Should You Get An MBA? When?

Much of the book is addressed to slightly younger professionals who are just graduating with their undergraduate degrees. But then there is a lot of general advice that can help someone plan for a life long career. What do you think would be especially useful advice for MBAs?

My brother-in-law who has an MBA and hires a lot of MBA interns has bought the book and given it to those interns. So even though the first third of the book is geared to finding your first job out of college, a lot of MBAs are career changers. So they need to go through these same exercises to help them prepare for a new job. They have to figure out what is the best fit for them and how do they stand out among the crowd and what they can best bring to a company. MBAs have to these things at higher levels, but they are still ding a lot of the same things. The book really focuses on how to navigate your way to the right company and the right kind of work.

One of the things that is particularly helpful for MBAs are the types of things you can do to boost your career and set yourself apart. When the book came out earlier this month, we did a chat online and some of the questions we came from business school students who were unclear about what they needed to do to stand out. A company is hiring 50 MBAs at a time. Pretty much everyone is doing the same thing. How do I set myself apart is an obvious question.

What do you recommend?

One of the things you can do is to quietly become an expert on something whether it’s through a blog, appearing on panels at an industry association of doing volunteer work of some kind. Too often, people do these things when they need them and then it’s too late. You want to do them now so you gain a reputation outside your company.

You don’t need a decade of experience to be considered an expert if you’ve earned a key certification, regularly participate in your industry association, and have some specialized knowledge that’s cutting edge or simply sought after by others.

To get invites, you need to lay the groundwork first. Certifications, participation in industry groups, networking with alumni and fellow association members, being a strong communicator, and staying up on current industry trends. As you dig deeper into your profession and meet more people—and most critical share what you know via networking events, LinkedIn groups, a professional blog, or Twitter—you’re bound to interact with people who are responsible for putting together speaking events that a first-timer or budding expert would be perfect for.

When you prove your knowledge or speaking abilities in small ways, it’s likely you’ll be asked to add your expertise on larger platforms. That could mean a guest column or blog post for an industry or alumni association or a spot on an industry panel that draws a bigger crowd than the local chapter session you participated in last year.

If speaking and blogging aren’t your thing, it’s possible to become a go-to person in less personally public ways like an article for your company newsletter or a write-up that your alma mater can distribute to students who want to be in your industry.

Another important career booster for MBAs is the alumni network they inherent when they graduate, right?

Many alumni associations are offering considerable more to graduates these days. You can thank the recession and lengthy recovery of the late 2000s for that. More are offering regular expert seminars, meet-and-greets, continuing education opportunities, and—key for many people—dedicated alumni career services and networking opportunities. Most also have a professionally managed LinkedIn and Facebook presence, at minimum. And some are offering formal mentoring programs, linking successful alums in a particular career or industry with younger alums who want to follow a similar path.

All of this has made it easier and much more worthwhile to get involved and meet people who have one big thing in common: an affinity for their alma mater and as a by-product, for fellow alums. A close relationship with your school could also pave the way for you to get involved with recruiting or making company presentations to reach potential interns or new hires.. Being a part of these trips not only make syou an asset to your company, it gives you insight into a skill that’s prized among managers—recruiting and assessing job candidates.

What are common mistakes people make in their careers?

A lot of professionals don’t take the time to hear and decode the subtle feedback they get. That slipped comment at the end of a conversation with your boss may be the most important thing you need to hear. That is where the clues are for why you may be held back. By paying attention to them, you can fix them.