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Archive for the ‘Career Coaching’ Category

You majored in medieval history, but you ended up in retail merchandising. You still love history, but management and marketing in the real world is actually quite fascinating. You’re better at it than you thought you would be, and judging from that recent promotion, your managers must have faith in you.

But your lack of business background may eventually hold you back. You would like to have more practical tools in accounting, statistics, operations and business law. If you want to advance within your organization, switch companies or industries, start your own business, or just make more money, you probably will want an MBA.

But you’ve never taken a business course. Doesn’t getting a Masters degree in a subject require some previous study of that discipline?

An MBA, or Masters of Business Administration, is a unique graduate degree. It is designed to give accomplished professionals, no matter what their previous background, a well-rounded exposure to core business disciplines. Such cross-functional exposure will either help them apply their former skill set to a business environment or enable them to supervise multiple business functions as a general manager.

Any major can be a good background for a business career, especially with the training of an MBA. Were you a theater major? Your ability to communicate dynamically with an audience could make you a powerful leader in sales or marketing. An art history major? Your visual orientation makes you a natural for advertising! Psychology? Market research is calling you. English? Every company needs managers who can write. Foreign language? One word: “global.”

Recently, I researched a sample of Class of 2012 profiles for full-time MBA programs at elite institutions, including Harvard (HBS), Stanford (GSB), U Penn (Wharton), Northwestern (Kellogg), NYU (Stern), U Virginia (Darden), and U Michigan (Ross). The results were generally consistent from school to school.

You quanti-phobes out there will be happy to learn that on average, only a quarter of incoming MBA students had been business majors in college. Undergraduate business majors ranged from a low of  17% at Stanford to a high of 31% at Kellogg. Another quarter of the incoming class had majored in engineering, mathematics or the natural sciences.

About half of the incoming class at these premier business schools had majored in the humanities, arts, social sciences and “other.” For those class profiles that broke out the economics major separately, economics majors represented an average of 20% of the incoming MBA class.

It makes sense, doesn’t it? The goal of MBA programs is to create rich, eclectic, stimulating dialogue among professionals from diverse backgrounds. Diversity does not just mean ethnic or racial heritage or an international upbringing. It also means the perspectives students bring from their previous education and work. All business majors or engineers would make for a boring conversation!

That said, if you are considering going back to school for an MBA, and you have no prior business training, many schools recommend a few courses to help you hit the ground running. Requirements vary, but most schools suggest a course in economics and statistics (which most college grads have taken anyway). A basic accounting course is always a plus, and will probably help you in your current job as well.

Is it intimidating for a “pure liberal arts type” to go back to business school? At first. As a psychology undergraduate from Penn, I found the introductory accounting course at Wharton to be rather frightening. Of course, I was (and will always be) the recovering child of a CPA.

But there was a familial sense of camaraderie among the case groups and project teams. The engineers helped the psych majors with the math, and the psych majors helped the engineers string a few multi-syllable words together to make sentences (only kidding!).

When it came to the Wharton Follies, our school’s annual musical theater revue and defining tradition now widely  (and hilariously) imitated, even accountants and engineers were known to sing and dance. Thank goodness they had us liberal arts types to teach them how!

Recommended reading: The Best Business Schools’ Admissions Secrets: A Former Harvard Business School Admissions Board Member Reveals the Insider Keys to Getting In by Chioma Isiadinso. Related posts: Does Your College GPA Matter? Take the GMAT While You’re Still Smart, Preparing for Business School: GMAT or GRE?, Time to Apply to B-School?,Getting a Job with a Lackluster GPA.

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Richard N. Bolles, author of  What Color Is Your Parachute? first coined the term Informational Interviewing.   Wikipedia defines it as “a meeting in which a job seeker asks for advice rather than employment. The job seeker uses the interview to gather information on the field, find employment leads and expand their professional network. This differs from a job interview because the job seeker asks the questions. There may or may not be employment opportunities available.”

This is a great approach for college students in the early stage of exploring careers. It is  low pressure for both parties. The student has to demonstrate interest, ask good questions, be a receptive listener, and exhibit a professional, respectful demeanor. An in-depth background is not required to simply explore a career alternative. The professional is not “on the spot” to identify a job opening for the student. He simply has to offer insights about his career path, biographical perspective, and answer the student’s questions about the field.

How do you identify professionals to interview? Unless you grew up under a rock, you know adults in careers that hold interest for you. Your parents, extended family,  historical friends from high school, church/synagogue/mosque or camp, college roommates, fraternity brothers or sorority sisters, professors, coaches, doctors: and people they know. Remember 6 Degrees of Kevin Bacon?

Whether they are young professionals or high-powered veterans, they’re likely to agree, since you are not asking for a job. Ask about rewards and frustrations,  career path, and lifestyle. Remember, people love to share their bio and give advice, so let them! You’d  be surprised how many people out there are really nice, and find it rewarding to give helpful perspective to a young person. Consider asking to “shadow” an individual for a day and find out what “life in the trenches” is really like.


QuintCareers.com offers a comprehensive tutorial on informational interviewing that is well worth your time. A NY Times blog post by Marci Alboher called “Mastering the Informational Interview” also gives some great tips.

It is never too early to explore careers this way. You will not only gain knowledge of career paths within your major field, but you will gain confidence, polish one-to-one interviewing skills, expand your professional network, and make an impression that could potentially translate into a job later on.

I have been surprised at how many college students are unaware of this approach to career exploration and job search. But it is the perfect first step! On campus, you are primarily exposed to academic professionals, rather than adults who are using a background similar to yours in a business, medical or government setting. Expand your circle of advisors beyond professors to all kinds of practitioners in your field. You may discover an application of your training that you never knew existed!


File away everything you learn! Some career paths may not make sense right out of college, but may work for you later on. A new area you discover may inspire you to focus on getting an internship or job in that specialty immediately. Or you may hear cautionary tales about a career path you were previously excited about–such an interview may be disillusioning, but may prevent career disaster.

Relevant reading:You Majored in What? Mapping Your Path from Chaos to Career by Katharine Brooks, The Career Chronicles: An Insider’s Guide to What Careers Are Really Like–The Good, the Bad & the Ugly from Over 750 Professionals by Michael Gregory, How’d You Score That Gig?: A Guide to the Coolest Jobs and How To Get Them by Alexandra Leavit.

Related posts: Liberal Arts and the Real World, Your College’s Career Center, So You Didn’t Get That Summer Internship… What To Do?Why Should a College Student Be on LinkedIn?.

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A recent post from Businessweek‘s daily “Getting In” blog asked, “MBA Applications: Is the Party Over?” Based on the Graduate Management Admissions Council‘s GMAT registration numbers from first four months of 2009, the volume of B-school applications may be leveling off after an all-time high in 2007-08.

Reporter Ann Vander Mey points out the precedent for a boom, then bust in B-school applications during recessions: “During the 2001 dot-com bust, there was a spike in applications as people fled the job market. The spike was followed by falling GMAT test volume for the next three years.” Mey makes a persuasive argument for a similar pattern occuring today: “The financial industry, once B-schools grads’ bread and butter, is in crisis ; many news outlets, including this one, have published articles about MBAs graduating without jobs; and the MBA brand itself has taken a beating.”

Leveling out of MBA applications may be a paradoxical bright spot in the dismal 2009 economy. This past cycle was “not a pretty picture” for many applicants! My clientele fared well, but geographic flexibility was essential: a willingness to consider elite graduate business programs beyond the Northeast Corridor.

According to US News & World Report‘s 2009 rankings of the top 15 B-schools, acceptance rates for Northeast Corridor MBA programs were: HBS 11.5%, MIT Sloan 15.0%, Yale 14.4%, Columbia 15.1%, NYU Stern 13.6% (11th rank but ground zero for financial services!) and Wharton 16.3%. With the exception of Stanford and Berkeley, top schools outside the Corridor had higher acceptance rates: Third-ranked Northwestern Kellogg 19.4%, U.of Chicago 21.9%, Dartmouth Tuck 16.0%, U.of Michigan 20.1%, UCLA 19.5%, UVA Darden 24.6%, Carnegie-Mellon 28.3%, and Duke Fuqua 30.4%.

Recommended reading: The Best Business Schools’ Admissions Secrets: A Former Harvard Business School Admissions Board Member Reveals the Insider Keys to Getting In by Chioma Isiadinso. Related posts: Does Your College GPA Matter? Take the GMAT While You’re Still Smart, Getting a Job with a Lackluster GPA.

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The Daily Beast’s contributor Zac Bissonette recently posted, “Is This The Worst Year to Graduate College Ever?” Whether summer internship or entry level position, it’s a jungle out there. Life has become tougher for the Entitlement Generation, and disappointing for their parents, who wanted them to have everything.

When my 20 year old son was growing up, he listened eagerly to his grandfather’s dinner tales of ancestor immigrant hardships, the Great Depression and WWII. When my son was five, Poppop described having nothing to eat but oatmeal. My son (who carries on the oatmeal-loving gene) exclaimed, “You’re so lucky! Wish I could eat oatmeal all the time.”

At 15, my son expressed almost an envy that his generation was not given the opportunity to face adversity like his grandfather. With wisdom beyond his years, he recognized the role of hardship in eliciting courage and character, as it did for Tom Brokaw’s Greatest Generation. Looks like they’re going to get their chance.

I don’t mean to trivialize the stress, anxiety, frustration, humiliation and discouragement that a fruitless job search, subpar entry level position, or arbitrary layoff brings. As a parent and career coach, I wince at the thought of young people I care about enduring painful experiences. My posts and  website offer resources for finding a job as quickly as possible in this economy. But this post is about perspective.

Richard Carlson, author of Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff, told a story about a wise man who was consulted by a villager about a series of dramatic events. When the villager asked, “Isn’t this the worst thing that could happen?” the wise man replied, “Maybe, maybe not.” When he asked, “Isn’t this the best thing that could happen?” the wise man replied, “Maybe, maybe not.”

Check Thoughts.com for a quick racap of this insightful story. Someday you may look back on this tragic unemployment situation as the crucible in which you proved the qualities your grandson will admire.

There’s a movie I wish would be re-released right now. It’s based on a true story, Pursuit of Happyness by Chris Gardner, a young African-American homeless single father who became a successful stock broker during the 1970’s economic downturn. Mr. Gardner’s struggles and triumph were immortalized by Will Smith (with real-life son Jaden)  in the award-winning motion picture:

Not everyone will be a Chris Gardner, but this economy might produce a few. It will call upon all your creativity, intelligence, perseverence, hustle, courage, grit, and belief in yourself. You may find yourself taking detours and end up in a far different place than you originally imagined. But hang in there! It just may bring out your best.

Related posts: College Internship and Entry Level Resumes, From College…To the Real World, So You Didn’t Get That Summer Internship… What To Do?,Take the GMAT While You’re Still Smart, Why Should a College Student Be on LinkedIn?, Time to Apply to B-School? Your College’s Career Center, What Is Informational Interviewing?

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My favorite: Careers-in-Finance.Com. They claim to “demystify” jobs in finance, a great word, because college students who major in economics still ask, “What does an investment banker actually do?” The site describes key career paths,  offers great sitelinks, recommended books, key players, job listings, a place to post your resume, headhunter list, and job outlooks. BTW, it’s up-to-date! This site identifies opportunities in a field that has changed dramatically this year. Yes, there still are opportunities, if you know where to look!

Another “fave” is WetFeet.Com, offering profiles of careers, industries and companies. It covers a wide range of fields. It has sections for undergrads, MBA’s, entry level and experienced professionals. Wetfeet publishes Insider Guides, terrific booklets on careers, industries and companies. Another site I recently discovered is CareerTV, a global TV programmer and interactive website designed to help college students and young professionals explore careers, industries, and companies. Watch a video, you’re ready for the interview. 

What have your experiences been like in financial fields over the past year? I would like to hear from twenty-somethings who have faced difficulty finding positions, or those who have dealt with job uncertainty and loss. How have you been affected by these experiences? If you spent time laid off, what have you done during that time period? What nuggets of wisdom would you offer to students coming out of college who are interested in economics or finance?

Related posts: Liberal Arts and the Real WorldWhat I Did on My Summer Vacation, Er-Internship, Take the GMAT While You’re Still Smart, Why Should a College Student Be on LinkedIn?, So You Didn’t Get That Summer Internship… What To Do?

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Summer internships, especially paid ones, are tough to land in any economy. But it is especially difficult during a period of  high unemployment. And you are competing with the huge population of baby boomlet students, just as you did in the college application process. So it is possible that you were not able to get an internship for this summer. However, there are many valuable alternative ways to spend a college summer, which will be personally gratifying and resume-building as well. Here are ten ideas:

1. Take a course. Get a requirement out of the way, especially a hard one. Give it full focus, perform better, and have an easier workload this fall. Or take an elective at an accredited school near home if your college will give credit. If you attend a private college, take summer courses at your state university to save money on tuition. For exposure to elite academics in a stimulating urban environment, consider Harvard Summer School, London School of Economics, Georgetown, GWU, Columbia, NYU, or USC, to name only a few.

2. Attend a workshop. Gain professional tools as valuable as an internship, or perhaps more.  If you didn’t land that Wall Street summer gig, how about four weekends at the CFA-accredited Investment Banking Institute, offered in ten U.S. cities? Its student price is a bargain compared to executive education at prestigious universities, and you’re free during the week to do hourly work to pay for it.

3 Beef up your technical proficiencies. Add to your professional toolkit for a future job. Let’s say you are a fine arts student interested in exploring applied visual arts, such as digital graphics, videogaming, web design or animation. Buy a software program through Academic Superstore, which offers reduced prices for students. Or enroll in a non-matricultant online course (i.e.,  Academy of Art University.) The fine arts metaphor translates to any field.

4. Do volunteer work in your field. For medical, education and helping professions, it is essential to develop your human contact capabilites, not just academic skills. Volunteer work can help you assess the rewards and frustrations of dealing with clients in your prospective field, as well as different working environments. It may strengthen your grad school application. And it will undoubtedly enhance your experience as a human being. You will never have more time than you do right now to “give back.”

5. Do research. What about approaching a professor  to do unpaid research? Structure an independent study for academic credit. Undergraduate research is expected for graduate school applications in academic, science and medical fields (see Science Magazine‘s Science Careers and Student Doctor Network). If you plan to go into the workforce after college, research demonstrates your initiative and deep knowledge of your field. Your professor may also have connections that may lead to an entry level position.

6. Travel. Do one of your own college’s study abroad programs led by your own professors, other schools’ renowned programs (i.e., NYU, Syracuse, Boston U), or external programs that partner with universities (i.e., IES, CSA). You will enrich your experience in your major, or in your life, and you will never have as much time as you do now.

7. Take grad school prep courses and exams. If you plan graduate school straight from college, take advantage of this time window (vs. during a regular semester). If you plan to join the workforce and are considering eventual graduate work, take the test now. Tests are valid for five years. You’ll never be “smarter” than right now! Click here for GMAT, LSAT, MCAT, or GRE.

8. Learn a foreign language. Master a language for an employment edge in the future, such as Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Japanese, Arabic or Hindi. Enroll in a college course or Berlitz program, or buy Rosetta Stone (this incredible software could even teach me, the most “unlikely to succeed” language student!). Consider Middlebury‘s renowned language schools, University of Chicago’s intensive language program, or University of Virginia’s Summer Language Institute.

9. Do informational interviews and job shadowing. What do you want to do when you grow up? Finally you have time to find out! Unless you grew up under a rock, you know adults in careers that hold interest for you. Your parents, extended family, family friends, neighbors, teachers, doctors: and people they know. It’s a Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon thing. Whether they are young professionals or high-powered veterans, they’re likely to agree to an informational interview, since you are not specifically asking for a job.

Ask about rewards and frustrations, long term career path, and lifestyle. Remember, people love to tell their story and give advice, so let them!  Ask to “shadow” an individual for a day and find out what “life in the trenches” is really like. The bonus of this approach is, it often leads to landing a project, internship or job later on, directly or indirectly. Every time to meet with an adult professional face-to-face, you will learn something that will help you in career exploration, job interviews, or career decision-making.

10. Earn money. If you can find a semi-skilled summer job, that can also fit the bill. You may be able to take a workshop or online course in your spare time. The money you earn may allow you to do some educational travel at the end of the summer. Working during the summer may free you from having to do part-time work during the school year, resulting in stronger academic performance.

There is nothing more noble and than self-sufficiency, responsibility and elbow grease, and you can be sure future employers will be impressed with a proven work ethic. A summer job requiring physical labor in an outdoor environment can actually be a refreshing break from academia. There is always something to be learned from every experience, from supervisors, co-workers and customers. Soak it all in.

Related posts: Liberal Arts and the Real World, Your College’s Career Center, What I Did on My Summer Vacation, Er-Internship, Take the GMAT While You’re Still Smart, Why Should a College Student Be on LinkedIn? Does Your College GPA Matter? and What Is Informational Interviewing?

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Position U 4 College, LLC, is a career coaching service that helps students and young adults optimally position themselves to colleges, graduate and professional schools, and employers to create the future they want.

My website, www.positionu4college.com, is for parents, high school students, college students, and recent graduates. This site, careerblog, provides a discussion-based connection for college students and recent college graduates who are interested in career exploration, application to grad schools, and job search strategies for entering the workforce.


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