If you’re a recent or soon-to-be MBA graduate, you’ve probably had your career on your mind long before you started your degree program. Now it is time to achieve your ROI — a better job or career that’s challenging, rewarding, and lets you exercise your passion.
Competition is fierce. MBA graduates share the most important qualifications that you have, and that employers seek: you can think quickly, identify the root cause of problems, develop strategies to turn those problems into opportunities, and implement plans to improve an organization’s overall performance. Having these skills simply gives you the ability to get into the game.
To set yourself apart from your competition, you need to up the ante by showing how you will use your new skills and your passions to add tangible value to the organization. What problems will you help them solve? What opportunities will you enable them to seize? How does your life and academic experience support what you say?
Here are six rules of thumb to shorten the distance between you and a great new job.
1. Show you can deliver results quickly. Employers want MBAs who can put their smarts into action and have real-world experience under their belts — acquired before and/or during their MBA degree program. This is why many students are pursuing their MBA degrees online, as some of these programs are structured so you can apply classroom lessons immediately to your current position. The best way to communicate during interviews is by telling specific stories that show confidence in your real-world problem-solving skills. Keep a log of your activities when you’re in school to help remember these stories. Consider how you might use your knowledge in the “real world.” Write it down so you don’t forget. If you’ve already graduated, reflect on times when you exercised leadership or fostered innovation. Think about when you swooped into a challenge or project and made a measureable impact on results. Employers want to get beyond your resume to learn about the real person. Anecdotes will help you easily illustrate your qualities, abilities, and background. They also create a picture in the interviewer’s mind that they can remember.
2. Pick a specific industry or field. Focusing your attention on a specific industry segment or field will significantly accelerate your search. Many graduates fear missing opportunities, so they cast their net far and wide. Contrary to popular brief, this strategy usually proves to be counterproductive. Even if you actually can learn new skills quickly and apply your knowledge to any industry, this is a much harder sell to the person making the hiring decision. Hiring managers look for candidates who have defined focus and can clearly articulate why they have selected the particular niche. It isn’t enough to say you want to work in manufacturing, for instance. You must be able to communicate why you want to work in manufacturing, and how you’re equipped to do so. Use the North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) codes to identify sub-groups to focus your effort. If you are not sure how to navigate NAICS, consult with your college librarian for guidance.
3. Immerse yourself in your chosen field. You don’t have to wait to get a job in your field to begin building your expertise. Identify and join trade and professional associations in your field. Most will offer low or discounted membership to students. If you don’t see a lower rate on their website, pick up the phone and call the organization. Follow industry news, and build your social networks around relevant topics. Start with LinkedIn. Watch for changes and trends in a field. You also might be able to sniff out job opportunities this way. For instance, if a company just won a major contract or is opening a new location, it might need to expand its workforce. You can reach out to the hiring manager at these companies to get in front of them before other applicants do.
4. Connect with alumni from your degree program. MBA graduates have a special bond with one another in terms of shared experiences. Staying connected with your classmates and learning partners is one of the best ways to jump-start networking initiatives and continue the learning that began in class. These classmates can also serve as informal advisors on future projects as well. Again, join and contribute to alumni focused social networks – especially LinkedIn.
5. Think like a marketer. Developing your resume and portfolio is not unlike creating a marketing kit for yourself. When you are preparing your “marketing kit,” refer to the marketing materials your college or university used to recruit you. Look at the stated benefits and outcomes of earning your degree. Use these concepts as springboards for language to use in your resume and interviews to demonstrate your value. Do the same for the classes you took and the overall degree program. Think of your classes as individual projects. What can you now do, or what do you know as a result of a particular course or experience?
6. Sustain a laser focus. Your career search starts on day one of your graduate program (if not sooner). You must remain focused on your career goals during your entire MBA degree program, and after graduation. Avoid the temptation of just surviving one course at a time and putting off your career search. Steadily work on your career plan from day one. Learn about and use your university’s career center resources to help you.
Ultimately you will not be hired for your shiny new credential. You will be hired for what you can prove you have learned and the unique value you bring to the table. Pull from your undergraduate experience, MBA experience, and life in general to demonstrate how you will add the most value to employers, and you can accelerate your career path.