How do the MBA's do it?
Whether you think an MBA degree is truly valuable or just another credential, you can learn a lot by studying how top-level executives with MBA’s manage their careers and deal with job hunting.
In the last edition, April 13, I promised you feedback from a conference I was attending on April 19. (There was no April 20 edition because the conference left me with a lot to think about—and I needed time to distill what I learned to make it useful to you.)
Stanford, Cornell, Harvard, UCLA, London School of Business, INSEAD, Michigan, Duke—these are some of the 30 top MBA schools from around the world that converged in Chicago last week for a conference. In attendance were career center directors who advise and coach executive MBA’s on how to develop their careers and how to get their next job. (Executive MBA’s are seasoned managers who go back to school part-time to earn an MBA.) My kind of audience: people who think about the same issues I do all day long.
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MBA Career Services for Working Professionals Alliance
A special note to the members of MBACSWP:
I know that many of you subscribe to this newsletter. Thanks for your generous hospitality at the recent conference held at the Chicago Booth School of Business.
I hope to hear from members of the group so we can continue our dialogue about initiative and how to stand out in the job search. Please feel free to drop me a note, and if you signed up for the follow-up information I promised you, I'll be in touch soon!
(And someone please tell me which team won the Scrabble game and what the top score was...)
The New Interview
My job was the keynote presentation. For weeks I struggled with what to say to these people. If any group already knows a lot of what I teach, this is it. Most of them subscribe to this newsletter and use it to help their executive MBA alumni. Far better than me talking at the front of a room would have been a day-long roundtable discussion where we could share ideas. But I was going to give the keynote and I needed an angle.
They asked me to talk about The New Interview. Ask The Headhunter regulars know this is a simple concept: Walk into your meeting with the employer and demonstrate, hands down, how you will do the job profitably. You also know that getting to that interview requires a huge investment of your time and energy. It requires making critical choices, because not every one of those 500 “relevant” jobs you saw posted online are worth that investment.
The failure to make those choices leaves even executives looking like bumblers. When a person pursues “what’s available” rather than the job she really wants, she becomes just another impotent job hunter.
And that’s the angle I chose. That’s what I talked about: How seasoned executives are subjected to the same dumbed-down employment system the rest of us face, and how this screws up their job search.
I talked about how relying on the system strips people of their initiative and leaves them behaving like just another job hunter. Then I showed them what it means to demonstrate initiative by adopting The New Interview approach.
The career center folks in the audience told me that no matter how many times they tell their executive MBA’s that jobs are found through personal contacts, executives still turn to job boards, as if it’s an addiction. They agonize over the keywords in their resumes and they memorize goofy answers to the Top 10 Stupid Interview Questions. In other words, they’re no better at job hunting than anyone else.
Where's the initiative?
Why is that? We pounded on this question, and the answer I heard loud and clear is that even executives fail to demonstrate the necessary initiative during the hiring process that would make them stand out.
Initiative, n., The power or ability to begin or to follow through energetically with a plan or task; enterprise and determination.
Even executives who manage billion-dollar companies crank out resumes and send them to people they don’t know who don’t know them. They wait for interviewers to figure out what to do with their credentials and skills. They blow it because instead of demonstrating initiative, they succumb to begging for “what’s available.”
How can I stand out?
We talked about the big, in-your-face question job hunters want an answer to: How can I stand out? And we concluded that without taking the initiative to demonstrate how you will contribute to a company’s bottom line, there is no standing out.
In fact, once you get onto the job posting-resume-interview treadmill, there is no getting off. Each step draws you into the wrong job discussion and prevents you from standing out.
Perhaps the most important point that came out of the discussion is that jobs are found and filled through personal contacts that are based on shared experiences. That is, people who have experience with you are willing to vouch for you and recommend you to employers who trust the referral. LinkedIn by itself doesn’t accomplish anything, and “making contacts” is insufficient. The job hunter must engage with the contact. Standing out means sharing something that matters.
Why even executive MBA's fail: Fact-laden job hunting
I talked about a simple problem that seems to elude even savvy executives. People pursue jobs rather than challenges. They don’t start their job search by identifying where and with whom they want to work, and what they want to do. They seek job postings rather than the right problems to solve.
Consider the distracting “process” this approach triggers:
Fact-laden job postings stimulate fact-laden resumes (also known as “keywords.”). These resumes lead to fact-laden interviews that are little more than data exchanges: two people swapping credentials, histories, facts, buzzwords. They fail to exploit shared experiences because there aren’t any. Since there’s no personal referral, the interchange is weak when it could be strong.
Left with nothing but the job description and the resume to talk about, the employer defends the job posting and the candidate defends her resume. They fail to create shared experiences that lead to a solid working relationship.
Don’t know what I mean by “create shared experiences?” That’s when, during the interview, the manager and the candidate roll up their sleeves and work together on a live problem that helps them see whether there would be profit in making a hire.
The career center directors at the conference know all these things. They know the difference between relying on job postings and resumes to get a job on the one hand; and on the other, developing sound personal and business relationships that lead to a profitable hire. My aim was to remind them that they must force their clients to take the initiative to show an employer how they will contribute to a company’s bottom line. Otherwise, their clients will keep asking, “How can I stand out?”
What is The New Interview all about?
After my presentation, one career center director said to me, “When I get back to my job after this conference, I’m going to start pushing my clients harder. When they tell me they’re approaching a certain job opportunity, I’m going insist they answer the question, How am I demonstrating true initiative? That’s the only way to stand out.”
Having an MBA degree doesn’t inherently make anyone more valuable. In fact, who you are and what’s in your history are virtually irrelevant. I told the group that to stand out, to demonstrate initiative, to do The New Interview, you must stop focusing on yourself. Your resume is not your marketing piece. You don’t have to sell yourself. You don’t need to have “a brand.” You don’t need an elevator pitch.
You need to understand another person’s unique needs, and you need to understand what that person will pay you for. Job hunting is 100% about the other guy. This is what everyone I spoke with after my presentation agreed on: If you can’t show in a job interview that you understand the work to be done, and if you can’t show how you’ll do it profitably, you’re not doing The New Interview.
I met some great folks and I had a great time at the conference. If I haven’t said it already, I was tickled to be invited to give the keynote to the people who coach the top executive MBA's in the world. I learned a lot from this group. And having never been there before, I learned that Chicago really is very windy. The good news is that you get double the workout when you bike into the headwinds along the shore of Lake Michigan.
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