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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.

Here are the factors you should assess with respect to #1 above: what are the greatest areas of academic departmental strength (including research centers, conferences, prominent faculty members, and overall reputation among MBA employers) at your business school? Are there new venture initiation / start-up incubation programs that make your school a particularly functional place to launch a career as an entrepreneur? Or are there special centers of research, conferences that draw industry practitioners, and outstanding individual mentors in a specific field (e.g., biotechnology, real estate, family business management) that distinguish your school from others?

In addition, what are the special geographic advantages (ease of access and networking vis-à-vis a specific professional community), corporate relationships (inclusive of faculty research, MBA recruiting, and MBA alumni relations and development), and concentration and distribution of alumni who attended your program? Once you have identified all of the unique strengths and advantages of your MBA program, it’s possible to make choices about how to deploy your time to take advantage of those strengths (or to overcome any hurdles if, for example, you’re recruiting for jobs in a different part of the country or in another country).

And, given the context of the business program you are attending, what is your own competitive profile and comparative advantage (variable #2 above)? Does it make more sense for you to emphasize academic achievement (by earning academic honors, taking on a special independent study project, or serving as a teaching or research assistant for a specific course), to show your organizational abilities and leadership capacity (by leading a student club, becoming elected to student government, managing a conference, performing well in a business school competition, etc.), or to invest heavily in the due diligence, networking, social interactions, travel and overall process of becoming an ‘industry expert’ in order to conduct an effective job search?

Your self-assessment focused on the ‘past’ should be of key relevance in this process. For example, do you have the sort of academic training and educational background that would make it relatively easier for you to become a star performer in the classroom, or will that effort drain time and energy from other ways in which you can more readily distinguish yourself? Or are there unique skills, experiences, and elements of your background that put you in a distinct category that differentiates you from a large segment of your peer group (e.g., you speak both Mandarin and Portuguese, and you’re pursuing work that involves Sino-Brazilian industrial joint ventures … or you’re pursuing opportunities in Venture Capital focused on health care innovation, and you’re an MD-MBA who has extensive experience in medical devices research and development, or payer-provider / health management organizations).

Last, as your self-assessment segues into a strategy for how to apply your time and energy to the academic, career, and extracurricular aspects of business school, you should assess the variables described in #3 above: what organizations have recruited at your business school in the past few years (no guarantee of future hiring, but a solid indicator nonetheless), and what companies are emerging as MBA employers (including nascent, boutique firms managed by MBA alumni as well as large, established companies that may have only recently established an MBA recruiting-talent development strategy).

And, is the industry that you’re about to enter on an upward swing, or is it facing consolidation, new competition, regulatory uncertainty, loss of its traditional customer base, etc. As anyone who started business school in 2008 with a desire to focus on commercial real estate investment and development after graduating can attest, market timing can be a significant factor in one’s formulation of an MBA career strategy, as well as the difference between success and failure.

Ideally, your integration of past with present as part of your MBA career self-assessment should take into account all of these factors and forces – the unique attributes of your business school, current market forces that impact MBA hiring, and your own comparative advantages and interests as an MBA candidate. Tune in next week for perspectives on how to translate these assessments into a long-term vision for the future and the path that will allow you to make a good living, accomplish interesting work, and derive satisfaction from the years and decades to come.

Ivan Kerbel – bio:

Ivan Kerbel is the CEO of Practice LLC, an educational services firm that conducts an intensive, annual pre-orientation program for newly-admitted MBAs, The Practice MBA Summer Forum.

Ivan served previously as Director of the Career Development Office at The Yale School of Management and as a Sr. Associate Director at Wharton’s MBA Career Management office. He is a Wharton MBA alumnus and a former management consultant at Katzenbach Partners, a New York City strategy consulting boutique. Ivan can be reached via LinkedIn.