Landing Your Dream Job – The Best of Ivan Kerbel (The Sequel)


Should my first employer be a name brand?

“My gut instinct is for you to select the opportunity that most appeals to you in the near-term … because I think your personal level of job satisfaction and productivity — the things you will accomplish in the coming year(s) that will someday appear as new bullet points on your resume — will be your biggest drivers of success, both in terms of admission to business school as well as pursuing strategy consulting work during and beyond business school…

At the same time, I would not worry too much about whether the economic consulting firm you’re considering joining is “prestigious” or not, but rather focus on the quality of the work, people, and clients you might encounter in that setting. Having a pre-MBA background in consulting means that you will have acquired many, if not most, of the skills you need to be successful as an MBA associate consultant (managing teams and leading projects is usually left for post-MBA work). Knowing ‘client service’ from a functional perspective will mean that you’re ready for most types of generalist consulting roles for which MBAs are hired (even if you lack a niche area of domain expertise, such as energy, and unless economic consulting in and of itself becomes your area of primary focus).

If you’re still in a quandary, I would skew towards the job opportunity in which you can most easily imagine having a terrific professional reference (whether for b-school applications or for future job searches). Try to envision which manager(s) or supervisor(s) will likely be your closest mentors and champions at your future workplace. If your vision of that is clearly stronger at one of the current opportunities, then perhaps use that detail as the tie breaker.”

“With regard to brand name, I don’t think that lack of working for a top 3-4 firm in your industry is an application “killer”…What matters most …is the quality of the work you performed, the content/challenge of the work itself, and what you’ve been able to learn and achieve in the process. It goes without saying that candidates from non name-brand firms can display a very impressive set of achievements and undertakings, and that the opposite is also possible (one can accomplish somewhat uninspired, pedestrian work at a name-brand employer). Good admissions officers should be able to tell the difference.

In addition, I don’t believe that ‘top 10’ schools place a greater level of importance on brand name pre-MBA experience. If anything, I think top 10 schools may have greater flexibility in “taking a risk” on high-achieving candidates who have been stellar performers in contexts outside of the more predictable pre-MBA career paths. (This is in part related to their greater market-making powers in bringing MBA candidates and employers together, and the perceived higher value-add of the education and training at those schools.)

How can I determine what the ‘hot’ jobs will be when I graduate?

“I would be a little careful with regard to market-timing your degree, meaning that you should predicate your decision to attend business school in any given year based on some sense of whether the industry will be expanding or contracting when you emerge (and are seeking a job), but that your overall decision to become an MBA, and/or pursue a career in a specific field should be a bit more “timeless”… something that you intrinsically are interested in and well-suited to, for the long haul.”

“For me, judging the near-term marketplace opportunities for any MBA student is always a multi-variable equation … what will the job-market and overall economy be like at the point you graduate; if you’re switching industries, can you maintain some consistency in terms of function (or vice versa); what aspects of your prior experience (client account management, analytics, specific team- or project-based work) can most readily translate to your potentially new career path; and what specific coursework and experiences will you pursuing in business school that can help bolster your overall marketability, useful skills and knowledge?

What I’ve often told my students is to try to avoid scenarios in which you’re attempting to change / break through a majority, rather than a minority of variables … hence, be careful if you’re trying to find work at a new company, in a new city (where you lack network and references), in an entirely new industry, and in a very different function from what you’ve done before. That’s often a recipe for a long, hard slog and usually results in finding a match with an organization that might not have been your ideal, employer-of-choice in that space.

If you can keep most variables the same (keeping industry stable while changing function, for example) while changing a minimum, few key others, you may be able to create a step-wise plan to get you where you want to be, 2-3 job moves / 5-10 years down the line.”


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