Ask the Expert

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?

Derek Walker

On Thursday 13th June 2013, between 15.00 and 16.00 BST, Derek Walker answered reader’s questions.

Derek Walker is director of careers at the University of Oxford, Saïd Business School, a position he has held since 2008. His career spans more than 20 years in financial services, mainly investment and corporate banking. During this period he gained 10 years’ experience of campus recruiting at all levels within the investment banking industry. Before joining Saïd, he was director of campus recruiting at Barclays Capital and before that at Merrill Lynch in a similar role.

Other experts will be available to answer your questions throughout the week. Visit our MBA Jobs Clinic homepage to find out more.


I did an MBA just four years after my BSc and graduated in July 2012. I have just three years of work experience pre-MBA and it’s been challenging to get a job.

It’s worsened by the fact that I’m in a foreign country (South Africa) and it seems employers are threatened by the MBA as they keep saying I am over qualified for positions. What can I do, seeing as I don’t have vast experience and would like to start working again?


Derek: Tricky – many MBAs have about the same experience as you do. Are you applying for positions more suited to undergrads, which is why you’re getting the response you mention? Not sure where you did your MBA, but I would target employers in which MBAs from your school work, and ask them for advice. Maybe they can help position you appropriately.

I am currently pursuing a master of science in management programme. I did my undergrad in computer science and right after my undergrad I am pursuing a masters programme in management. I am interested in pursuing a career in management consulting. Will I be looked at as an MBA candidate or in which category? Do I apply for an internship in management consulting?

I am also going to pursue summer school at the Chicago Booth School of Business. Is it possible to obtain an internship in Chicago in management consulting, even if I have stayed there only for two months? i.e does the knowledge or period of stay about a geographic region matter in applications to a particular office and if so how long?

Is it hard to enter management consulting without prior experience, or few years of experience? I do not have any full-time work experience so far.


Derek: It’s unlikely that you will be looked at as an MBA candidate as you don’t have an MBA nor any professional full-time experience. However, management consultancy firms hire students at your entry level, albeit not at the same level of compensation.

Re. Chicago, it’s difficult to say – but generally offices of these firms often (but not always) look for some solid local experience and two months probably wouldn’t do it. I guess it depends also where you’re from originally and what your experience is.

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

Derek: Tricky question!! Fashion companies like passion and interest, so I’d advise you emphasise this as much as possible. However, having worked in other sectors, they may well question your overall motivation. Do you know anyone who works in these companies – they can useful in a number of ways (i) giving you advice about what the firm looks for, (ii) giving your CV a little push which get you an interview (iii) telling you about the work environment, etc.

It strikes me from your questions that you are far from certain about what you want to do – which isn’t a bad thing at this stage, but if that’s the case I would do as much fact finding as possible with a view to developing some kind of focus before you start applying, as it’s very easy for an experienced interviewer to conclude within five minutes that a candidate isn’t really serious about their business.

Re. strategy consultancies, many students do internships after a masters programme – the employment market isn’t strong enough at the moment for there to be other options. But if you impress, you may get a full-time offer…

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.


Derek: This is not as unusual as you may think. There are many well-qualified candidates chasing a small number of roles – so the employers pick exactly what they want. This doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with your CV etc. Do you know anyone who works in these firms, and if so have you sought their input?

Strat firms generally hire generalists, but maybe you’d get more traction if you look at a slot in a full service firm (such as E&Y) for which you have good relevant experience. (You don’t mention if you’ve done this already, so forgive me if you have).

Bear in mind the full service firms hire into roles, and like specific relevant experience in the people they hire. So I would review your experience carefully and try to match it against the practice areas of the full-service firms. If you know someone there so much the better – these firms have generous employee referral programmes so if a contact thinks you’re worth considering they’ll put your name forward for consideration.

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?

Thanks so much in advance for your time.

Barjinder Badwal

Derek: This will be tricky – depending on the location you’re looking to move to within the US, as well as your US immigration status, which you don’t mention, nor do you say whether you have any US work experience. Also, you need to bear in mind that recruiters in US employers tend only to look at US schools, where they have an ample supply to choose from.

So if you can, you need to bypass the recruiters and build a contact with a consultant in the organisation you’re targeting. I would steer clear of the major centres, which have a surplus of candidates. This will not be easy so I would suggest looking in your home region (if applicable) as well.

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

Derek: Generally (but not always) you should look to target the consumer goods practices, and I would leverage any connections you have in these firms via your previous work. You will need to become super good at business cases, and be able to describe situations in which you’ve generated positive impact in a range of situations. You could apply to be considered as a generalist, although that would be at the standard MBA entry level. These firms are always on the lookout for good talent, but it helps hugely if someone internally can at least forward your CV to the recruiter.

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?



Derek: As a start, review the websites of all the major firms and understand how the hire, what they look for, etc., and how they differentiate themselves from each other. Look at the profiles of recent hires and ask if they look like you, experience-wise. Start preparing business cases (use books by Cosentino and Ohrvall) and talk to anyone who works in these firms, who can tell you about the work, culture, lifestyle, etc. Think about your work experience and how you have been able to affect positive outcomes in projects, problem-solving, teams, etc.

Does completing undergraduate and graduate school from same university have impact on the credibility of your degrees? Also, does this affect your career outlook?


Syed Ali

Derek: Can’t see why, as long as it’s a good school

I recently earned my MBA in International Business & Strategy from a top 20 school. I am mid-career and have a very diverse background spanning from Operations Management Consulting, Corporate Finance, Business Intelligence, and Manufacturing. Each stop during my career had an “Operations” underlying tone. Is there a place in the market place for me with this diverse background or should I have focused on one area in my career and became a subject matter expert either in Corporate Finance or a Six Sigma Black belt?

Thank you for your time,

M. Schmidt

Derek: Not sure what you mean by “mid career” but at some stage most people specialise. Your experience sounds more suitable to the latter option than former, but I’d advise you to follow the course that you think you’ll enjoy the most. That being said, good ops guys are always in demand…

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