undertook the MSc Management because I was losing patience with getting a law career started and I wanted to move into an MBA, but had no business experience. The thing is, at first I wanted to do an American MBA, I have decided for financial reasons to do a British MBA instead. My question is, would a British MBA be respected in the United States? To be respected, would it matter if it did not have AACSB accreditation as most UK business schools go with the AMBA standard? It is my intention to work in the USA and would like to know whether or not I would be better off with the American MBA?
Victor, London

Roxanne Hori: My sense is that some of the British MBA programs are well recognized in the US. I think it would be wise for you to explore within each program you are considering if they have many students who are able to find employment in the US. I don’t know if any of those programs would let you talk with some recent alums to get their perspective on how well received their British MBA was in the States. If they would, I think that is going to be the best answer to your question.

All of that said, I would also forewarn you that the opportunities for international students in the US are tough. In part because unemployment is high and some recent changes in the distribution of work visas, it has gotten more difficult for people who are not work authorized in the US to find employment here. If you have no US work experience and then attend an MBA program outside of the US, it becomes even more challenging. Please know that getting the US MBA does not guarantee anything, but it does give you time in the States and an opportunity to better understand the job market landscape here. Again, I don’t think anything is impossible, but it will be very hard. You should definitely think through your priorities in terms of job location, type of program, location of program and ultimately what you really want to do.

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