For most of us, the MBA is about getting THE job. Sure, the academics are stimulating and the socializing is unmatched. However, there are no rankings based on Number of Elective Classes Per Student or Happy Hour Utilization (though the latter metric would be quite competitive). In reality, you’re getting into an MBA program with the hopes of getting right back out and into the best job for you. Question is, what can you do if that job doesn’t exist yet?
It’s challenging enough landing your target role on your school’s job board. It gets especially tricky when you know you want something else – but you don’t know exactly what. If you do, what if the company doesn’t need it yet? Chances are, there’s no job title for it, either.
I spent the past year in this chicken-and-egg situation, but I came out the other side! This month, I signed my post-MBA offer for a job that will be new to the organization yet perfectly fits my pre-MBA ambitions. Long ago, my MBA admissions essay outlined my dream to help transform how marketing content is targeted, delivered, and measured. The title or department didn’t matter, but I wanted to somehow find a role that focused on both strategy and analytics. Now, after a long recruiting season and a rewarding internship, I look forward to joining the Growth team at a leading SaaS company where I will develop its new data-enabled merchandising strategy.
Did I get lucky? Absolutely. But I believe in that old phrase: “Luck is when preparation meets opportunity.” Here are four ways to prepare for your own uncharted path.
1) Use What You’re Paying For
You’re already being asked to do ALL the things with very limited time. However, to make sure you’re ready for the work of the future, consider swapping more traditional MBA activities with hands-on opportunities that are included in your student fees. At Georgia Tech’s Scheller College of Business, for example, this means free coding lessons at the library, completing dual degree programs in fields like Computer Science or Analytics, or studying emerging fields in classes offered by other colleges.
My classmate Stephen Stradley did just that. With his post-MBA sights set on innovating mobility solutions, Stephen designed his Spring 2019 semester with his future career in mind. “I signed up for the MBA International Practicum to complete a real, client-facing project in the autonomous vehicle space, and I worked with our academic advisor to register for a graduate Transportation Engineering class across campus,” he told me. Having recently completed a summer MBA Product Management internship at Scoop, a carpooling platform, he was ready to take the next step. “Thanks in part to those courses, I had an extensive understanding of the industry which helped me quickly gain trust. The advance preparation enabled me to tackle a series of user-facing projects instead of just pursuing a single focus for the summer.”
Even with a job in hand, I plan to practice my SQL skills and learn Python before graduation. I don’t necessarily want to be an expert coder in the workplace. However, as a recent MBA, I want to make sure I can confidently speak with company leaders and peers about my data needs.
2) Know What You’re Good At
There is no secret list of SEO-approved key words for jobs that don’t exist yet. Rather than relying on job title buzzwords, make sure your networking conversations frame your personal core competencies and interests. By keeping the conversation open-ended, you can help a contact more easily envision you in a variety of roles—even those yet to come. This approach is especially helpful when you have no idea which department or function at a certain company matches your skills.
What does this look like? When I was asked the typical “What do you want to do after the MBA” question at coffee chats, I often replied, “I want to continue working in marketing in a role that utilizes my strengths in problem-solving, process improvement, and relationship management.” Then my coffee date would start to tell me all the teams and roles where I could do that! It’s magic!
You never know who the gatekeeper to a certain department might be, so keep your language open at first and then more tailored as the conversation progresses. Framing your personal brand in terms of essential MBA competencies will never be outpaced by changing industry trends.
3) Ask Better Questions
While you’re attending those coffee chats, focus just as much on what questions you’re asking. Your contact is making the time to speak with you; an easy way to make it worthwhile to them is to let them talk. You never know what questions may lead to insight on where you may fit in the future of the company.
Take a play out of the basic sales rulebook and think of the company as your customer. What do they need? What challenges are they facing? What will eventually happen if they don’t take action? Rather than asking for the hundredth time, “What types of personalities succeed in your organization?” try “How do you see the company growing or changing this year? What impact does that have on you?” Ideally, you’ve done your homework, and you can frame the question with your knowledge of the industry. Once you know where a company is headed, you can better communicate your competencies that match their future needs.
When you have the attention of a hiring manager or teammate, try asking, “What are you working on this year that excites you?” and “What’s coming up that the team is feeling apprehensive about?” Open-ended questions like these may give you exposure to team dynamics, upcoming process changes, or team growth opportunities that you wouldn’t otherwise be aware. Always try to get insight into a company’s needs before you provide them a solution (Hint: the solution is you!).
4) Collect the Clues
It’s time to put your social media creeping skills to real use. If you pay attention to what information an organization releases across its channels, you should be able to surmise its growth goals and associated hiring needs. With my pre-MBA life in marketing communications, I can personally attest to how much information companies willingly release that you can use for job hunting.
Start with the organization website. Do they have a newsroom page? Can you find their quarterly earnings reports? Look at what companies are boasting about in the announcements or year-end recaps. Find which investor report pages get the splashiest design work. These pages contain what the company wants to be known for and what they are likely investing in for the future. New office location? Probable new jobs. New section of the website that’s currently lacking content? Bookmark the page as “business unit coming soon.”
Then move to LinkedIn and industry news sites. Did they just poach an executive from a rival organization? Is there a job posting for SVP of a business unit you’ve never noticed before? Those new executives are going to need people to lead. What editorial content are they pushing in trade publications? Which hiring events are they sponsoring? It sounds trite, but you should follow the money.
For many MBA students, the tracks to careers in strategy consulting, finance, and brand management will likely remain popular as ever. However, for those interested in emerging MBA roles like product management, innovation consulting, or business analytics, learning how to predict and find the opportunities of the future is a vital skill. With a small amount of luck – and a lot of preparation – getting a job that doesn’t exist yet is completely within your grasp.
Jasmine Howard, a Tennessee native and marketing strategist, is a second-year MBA candidate at Georgia Tech’s Scheller College of Business. Each month, she offers advice, pro tips, and life hacks for the emerging challenges of today’s evolving MBA world.
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