The first few weeks of starting an MBA can be simultaneously exhilarating and paralyzing. The sheer number of opportunities, both social and professional, can be overwhelming. The pressure to rapidly commit to a career path can lead to making life-changing decisions much too quickly for comfort. It definitely felt this way for me as I navigated the challenge of deciding between an entrepreneurial path, a career in venture capital, or a return to management consulting.
Sorry to scare you! It’s actually mostly fun, but the more soul searching and career diligence you can do up-front, the less stressed out and better prepared you’ll be for landing your dream internship. More importantly, early preparation will make you happier with the choice you ultimately make. In my experience (and that of my classmates at Booth), there are two major pieces of advice that every first year should take. First, spend time getting to know yourself, your values, and your goals, bearing in mind that this is an immensely personal decision. Second, incorporate as much data as possible into the process.
When arriving at business school, most people have a general plan of what they “want to recruit for” — sometimes taken straight from our (stellar, no doubt) admissions essays, sometimes something altogether different. Unfortunately, the best of plans can quickly be swept away by the deluge of information and advice coming in from all angles. It’s important to keep in mind that everyone’s advice reflects their own worldview — their upbringing, education, work experience, values, and goals — not yours. It is up to you to really dig deep and understand those factors about yourself and how they shape the right career for you.
A FOUR-PIECE FRAMEWORK
Frameworks can be particularly helpful in laying out your range of options and thinking through where your values and goals fit. I particularly like this framework from Guy Turner of Hyde Park Venture Partners. It defines the career decision-making process along four dimensions:
- People: Do the opportunity’s people energize, teach, and motivate you?
- You: Are you a Judge or Builder, and does this opportunity fit your preference?
- Immediacy: Is this a stop on the journey, or a final destination?
- Optionality: Is this opportunity “option expanding,” or “option limiting”?
Additionally, tools like ProValues or CareerLeader can provide guided lines of questioning that help you understand what you truly value in a job or career. While these should never be prescriptive, it’s a good starting place for first-year MBAs presented with an overwhelming set of potential career paths.
Once you have an understanding of your values and what you want, it’s important to be data-driven and learn how different careers fit with those values. This is the exact reason we started TransparentMBA. While anecdotes and advice from your personal network and second-year MBAs are extremely valuable, we wanted to create a platform for all MBAs to get deeper insights into the pay, satisfaction, and long-term opportunities provided by different careers and companies. Our dream is to centralize and quantify a base of knowledge shared across institutions, students, and alumni so that we can all make more data-driven decisions in the future.
BRINGING IT ALL TOGETHER
Combine your results from the framework above (your personal preferences) with data — from second years, from your career center, and from TransparentMBA — to create a self-evaluatory matrix. For example, I valued people who would challenge me, a Builder role, an opportunity that would be a learning stop on my journey, and an opportunity that maintained high optionality. With that, I wanted to understand how compensation and work-life balance varied among my options.
The three options I was considering hit the mark somewhat, but it seemed consulting was the best fit for what I, personally, wanted for my first post-MBA job. (Note: The entrepreneurial path has since swept me away …)
While I can’t pretend to know all the answers, I do believe that figuring out what you truly value is the most important — but also the hardest — part of this process. My sincere hope is that we can help you focus more time and energy on the hard part, and make it easier to get better data through TransparentMBA once you ultimately decide what career is the right one for you.
Mitch Kirby is a former management consultant, venture capitalist, and Chicago Booth graduate. While a student and career adviser at Booth, he founded TransparentMBA, a new career data resource specifically for MBAs. Current students, applicants, and alumni can sign up for free and leverage more than 250,000 data points to plan their careers, compare positions within companies, and even negotiate offers.