Real Life Skills for Prospective MBAs

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When many of us are young and still in graduate school, we are idealistic, hopeful and usually quite naïve.  Our business schools and our professors assure us with very straight faces that employers are just waiting to take us on board when we apply to them with our crisp, new degrees. Well, they have to promote XYZ University, don’t they?  They’re being paid to do it….. Once the degree modules and the final projects are complete, and the convocation ceremony takes place, the year’s MBA finalists come out in their graduation gowns with stars shining in their eyes. Let me assure you that there is nothing wrong with having dreams and ambitions, but unfortunately, these don’t just happen by themselves.  They have to be meticulously planned and constantly revised in the light of attempts and failures.

Do not pull the wool over your eyes

Prepare yourself mentally for the harsh reality that your MBA degree is only the first step in a thousand-mile journey.  Remember – the degree by itself carries no weight unless you can supplement it with relevant experience and a strong personality.  In effect it is actually just a piece of paper with the name of the degree and the name of the university.  It is the person who has earned it who now has to prove himself out there equipped with these three letters in front of his or her name.  Anyone who tells you anything different about the magical powers of the MBA is just trying to pull the wool over your eyes.

The MBA was a thing of wonder when it came out in the mid-1970s. It is no longer a rare or unusual qualification.  People use it mainly for career advancement or to get to a higher corporate level. Where you get your MBA is very important.  In all fairness, to give your MBA a further boost, there is no substitute for the following:

  • Personal efforts such as networking and CV improvement
  • A solid undergraduate qualification
  • Interpersonal skills and a persuasive personality
  • A combination of good timing, luck and good preparation

wool over the eyesThe MBA degree does teach you to prepare reports and presentations, but not how to handle unexpected deadlines or corporate politics.  Likewise, it may teach you many of the terms and procedures you would need to use, but not how to manipulate people as you have to.  You often have to work harder to get a decent job than you have ever worked in your degree.

You are a fool if you think you will simply walk out there, apply for a position and get called for an interview right away.  Gone are the days of straightforward recruitment. There is merciless and cut-throat competition out there.  Every advertised job inevitably has long lines of applicants chasing it obsessively.  Unless you know the Chairman personally (in which case you don’t need to read this article), you are just another number in the queue.

In the UK, recruitment agencies have exclusive arrangements with certain employers and companies and they have the final say in whom they will call for interview and whom they reject right away.  How you manage to present yourself in writing (your CV and covering letter) and over the phone (when you first call them to enquire) can make all the difference between going on to the second stage of recruitment or literally being chucked off the bandwagon.

 Be a Smart Professional

No matter how well you have done in your degree, you will fail out there unless you are smart as well.  Real world professional skills and “street smarts” are standard equipment for surviving in today’s recession-hit environment. Knowing when and how to deal with people, and doing it effectively, is a skill that few people possess.

If You are Looking for an Honest Advice

 1. Go Specific

Opt for a college degree in a specific field rather than anything general.  Do not top up an undergraduate business or management degree with a graduate degree in the same field. The MBA degree, when added to a technical qualification, can be a very powerful combination.  For example a degree in pharmaceuticals, engineering or chemistry along with industry experience are an excellent platform for adding on an MBA.  This will demonstrate your competence in your field as well as forming a basis for application of modern management skills.

It is not a perfect world out there.  Things are tailored to be ‘politically correct’ but, like all humans beings, employers also have preferences and weaknesses.  You cannot change these traits.  However, you can do your best to try and conform to the prospective employer’s perception of you as being the better candidate for the job.  Nothing in the real world is ever black and white, nor does it always conform to the theories we are taught in the classroom.  That would make it too easy.  We have to struggle and drown and get embarrassed a few times before we start to learn.  Oh my God…..this is what I should have said……..

Some reality shows can shed light on how tough it is out there.  If you get a chance, watch Dragon’s Den or The Apprentice.  Bosses actually rip you to shreds if you do not come up to their expectations.  So do recruiters – by never getting back to you.

2. Be Assertive

Look up that term. Do you keep quiet if someone pushes you around?  Sometimes we are deliberately put in the position where we have to prove once and for all that we can defend ourselves and not listen to put-downs. It is a test built into the actual interview.  Can you actually see where you have to speak up and put a stop to a certain line of comments?  If you show you are submissive and accept unreasonable comments, you will not be able to control assertive people working in your department and they would not potentially want you as a manager in their company.

Most recruitment processes only give you one opportunity.  They cannot afford to keep chasing one person.  They don’t have the manpower or the time. If you do not take full advantage of an opportunity, you can forget about it altogether.  You are judged in everything. Remember, the way you tackle applying for a prospective job reflects – to them – how you would tackle an actual project.

3. Tailor your CV

Customise your cvHave you tailored your CV?  Have you prepared and nurtured your references?  Have you learned all you could about the company you want to work for, or which potential companies in a certain part of the country would have a Business Development Manager for telecommunications?

When you are called for an initial chat with a recruiter regarding an advertised position, remember that interviewers are very good at detecting strengths and weaknesses.  They have to be. The smallest things can give away a lot about you.  Things you don’t even know about yourself but which others inevitably notice immediately. Such things as avoiding eye contact, fidgeting, slumping down in your chair, hesitating before replying, fumbling for words – all these acts can brutally snatch away your chances of ever moving ahead for that coveted position.

The internet is both an asset and a liability. It is an excellent database of ideas for improving CVs, communication skills, your assertiveness, your professional image and everything else you may need.  It also shares pure drivel and nonsense. But use your own initiative.  Tailor it to your situation.  Add what you need, take away what you don’t need.  But the final effect should be persuasive.

3. Passionate Follow Up

Just listing jobs and emailing CVs to recruiters is never enough.  Follow up immediately with passionate phone calls.  Make it sound as if that job is your only purpose in life.  It is obviously not, but then sometimes drastic situations can require drastic measures.  It is all a part of your sales strategy where you are the ‘product’ and the recruiters are the ‘buyers.’ The whole point I am trying to make is that after an interview, don’t lose interest.  Follow it up with a thank you letter.  Ask them when you can start.  They may appreciate the persistence.

Although it is not politically correct to say so, all kinds of biases, quirks and discrimination exist in the system and these become painfully apparent during the recruitment process.  Advice that is often thrown around is actually very sound. Do it while you’re young.  Be twice as good.  Don’t advertise your personal views. Get to know the right people.  They may not be the kind of people you normally hang out with, but you have to do what you have to do.

4. The 3 Ps will Make you a Winner

Winner of the jobDo not lose your heart. Be passionate, perseverant and patient. Passion lets you act, perseverance keeps you in action and patience bears it sweet fruit.  No recruiter will ever admit what opinion they have formed of you, although they could well have formed it in the first five to ten minutes. Generally, if an interview is of a very short duration, that is not a good sign.  If they keep you in for a bit longer and probe you for further information, that means you have intrigued them or sparked their interest.

The road to getting that coveted management job can be extremely frustrating and tiring.  Chances are you will be rejected again and again and again.  You will have to chase all kinds of people and beg them for opportunities.  You will be measured against people with far better acting skills or street smarts.  You will have to catch late night buses and trains with your ties, suits and sandwiches for early morning interviews hundreds of miles away with only the duration of the journey to prepare.

But the best thing about this struggle is that anyone can win.  Anyone can succeed.  It’s how you play your cards. We get carried away with our dreams.  We forget we have to fight for them.

About the Author:

Asad Bhatti holds a Four-year Bachelors in Marketing Management (USA). He is also an MBA graduate from the world known Bradford School of Management, United Kingdom.  He has been working in leading roles in  several organizations. Read full profile here.


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