Tag Archives: Career advice

Education Overload – Earning Multiple Graduate Degrees

Recently, I’ve received hundreds of emails about earning multiple graduate degrees and the impact it will have on a career.  With such interest in this approach, I felt it was time to share some thoughts on the pros and cons of earning so much formal education.

There is no ladder to climb.  Just a few decades ago when I began my career, there were defined paths for upward mobility.  Companies would outline how one could transition from position to position, eventually gaining responsibility, authority and greater benefits (e.g. pay).  Today, that doesn’t exist.  Many companies don’t even have an organizational chart.  They will tell you that it provides you the benefit that you can go anywhere you want without restriction and that those old predefined paths only restrained you to a certain future.  They will say you have complete control over your career.  I really like this idea but it was really done to reduce top heavy management ranks, which is often slow, inefficient and expensive.  It wasn’t done to move more people upward.  You can make all the lateral movements you want, but moving upward, well, this is where you have to apply your knowledge to navigate an uncharted organization.  If you’re really searching for structure, you’ll need to target big corporations.

Graduate degrees are not required for executives.  While it seems logical that the most brilliant people will rise to the top of organizations, this simply isn’t true.  In fact, many businesses are started by people with little formal education.  I mention this because you might join such an organization.  You’ll take the job and then do research on the executive team, only to find that they are not highly educated like you. I’ve found this many times in tech and high tech companies, where you might expect to find highly educated managers. If you desire to be around the highly educated, you’ll need to seek them out.  Most are in technology and finance.

THE CONS

I know it’s hard to believe that being highly educated could have a down side, but it does. Here are a few things you might encounter when you have a lot of formal education and you’re working in Corporate America.

You’re a threat.  You might not ever actually see this directly but to management teams that don’t have graduate degrees, employees that do can be threatening.  They fear being embarrassed by their lack of understanding of many topics and feel there is some secret competition at play.  A good judge in determining the type of organization you’re in is to assess the leadership.  If they are more interested in growing their career, you’ll be considered a threat.  If they want to grow their organization, then you might have a chance for growth.

Possible solution: If you find yourself here, you have to be humble and give your ideas for growth and improvement away.  Show your management you’re here to help them become a success.

You’re underemployed.  Face it.  There are not that many jobs that require a graduate degree and hardly any that will list two graduate degrees as necessary.  Unless you can afford to search for that perfect job for a long time, you’re likely to accept a job that you can easily do.

Possible solution: Begin your job search when you are in graduate school.  Utilize the university’s resources to place you in a higher position.  Work with professional organizations while you are in your academic program too, as they are more likely to help students than graduates.

You’re Academic.  I always thought this was a good thing but I’ve had a few instances where senior managers have told me I was too academic.  I think they meant it to be derogatory and imply that I didn’t have enough experience.  Well, when you’re a young professional, this will be a problem.  Again, this is a biased view from a less educated management team, where experience is more important because it is what they have most.  What I found is that being labeled academic is good and bad.  It’s bad because it implies you do threaten people around you a little.  It’s good because they realize that you are well educated and have the ability to perform industry recognized analyses.

Possible solution: Don’t waste any time or energy on proving you are smarter.  Let your work show that.  You should focus on results and creating tangible successes that define your value to the company.  It is helpful to show management that you can help them improve their own career.  Once they feel that support, they won’t be as inclined to keep your career suppressed.

You’re Expensive.  High credentials mean high salary.  This is what companies will see and that can scare them.  They’ll overlook the fact that you can bring high productivity, high efficiency and high output.  Most companies don’t try to identify the financial impact of such indirect benefits.  They only focus on the direct costs that are easy to measure, like your salary.  This can make finding a job really difficult.

Possible solution:  High salary is offset by high returns.  You’ve got to be able to show real situations where you have greatly reduced cost, created new earnings, or improved existing earnings.  Companies want to make money and you must be able to provide evidence where you’ve helped do that. 

THE PROS

The majority of the advantages of higher education are personal.  It brings a sense of accomplishment, pride, an understanding of how to learn and confidence.  These emotions are powerful and will help you push through challenges that are ill-defined, untested and unbeaten. The difficulty is keeping this confidence under control and avoiding being overbearing to others, as most people aren’t excited by change and challenge.

You’ve got credentials.  It feels good to help those degrees and more importantly, the knowledge and understanding of how to learn.  Multiple graduate degrees communicate the message that you are smart.  In organizations that like utilizing smart people, you’re an asset.  You have numerous advantages, like being able to work alone without supervision, solve difficult problems, create new ways of doing business, research how the competition does business and so much more.

Career Strategy:  Don’t focus on communicating your brilliance.  The degrees will do that for you.  You should however strive to create tangible accomplishments that clearly articulate your ability to put that brilliance to work and create success.  These tangibles are what others will consider to be work experience.

Changing fields is easier.  Many multiple degree holders have earned these illustrious credentials to afford themselves the power to change occupations much easier.  In my experience with such high achievers, it does help to have a considerable depth of expertise in multiple areas.  Transitioning from one industry to another is possible but not necessarily any easier.  The advantage of your credentials is that you usually don’t have to entertain a lower position at the new company.

Career Strategy:  While you may have knowledge in multiple areas, it’s important to create tangible accomplishments in these areas to communicate that these skills and knowledge are still current and valuable.  If you can’t create accomplishments with the knowledge, create some successes with the skills that can be transferred to other fields.

Instant Recognition.  When you submit a resume that has multiple graduate degrees, companies will recognize they are dealing with someone who is smart and can learn.  They will search for the value you can provide.  This is very important as most first reviews of resume are typically to identify factors that eliminate you from consideration, not inclusion.

Career Strategy:  Ensure your credentials include accomplishments and accolades that are expected for someone with such qualifications.  The value is not just in what you know, it’s in what you can do with what you know…and that you have to prove.

The mind that wants to learn and grow constantly is special.  It seeks to create value wherever it can and as often as it can.  Most of us are not like this, as we seek to settle into life, create stability and entertain ourselves until retirement.  While we appreciate its abilities, it also reminds us of our own abilities and how we may not measure up.  It scares us and, at times, makes us feel as if our stability is being threatened.  Education is very important and we should all seek to constantly improve ourselves.  But we don’t.  So to those who chase many academic credentials, your success will be found with those who appreciate and value such knowledge. Please know that all companies don’t appreciate you.  So you may have to spend some time searching for those who will embrace you, preferably while you’re still in school.  Finally, I leave you with a quote from the British Author and creator of the fictional detective, Sherlock Holmes, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who once said “Mediocrity knows nothing higher than itself, but talent instantly recognizes genius.”

I’m More Than What I Do

I really hate the fact that everyone judges me by only what I do in my job.  It’s like I don’t have any other skills than the ones that are needed for it.  When I look at management, I see backgrounds and experiences that seem to be all over the place. Some have more credentials but most have less.  Yet, my experience is obviously too limited to consider me for any other opportunities (or so others think).  I’ve seen this happen inside my current company and even on the outside by recruiters and HR personnel.  Recruiters will say “well, this is all you’ve ever done.”  Well, I thought, doesn’t just about every manager that has taken such a role enter it with little to no experience?  I thought, how is the risk any different with me?  Isn’t management one of those positions that have very little requirements for entry (not like an engineer, doctor or lawyer)?  Someone had to take a chance on them.  Why not me?

Have you struggled to figure out why opportunities don’t come your way?  You have lots of skills and you put in enormous efforts to keep them current and even upgrade them.  Yet, all of this goes unnoticed.  Opportunities are not as abundant in the workplace as society would have us believe and most of these aren’t handed out fairly.  Despite that, we keep hope and devote energy to our dreams.  Too often the dream starts with a job in our chosen profession.  We slave away at it for years trying to prove to ourselves that we are really good at it. Once we are comfortable with our performance, we seek to impress others.  But if our efforts go unnoticed for too long, we lose motivation and begin questioning our perception of our own abilities. It affects us. Some lose motivation.  Yet, others are launched into their own personal reformation.

When I began, it was all about my dream.  I would have done anything to achieve the greatness I sought.  I just didn’t know how to go about achieving it.  So, I did what I heard others say.  That didn’t lead anywhere.  Why?  It wasn’t where I wanted to go.

Listen to your dream.  I wanted to be successful.  That was all the definition I had.  I understood the capital I was willing to invest in it.  I was going to learn all I could, work as long as it took and devote whatever energy was required.  I kept moving forward and accomplishing things.  Yet, it didn’t seem to produce the success I sought.  Perhaps I wasn’t defining the right direction for what I pursued.  Did I ever sit down to truly define what my big success looked like?  No.  I was simply using a trial and error method.  I’d have a little success.  Then, I would wait to see what happened.  If nothing happened, I would work hard, achieve something and try it all over again. The success didn’t come.  I couldn’t figure out what was happening.

I was driving through my career with a GPS on the dash but I didn’t have a destination plugged in.  I based my happiness on how the journey felt.  But at times I would pull over and realize I wasn’t happy where I was.  But where should I be?  I didn’t really define where I wanted to go or a path for getting there.  This is what many of us do.  No real plan.  No real direction.

Then, one day I was driving down the road listening to the radio.  You know, all that career noise out there that tells us how to really create the success we want in our lives.  Most of these stories are told by people who are situated to benefit from our adoption of their advice.  Let’s consider the MBA degree.  So many of us chase this credential thinking it will launch a highly successful career.  Why?  Because academia tells us that it will put us on a meteoric rise to fame and fortune.  Who benefits if we engage on this advice?  Immediately, they do.  The risk is all yours.  You risk not only money but the most valuable resource you have, your time, with no guarantee of a return.

My point is that we listen to the noise that surrounds us to get an idea of what success is and how to obtain it.  We only end up unknowingly contributing to someone else’s.  Turn off the noise.  Listen to your own dreams and align your efforts with the things you really want.   How? Here’s a cool process from Dr. Judith Orloff.

Four Steps To Remember Your Dreams 

  • Keep a journal and pen by your bed.
  • Write a question on a piece of paper before you go to sleep. Formalize your request. Place it on a table beside your bed or under your pillow.
  • In the morning do not wake up too fast. Stay under the covers for at least a few minutes remembering your dream. Luxuriate in a peaceful feeling between sleep and waking, what scientists call the hypnagogic state. Those initial moments provide a doorway.
  • Open your eyes. Write down your dream immediately; otherwise it will evaporate. You may recall a face, object, color, or scenario, feel an emotion. It doesn’t matter if it makes perfect sense-or if you retrieve a single image or many. Record everything you remember.

When you’re finished, refocus on the question you asked the previous night. See how your dream applies. One, two, or more impressions about the who/what/where of your solution may have surfaced. Get in the habit of recording your dreams regularly. If your answer doesn’t come the first night, try again. More details will emerge, rounding out the picture. Then look to your daily life for evidence of what your dream tells you.

Sharing your dream.  Working in a corporate environment is really strange.  It’s often a building with a lot of people working on the same goal but secretly working on their own goals.   Career ambitions fit in the same category as salary.  It’s passé to talk about them.  Perhaps organizations are afraid that too many employees will develop desires for the corner office, for which most will certainly be disappointed and eventually grow frustrated. There’s only room for a few at the top so it seems crazy to allow so many people to create ideas that will never come to fruition.  So maybe it is a good practice that we don’t allow people to discuss such things at work, as it might help avoid the creation of unhealthy expectations.  Here’s the thing, we create expectations anyhow.

Theodore Hesburgh said “The very essence of leadership is [that] you have a vision. It’s got to be a vision you articulate clearly and forcefully on every occasion. You can’t blow an uncertain trumpet.”   Most of us are afraid to share our vision, so we don’t blow a horn at all.  After years of sitting in a job that we’ve worked hard at and earned an advanced degree that no one seemed to notice, we still hold on to some  weird, unfounded sense of hope.  We sit and wait for an opportunity. In other words, we are part of someone else’s vision.

If you don’t share your dream with others, your success becomes a victim of circumstances that you don’t control.    Robert Fritz put it eloquently when he said “If you limit your choices only to what seems possible or reasonable, you disconnect yourself from what you truly want, and all that is left is a compromise.”  You comprise your dream with what others are willing to give you.  Are you in company that hasn’t given you an opportunity in years?  Have they discussed anything with you?  It’s time to abandon such a passive approach and it all starts with sharing your dream for who you want to be.  Sure, disappointments will come. You won’t be successful in every company.  No one is.  But at least you will develop a strategy for finding the right environment for achieving your dreams.  Telling others about your dream helps you define what is possible or reasonable.  Letting others know what you want to achieve gives them the vision too.  Those who can help you will.  If no one helps you, you may be in the wrong place.  Then, you’re faced with a compromise:  do I stay or do I go?”  But that’s getting ahead of things.  The first thing is to engage in painting your dream throughout the organization and assessing it’s response.

Draw correlations to value.  Just like you, most young, energetic professionals looking to make a name for themselves heavily invest in new skills to create value.  I’ve been in many executive training courses, only to discover that the highest echelon doesn’t attend such training.  After one class, I asked the trainer why they constantly taught us about issues that executives face, when he could just discuss this with class members.  He responded that they didn’t attend these classes.  For many reasons, this doesn’t surprise and it does provide some logic as to why they don’t understand the value that certain skill sets offer to the company.  Let’s consider the MBA degree for a moment.  I look at it this way.  If your job didn’t need the MBA before, it probably doesn’t need it now.  Just possessing the MBA, or any advanced degree, doesn’t provide the company value, so you won’t be rewarded for it.  I know too many professionals that have a MBA in a job that doesn’t need one.  They only thing they have to show for their accomplishment was a $90,000 bill from the university.

Ideally, management needs skills that can make them money.  This can be growing revenue and profit or reducing cost of operations.  Can you articulate your new skills in light of their monetary benefits?  As with the MBA, if your management doesn’t have an advanced degree, they don’t know what you can do now or how it can help the company.  You have to help them understand the value.  They just see you as the same person who’s been in the same job for some time.  Once they say that, they don’t really look at you again, unless you give them a reason to.

How do you correlate your skills to value?  If your job doesn’t offer opportunities to demonstrate your new abilities, you have to create them.  Your skills must be demonstrated.  They must be put on display for others to see.  It’s the same situation as in professional sports.  You have to build your skills and then step out on the court or field and show them what you can do.  You must impress those who feel they are already at that level.  You can’t just talk about it.  They want tangible proof if they are to believe you possess extraordinary talents and skills.  If you step out on the court and show them you can play once, they’ll say you have potential.  If you continue to demonstrate your skills over and over, then you’ll belong at the next level.  Remember, just possessing new skills isn’t enough.  Potential value doesn’t help anyone.  Put your new skills into action and create value.

Take some time to see where you can create value.  Solving company problems is always a good place to start.  Talk with managers to determine what issues you can work on.  Companies have issues so there will be things for you to do.  Other ways to show your skills include learning, influencing, motivating, negotiating, trust building, team building, decision-making and developing others.  Just make sure that whatever you choose to engage in, your path stays aligned with your dreams.

Market and sell your skills.  I know what you might be thinking here.  I’ve demonstrated my abilities.  Isn’t that enough?  The answer is definitely NO.  It depends on your organization’s leadership.  As you move it, the challenges grow harder and harder.  I have a friend that plays professional basketball.  He’s 6’8” and a great shooter.  He’s played in international leagues for years and was recently invited to tryout with the LA Lakers.  You know he’s good now, right?  Anyhow, they offered him a spot with pay at the league minimum, which was lower than what he was earning already.  He didn’t take the offer. Why?  He realized that even though he has great talent, it wasn’t valued to the level he felt it should be.  Sound familiar?  This is what you’ll find in many companies.  But my friend has pursued his dreams differently.  He stepped up and tried out for the team.  He took his talents and spread them all out to be judged.  He understands that to reach his dream, he has to continuously put his skills on display in hopes of finding someone who values his talents as much as he does.  Have you done that yet?  Or do you sit back and rely on your credentials to communicate your value.  Consider the previous MBA example.  So many professionals earn the degree thinking that this is all they need to achieve their dreams of great success.  My friend is already one of the best in basketball but he still has to prove himself every time he steps on the court.

High performing professionals realize that the interview is never over. 

Interviews are never over.  Sure, you get passed the first round to gain employment in the company but that only gets you through the door.  To gain access to new doors of opportunity, you have to continue to market and sell your abilities.  Remember, the initial interview is only looking for a specific set of skills, not every skill you have.   Companies are only trying to meet an immediate need.   There always trying to meet an immediate need.  How can you help them?  You can’t just try to do your best in your job.  Otherwise, you will stay there.  You have to push yourself beyond what they are just asking you to do.  You don’t think they asked my friend to just score 18 points per game?  No. They want him to do whatever it takes to help the team win.  Sometimes that means he has to take the lead and sometimes he focuses on helping others be successful, no matter which team he is on.  Are you ready to do that?

Here are a few steps you can take to develop a continual focus on marketing and selling yourself.  Practice them and they’ll become a habit.

  1. Develop the attitude that you always have to be improving your game. Never settle for average performance.
  2. Look at each situation as an opportunity to demonstrate any of your abilities, not just the ones your job calls for on a daily basis.
  3. Always perform at your best, no matter how simple the task. You are judged on everything you do.  Remember, executives worry about how they dress, speak, etc.  Everything matters.
  4. Seek new audiences. Don’t just focus on supporting your team.  Engage other managers in other departments to seek problems to solve.

Life is waiting.  What are you waiting for?  Living your dream all starts with knowing what it is.  Without a clear definition of what you want to achieve, your career will simply be a meandering across time collecting experiences and credentials that don’t really get you where you want to go.  Push the limits of your environment to see if it aligns with your dream.  Remember, your dream won’t be realized in every environment you’re in.  You have to find the right place with the right people who value what you offer.  If you’re not there, keep on chasing your dream.  In the words of one of my favorite speakers, Les Brown, “If you take responsibility for yourself, you will develop a hunger to accomplish your dreams.”  Don’t allow the world to define who you are.  Let your dreams define you and your actions the proof.

MY RESUME IS ALIVE!

Over the years, I’ve done quite a few resume reviews and updates. Typically, professionals are just asking to update their resume for the things they’ve recently accomplished. Often, this is a job title or company change. But how often do you add new things to the resume that give your product (i.e. YOU) more functionality? Sure, employers are interested in what you’ve done but they really want to know what you can do for them. There is a simple strategy for turning your resume into a powerful marketing paper for your career. If you’re not updating your marketing materials (e.g. resume) every year, you’re working on becoming obsolete.

At the end of each year, I like to engage in a little marketing strategy planning. I take a look at my resume and compare myself to many profiles I see online, like LinkedIn. I compare my education, skills, products and network with others who have similar backgrounds. Then, I ask myself one simple question, “Do I stand out?” If not, then I try to determine where I need to build my resume.

Education is an easy one. If I want to move up and everyone like me has a master’s degree and I don’t, then I might consider earning one. I like to see what types of degrees other professionals have in my position. Maybe my degree doesn’t provide all of the knowledge I need and another type of degree might make me a little more equipped to compete for the next level. While it’s easy to determine what I need, planning in my busy life is another story. So, I review this every year but may not engage in a degree right away. I may simply search for free classes online (MOOCs) to learn the things my peers already know.

Skills are always in need. What new skills do you need to develop each year? It’s no longer possible to develop a specific set of skills (as through your collegiate program) that will last your whole career. The needs of business change rapidly and companies seek many skills to meet those needs. Years ago I began paying closer attention to changes companies where experiencing and responded by building skills that would make me capable of helping them meet those needs. At one point, I saw the need for writing skills, so I began writing books. At another time, I saw the need for entrepreneurial skills, so I started my own company. By engaging directly in an activity, you can learn a great deal of the skill required to be good at it. It doesn’t mean you’ll be the best at it but you will understand it in greater detail. While it’s difficult to reinvent yourself completely after you’ve invested a lot of time in your primary skills, it is possible to enhance your offering by adding new functionality every year.

Contacts are the lifeblood of your career. While your references might not appear on your resume, they play a huge role in your access to opportunity. When I look at those LinkedIn professionals I’d like to emulate, I focus on their contacts. What titles do they have? What size companies do they work for? What alumni associations do they have? Naturally, we have a tendency to connect with people who are just like us, so we can relate to them more easily. Is it possible that this could be limiting our success? It’s certainly something to consider.

While the holidays are great times to consider the things we want to do next year, you should take some time to reflect on who you are and find a few areas that you can improve. No, I’m not talking about losing weight or whitening your teeth, although appearance is important too. I mean that about some developing some knowledge, skills or abilities that would make your more interesting to your employer or future employers.   Then, after you’ve begun building the newer you, update your profile and resume to reflect your changes.

Your resume (and social profiles) are a reflection of who you are. Let the world know that you are a vibrant, active, growing professional who is bent on continuous improvement. At the very least, you may just find something that will become a lifelong hobby, bringing you joy and happiness that your current job doesn’t offer. That will certainly bring you more balance in life.

5 Steps to Achieving Maximum Benefit from Your MBA

Earning the MBA, at any point in your life, requires a substantial commitment in time. As a young student fresh from college, time is a considerably more abundant resource; however, as a seasoned professional with numerous responsibilities, such as those accompanying a full-time job, family, or both, you must focus on an efficient utilization of many resources to achieve the maximum effectiveness in your professional and academic development. Too often we become so involved in just completing the tasks necessary to earn the degree that we fail to truly prepare ourselves for life with the degree.

The MBA, as we are told, is designed to have a huge impact on our lives. To reap these rewards, we stress ourselves out for two years trying to balance the school work, family commitments and job responsibilities. Once it’s all over, our expectations are that the accolades will pour in all by themselves. If we’re looking to change jobs, we update our LinkedIn profile so recruiters can find us. If we want to move up in our current company, we simply wait for management to hear the news of our graduation before coming to our desk to offer us a new opportunity to support them or maybe even join their ranks. This is the MBA dream, but unfortunately, it’s very far from the truth. The reality is that success is surrounded by an enormous layer of competitiveness. The MBA can tear into this layer and bring you closer to your dreams but it can’t do that by itself. Earning an MBA is a great feat but it is no guarantee of any level of success that is simply derived from its possession. Achieving success requires a strategy and some real planning. The following steps will help you do just that.

  1. Determine your goals before you begin your program. Write it down.

Writing your goals down triggers a response in the brain called “reticular activating system” that can create a sense of awareness of opportunities that can help you get closer to your goals. The unconscious mind will continue to focus on the direction you set in your written goals even when you aren’t consciously thinking about it. The reticular activating system will filter out those things that aren’t important. It will keep you in tune with events around you that may help you achieve your goals and will keep pushing you until the image that you have in your head of what your real success looks like is equivalent to what is physically present in your surroundings. Have you ever had an epiphany or have a salvo go off in your head? That’s your brain telling you that the situation you are currently in holds an opportunity that will help you get closer to a goal. Writing your goals down even has benefits when you aren’t even conscious. As an engineering student, I would often awaken during the night with the solution to class assignments. But how could that be if I was asleep? It’s because your subconscious does the real brain work. Here’s how you can tap into that.

Determine what you want from your MBA and write it down. Try to be very specific in defining these goals. Keep them challenging but achievable. Perhaps you want a raise, promotion or job change. List what they are, how long it may take to get there, what resources you need, who can help provide those resources, etc. Put specific dates for completion of these goals. Then, create a plan on how you will go about achieving each goal. Review these every day so that your mind stays focused on what you need to do. Celebrate completion of tasks and especially major goals. Mark them off the list when done. Each little success provides additional motivation as they cause the brain to release chemicals that make you happier, healthier and more driven to reach your goals. If you don’t have detailed plans for your career with your MBA, you should realize that it most likely won’t do anything for you.

  1. Seek guidance from other MBAs.

Take the time to get to know other MBAs. You should be engaging MBAs long before you begin your MBA program. Working MBA professionals can help you identify trends in industry. Top tier universities provide data to show you how their graduates are placed in industry but most don’t give you a clear picture of how successful you can be with their MBA. Most MBA graduates want to get a management position or change careers entirely. Therefore, the best way to understand the challenges that are specific to your Alma Mater is to consult with the alumni. If the university doesn’t have an alumni group, find graduates by using social media, such as LinkedIn. Then, tell them your story and ask for advice. MBA professionals can also help you understand the finer details in utilizing your MBA to create the success you expect. The most important information they can share will actually help you establish the proper expectations. The MBA isn’t capable of giving you that meteoric rise to the top of your company because many other factors come into play when you get to those first levels of the senior management ranks (e.g. Director, VP) that have nothing to do with your credentials.   Working MBAs can tell you what factors are important in their industry or specific company. Getting the most out of these new connections requires a thorough understanding of what you want from your degree. Once you complete the first action listed above, writing your goals down, you’ll know exactly what questions to ask from those MBAs who have gone before you. One last note, to get the best information, choose graduates who are just a few years ahead of you as their lessons are still fresh in their mind. Consulting an MBA graduate from over 20 years ago will be helpful but it isn’t likely to be advice you will use immediately.

  1. Share your thoughts and ideas.

As you go through your MBA and transition into a long working career, you’ll develop a broad network of knowledge professionals. The most important thing you can ever do to improve your career is to become active in this network. Before you begin your program, talk with MBA professionals to find out what issues managers are facing. Then, when you begin, share these ideas with professors and develop your own opportunity to find solutions for these problems. Investigate opportunities to perform research in these areas, which helps you develop expertise and recognition for such knowledge. Research quite often affords opportunities to publish the results of your efforts in professional journals, conferences, the university magazine, white papers and more. If research isn’t available, work with your professors to find specific companies that have issues they have communicated to the university and that you can address. If that fails, reach out to professional organizations (even student versions) to see where you can build new knowledge, skills and abilities. It’s important to note that while the MBA teaches you to solve business problems, this doesn’t add value to what you have to offer. The real value you offer comes from actually solving problems. Collaborating with professors, alumni groups, and student and professional organizations are great avenues for collecting ideas on what you can do to build your value. Today’s level of competition requires graduates to have already demonstrated their value before graduation. If you wait until you graduate to begin this development or base your value on the idea that you have the skills to solve problems, you’ll find yourself struggling to compete.

  1. Create opportunities to increase your knowledge in areas in your plan.

As previously mentioned, building your value is done by providing tangible proof of your skills. It’s also possible to build value by demonstrating your knowledge base.   Companies have problems and they want help resolving them. Reading articles from industry journals and other periodicals are a good way to boost your understanding of the problems that are currently plaguing businesses. Joining professional organizations is another great strategy. Most local branches of professional organizations provide access to industry professionals through conferences, presentations and meetings. A good approach is to join one of these organizations and seek an active role. This will put you closer to those already working in the field that can provide you a much better understanding of the field than articles can. Use these interactions to not only gather as much information as possible, but setup opportunities to help specific companies solve some of their problems. Companies like to hire to fill a specific need so find out what some are and fill them. Don’t forget to find ways to document your achievements so that you have stories to tell and documentation to prove it (e.g. published articles).

  1. Update your goals and progress often.

As you go through your goals, make notes on areas that are a natural strength or a weakness for you. This information, along with other pertinent information from professors and business professionals, should help you steer your career in the right direction. If your performance isn’t the best in your chosen area of focus, it becomes critical that you collaborate with other professionals in that field to determine if you need to improve your abilities in that area or you may be just fine with what you already know. This is even more critical if you plan to use your MBA in a different field than you are currently working in. You should develop a list of skills and experiences required to excel in your new field and then work on checking each one off until you have tangible proof that you have what it takes (all before graduating). Companies don’t want to hire professionals that are looking to make a transition, as this is a little risky. But, if you can provide sufficient evidence that you already have been demonstrating the skills, knowledge and abilities required for some time, then you can show you aren’t making a transition and you are a seasoned professional.

The MBA degree is just a credential. You’ll soon realize this once you’ve been in business for a year or two. It doesn’t really make you stand out. Why? It moves you into a group of professionals who already have a graduate degree. How do you stand out from them? As you move up in organizations the competition grows evermore fierce. Those who avoid the steps identified above and lean on the fact that they just have an MBA will experience stagnation and a loss of career mobility. No one is watching out for your career but you. If you put no effort into it, you’ll get nothing out of it. If you have an MBA or are working on it, you’ve obviously got a little fire in you. Use this fire to plan and implement your next steps after graduation. Create a habit of setting goals and reaching them. This will establish a history of tangible successes which will make you happy. After all, when it comes to your career, this is the person you should focus on.

Your Credentials Don’t Matter

We help a lot of young go-getters build strategies to move into executive positions. Here’s an experience you’ll need to be on the lookout for as we’ve seen this scenario increase over the last few years. It’s a situation where your credentials don’t matter to anyone in the management ranks.

Venture capitalists (VCs) buy companies. They do this in order to resell it later for a profit. Most of us think they only invest in startups but this isn’t the only financial support they provide. They also buy failing companies where they have an expertise and feel they can turn it around for a profit. Often the life cycle between buy and sell is around 5 years or so. The VCs will take an active role in the company, often being the board, and by putting certain high level executives in place to run the company. With small companies, this usually means they will only put one or two people at the top.

Here’s where the excitement comes in. Once the new leader is in place, he’ll have to figure out how to fill the remaining positions in his leadership team. Sometimes this leader will bring in some friends to establish a circle of trust. Other times, the remaining leadership positions are filled with previous leaders from the company (before it was sold). But before we talk about the process for filling these positions, it’s important to understand the value of these positions. Remember, a VC owns the company and it’s likely the company will be sold again in several years. High level management positions are contract positions and are usually well compensated when the company is purchased. Some managers will stay and continue with the new owners, while others will have their contract “bought out” by the new owners. Money is the driver in this situation.

Before the new leader assigns his new team, those individuals who want to lead will begin to push themselves into higher positions. If these individuals were managers in the old company, they’ll “assume” a higher role. I say assume because they aren’t necessarily appointed yet but they will act in this role in the hopes that once assignments are made, they’ll own that position officially. We’ve watched quite a few companies over the years go through this scenario. The dominant personalities usually win out, especially if the new leader isn’t a strong leader. Some companies have allowed individuals to assume management roles with no experience or credentials for such a position. For example, a high tech company had put an English major into a product development management position. The key to earning these positions is to exert your influence. You have to be pushy. Most individuals miss out on this type of opportunity because they wait to be identified as worthy of such a position. In this situation, waiting to be recognized might only keep you in your existing position.

It’s important to note that this type of transition in a company is highly political. Building alliances with other managers is difficult as the environment becomes one of “survival of the fittest.” It’s unlikely that other managers will help you move into a higher position. Why? Because they want a higher position and they aren’t interested in giving away opportunities to someone else, regardless of how qualified you are.   Yes, I know this goes against the advice that you usually hear, but we’ve seen this in numerous situations.

Now, if you happen to be one of those managers who gets pushed out, you’ll have options too. One of the most obvious and most likely to work is to seek employment with your competition. Of course, you’ll have to ensure a non-complete clause doesn’t get in the way. To make this type of move, you need to find a competitor who looked at your company as a real threat to their business. They’ll hire you to understand how your company operated their business. It’s often an inexpensive way for companies to capture competitive intelligence.

I understand that this type of transformation in companies isn’t pretty and isn’t what we would expect it to be. Common sense might suggest that companies would seek out the best people to put in the leadership roles, but this isn’t what we see happening. Those with less impressive qualifications are aware of their shortcomings, which drives them to push themselves into these positions. Why? It’s the only option they have and….it works.

This scenario is more common during economic downturns where organizations experience more volatility. While organizational change is painful, it is also the land of opportunity for those who seek to gain from the transformation. Organization change is NOT a time for you to sit back and wait for your name to be called out in the draft as the next member of the management team. It’s a time where you push yourself into a position that will propel you into the ranks of an Executive. Why? From what we’ve seen, the payouts are worth it. Sure, it’s a side of business that colleges don’t tell you about, nor will your company. It isn’t pretty and isn’t always the best path for the long term viability of the company, but it can make you into an executive and provide a big bump in your salary. Yes….it’s a short term mentality but that’s usually what happens in tough economies.

10 Wishes for the MBA

I’ve been following the MBA, students and graduates for a long time. A lot of our discussions focus around things that the MBA doesn’t do. Many of these things we feel the program should be able to do but somehow it falls short of our expectations. So, instead of focusing on the shortcomings, I thought I would use this post to offer a few suggestions for improving the whole MBA experience. Imagine sitting in the front of the auditorium during your MBA orientation meeting and the director steps on stage to say a few things. Here’s what I wish they would say.

10. I wish they would tell students that specialization is not bad and is currently better than generalization. If you’ve earned the MBA and are looking to change careers, you probably already know this.

9. I wish they would tell students that they don’t provide a lot of career guidance.   It’s usually best to take advice from MBAs who’ve been in the corporate world for a while about the issues MBAs will experience. You also want information about the market as it is now and how it has been in the past few years. Getting advice from 20 years ago may not be relevant. That’s why you need to use MBA alumni groups. (shameless plug – read our ebooks at www.bt-books.com).

8. I wish they would teach students to communicate their value as an MBA.   This is important as more than two-thirds of MBAs are looking for a career change and will be asked about the value they will provide. If they can’t articulate it, it must not but be real impressive.

7. I wish they would tell students that they need to focus on differentiation. Earning the same degree everyone else is doesn’t help you take advantage of opportunities.

6. I wish they would tell students to focus on creating successes during their program. Earning the degree isn’t as powerful as they think it is.

5. I wish they would tell students to learn to work together and get to know each other. They’ll soon be asking each other for a job. So make as many friends as you can.

4. I wish they would tell students that networking is the key to finding a job. In fact, Networking is the key to just about everything you’ll get out of your career. Most of the accolades you’ll seek will come from someone else.

3. I wish they would tell students that internships are critical to getting into your desired industry. Some industries require experience, like private equity, before they’ll hire you. The MBA, without the experience, is useless.

2. I wish they would tell students that the job search needs to begin when you enroll, not when you are done. It’s so sad to see students unemployed after graduation. It shouldn’t happen. Give yourself plenty of time to get a job. Start early.

1. I wish they would tell students that the MBA is just a degree in fortune telling. Saying you know something about business is much different than proving it. You have to do some good things before people will believe in you. Remember, advice without a proven track record of success is speculation.

The MBA has greatly increased in popularity around the world. In recent discussions with companies around the globe, MBAs are graduating without the skills they need to be effective. Now combine this with the fact that most graduates don’t have a plan for their career, or even the first job, and you can begin to see why so many are struggling today. Nonetheless, the responsibility for your career is yours. Pointing fingers and assessing blame doesn’t help you any. Read, study, talk with MBAs and whatever else it takes to plan your career. You’ll pay a lot of money for that MBA and if you want to get a good return, you’ll have to plan it. Otherwise, the only thing you’ll see from it is a bill each month.

What do you wish for?

5 Steps to Maintaining Sufficient Career Motivation

Staying motivated throughout the life of your career is challenging to say the least. There are so many forces that will drive you away from career satisfaction. The major problem is that we are always changing. I don’t just mean you will change, I also mean that your environment will change as well. I hear arguments all the time that you need to make sure you have a good “fit” for the new company you want to join. While I agree with this idea, it’s important to understand that organizations change too.   In fact, mergers and acquisitions (M&A) seem to be very common today as M&A activity has increased by 42% in the last year and now rivals records set for such activity in 2007. Even though M&A activity is exciting to Wall Street, it can wreak havoc on your career. Many years ago I worked in an organization that was acquired twice in 18 months. There was so much change occurring that I didn’t know who I was working for from month to month. After each acquisition, restructuring always occurs. Luckily, most companies don’t engage in this much change but organizations do seem to be changing their culture to meet the rapidly changing demands of the marketplace. All of this change will not be handled well by the companies involved and will place considerable pressure on your career plans.

You’ve probably already seen your current organization’s responses to some of these tensions in the marketplace. One organization I worked with in assessing their cultural transformations had flattened their organization considerably to the point they had no organizational chart, which was their response to increasing speed to market by pushing decision-making to the lowest level. As you can imagine, this environment has little tolerance for failure and isn’t one of your best learning environments. Then, there’s the factor of flexibility, where organizations are responding to both globalization and diversity forces. These forces are pushing employees to be more cognizant of different cultures and, at the same time, are allowing employees to be more flexible in their working arrangements (e.g. telecommuting).   These forces have induced the need for greater communication skills as employees are now communicating with individuals directly, anywhere in the organization, as opposed to communicating through “proper channels.”   Globalization, diversity, flexibility, flatness, and networking are huge stresses for organizations today that won’t go away. Most struggle to optimize these factors, which has a tendency to complicate matters considerably. In other words, companies will continue to transform themselves for as far into the future as we can see.

Therefore, you have to develop a strategy to deal with a lot of change. Many years ago, your career was driven by your own needs, but this was a time when companies were more stable. It was easy to assess a new company’s culture and decide whether you liked it or not because it didn’t change much. Once you were in the company, creating a long career was easy, assuming your needs didn’t change too often. Today, your job satisfaction is determined more by your ability to deal with your company’s changing needs, not yours. This makes figuring out a viable career path very difficult. Here are few things I’ve learned over the years that will help you strike a balance with these seemingly unstoppable forces.

Understand what you need. So few people think about what they really work for. We often have some vague sense of what would make us happy but we fail to define it in enough detail that we can create a plan to achieve it or always make sure we are working towards it. Without such an understanding, our success becomes a victim of circumstances. So what motivates you? I’m not talking about getting a raise every six months and a promotion every eighteen months. I mean you need to know what makes you happy at work. What motivates you to be your best? Is it challenging work, managing people, autonomy, altruism, work-life balance, career growth potential, security, recognition or variety of work? Don’t worry about whether you can control the presence of these factors. Even if we can’t control everything, a failure to work towards your needs is simply leaving success up to chance. Would you need all of them to be happy with your progress? Not entirely. You would, however, be able to understand why you aren’t successful by identifying what’s missing. Then, you could find ways to bring those missing factors back into your life.

Understand your work environment. You’re not going to get everything you need from your job. It’s not any company’s goal to do that. It’s yours. You must manage your expectations accordingly. With that in mind, what factors that motivate you are present in your current work environment? I realize that these factors may be present at various levels, such as you don’t always get exciting work but you do get at least one exciting assignment per year. Check out my table in this link. It’s a view of values from a MBA graduate who is still in their same job after graduation. You can see what’s important to them and what their job provides. Take a little time to figure out what your work environment provides for you.

Find sources for your needs. If we only learned from the experiences in our jobs, how much would we really know? While your job won’t provide everything you need to grow and develop, you can find these opportunities elsewhere. In fact, that’s what drove me into consulting and then publishing. My needs were changing and weren’t being met. So I had a choice: accept it or change it. Once you identify your needs and determine which ones your work environment doesn’t provide, try to find other places outside of work that can help you fill these needs. For the most part, you won’t really care where they are being met, you’ll just be happy they are met. The only time this would become a problem is that if you allow your environment to remain the same for 2 or 3 years. Luckily, change is much faster than that.

Assess your needs often. Decades ago, it seemed that careers were modified by our own personal needs. But, today, the organization is transforming itself at a faster rate than its employees. As companies learn more, they reduce the size of the workforce, outsource, re-engineer processes, merge with other companies, acquire smaller companies and so on. The point is that the company changes often too and this has an impact on your career. Every year at your annual review, you should take time to assess what you need and what the company provides. It’s important to know the alignment of your needs with what your environment provides, as this will often be your sole source of stress. The misalignment will also give you areas to work on improving for the future.

Build your own team. This is probably my favorite idea but one very few actually utilize. A career is still viewed by most as something that can only be done individually. Yet when you look at the history of many highly successful professionals, you find out they had help. Just check out this site to see who got help from others. You should reach out to others to help you in your assessments of your needs and development of plans to meet them. There is such a stigma around career development that most people will never even breach the topic at work, but we will complain to all of our family, friends and neighbors. All you have to do is to talk with a few people you trust and get them to help you. Show them your assessment and get their thoughts. People want to help. It makes them feel valuable and needed. You won’t be disappointed in this tip if you use it.

Little things you should do daily. Success is the result of good habits. I create new habits all the time and test them out for a year to understand how they will impact my surroundings. The good part is that it usually doesn’t take very long to see the results. Here are a few things you can do daily to impact your environment in a positive way.

  • Develop your own catch phrase – Every year I develop one. This year it is “living the dream.” Any time anyone asks me how I’m doing, I respond with my phrase. I try to say it with passion and belief every time. This phrase does two things for me: 1) it reminds me how much progress I’ve made over the years, and 2) it reminds me that I’ve still got a few things to do in my career and that I can accomplish them.
  • Be positive – No matter how bad things get, shed a little sunshine on everyone’s day. Look, a career is very difficult but you can only take it one day at a time. So make every day a good day. Not just for yourself but for those around you. People like being around those who make them happy, despite reality. And if you’re employees really like being around you, maybe managers will keep that in mind should there ever come a need for the unthinkable things companies do to employees (you know… like a layoff!).
  • Stop the comparisons – Too often we judge our success by measuring it against other’s success. We have no idea what others have sacrificed to gain their success or how it has left them on the inside. The comparisons don’t really do much for you other than take time from working on your own plan. If you need to make comparisons, think about where you came from, where you are and where you want to be. That kind of thought has benefits.
  • Bask in the good things – Do you take enough time to soak in the moments when you’re successful? When I experience success, no matter how small, I make sure that I live in the moment as long as possible. I focus on the good emotions so that my body remembers what it feels like when success happens. I want it to develop an addiction to those feelings and a longing to repeat it over and over again.

Yep…there’s nothing magical about this post. It’s all common sense stuff. But how many of us don’t do them on a daily basis? How many of us get trapped in our daily lives? It’s too easy to do. Life and your career can be much better. All you have to do is plan a little and develop some good daily habits. If you’re not doing this, then you already have good habits or the pain isn’t bad enough yet. By why wait? Give yourself every possible advantage to be successful and happy. And who doesn’t want that?