News, advice and resources for business school applicants

MBA Career Strategy

Read up on our Career Services Director Q&A and follow along with our MBA Career Strategy series.

5 Ways To Excel When You Join a Startup

7754541930_98ea0edea5_zTaking the place of our weekly career strategy column by Ivan Kerbel, Common Bond has offered their take on how to succeed at a startup, no matter what the stage of your career. 

You’ve signed the offer and sighed with relief: you’re just weeks away from joining an innovative startup in your dream role.

If you’ve never worked at a startup before now, you’re in for a wakeup call. You’ll enter a completely new professional environment, where you’ll face sole ownership of your workstream, turnaround times that occur at light speed, and the chance to actually grow a business.

MBAs can bring great things to the table at any firm, but it takes special grit to excel in a startup. Here are five ways to start the summer strong:

1. Learn everything (really) about the company and industry. That weeklong orientation or onboarding period from your last job? Think again. Whether you’re an MBA intern or a full-time hire, don’t assume much training is ahead. Be sure you’re absolutely up-to-date on the industry landscape and your company’s recent initiatives so your employer doesn’t need to clue you in.

2. Prepare beyond your functional area. Cross-functional knowledge is the first step to diving in on day 1 and, ultimately, collaborating with teammates who love working with you. That means that if you’re a finance manager, review the firm’s latest marketing campaigns and PR placements, and if you’re on the design team, learn the names and brand of every investor.

Continue reading…

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How to Tell If Someone Truly Loves His or Her Job

It’s a given, as most business school students in the midst of MBA recruiting know, that the alumni and employer representatives who visit campus for company presentations, coffee chats, and various other career-oriented events tend to be the ones who enjoy their work the most (and are the most successful at it). The end result, in terms of what these alumni and recruiters share with students who are evaluating their career options, is that almost every aspect of internships and post-MBA careers at “organization X” is described in superlative terms.

The amount of responsibility granted to MBAs who join the organization is outstanding; access to senior firm leaders and decision-makers is great; the work content is stimulating; the chance to achieve impact is awesome; your colleagues are talented and fun to be with; compensation and performance bonuses are off the charts, etc. It can seem as though, despite some concessions (long work hours, travel demands), careers across a wide range of employers are all rated “A++”.

Thus, a question I’ve often been asked by students is: how can you truly tell when an organization lives up to its projected image, when a job truly is fun? Are there tell-tale signs to zero in on and ways to tell when an employer experience truly does stand out from the rest? … How can you tell if an alumnus or alumna you speak with truly loves his or her job?

Although it may seem a purely subjective realm, I’ve found that there are three categories to focus on that can demarcate job/work experiences which are merely positive from those that are transcendent. Continue reading…

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Conducting a Career Self-Assessment – for New Admits and Current MBAs (Part 3 of 3)

hand-with-reflecting-sphere-mc-escher-1935At one point a few years ago, during the height of MBA recruiting season, a senior manager visiting campus for a corporate presentation bemoaned the amount of self-imposed stress that students experience in choosing a full-time employer: “students will spend two years (during business school) agonizing over a job they’re going to keep for less than two years,” he said, and his assessment was not far off.

In its 2013 Alumni Perspectives Survey of MBA graduates from 2000 through 2012, the Graduate Management Admissions Council (GMAC) found that “63% of the members of the class of 2010 are still working for the same organization” – or, phrased differently, that 37% had left their first post-MBA job within two years of graduation (and in the midst of a very tough job market). My own anecdotal evidence suggests that at some point roughly 4 to 5 years after graduation, finding yourself employed by the same company you joined coming out of business school becomes the exception rather than the norm.

And while there are many variables that influence and reflect MBA employee retention and turnover – GMAC finds, for example, that “switching organizations has a positive impact on salary levels but a negative impact on career momentum” – the simple reality that you should keep in mind as a current or rising MBA is that your next job is almost certainly not your last job, and that part of your task in the MBA career search process is not only to choose an internship and a full-time, post-MBA job, but to begin to plan for and scope out the job after that, and perhaps even beyond. Continue reading…

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Conducting a Career Self-Assessment – for New Admits and Current MBAs (Part 2 of 3)

Last week’s discussion of self-assessment took us to the start of business school, and assumed that the newly-matriculated student has performed a deep-dive on the “highs” and “lows” of each past educational and professional experience, and has gained new insights via the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) and the CareerLeader MBA career assessment.

An equally important aspect of MBA career self-assessment involves focusing on the Present – assessing all of the variables that relate to: 1) the MBA program you’re enrolled in, 2) your comparative advantage and competitiveness within the context of your peer group (the first-year student body at your own school, primarily, but also including MBA candidates at other programs), and 3) the MBA recruiting climate and macroeconomic conditions for the industries and opportunities you are likely to pursue.

Conducting a self-assessment with respect to the ‘present’ time frame of the business school experience itself is less dependent on understanding one’s individual predilections and aspirations, and more reliant on mapping that self-knowledge onto a competitive landscape, and on creating a strategy about how to allocate one’s time and energy for maximum effect given that context. Continue reading…

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Conducting a Career Self-Assessment – for New MBA Admits (Part 1 of 3)

MBAs are often told that a new job search should begin with a process of introspection known as “self-assessment,” yet that advice is not always accompanied by a prescriptive guide for what that process should entail … the words themselves are deemed sufficiently self-explanatory.

At the same time, a good career self-assessment is not rocket science. It involves focusing on three time periods – past, present, and future – and it can benefit from use of a small handful of exercises and instruments, the most prevalent (and useful) of which are the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), whose intellectual antecedent is the philosophy of Carl Jung, and the CareerLeader assessment, developed by Drs. Tim Butler and Jim Waldroop at Harvard Business School.

For a rising MBA, the need to conduct a critical self-assessment is acute because the cost of having to reverse course or of simply “getting it wrong” – for example, by chasing after “your roommate’s dream job” rather than your own, or by discovering that your dream career path lies in private wealth management one week after deadlines for private wealth management internships have passed – is high. Continue reading…

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Embarking on Business School with an Entrepreneurial Vision (Part 2 of 2)

Amidst the debate of whether business school represents a worthwhile undertaking for students planning to pursue entrepreneurship, there is scant attention paid to how to go about creating a new venture, once one has made the decision to go to business school.

Much has changed in the past 5-7 years – entrepreneurship in business school has morphed from being a very small fraction of MBA job-search activity relative to the mainstream MBA recruiting efforts of professional services firms and Fortune 500 companies, to becoming one of the core economic objectives that validates the educational process itself. Yet the curricular shape of most MBA programs (core courses first followed by electives) hews to a traditional model that tends to work less well for entrepreneurs than it does for those pursuing the traditional two-step process of MBA summer internship recruiting followed by MBA full-time recruiting.

In many respects, the traditional business school model of having the first year serve to provide a broad, general foundation across the academic verticals – core course offerings in Finance, Marketing, Accounting, etc. – followed  by a second year in which there is relatively more room for students to explore electives, independent study projects, and experiential learning programs that lend themselves better to new venture initiation – leaves MBA entrepreneurs as a whole with too little time, in my opinion, to sufficiently test their ideas and to have a chance to fail and try again before they graduate. Continue reading…

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Exclusive Pre-MBA Webinar

PMBA Pic for Clear AdmitSign up for an exclusive and complimentary webinar on formulating your “MBA Career Strategy”- just for members of the Clear Admit community.

The session will be led by Ivan Kerbel, CEO of Practice MBA, former Director of the Career Development Office at the Yale School of Management, and former Sr. Associate Director at Wharton MBA Career Management. The webinar will take place on Wednesday, March 19 at 12:00 p.m. EDT.

The goal of this session is to highlight the spectrum of pre-MBA enrichment opportunities (including pre-MBA corporate and educational training programs as well as pre-MBA internships) and to help students align their personal career goals and overall MBA plans with the specific resources and relationships they are about to gain access to in business school.

Sign up HERE! Questions? Please contact Ivan directly at and be sure to mention “Clear Admit.”


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Embarking on Business School with an Entrepreneurial Vision (Part 1 of 2)

EntrepreneurFor Stanford GSB, the class of 2013 may represent a high-water mark in terms of MBA graduates pursuing full-time, post-MBA roles as entrepreneurs. A record 18% of Stanford’s graduated class is starting new ventures in “finance, internet services, media and entertainment, human resources, retail, healthcare, consumer products, education, energy / cleantech, and software.”

And, yet, the relevance and value of going to business school in order to pursue an entrepreneurial career path remains hotly-debated.

For every encouraging note – see Stella Fayman’s Forbes piece, Should Entrepreneurs Get an MBA? An Inside Perspective from an MBA Entrepreneur – there is a counter-point such as Naysawn Naderi’s Hey Entrepreneur – Please Don’t Get an MBA. And, while UVA Dean Robert Bruner and author Steve Blank weigh in, respectively, with Should Entrepreneurs Have MBAs? and Should I get an MBA? Entrepreneurial Finishing School, and management thinker Henry Mintzberg and Wharton Dean Thomas Robertson square off on the topic, with Is an MBA Still Necessary?, The Wall Street Journal’s Melissa Korn alights on the one seemingly stable variable: B-Schools Vie for Startup Crown.

Yet, what if you’re already beyond the stage of pondering whether business school makes sense for entrepreneurship, and instead face the prospect of committing to business school with the knowledge and hope that pursuing an MBA might dovetail well with starting your own new venture? Continue reading…

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The Importance of Sequencing in Your MBA Career Plans

Among the questions I’ve been asked by MBAs, there are a number that tend to revolve around a set of common, universal concerns. Here are some of the most frequent:

  • Is working for a big company better than working for a small boutique?
  • Is it more important to work for a name-brand employer, rather than a niche, boutique firm that may lack equivalent credential-boosting power?
  • Is it wise / necessary to undertake a couple of years, or more, of banking or consulting work post-MBA, even if that’s not my long-term desired industry choice?
  • Is there any universal rule that allows you to label one job or company as “better” than another?

The answers, of course, depend on the circumstances, on the student’s background and goals, and on a range of other factors, but that doesn’t mean that the questions above can’t be solved at least to some extent. There is, in fact, a single method and key one can use to help unlock these related questions: the concept of sequencing.

Earlier in this weekly series, I discussed the role that evaluating industry, function, and organization plays in deciding which job is “better,” and/or the right one for you (see Three Categories for Choosing the Right Job). Adding the element of time – of sequence – to this model is an additional way to cut through the clutter and to arrive at a good career path decision. Continue reading…

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How to Write Emails to Employers and Alumni

One would think that writing an e-mail, among other prosaic pursuits (brushing one’s teeth, putting on socks), may not be worthy of a dedicated column, yet, in my experience, composing and sending a message to an MBA employer or to an MBA alumnus whom one has not met is among the leading causes of anxiety among MBA candidates. Here, then, is a recipe for how to keep a ‘cold e-mail’ simple and effective, without losing the personal touch.

Any e-mail that serves as a self-introduction and an initial point of outreach should do the following: it should describe who you are, it should say something about the person you’ve written to and why you’ve chosen to write him or her (as opposed to anyone else at the same company), and it should have a clear, specific request for follow-up. This may take you three paragraphs, or it may take five; the important thing is to keep the length as short as possible, without losing meaning.

In paragraph one, it makes sense to state that you are a first-year or a second-year MBA student at a particular business program, with a background in X, and/or an interest in Y, and that you are seeking the recipient’s expertise about his or her organization, industry, or career path. Mention whether there is a specific personal connection (for example, a mutual friend, classmate, professor, or colleague who suggested that you reach out to this person), or a shared background (such as undergraduate alma mater, similar work experience, or even country of origin). Continue reading…

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How to Address Self-Introductory Emails

Now that we’ve covered some of the more substantial chunks of the MBA recruiting process, let’s turn to a sometimes overlooked, but nonetheless important, aspect of reaching out to employers, alumni, and anyone else whom you don’t know personally but who can offer guidance and perspective on your MBA job search.

The most basic rule of thumb to follow is to avoid the exotic, and to keep things simple. When starting an email message and/or a cover letter, the operative salutation is “Dear [First Name],” as in “Dear Henry,” “Dear Amy,” etc. Using “Hi” is normally reserved for people you already know, and can be more easily employed when you’re responding to a message sent to you, rather than when initiating a conversation.

Using “Hey” as a greeting, though I’ve seen it appear in MBA emails to managing directors and partners at employer organizations, is almost universally a bad idea. To most recipients, “Hey” either feels jolting (as in, “hey, pay attention!”), or too chummy, especially between people who’ve not previously met. The worst examples of these messages are sometimes forwarded back to the MBA career service office by employers and/or alumni with a gentle reminder for the staff there to continue to help coach MBAs in proper etiquette … ouch! Continue reading…

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