Congratulations! You did it… you’ve completed your MBA journey!
It’s an extraordinary achievement and especially so, if you juggled your studies while working full-time or raising a family (or both!). You’ve spent the last year and a half or so dedicating most of your free time to the MBA, and now it’s all over… so, now what?
What do fellow MBA graduates do once they complete their studies? Is it normal to suffer from “postgraduate blues”? Which career paths do they choose? What do they want to do? What do they actually do? And what should they actually be doing?
The “post-graduate effect”
While reading this summary, please take the following into consideration: an MBA creates a community with a shared culture, a shared language, and often a shared “reality” that includes shared “post-MBA-expectations”, incl. how much of a raise in salary everybody should receive. Being part of a collective mind can be something inspiring and beautiful, but they can very strongly affect your own priorities as you absorb other people’s ideas and ideals along the MBA journey. There’s a genuine risk that you confuse your own voice with the aspirations and values shared by those around you. That’s why it is a good idea to sit down with yourself and have an honest conversation with yourself.
A part of the professionals who decide to complete MBA studies expects a side-effect: to increase their own career clarity thanks to the degree. Often the exact opposite happens: everything gets even more confusing. So, let’s un-muddle the chaos – for that we’ve put together the 3 most important pieces of advice that will allow you to make the most of your MBA degree.
1. Take the time to celebrate & find your new normal
What’s the first thing you should do once you’ve finished your MBA? Take it all in. Rather than stress about what’s next, take some time to sit back, relax and let the enormity of your accomplishment sink in. Now is the time to celebrate and reflect! Show your appreciation to those who’ve helped you along the way, too. From your partner who was your emotional rock throughout your studies, to your kids who understood that mom or dad had less free time. Share the love, but don’t forget about self-love too. You got yourself here and you should be very proud of that. Give yourself a pat on the back! Well done!
Having said that, you’ve been adhering to a strict schedule, fantasizing about having a weekend or week off for so long that your newfound freedom can leave you feeling a bit disoriented. You’ve earned the right to feel proud of yourself, but if that pride comes with a sense of loss, you’re not alone. The shift in identity from “student” to actual “graduate” often takes some getting used to.
When you’re an MBA student, you are constantly challenging yourself and learning new things. Once the MBA is over, continuing to embrace challenges will help you avoid the “postgraduate blues”. Think of all the things you’ve been really wanting to do over the past year or two. Is there a hobby you’re keen to try, or a skill you’d love to hone? Now is the perfect time to give these things your attention. After all, you’ve earned an MBA… how scary could skydiving really be?
2. Know yourself and your goals
You did your MBA for a reason. Now what? What’s your goal in the next 3 years? Take the time to reflect:
- Which industry and/or function do your educational background, skill set, competencies, and personality fit the best?
- Which environment: start-up, PE/VC, corporate career, business owner, or entrepreneur?
- In which direction do you truly want to go (as opposed to where you think you should be doing)?
Are the answers a match? Do they at least overlap? What are the development areas to get you ready? The MBA is not a magic key to all doors. It’s just one – big – step in your journey.
To quote Neha Sharma from Microsoft, “Self-awareness is key to one’s success. You need to objectively evaluate where you are in terms of skills and achievements, and where you want to be, what drives your ambitions, and – most importantly – how to transform and develop yourself to get there.”
In other words, take the time to better know yourself and get objective assessment and validation through feedback, assessment centers, or competency tests.
After analyzing yourself, it’s time to review what options you have, for example:
- stay where you are
- change jobs
- change industries/job profile
- start your own business full-time
- start your own business part-time
- continue learning (parallel)
- pursue a promotion with your current organization
- pursue a promotion through an external change
Remember: every decision will have consequences. To give you an example: if you leave the corporate world for longer than 12-36 months (this will vary depending on your own seniority and the industry you operate in) and if for any reason you would like to return (you miss the remuneration, the scale or stability), a “normal” job search project will turn into a difficult and challenging one.
Let’s assume, you decide to set up a business full-time instead of doing it part-time first. If your new venture is successful: amazing! If it fails or if you simply miss the corporate goodies, it’ll take a lot of effort to get re-hired. Why? Because corporations prefer active candidates from within their own universe. A break of up to 36 months is usually too long.
Irrespective of that, some MBA graduates are sure that starting their own business is what they truly want. Here two quotes that we’d like to share.
MBA graduate, part-time entrepreneur, “At first, I didn’t think about starting my own business, but I met like-minded people at my Business School. On the one hand, they all pursued an identical learning path (so we knew what we actually know and were on the same page), and on the other, everybody brought their own experience to the table – that so happened – was complementary. Trying to run your own business is the ultimate test – even if it’s only part-time. You get to test your competencies, as well as, your perseverance and knowledge in real (!) market conditions without a big corporation behind you.”
MBA graduate, serial entrepreneur, “I founded my first company 17 years after completing my MBA – that had been my plan from the very beginning: first, a consulting job, then working on the client’s side, and then, finally, my own thing – without any precise idea of what type of business it was going to be. Admittedly, I thought I’d be faster in following my entrepreneurial ambitions – the safety of the corporate world seduced me for longer than expected! The MBA didn’t turn me into an entrepreneur, but it did give me a tremendous amount of knowledge, as well as, ultimately the courage to get rid of the corporate shackles by exchanging them for, well, some increased financial risk. But it was all worth it. I co-founded my third company last year!”
If you’ve found that completing an MBA has whetted your appetite for learning, you’re not alone! Exclusive lifelong learning research from AMBA & BGA shows that more than a third of graduates have sought to continue their education beyond their MBA program, out of which 34% have accessed lifelong learning post-MBA from their own Business School.
Some more stats from that area: MBA graduates are most interested in tech-related refreshers. The most popular topic cited by respondents was data analytics for managers (47%), closely followed by digital strategy (45%). Other popular topics among survey participants, included strategy execution (42%), global leadership (41%), and global strategy (39%).
According to the same survey on the career paths of graduates, 38% of MBA graduates worked as middle-level managers (including department heads and directors), 2% as senior managers (including directors, partners, country directors, or vice presidents), and 9% were business owners. Looking at their career progression, it is worth noting that among the full sample of graduates, as many as 17% said they had found their dream role while still doing their MBA and another 15% within 6 months of graduation.
Irrespective of what type of post-graduate career you choose, remember: you are your own brand, and that brings us to the next third, and last, piece of advice:
3. Take care of your professional or executive identity
After taking the time to celebrate and relax (step 1), you clearly define what it is that you actually and really want (step 2) and that brings us to step 3: show the world how you can add value that is aligned with who you are. To do that you need to:
- strategically network (use the power of LinkedIn to connect with fellow alumni!)
- improve your visibility
- create a flawless online presence
- use your experience (incl. MBA projects) and your new degree to your advantage
A well-defined and well-communicated personal brand is the difference between “Who are you?” and “Thank you for being here”, as well as the zeros on your paycheck!
Remember: how you see yourself after this immense effort and achievement, is not necessarily how others see you, including your boss. It’ll take time, as well as the right communication and demonstration of competence to show and convince them that you are a better, evolved version of your past self. So, don’t expect a promotion just because of the degree. And don’t even remotely hint that unless you are promoted you are gone. Prepare an action plan that proves you add value that is worth paying extra. If within a certain time span (and delivered results!) your current employer isn’t ready to see it, then it’s time to move on.
And, last but not least, take advantage of the resources you have access to thanks to having completed an MBA: your own class community, the network of alumni, career services, alumni events – either directly from your own Business School or via AMBA (if your school is a member).
Once again: congratulations on your AMAZING achievement!
If you are an MBA graduate, who’d like to discuss their next career steps with a professional, get in touch with Career Angels by clicking here.
Tip: inquire with your Business School – maybe there’s a cooperation agreement signed, that’ll give you access to even more services!