Preliminary results of our latest survey, “Why the MBA,” indicate that over three-quarters of MBA graduates chose the MBA to change careers. Yes, I know, that’s not news. The MBA has grown into the great change enabler. If you’re tired of your dead end job and need a way out, get your MBA and move quickly to the top of another organization, so the thought process goes.
As career changers, the MBAs indicate they want to either move into a management position or get a job in another company (55%). Interestingly, these graduates also indicated that they didn’t choose the MBA for networking (66%). HMMMM? By networking, I mean, making efforts to meet students from other companies or tapping into the alumni groups. That would seem to be an obvious “in” to any company. Most companies consider internal referrals first.
So the question that takes center stage is “How do they plan to find these opportunities for a better career?” I don’t think employers attend graduations nor do they have drafts where they get into bidding wars for top talent. Maybe they hope to get an internship with a company that will hire them directly after graduation. Makes sense, right?
Well, another preliminary result indicated that graduates earn the MBA so they will be prepared to take advantage of future opportunities. That makes me think they may not be looking for an opportunity during their program, or even right after. Maybe they are too focused on learning new skills and seeing what new opportunities or ideas they encounter during their program. If so, this is a big wake-up call for MBA programs.
If MBA programs want to bring in more students, they need to focus on creating experiences that show students the breadth of opportunities that are open to MBAs. Universities can invite companies that hire MBAs in to discuss the who, what and why of their new hires. That is, who are they hiring, what skills do they want and specifically why these particular individuals. That would be helpful. Universities could also engage in conferences where industry presents the current status of their market and where they are heading. That might help you figure out what skills you need to focus on. Lastly, alumni events should be held with current students so that information can be shared, especially regarding expectations of what former students wanted and what they got.
The last interesting trend is that almost 8 of 10 graduates indicated their MBA program met or exceeded their expectations. That’s great. But I wonder that if you don’t really have a well-defined purpose for your degree that will need to be implemented right away, your expectations may not be very high. You’re simply living in the moment. On the other hand, if you had a purpose for the new skills you were developing, you could get some real feedback on the program. Did they teach you the skills you needed to be successful? It’s almost as if the skills are not necessarily the most important part of the MBA. It’s the credentials. It’s how it makes your resume or CV look to potential employers.
Having dealt with MBA graduates over the years as a career coach, I just want to issue a few words of caution. For students and graduates, there are too many graduating with an MBA every year (all across the globe). If you really plan to use it in the future, pick some skills to further develop. Create successes that demonstrate your proficiency. At the rate we’re graduating MBAs, it’s possible it may lose some of its value because there are too many of them. Ask the lawyers. They’ll explain the problem. As for MBA programs, the perspectives they are getting on their programs may not be a real reflection on how they are doing. The best advice to take is from industry. The people that hire the MBAs will have the best perspective on how your program is performing.
Why is the MBA one of the most challenging degrees? Well, I started out as an engineer. When I graduated, I had a specific set of skills. I couldn’t just use them anywhere so I got a job in my field of expertise. Even when I got my graduate degree in engineering, it just elevated me further in my field. However, the MBA is typically more general with regards to the skills you build. You can use them anywhere, but which ones and where? Now, combine that with the fact that many students don’t know what they want to do with these skills and you have an interesting problem. What’s the value proposition now?
As we chase our success in life, we are often impacted by barriers. Some we set on ourselves and some others put on us. Many of these barriers control us while many drive us to do what we do every day. Identifying your barriers is critical to understanding how to achieve greater success in your career and life. The best way to do this is to learn from others. So this week I decided to help you on your journey by highlighting a resource you should consider reading.
In this post, I interview a long time friend, Myer Kutz, and discusses his latest release, “In the Grip.” Myer shares a lot of what he’s learned in the publishing business. If you’ve ever wanted to write, his insights will be enlightening.
Myer Kutz has headed his own firm, Myer Kutz Associates, Inc., since 1990. For the past several years, he has focused on developing engineering handbooks and encyclopedias on a wide range of technical topics, such as mechanical, materials, biomedical, transportation, and environmentally conscious engineering, for a number of publishers, including Wiley, McGraw-Hill, William Andrew, and Elsevier.
Earlier, his firm supplied consulting services to a large client roster, including Fortune 500 companies, scientific societies, and large and small publishers. The firm published two major multi-client studies, The Changing Landscape for College Publishing and The Developing Worlds of Personalized Information. Before starting his independent consultancy, Kutz held a number of positions at Wiley, including acquisitions editor, director of electronic publishing, and vice president for scientific and technical publishing. He holds engineering degrees from MIT and RPI and worked in the aerospace industry. In addition to his edited reference works, he is the author of eight books, including Temperature Control, published by Wiley, Rockefeller Power, published by Simon and Schuster, and Midtown North, published under the name Mike Curtis.
Here’s the interview.
Todd: What's your new novel about?
Myer: My novel, In the Grip, is about people controlled by or besotted with other people or captive of their own passions, ambitions, torments, and demons. It's an intense psychological mystery involving love, loss, murder, sex, scientific publishing, and fine art that should have broad general appeal.
Todd: How did you get started on it?
Myer: The novel has its origin in the lunches I have a couple of times a week with a prominent and colorful friend here in Albany. A few times in the past, two of my friend’s colleagues - another man and a woman - were present. The story just took off from there - four people sitting around a table at lunch and talking about life. Then I started to write about my own life growing up in Boston and people I've known here and there over the years. Some of the biographical details survived, but it's all in the background. Some places and locations are real, some are made up. The relationships, the characters, and the action are all fictional. In short, I lived a lot of the background stuff in the book, but it's still fiction.
Todd: Are there connections to your professional life in publishing?
Myer: The book’s narrator has a career in scientific / technical writing and editing, where I’ve worked professionally for the better part of my life. So the narrator’s career is grounded in some reality. Some of the action takes place in a publishing company’s offices, at the Frankfurt Book fair, and at the professional and scholarly publishers’ annual Washington, DC conference, but while some little bits in the book actually happened, all the publishing characters and organizations are fictional. As I tell my friends in publishing, trying to identify anyone in the novel with an actual person is a fool's errand.
Todd: Is this your first foray into fiction?
Myer: I’ve written fiction before, including three novels under pseudonyms. I’ve always been fond of mystery fiction, particularly the works of such masters of the genre as Raymond Chandler and Ross Macdonald (novelists, not mystery writers, really), and casting In the Grip as a murder mystery came most naturally to me, although the novel at its core is about an obsessive love and about people submitting to the powerful forces in their lives.
The part of writing fiction that comes easiest to me is dialogue. I’ve always tried to make my writing sound like speech anyway. I’ve always believed that learning to write clearly in one realm – scientific and technical, say – is good training for writing clearly in another realm – fiction, say. I’ve edited a great many engineering handbooks, and many of the contributors have been excellent writers. So can any good writer be a novelist? Of course, among the things that don’t carry over from the former of these realms to the latter are character development, plotting, pacing, the use of suspense and other fictional devices. You might be able to pick up such things from a lifetime of reading and critical evaluation, as I’ve tried to, or from workshops and other training venues that exist. In any case, writing In the Grip, which took me ten months, was a wonderful, fulfilling experience.
Thanks, Myer. We wish you the best with this new book and your journey into a whole new realm of writing.
Creating a brand for yourself isn’t complicated but it is extremely important to the amount of success you will achieve in your lifetime. When you meet someone you haven’t met before, how do you describe yourself? When strangers see your social profiles online, what do they see? Your brand is a tool for letting others know who you are, instantly. Most people will spend very little time learning about you, this includes reading your profiles or listening to you talk about yourself. Either way, you only have a short time to convey the essence of YOU. You must carefully choose the right words; that is, words that describe your value, strengths, and uniqueness. In this post, we’ll provide a quick look into a simple process, which we call “Me in 3,” that will help you be more effective in your social interactions.
Before we look at the process of defining yourself, let’s first understand why it’s so important. Social interactions are underpinned and enabled by our memory; more specifically, facial recognition and memory of previous interactions. For the social interaction to be successful, we must be able to recall specifically who we interacted with and what happened during those interactions. A failure to remember either one can easily result in social rejection.
Facial recognition isn’t really part of the “Me in 3” but we’ll look at it quickly because it is vital to effective branding. The FFA, known as the Fusiform Face Area, is the part of the brain that is associated with facial recognition and is located in the temporal area. The FFA encodes and retrieves facial information. The amygdala is another part of the brain that processes and stores information typically related to emotional events. Have you ever wondered why television programs and movies use attractive people? It’s because attractiveness stirs emotion, which makes it easier to recall. In a study at UCLA’s Department of Psychology, women were able to accurately recognize very attractive faces for both men and women. In contrast, men recognized very unattractive faces in men and women. In short, we attach emotion to the image, which helps us recall it later. That’s why everyone tells you to ensure you are using a professional photo on your website, social profiles and anywhere else people will see you. It helps with memory recall.
Now, let’s consider the information gathered from interactions. It is very clear that the impressions we leave with others helps build our reputation. It is also known that social interaction doesn’t impact short-term memory retention, indicating that impressions take little time to form. Additionally, most people are always in a hurry anyhow, so we have little time to make our best impression. Therefore, impressions are made from the information that is available at the time and for rapid impressions, the information must contain little interpretational ambiguity. Ideally, for impressions to be accurate, we really need unbiased, representative target information which has been sampled broadly. However, in today’s fast paced world, this rarely happens. We know impressions are heavily influenced by expectations. This is where the “Me in 3” process demonstrates its value. To influence how others think about us, we need to set the proper expectations. Then, any interactions with these individuals will simply become a verification of these expectations. In short, they’ll try to confirm their expectations. Is your behavior consistent or inconsistent with their expectations? While we do address the interaction part in our process, we will only focus on the expectation part in this post.
So we know we need to provide information that requires little interpretation. We also know that we can’t overwhelm others with too much information. They won’t remember it. We need to focus on setting the right expectations using words that are simple, easy to remember and positive in nature. The “Me in 3” process begins by defining three characteristics about yourself that you’ll use to communicate who you are, in-person and on-line. Three words. That’s it. Sounds easy, right?
Finding those three words begins with introspection. In our process, we try to identify tools that are easy and free. So, your first step is to go to Princeton Review’s website and take the career aptitude test. The results will tell you about your style and interest. Each one will be defined in detail and will list numerous keywords that relate to personal characteristics. Write down the keywords from your style and interest. Now, you have the beginnings of your three key words for your brand. You could just reflect on your own experience and work this list down to three key words. However, we suggest that you continue your internal discovery process to better define yourself. One step isn’t enough.
In our “Me in 3” process, we take you into more introspection activities that include analyzing your desired work environment, defining your strengths and weaknesses, reflecting on past successes and challenges, understanding what you value in your work and verifying your results with family and friends. By combining all of these activities, you can create three words that clearly articulate who you are. Our “Me in 3” process will then help you define your three key messages that support each of the three attributes. From these three key statements, you will develop your elevator pitch, unique selling proposition, and profiles for social networks. We also show you how to analyze your audience so you are marketing yourself to the right people; that is, those people who value the three key words you define yourself with. Then, you just focus on growing your brand and making more people aware of who you are. Stay tuned. We’ll provide more information on this simple process of building your brand power.
That’s it for this post. Sorry I can’t add everything but I hope you get the idea.
Consider the power of these 3 words. They are easy to remember and define who you are. They are used to build the stories that you tell others. They help you identify your differentiation and value proposition. They help you create the marketing information that you put on your social profiles. Lastly, these three words keep you communicating a consistent message to your audience. A message that builds trust and echoes the same value every single time.
Here's a view of the whole process. We'll try to cover more of it later. It's all in our workbook that accompanies our book, Personal Brand Planning for Life.
The cost of the MBA degree for most is simply the amount of money they must spend in tuition, fees, books and other direct costs required to earn the diploma. However, the most important consideration is Time. Time is your most valuable resource. It’s truly limited and you don’t know how much you have. Yet, I see so many ignore this resource and let years pass by without even considering planning for the use of their MBA. Most of my clients fall into this category – I’ve just graduated with my MBA and want to get a higher level position. My response to them is “you’re too late for anything considerable in the next year or so.” Our experience shows that if you haven’t prepared for you MBA and wait until graduation, it will take 2 or 3 years before you can get yourself in a position to take advantage of your degree. Why? You have just created a new product, yourself, that no one knows about nor do you have any methods for communicating the value to your audience. So, you’ll struggle to figure out how to communicate your value, who to communicate it to and develop the proof that your value really exists.
While you’ll learn a great deal in your MBA program, most of which you won’t use later on, there are some things that you aren’t taught during your program that are critical to your success after graduation. Normally, MBAs don’t worry about these lessons until after they graduate. After all, it’s not a requirement for your degree. However, these activities take time to complete and have a huge impact on your career. The main reason for starting these activities while you’re in your program is to avoid any delay in obtaining new opportunities after graduation and it allows you to utilize other aspects of the university experience to build your value.
Here are 4 things you need to do when beginning your MBA program:
Develop your brand. We use the term “MBA” too loosely. Having an MBA doesn’t really brand you as anything special or unique. The brand power isn’t really there because the knowledge and skills gained through an MBA is too broad. The MBA won’t brand you by itself. You need to create your own brand that defines who you are, what you have to offer and why it is valuable to a potential employer or customer. If you’ve already started a program, then you have some reason for dedicating one to two years of your life to the pursuit of the MBA. Why? What do you want from the degree, in terms of skills and knowledge? If you don’t know what they are, think further in the future. What do you want to become? What skills and expertise does this role require? Pick three characteristics of this image to define you. Ensure that you already have at least one of them. Then, use the duration of your MBA program to develop the others. Then, develop three key messages to communicate the value of each of these three characteristics. These messages can be used to develop your unique selling proposition, elevator pitch and more. We get to that in a later post. By understanding your brand now, you can utilize the steps below to build power behind your brand. Otherwise, you're just a graduate. But don’t stop here. Read on.
Build evidence of your transition. If you're using the MBA to change directions in your career, then you need to provide employers visible proof that you've made that change. Without a clear definition of who you are, employers will see you as a fresh graduate searching for a new identity. Are you a valuable contributor to their organization? How can they tell? The evidence is in what you have accomplished. You have one or two years to build your new image by accomplishing feats that demonstrate your brand. Let's say you want to be an organizational leader. You might choose these three traits for your brand: great communicator, team player and inspirational motivator. So what activities can you do that would illustrate a mastery of these skills? While the MBA program may give you opportunities to build these skills, every student has that opportunity. You can't differentiate yourself by doing what everyone else does. You've got to look outside the norm. Motivated by one of his classes that involved case studies and teamwork, I once had a client write a book about their experience with teams and how to improve their performance. After publishing it, he went on a small speaking tour. This shows an ability to take knowledge and experience, create something new with it and find a way to share it with the world. If you want to change the world and your career, think outside the box. Push yourself to accomplish things that show everyone you are already the person you want to be. Your trail of accomplishments will serve as the proof of who you are and everyone will accept that.
Implement your marketing plan. An employer searching for candidates at a university often runs into a pile of resumes that look very similar. After all, the students often have similar backgrounds and now have similar skills and knowledge. To make this more challenging for you, MBA programs have their own brand and are known for specific skill development in their graduates. But what if these skills are not what you feel defines you. Employers will be confused and will most likely pass you over for any consideration. The lesson here is to not allow others to brand you. That activity belongs to you. You know you best and are, by far, the best person to market your knowledge and skills. If you fail to do the aforementioned activities, you'll be forced to use the brand of the university, not your own.
Your marketing plan will consist of mostly online tools that will communicate your brand and the value you offer. These tools include social networking sites, your own website, blogs and many collaborations and contributions to other websites in your area of expertise. For example, I write about the MBA degree often. So, I want to display my writings in magazines, books, ezines and blogs that MBAs frequent. Research where your target audience lives online and create proof of your talents for all to see. It takes time to create videos, presentations, articles and blogs. This is why I suggest you do it at the beginning of your program. At the very least, you'll have a lot of information to share with a potential employer or customer.
Create tools for effective networking. This activity should be part of the marketing plan, but most students don't create such a plan, so I mention this one separately. Don't expect me to suggest creating a good resume. This is a given but it isn't really effective today. The world is digital and you need to create tools that take advantage of technology. If you want to impress those who can give you opportunity, you need to show that you're on the leading edge. Also, finding opportunities in the current marketplace isn't easy, even with an MBA. You need to develop tools that plaster the internet and cover everyone in a face-to-face networking event. I've already mentioned some of the online tools. At the very least, you should have a website that has a photo of you, videos of you answering typical interview questions, links to your blog, articles and other contributions to your field. For face-to-face meetings, you don't want to bog people down with paperwork or other things that they must keep up with. But what if you had the ability to send them links, presentations and other information about you electronically (i.e. directly to their phone). Let's say you just met an executive at a company you would work for. He trades business cards with you. You ask if you can send him info. He agrees and before he leaves the event, he has your personal presentation on his phone. Such a capability ensures that you are ready for any situation. No matter where it is, you can reach potential opportunity.
Too many students and graduates have the impression that the mere possession of the MBA will bring a plethora of opportunity. This simply isn't true. Don't wait until you graduate and have to spend 2 to 3 years to figure out how to progress your career. Take time to think about it NOW. By following the aforementioned steps, you'll give yourself the forward momentum you need to keep your career going in the right direction. You're most likely earning the MBA to speed up your career growth, but a failure to plan for the use of the degree will certainly slow you down.
In the next few posts, we'll break these activities down into easy to follow steps that you can use to put your career plan together and put it in motion. After all, competition is fierce today and if you're aren't moving forward, you're losing ground.
In my last post, we talked about some things high achievers do. Thinking back on that post a little, I feel it necessary to elaborate a little more on what they do that is so different. Please read these and let me know if you do these activities on a daily basis. Plus, there’s a little challenge for you at the end. If you completely it successfully, I’ll send you a prize.
1. They don't make back-up plans. I’ve said this before but the really successful don’t want to consider the fact that they might not accomplish their goal. It isn’t an option in their mind. It’s merely a matter of how much time and effort it will take to achieve it. Do you approach your goals with such confidence? If not, look at the challenge below as an opportunity to set a goal and complete it. There are no alternatives. There are no shortcuts. The goal is the goal and it must be accomplished. You will work on it until it
is complete, no matter how long it takes.
2. They put in the work required. I use Malcolm Gladwell’s rule of 10,000 hours to illustrate how high achievers look at success. The rule implies that you must put a dedicated ten years of effort to be the best in your trade. Ten years! The human mind can’t really wrap itself around this amount of time. Why? Because anything you must do for that amount of time is not an isolated activity. It’s a way of life. It’s something you do every day, just like sleeping and eating. Is this the way your approach the activities you engage in to make yourself more successful? This applies to all of your goals. If you want to work for a certain company, how much time and effort do you dedicate to achieving that goal? Hopefully the answer is “as much as it takes.” That’s how you ensure you’re successful.
3. They avoid distractions. Play time and work time are separate. High achievers typically don’t mix these two. They do take time to rest and that’s exactly what they do. They forget everything and have fun. Why? Because they know that when they get back on the job, it’s all about work. Focus is a critical skill. They don’t like to spend time surfing the web and perusing social network sites. They work on their craft. That’s how you get better. While others are enjoying playing games on social sites, they are getting further ahead by improving their skills to a level that their competition can’t meet.
4. They embrace their own kind. While they may be friendly with everyone, the high achievers befriend those who are similar in nature. They don’t attach themselves to mediocrity because it will be a distraction from their focus. I play basketball at a local gym that NBA Players visit. However, they don’t get on the courts with us to play. Why? They won’t get any better playing down at our level. Therefore, it’s wasted effort. Our goals take long enough as it is so there’s no desire to waste time on activities that won’t improve their skills.
5. They are ok with failure. I’ve always thought this one would be difficult for the high achievers who seem to be driven to succeed. But, it doesn’t slow them any. It’s not even a bump in the road along their path to success. Failure is simply a learning experience. It is the result of intentional effort. Failure is very much a part of the process. It’s almost impossible to achieve success without experiencing a little failure first. Just accept the fact that it will occur. Learn from it and quickly move on. Ten years will move faster than you imagine.
6. They achieve their goals. This one may sound a little strange but this is what high achievers do. They accomplish their goals. They won’t waste a lot of time and effort without having something to show for it. High achievers are success oriented. It’s an addiction, not because it’s a great feeling of accomplishment but because it gets them to the next step. It’s always about moving forward, ever closer to that goal. Working in a job for 5 years isn’t really a goal. It should be more defined than that. Why? That’s just a measure of time. Goals should be more specific and should consider a measurement in the improvement of your trade. It’s about setting goals, achieving them and moving to the next one. Each success builds on the previous one. That’s forward progress and something mediocrity knows little about.
If you want to learn some of these habits, you must do so through experience. You can’t read a book, blog or other information that will tell you exactly what you need to do. No one has those answers. But you can figure them out. The most used scientific method in the world is “trial and error.” That’s right. Even the brightest minds in the world use this technique. Why? It’s very effective. Each failure can point you in
the direction of success, moving you ever closer to reaching it. Try enough times and you’ll get there. Give up…well, we know where that leads.
So You Want To Learn These Habits?
Here’s my challenge for you:
Identify a crazy challenge goal for yourself. Don’t pick something easy that you can do in a day. Really challenge yourself. Consider choosing something that will help you create a habit that you really need now. For example, let’s say you want to master the art of persuasion. You might choose a goal of convincing the New York Times to write a story about you. Yeah, crazy huh? Well, it is possible. Sure you know nothing about how to do that now but you will learn as you make steps toward achieving that goal. When you have achieved your goal, you’ll be truly amazed at what you have learned. The light will turn on brightly and you’ll feel that you can truly accomplish anything you want. You see, these crazy goals really aren’t that crazy. It’s just that we know little about it so we think it is impossible. How can it be impossible when so many people do these things every single day. Well, your day is coming. Make it happen!
Choose your challenge. Send me an email to let me know what you are doing. I’ll help push you on your journey. When you’ve completed it, I’ll send you my class on Personal Branding, currently being taught in MBA programs. It will help you learn to communicate your value to others, on and off line. It shows you how to create your profiles, unique selling proposition, elevator pitch and much more. When you're done, your brand is in place and ready to sell.
Take the challenge! Show yourself what you’re capable of. If not, don't complain about your lack of success. Just remain mediocre.
I’ll present the results right here for everyone to see.
Bloomberg Businessweek released an article entitled “Dealing with failure in the MBA job search,” which attempts to motivate students to remain resilient during their job search. The story was written by Roxanne Hori of Northwestern University, who has over 16 years advising MBA students on careers. While Roxanne’s advice is sound, it could go a lot deeper to help students set proper expectations for their career. MBA students don’t just have issues getting a job prior to graduation. They’ll experience an emotional roller coaster over the length of their career. The challenges they face at graduation (and many others) will repeat over and over again.
Yesterday, I had a long discussion with an MBA professional who had been working for 4 years and had grown tired of her position. The excitement of the job was long gone and so was the challenge. She told me she could do the job in her sleep. Unfortunately, promotions in her company seem to be a thing of the past, with raises and bonuses quickly following. So what’s left for an MBA to do?
I’ve worked with many High Achievers (HA) over the years, most of which were MBAs, and here are a few things I’ve learned that they do that MBAs might need to consider adopting when you’re faced with failure and you need to make a change.
High Achievers have a plan. They don’t simply call a recruiter and say “I hate my job. I need something new.” High Achievers take the time to reflect on their situation, such as what they like and what they don’t like about their job, company, environment and so on. These factors become the boundaries for their change. Planning for the change begins while they are still in their situation. By staying in the situation during planning, they ensure their existing contacts can play a role in gaining the new opportunity and the pain of remaining in their situation provides sufficient focus and motivation.
Now don’t get the idea that high achievers stay in an undesirable position for long. They realize that the longer they are in the situation, the unhappier they become and the more likely they are to damage relationships. While they don’t often go back to a company they leave, they can always use them as a reference. What’s their plan? Know what you want and use everything to get there.
Dedicated to their goals. This is where high achievers set themselves apart. There is no settling for less than what they want. If you’ve read the book, Outliers, by Malcolm Gladwell, then you know about the rule of 10,000 hours. These people will dedicate as much time and energy as it takes to achieve the success they want. Again, they’ll dedicate as much time as required to get the results they want. Most people won’t do that. In my own experience, I once sought an interview with a businessman so vigorously that I sent him 400 emails over 18 months. I got the interview. A little overkill? Not to me. It was what I needed to do to get what I wanted and I got it.
No emotional attachment to failure. Leaving emotions out of your results is tough. If you don’t, it can cause you to fall short of your goals. Just imagine my demeanor after 399 emails that said “No.” Would most people have continued sending that many for so long? I didn’t care about getting a NO response. I was only concerned about a YES response. That’s what I wanted, nothing else mattered. High achievers are high achievers because they refuse to give in to the situation and will fight to get what they want. Time and effort are just the price of achieving the goal. If you reach out to a person in a company to ask for help and they refuse….big deal. Just find another contact and keep trying. Focus on your success, not your failures. Focusing on your failures will lead you to inaction. You’ll eventually be afraid to do anything because you might fail. Then, setting yourself apart from your competition will be difficult because you won’t have accomplished much. Fear is an emotion. Use it when you’re watching a scary movie, not when you’re fighting for success.
For the most part, the biggest barrier you’ll face in achieving your success is you. There will always be people in the way. Some will compete with you. Some will hold you back. Some will derail your efforts. Some will do nothing. So what? These aren’t the people you are seeking anyhow. Stay focused on accomplishing your goals and stop worrying about a result that isn’t what you want. My dad, rest his soul, always told me that “if you’re not screwing up, you aren’t doing anything.” If you do anything enough times, you’ll fail and that’s not a bad thing. Winston Churchill once said, “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”
What's your craziest dedication to a goal? Come on, show us what you got!
Last week we talked about some of the reasons why MBAs fail to plan for their career. This is an important topic to discuss because many professionals invest considerable time and money in the hopes of a fair return on that investment. Unfortunately, that doesn’t always happen, as shown by the B-School Happiness Index. This index is conducted by Bloomberg Businessweek with the last results posted in November 2012. Quality of teaching and career services were two large concerns for respondents in these rankings. Students want to learn something and develop skills that are needed by organizations so that when they graduate, they can find sufficient employment. Is that too much to ask? Maybe. Before we dive into the things MBA students should be doing to plan for their career, let’s see who is on the top and bottom of Businessweek’s survey as the campus with the most and least satisfied students.
In displaying these results, we want you to get some idea of the performance of colleges and universities. The results show that Indiana University, University of Maryland, Carnegie Mellon, Cornell University and IE University have the most satisfied students. From my own experience, I’ve spoken with many of these programs and they have been quite active in supporting my efforts (i.e. books) on career topics.
The results of the most dissatisfied students include NC State University, York University, University of Toronto, University of South Carolina and the University of Rochester. Personally, I’ve had little to no experience with these programs. They don’t respond to any requests I send them, so I can’t develop an opinion on their programs. Why are they listed at the bottom of the list? What could these schools be missing? We list a few things that they should be doing later on. Keep reading.
Now, back to what YOU, the student, should be doing. Here’s a few things students overlook (and so did I years ago).
It’s your career. No one has the responsibility to build your successful career but you. Again, it’s your responsibility to plan and develop your career. Don’t get the idea in your head that someone else will come along and do this for you. It’s possible that the Happiness Index results are a direct correlation of students coming to that realization that their university doesn’t do anything to help them. You are dedicating two years of your life to the MBA. Start planning your career at the beginning of the program. Set goals and accomplish them. These accomplishments will be just as valuable (or more) than what you do in your program.
Research, don’t just read. If you look around the internet, you’ll find many ads about MBA programs. Some of them sound very enticing. Some examples include statements like:
I love these statements just as much as you do. But, seriously, how can these programs promise that. They can’t. Look on your admissions paperwork and see if there is a guarantee anywhere. Of course, there isn’t one. So, stop reading these kinds of ads. They are an attempt to get students enrolled. Remember, universities are trying to grow, just like you. Instead of reading advertisements and hype, put in some real research into programs and find one that meets your needs. Yes, that means you need to know what your needs are. Take time to identify what you require for your growth and then find a program that has it. How well the program meets your needs is your return on investment. Don’t leave it to chance and end up dissatisfied with the last two years of your life.
Assume nothing. As a student, you’re going to spend a considerable amount of time and money on the MBA program. To me, my time is more valuable than money. Money comes and goes, but time, it just goes. Yes, you can use that. Treat your program like a real investment. What does your desired degree pay? Is it in high demand? Does the school have generous financial aid programs? Do they have strong alumni programs? Take a look at the needs you defined and try to determine what resources would fill these needs. Then, assess whether the school can support it. If they can’t, where else can you get it? Don’t assume that high cost means high quality. Do your homework on this investment in yourself. This is one homework assignment that will pay dividends in the future, as quickly as the end of your program.
Use your brand, not theirs. Too many students try to use the university’s brand as opposed to their own. The top programs have significant brand power. When you mention Stanford, Harvard, Cornell, IE, IESE or London Business School, it implies quality. Recruiters love these brands. However, it all comes at a price and still isn’t a guarantee to continued success throughout your career. Today, the corporate world wants specific skills. If your university isn’t known for developing those, their brand won’t help you too much. The best course of action is to build your own brand, highlighting the skills and value you provide to the organization. By learning to sell yourself, you’ll be able to sustain your career many years after you graduate.
I know….this post is getting too long. I’ll make this last part quick.
Advice for universities
Set expectations early. Many programs we talk with do very little to indoctrinate the freshman or incoming class as to what they can offer. This leaves the student with the task of finding out what they should be doing, which doesn’t serve the university or the student very well, as the Happiness Index indicates.
Teach skills they can use. While learning to create a resume is important, there are other skills that are more useful today. Personal branding has become a big topic and something students want. Create a program that teaches branding skills throughout the program, providing opportunities for students to identify and complete goals that will be useful for demonstrating the skills they will learn while still in the program. Otherwise, they are stuck with saying I have skills but haven’t used them yet.
Engage in expert resources. Too many programs are still giving the same advice they gave when I was in college. For the new students with little experience, it satisfies the question at the time but doesn’t fill the need. If you don’t know what tools are needed for today’s career development, ask the experts. Help the kids. They need it.
I’ve got a lot more but I’ll stop here. Remember, a career is your responsibility. Education is just a part of it and does nothing by itself. It’s a tool you must learn to use. Find programs that help you do that and you’ll be more successful (as well as get a better return on your investment). Be active in planning your career and bullish in the things you need to get there. That’s what you’re paying for. No one gives away anything. If you want great success, expend great effort, but do it wisely.
Recently, I was contacted by a college graduate who wanted to discuss his future options. I’m always eager to hear such stories so I welcomed the opportunity. Just a few minutes into the discussion, I had to stop him and ask the question. “So you’ve just finished your second master’s degree and you’re now trying to figure out what to do?” I found this fascinating. Why is it that intelligent professionals dedicate so many years of hard work (and lots of money) to achieve such goals but put little to no effort into what happens once they complete these goals? In this post, I want to share my experience with this strange phenomenon and hopefully provoke some discussion on it.
Here’s a few reasons why we don’t plan.
Can’t see that far out. I’ve always thought that we live in the now and can’t really focus too far out in the future, nor can we remember a great deal about the distant past. We live a few years at a time; that is, one or two in the past and one or two in the future. Planning years ahead of where we are is too difficult because we can’t understand what the future will look like. So, we wait until the picture gets clearer (or so we think).
Too preoccupied with our current goals. Many professionals get overwhelmed by the workload of not only the college coursework, but the impact it has on life; that is, the loss of time and struggle to keep up with other activities. The decision to plan the future just keeps getting kicked down the road. The thought is that there is always plenty of time to plan.
Believe what they are told about it. Sometimes we hear things that suggest our degree will create opportunities and greatly improve our career success. Our belief in this notion without sufficient investigation leaves many with the career strategy of “I’ll just wait and see what opportunities come to me when I graduate.” What do you get with this strategy? Wait and see. Wait and see. Wait and see. Get it?
Use Weak logic. If the bachelor’s degree is good, then the master’s must be better. If this is the case, then all we need to do is obtain the master’s degree and all is good. Having skills and using them are too different things. You must show value by doing something. You bought into your MBA because you thought it had value. Others buy into you for the same reason.
Don’t know how to plan it. Career planning isn’t easy. After all, who really wants to be good at job searches. That means you do them a lot and who wants that, right? Most of us never get any type of career training. It’s a case of “learn as you go.” I think many of us pay a terrible price for this. You shouldn’t!
Assume others will do it. Hey, if I get a degree my college will find me a job. Maybe I can send my resume to a recruiter and they’ll find me a brighter future. Really? Why would they do that? What’s in it for them? The college already has your money and the recruiter gets paid by filling the position (it doesn’t matter who they fill it with). I’m not saying they won’t help you. I’m suggesting it isn’t a big priority.
Don’t know their options. The biggest benefit of the MBA is its biggest detriment. You can do anything with the MBA. The question is “what is it?” You must decide. But how can you decide when you don’t know what positions an MBA can help you obtain.
Give in to defeat. Unfortunately for some, the battle for success is too much and they tend to simply become a victim of their surroundings. If their environment doesn’t provide any opportunities, they don’t get any. No need to plan if this is your strategy.
Don’t have to. Mom and dad are paying for everything. Can you believe some people have this problem? Strangely enough, some do. Some get coddled so much that they don’t plan, don’t know how and have no desire to. In my experience, this is a small group of professionals.
This list is not comprehensive by any means and isn’t intended to be. What reasons for failing to plan have you seen? Do you have a problem figuring out what you can do and what will make you more successful? Share your ideas here with us.
If we really like your idea, we’ll send you a copy of our book, “The Joy of an MBA,” so you can find out why others engage in the MBA and what they did with it.
Next week, we’ll take a look at when and how you should begin planning the future. Until then, here’s to your success!
In a meeting with an alumni group, a young man stands up and tells me his “MBA is broken.” He goes on to say that it hasn’t done anything for his career. My response to him was that the MBA is blind. Of course, the expression on his face was one of pure bewilderment. As I began to elaborate on that comment, his expression changed drastically. Here’s what I offered to help him understand the issue with the MBA’s vision.
When I say the MBA is blind, I mean it can’t see where you are going. Sure you can specialize in a specific field but most students don’t. They approach the MBA with the hope that it will provide them new skills which are in high demand by a company that will notice they have these skills and will hire them before graduation. There are two problems with this idea. First, companies change their needs too rapidly. IBM’s CEO surveys, created almost biannually, show drastic changes in what organizational leaders think they need. Second, universities don’t respond that fast. Many programs evaluate their classes on a five year cycle. Obviously, industry is moving faster than that. However, universities will give you skills but you need to have an idea where you want to go so you can determine what you really need to get there.
“A student who doesn’t know what they want to do is an undecided major. A graduate who doesn’t know what they want to do is unemployed.”
You have to lend the MBA your vision of your future. Career changers make up a large portion of MBA programs. These are professionals who want to leave their current occupation, market or industry for something new. The challenge for these professionals is to define what the new position will be. This isn’t always an easy task. The MBA is a great tool. With it, you can do almost anything. The problem is that you must define what that "anything" is.
I looked back at the graduate and asked him what he had planned for his MBA. He said “nothing, I guess.” I told him “that’s what you got.” If you plan nothing, you’ll get nothing. Your future is your task.
If you’re not sure what you want, consider these steps from my “Me in 3” branding process. It’s important to note that you need to do this before you get into an MBA program, or at a minimum, at the beginning. Why so early? We’ll answer that shortly.
The first steps in the “Me in 3” process deals with introspection. Introspection, by definition, is the observation or examination of one’s own mental and emotional state. It’s taking a deep look inside of yourself to understand who you are. Why do you need this? Quite often, our dreams give us a vision that our skills can’t support, in reality or as perceived by others. In either case, we won’t get where we want to go. So we need to start our
planning by looking at what we really have to offer. There are several tests for revealing this.
You can do a little search on the Internet to find the tools to complete these tests. The first test is an aptitude test. This test will identify your strengths and what you’re naturally good at. Most tests also provide a list of occupations where these skills are required. It’s important to take multiple assessments to ensure that you’re answering the questions honestly. Don’t just take one test and use the results of it to guide you. Introspection requires deep thought to get it right.
After you’ve taken a few aptitude tests, engage in interest inventories. These inventories help you understand what you’re most interested in doing. It helps uncover what you’re natural interests are and helps avoid clear the air of any faddish desires.
At this point, you know what you’re naturally good at and what you’re naturally interested in. But, there’s another piece of the puzzle that we need to know. It’s related to your drive and determination, or what I like to call the “fuel” for achieving your dreams. The question we need answer now is “what do you work for?” Understanding what drives you to achieve your goals in the workplace is the key to reaching your goals. Why? Many of these factors are environmentally related and if these factors aren’t in your environment, you’re motivation will suffer for it. Your “work reward values” tell you what rewards you need to maintain a high level of job satisfaction. Maybe you need power, influence and intellectual challenge. Or possibly, you need to have autonomy or financial gain. We’ve developed a short survey to help you understand what values are embedded in you. Send us an email if you want to find out what you value. We’re glad to help.
So, there you have it. You have one of the first steps in our “Me in 3” branding process. It helps answer the question, who are you and what do you want to do. Our process keeps you thinking in the power of 3. In this case, start introspection with: 1) aptitude, 2) interest inventory and 3) work reward values. Of course, our process will provide a few more tests to help ensure you have the best assessment possible, but this is a good start.
Back to why you need to do this early on. If your dreams differ from who you are and what you have to offer, you’ve obviously got some work to do. Many students and graduates fail to assess this gap, much less address it. If you can understand what your gaps are, you can use your MBA program to help you fill those gaps. Career changers are seen as professionals who are making a transition in their career. Employers don’t want to hire someone in a transition. You have to prove to them that you’ve already made the transition. That means you have to develop the skills needed for your new position and have proof of it. Proof? If you want someone to buy into your product, in this case YOU, you need to have evidence that you are capable of being what they need. If you want to be a leader in an organization and you were an individual contributor prior to earning the MBA, you better have held leadership roles at the university, in professional associations or at an internship.
Transferable skills were once the big thing and are still important. However, organizations are not buying them, especially if that’s all you have. Companies want people who have the skills and can be productive from the first day on the job. That’s your challenge. You have to show that you have the skills and have the successes to prove it. No one is immune from this.
If you’re chasing the MBA and plan on spending one or two years building new skills, take a little time to figure out what you plan to do with it. No one else will do that for you. You’re about to expend a lot of energy and money to give yourself a better future. Why not give yourself the advantage of direction by using free online tools to identify what you really need to be working on during your program.
Give yourself a brighter future. Give your MBA a VISION!
Sometimes I try to imagine that I’m a young MBA aspirant (again) in the midst of an investigation of the value of the MBA in today's marketplace. Is it worth it or not? If you take a look around at some of the press the MBA gets, you might get more confused. Let’s take a look at some of the stories and see if we can shed some light on the topic.
My first journey was to Bloomberg Businessweek’s website, in the Business School section to see what was new. The first article that jumped out at me is “MBA Pay Growth: U.S. Business Schools Lag Behind.” That’s certainly not something I wanted to see. But, much of this is due to the growing demand for MBAs in Europe and the fact that many European MBA programs are moving up the ranks of the top programs in the world. This article also emphasizes the increasing supply of MBAs in the US, financial crisis and that European MBA programs are shorter and less expensive. Not real promising, is it?
The next article was “Stanford Increases MBA Tuition.” Ok…who didn’t read the previously mentioned article? Stanford already has the most expensive program. Now, they are increasing tuition by 3.9%. But, wait, there’s more. Near the end of the article, I found this statement:
“A recent study by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business found that MBA tuition and fees at AACSB-accredited business schools in North America and Asia-Pacific have risen by 33 percent since 2007-08, with more modest increases reported in Europe and Latin America.”
Looking at one last article on this site, I discovered that the degree you get isn’t enough for employers. Graduates aren’t graduating with the skills employers need. The article “Some MBAs Aren't Job-Ready, Employers Say” highlights the notion that MBA graduates lack Practical Experience, a Worldly View and Adaptability. Well, I can see how an MBA program wouldn’t provide that. I mean, how much can you really learn from one single trip abroad anyhow. Visiting a foreign country is much different than doing business in one. Are employer expectations too high?
By this point, I’d read enough. If I’m looking for value, I’m a little confused. It appears that MBA students are afforded the privilege of paying a lot more for a degree that is experiencing low salary growth and doesn’t provide many of the skills that employers are looking for, while the ranking of the whole program is declining. Am I missing something?
Don’t get me wrong, I’m a lover of education. I wholeheartedly believe you need it for success. I went to college for 14 years and graduated several times. But that was during a different time and economy. When I worked on the PhD in Engineering, my company was very supportive and active in my development. My manager was part of my program. I’m not so sure that’s happening today. It appears that companies aren’t actively engaged in the development of their next class of leaders, at least initially. They may feel they are doing their part by offering high starting salaries to those who have the skills they need.
I also think today’s economy is one where we hire specialists who can step into a situation and be perfectly effective and efficient. Is it possible that employers are expecting more from their newest leaders? Having read many of IBM’s Global CEO surveys, it’s easy to see how driving the big corporation has become so challenging in this new global economy. It’s no big surprise that executives want the top level talent to drive their organization.
However, US MBA programs seem to be on a trend that may not necessarily help resolve this challenge. If European programs are moving up in the rankings, then US programs are moving down. So where does declining rankings and increasing tuition rates lead US MBA programs? I’ve never known tuition to go down so I imagine this trend will continue.
What’s the solution? For now, the important thing is to understand what’s happening and to never let the situation dictate what you do. Be active in your decisions and make your career what you want it to be. If you don’t know how to do that, ask.