MBAs, how did you learn to think and talk about your career?
October 28, 2019 7:26 PM   Subscribe

I’ve noticed that people who attended fancy business schools tend to have a remarkable ability to project a personal brand. They sound very intentional in describing their career paths, which I assume comes from having done a considerable amount of introspection about their careers. MBAs, how did you develop this ability to project a cohesive personal brand? Is there a course in Communicating About Your Career 101? Thinking About Your Career 101? Tell me your ways!

For example, today I spoke with an MBA grad who spoke about her “three main drivers” and how they’ve shaped her decisions at each step of her career path. Another MBA grad spoke about having a ten year vision and how she positioned herself to have the trajectory of the person she wanted to become.

I want this level of clarity about my career—or at least to be able to communicate my thinking around my career with this level of clarity. If you know of any resources (books, videos, courses, etc.) that would help with this, I would be grateful for your recommendations.
posted by saltypup to Work & Money (10 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
I'm no MBA, just a schlub trying to get some traction and clarity as well. In the past six months I've listened to a boatload of podcasts about business development and productivity, and that's been helpful. One book that's on my list to read next about this is Vivid Vision by Cameron Herald. And I've started putting things in writing, both because there's some study about how people who put their goals in writing are a kajillion times more likely to achieve them, and because it's been a helpful way to get out of my head on this. So I have a half written 4-year plan to the next phase of my career. (Half written not because it's long but because trying to crystalize things in writing makes you realize where you need to do more thinking.) Anyway, I'll be interested to see what others say.
posted by slidell at 7:44 PM on October 28, 2019

It's possible that the impression of certainty comes from being less introspective.
posted by amtho at 8:07 PM on October 28, 2019 [31 favorites]

Look into "elevator pitch" or "elevator speech." (The "cohesive personal brand" quality you've noticed is honed through deliberate practice.)
posted by Iris Gambol at 8:48 PM on October 28, 2019 [7 favorites]

Best answer: I went to a super-fancy business school and just went through the process of interviewing for a new job.

In most cases, certainly mine, it has not so much to do with career introspection. I've been taking jobs that seem interesting at the time without any particular planning (although of course my jobs have tended to center in certain interest areas).

+1 to Iris Gambol's comment. During interviews, I have a pretty well-rehearsed story about how things fit together, but this is retroactively applied, fit to the jobs I already took, not something I would have been able to tell you even a few years ago. Part of the business school culture is having that brand and learning to tell compelling stories, especially about yourself. The trajectory – even if it's fitting to past data – is a big part of that.
posted by thumpasor at 8:51 PM on October 28, 2019 [14 favorites]

You might find Dorie Clark's books to be helpful (plus you'll find her Ted talks, various videos, podcasts).

I'm thinking of Reinventing You: Define Your Brand, Imagine Your Future which I haven't read, but is probably closer than Stand Out: How to find your breakthrough idea and build a following around it. But having read the second one, I know it also had some exercises in it that are along the lines of what you are asking.
posted by AnnaRat at 8:52 PM on October 28, 2019 [2 favorites]

My MBA (UNSW, Australia) had a core course called "executive Blueprint" which was basically what you're asking about. Finding things like "career anchors" and the like. Our final assessment was a future career presentation where we had to talk about where we wanted to be in 5 years and how we were going to get there.

Some concepts to google: Career Anchor, Extrinsic vs Intrinsic Motivations, Being In Learning Mode,
posted by cholly at 12:57 AM on October 29, 2019 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Top-tier MBA here. To directly answer your question: resume reviews and practice.

A chunk of the first semester (on top of coursework) is spent refining your resume and interview techniques so you can get a competitive summer internship. This involves having professionals (on staff) review your resume, ask about your experience, and coach you through ways to 'tell your story' differently. It also involves dozens of peer mock interviews, where you not only build 'muscle memory' for talking about yourself but you also get detailed feedback that you can incorporate into your next discussion about your career. (And you critique others, which also teaches you a lot about what does/doesn't work.)

In real life, you rarely get feedback on this stuff -- just a 'yes' or a 'no'. The repeated, intense feedback over a short time really teaches you what your options are for talking about your career -- and then you can continue to apply that as your career progresses.
posted by cranberry_nut at 3:37 AM on October 29, 2019 [9 favorites]

Piggybacking on what cranberry_nut said, it's really due to the massive amount of purposeful practice you do in that type of program. It is not due to any type of special/secret technique of introspection that they are doing.

One of the biggest things I noticed about my MBA program was the amount of time you spend "polishing" things - not just projects, but yourself. You get asked about your career path constantly, both informally and formally and by both professors and other members of your cohort. Your brain gets sick of re-thinking/articulating it, so you start to fall into routines. At a certain point it's almost like acting - once you've taken the time to really think through it once or twice, you memorize the lines or phrases you think work best for you and you use them. After that it's all about tweaking things - rephrase that statement, use this statement with this audience but not that one, etc.

The other thing I would mention is that part of the shininess of what you are describing goes away when the observer has seen behind the curtain. I've heard non-business people describe candidates as sharp, well put-together, articulate, high-value, high productivity, etc., that I personally found to be non-remarkable - they had a good presentation but were not any more qualified or capable than any other candidate. Personally, I found an MBA to be almost exclusively soft skills - a large portion of being how you as a person function in relation to others.

In the end it comes down to the old saying - If you can't dazzle them with details, baffle them with bullshit. If you can do both of those things and sound like you believe what you are saying, most people will buy what you are selling.
posted by _DB_ at 7:41 AM on October 29, 2019 [5 favorites]

If it makes you feel any better, nobody of consequence takes this kind of rehearsed prattle remotely seriously. Why they teach it to MBAs is beyond me.

I will go even farther to say that I will turn against a candidate if I sense they actually believe these stories about themselves, because they are 180 degrees opposite of one of the most valuable qualities people can have: a nose for the new, different and changing circumstances, and the willingness to seize on the new opportunity, and ruthlessly abandon the old.
posted by MattD at 9:39 AM on October 29, 2019 [5 favorites]

Night school MBA here. We didn't learn specifically to do this about ourselves, but the marketing classes are very much about telling a cohesive story about a brand. It's only natural to eventually apply that knowledge to ourselves. And as mentioned above, my brand story is much more a retroactive attempt to explain how the hell I ended up "here" than it is a well thought out plan.
posted by COD at 2:45 PM on October 29, 2019 [1 favorite]

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