At last, my dream job arrives, but the learning will never end
Finally, the phone rang. It was one of those life-altering calls that many of my classmates had received in recent months.
Now - after countless MBA classes, readings, assignments, all-night study sessions and job interviews - it was my turn.
"Hello, Richard, I have some good news for you," said the recruiter who helped co-ordinate the search for the position for which I had been interviewing. "I was just informed you can expect a call from an HR representative in a couple of days with an offer. Congratulations."
An offer. Finally.
Coincidentally, that call came roughly two years to the day that I had decided to quit my job at The Globe and Mail to pursue an MBA and a career shift. After years as a reporter observing the workings of business, I had decided I wanted to be a participant.
Today, that goal is one step closer as I recently accepted a marketing position with Nortel Networks Corp. in its new graduate leadership program - a two-year rotational position that will see me work in four different marketing-related areas of the business and then permanently placed in one department at the end of the two years. I will be paired up with a mentor in the organization, there will be mandatory continuing-education courses during each rotation, and there is the possibility for an international placement.
For me, it's a dream job.
The MBA is a whirlwind two years that packs in a phenomenal amount of learning spread across numerous specializations. But that's a double-edged sword as students are forced to learn a little bit about a lot of different things - and often find it challenging to delve deeply into one area of interest.
However, this position allows me to do just that. I get to jump back into the work force while at the same time continue learning, this time from in-house experts in the field. I will be paid to help the company to grow - while I continue to grow.
My future employer isn't alone in its decision to launch a grad leadership program. In fact, most of the big banks, packaged goods and consulting firms have been offering MBA grads similar programs for years as a way to cautiously bring MBA recruits into the mix, and now big Canadian technology and telecom firms are following suit.
They appear to be rooted in the mandatory post-grad rotational placements offered by medical and law schools - and the assumption it's almost impossible to know exactly what you want (and what you're good at) without first getting your hands a little dirty.
Rotational programs are win-win for the grad and the organization.
The company gets to test the employee in various functional areas before placing him or her in a position - all the while observing, grooming and mentoring the new grad. It also minimizes the expensive cost of employee turnover based on a mismatched placement.
The same benefits are true for new grads, who not only try their hands in different departments but also get to meet new people, challenge themselves with different projects and figure out what career direction they want to take.
Still, while I can now stop checking job-posting websites on an hourly basis, I'll be the first to admit that finding the right post-graduation job was almost as challenging as getting to graduation itself.
It's a time-consuming process that can keep you up at night. There were times when I spent hours researching a company, executive and industry, only to have my meeting cancelled at the last minute. There were times when I garbled an answer during an interview, and felt like a complete idiot in front of the executive. Of course, there were also meetings in which I immediately clicked with the interviewer and others when I answered almost every question perfectly - only to find out there were no openings in the organization.
In the end, it was all part of the process of securing that crucial first job out of school, which will be the foundation for the rest of my career.
While it was daunting and overwhelming at times, I wouldn't change the experience one bit. I've learned a ton of lessons that will definitely help me in the future as I will, undoubtedly, have to go through this job-hunting process again.
Here are a few key lessons I took away from my job hunt.
KNOW WHAT YOU WANT
During my first few interviews, I was unprepared for the question: "So what do you see yourself doing here?" I had a vague answer of what I thought I wanted but it was never enough to satisfy the interviewer. Then, the more I thought about what I really wanted - a rotational program in the media or high-tech sectors with a concentration in marketing - the easier my job hunt became as I was able to zero in on organizations with those types of positions. An unfocused answer to that question leaves a hiring manager wondering where to place you and, as I've learned, often results in your résumé being moved into the recycling bin.
Rejection is part of the process. I applied for jobs I thought I was perfect for, only to receive no interview or a call that I was "overqualified." At first, I was upset about the negative responses to my résumé but after considering statistics found on job-hunting website quintcareers.com - just one in 200 résumés submitted to organizations will result in a job offer - I realized that I was bound to come up short. "All it takes is one connection," one of my mentors told me over coffee. "Don't let the nos get to you; a yes will come."
Ask your friends, family, mentors, teachers and colleagues what they think your strengths and weaknesses are - and tell them to be brutally honest because sometimes we need an outside opinion to see the truth about ourselves. As a classmate told me (applying a lesson from our strategy class): "You need to leverage your strengths. You are a personable, confident leader who is excellent at presentations and telling a story. Use that to your advantage." After asking advice of those who know me best, I was able to determine what I was good at, what I enjoyed doing and quickly came to the realization that marketing was my ideal path. But I also learned some negatives about myself: At times I can be disorganized, and I talk quickly and loudly when I get excited, which can be intimidating to teammates. During interviews, I have mentioned those assessments and executives have appeared impressed that I can acknowledge both my strengths and weaknesses.
SPREAD THE WORD
Looking for work shouldn't be a private endeavour and the more people who know that, the better. I created a website with my résumé, bio and job objectives; posted a public profile on the major job-posting websites; and told almost everybody I knew about my job hunt - hoping that somebody might know somebody looking for somebody like me. It worked. In the end, one of my professors passed along my résumé to the recruiter who facilitated the interview for my upcoming job.
KEEP A POKER FACE
Don't be the first to mention salary expectations: Giving a range too high can immediately scare off managers, which happened to me during one interview that was going smoothly - until the salary issue came up. The executive called me back a few days later to say that the maximum amount he could pay me was $15,000 below my target range and so he didn't think I would be the right fit for the job. (I tried to counter but he was fixated on the salary issue.) According to one headhunter, the ideal answer flips the salary question back to the interviewer: "I'm looking for the right job in the right company - those are more important than salary right now. What range did you have in mind?"
Meanwhile, two years after jumping into my MBA with both feet, the amount I have learned is overwhelming: the ups and downs of teamwork; the importance of time management; how to communicate effectively with people from different backgrounds; how to rebrand and sell myself to an intelligent consumer.
In my first column, I wrote how the concept of quitting my job and taking such a huge risk made my stomach churn.
I've now learned the best way to mitigate risk - and subsequent nausea -is through hard work, backup plans and surrounding yourself with really smart people. And knowing exactly what you want.
Richard Bloom is a former Report on Business reporter who enrolled in York University's Schulich School of Business to obtain an MBA, writing regularly on the career lessons he took away from the classroom.