Vault's Careers Blog

Career advice and job search strategies for the modern careerist

Posts Tagged ‘career options

MBA Specialization vs. General Business Skills: Should You Specialize in Sustainability?

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Recently, Vault’s own Aman Singh asked a really interesting question: “does CSR require generic business skills or an MBA in sustainability?” In other words, is it worth specializing in sustainability as an MBA or are you more likely to get a job in CSR if you really have those managerial skills down pat? Her answer revolved around another question (and so the endless questions begin!), “Well, what do you mean by ‘require’?”

Should you get an MBA in sustainability in business school?

The oddity [in the data] is that sustainability solutions like energy efficiency, LEED and HVAC require specialized knowledge and highly technical skill sets. Executives, however, seem to be placing a premium on more generic business skills such as increased knowledge and awareness of sustainability efforts, the ability to think systemically, the ability to understand complex legislation around sustainability, and financial analytic skills.

Basically, even though you need a very specific skill set in order to do good CSR work, companies esteem generic business skills instead. This contradiction led me to a whole slew of questions, with which I promptly started pestered my colleagues.

First, I went to Aman herself, to figure out what this means for MBA students who hope to find jobs in CSR. She explained it to me from the company’s perspective:

The reality of the current market is that an MBA is good for generic management skills, not specialization, when it comes to sustainability and CSR…. Companies say they don’t necessarily need someone who has done two years in-depth study on CSR guidelines and regulations. They have more value for someone who has managerial skills–someone who can lead departments and work sustainability into their role as an accountant, an analyst, etc. And unfortunately this is where the paradox remains: They like sustainability on the graduates’ resume, but they don’t want it to be the main focus. Even employers who started out looking for candidates with sustainability concentrations aren’t really looking for that as much. They want to talk about it and ensure corporate responsibility, but they don’t expect this dialogue from job candidates.

So, what if you still want to specialize in sustainability? How can you avoid getting pigeon-holed and weakening your job prospects?

Well, I think it depends on how you brand yourself. You can have the specialization, but you can also make sure your resume talks about more generic management skills and say, consulting or financing skills, depending on where you want to go with your MBA. The graduates I spoke to really emphasize all their CSR work on their resumes–they have a blog where they talk about CSR; they’re active on Twitter; they’re volunteering and doing some nonprofit work as well; their internship was focused on sustainability–so in the end, their resume is really a full page of sustainability credentials. And if the company does not want you to focus on that, it could work against you.

Last, but not least, I was curious about her predictions of the future. Do you think, I asked, that as the market rebounds, more of those pure CSR jobs will start to emerge, or do you think that people are going to get accustomed to this integration of CSR with other general business skills?

I think it’s going to be the latter. They’re going to say, “Come in as an analyst and do your job responsibly and remain ethical within the company’s values.” A lot of companies don’t even have CSR-focused departments; they understand that corporate responsibility is a cultural thing and not just the responsibility of one department, but they’re not quite sure how to make that happen.

Craft your resume around your MBA specialization to get the most 

job offersThen, I started in on Carolyn C. Wise, to get a better idea of whether or not it was worthwhile to specialize at all.

When it comes to specializing, it’s very much about what you’re going to do with it afterwards. You hire someone with an MBA rather than someone who got, for instance, an MA in Environmental Studies because you want those general management skills. You want someone who has taken finance classes, who is going to be really good as a manager, an accountant, a brand manager. But if you want them in a sustainability role or to create a sustainability strategic plan, you’ll want the sustainability skills as well.

The other thing I always say when it comes to MBA specializations is that you don’t want to close yourself off. One of the fears is that if you specialize in sports management or marketing or any of the other specialties offered by your business school, that you won’t be able to get other jobs. If you’re totally set on one type of job, then absolutely specialize–particularly if you worked in that industry before. For instance, if you worked in the business development department for an NBA team and your plan is to return to that team after you complete your MBA, then specializing in sports management makes a lot of sense for you. But if you are a career-changer, and you don’t know precisely where you want to go, specializations can sometimes hurt rather than help.

As it turns out, the institution from which you receive your MBA makes also makes a huge difference when it comes time to decide whether or not you want to specialize.

Job prospects and employment opportunities after your MBA very much depend on prestige. If you go to Harvard Business School, you have much more flexibility in the area in which you focus most of your electives. This applies for Columbia, Booth, Wharton, Tuck, Hass, all the top schools. If you’re going to a smaller or less prestigious or regional MBA program, then what electives you take, what grades you get, and how applicable the skills you learned in a specialization are will have much more impact after you graduate.

And finally, a bit of advice:

If you’re considering specializing and you’re a first-year student, you should definitely check out the professional and student clubs associated with that specialization. Talk to those MBA students, particularly the second-years, about what they studied, how they’re applying it, what jobs they’re looking at, and what the recruiting process is like for them. You should check out all the professional clubs of all of the specializations that you’re considering, because that will really give you a sense of what it means to specialize in that arena, and what the experience is going to be like when you’re looking for a job.

–Written by Madison Priest, Admit One</em

Career Paths: Nonprofit Consultant

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There’s a limited perception of consulting as largely computative, focused on economical and technical concerns; in reality, the industry is a multifaceted outlet for countless aptitudes and interests. Ken Goldstein is an example of these diverse pursuits: as a consultant to nonprofit organizations, he applies a number of disciplines to the benefit of charities and foundations. His client roster supports such worthy causes as AIDS treatment, homelessness and the arts, for whom he provides services ranging from fundraising strategy to resource management. Goldstein also accepts temporary management positions to guide troubled or transitioning organizations through restructuring, mergers and even bankruptcy.

Ken Goldstein headshot
Mr. Goldman’s career has taken him through nonprofits and government agencies over the span of two decades, and led him to write his self-published guide Introduction to Fund Development Planning in 2007. In 2003, he went into business for himself under the shingle of Goldstein Consulting, where he offers his expertise with one simple principle of commitment: “I only accept clients and projects that I believe in. When I accept your assignment, your mission becomes my mission and I am committed to your success.” He was kind enough to share with us his insights on the economy’s effect on clients, his self-employed status, and the overlap between advising nonprofits and corporations.
VAULT: Describe how you began consulting for nonprofits. Did you get your start working in the nonprofit sector itself, or at a consulting firm?

Ken Goldstein: Before going into independent consulting, I had already been working in the nonprofit and local governmental sectors for about fourteen years. I had experienced a range of organizations and positions, including doing direct client service work and being an Executive Director, and had wound up as Silicon Valley Director for CompassPoint Nonprofit Services. CompassPoint is a nonprofit itself, but one that serves other nonprofits through consulting, training, and research into the field. I loved learning about the different types of organizations that we served, and different approaches to social problems. It was, in many ways, a continuation of the education I received when getting my Master of Public Policy and Administration degree, and my preparation as a consultant, facilitator, and trainer. When it was time to leave CompassPoint, I also had many connections to get me started with consulting gigs. I love working with smaller organizations and projects that are too small for a CompassPoint or other large firms to take on, so I still get referrals from my old colleagues there.

V: What is the organizational makeup of Goldstein Consultants? Have you given consideration to expanding into an incorporated firm, or do you prefer to remain as an independent proprietorship?

KG: I still chuckle a little at the official sounding title of “Goldstein Consulting,” as it really is just me as sole proprietor, lead consultant, marketer, accountant and janitor. I network a lot with other sole proprietor nonprofit consultants, and we’ve talked about the pros and cons of joining forces, but I’ve always preferred to remain independent. I never want to get to the point where I’m spending all my time running my business (paying other people, more tax headaches, liabilities of taking others on …) and not helping my clients run their businesses. By sticking to solo projects I keep my red tape to a minimum, keep my schedule flexible, and can concentrate on helping the grassroots organizations that couldn’t afford the rates I’d need to charge as “a firm.” Of course, through my networking with other consultants, we do refer jobs to each other, and can share advice and best practices on how to survive as an independent, so I’m not out there completely on my own.
vault career guide to nonprofit careers coverV: Having served a wide range of nonprofit interests, including healthcare and the arts, what would you say is an area you have the most experience with? Is there a particular cause closest to your heart?

KG: If I had to summarize the type of organization that I’m most experienced in, I would describe it as “community resource center.” Locally-based, single-site agencies, with a budget of $1 to 2 million, focusing on providing basic needs assistance to their immediate geographic regions. Things like access to food, health care, and housing, but also early childhood education, parent education, and referrals for mental health, addiction, and job training. I’d also say that the basic needs items—food and shelter—are the causes that are closest to my heart, and are also the causes that I’m drawn to as a donor to organizations, not just as a professional working with them. As you pointed out, I’ve also enjoyed working with arts groups and environmental causes, and I’m grateful for the chance to have a variety of clients, but if I have to choose one area, it would be basic needs.

V: Conversely, have there been prospective clients whom you have had to turn away, either on professional grounds or out of a personal objection to their mission or methods?

KG: I’ve turned away clients based on availability, when I’ve simply been over-booked. And there have been some potential clients that I’ve strongly suggested go back and take a closer look at their own goals and plans before hiring a consultant (usually somebody with a “great idea” for a nonprofit, but nothing concrete yet). But I can’t recall ever having to tell a potential client that I can’t take them on because I object to their mission. That’s not to say it won’t ever happen, just that I’ve been lucky in that regard, to serve a region with plenty of causes that I do believe in.

V: The chief aspect separating nonprofit consulting from the for-profit field seems to be an emphasis on fundraising and specialized accounting; however, your resume lists efforts in everything from M&A to operations development. What are some vital for-profit practice skills that consultants could use to transition into nonprofit work?

KG: Probably the area of management consulting that’s most easily translated is HR. Labor laws are labor laws, regardless of the type of employer. Marketing is also easily transitioned, with just a little extra attention to deciding who you are marketing to, potential clients or potential donors. On the fiscal side of the house, things do get a bit trickier with the myriad of funding streams, the thousands of strings attached to most of those dollars, and the disconnect between income and demand for services. The social services world is one where the same forces that increase demand for services also lowers revenue. I think business consultants who want to take on nonprofit clients can best educate themselves, and serve the sector, by first volunteering to be on a nonprofit Board of Directors. That kind of immersion into the types of issues that the sector faces would be a great education that could then be turned into a line of work.

V: In the wake of the recession, what were the most significant effects you observed of both the nonprofit consulting sector and for nonprofits themselves? Did more organizations seek your services, or were you required to more actively pursue clients and projects?

KG: For better or for worse, when your profession is assisting organizations in trouble, a down economy can be good for business. I’ve been booked pretty solid for most of the recession, and only just this month enjoying my first “down time” in several years. The way the recession has hit some of my clients is as a magnifying effect.

Management and fiscal practices that were questionable when money was flowing become toxic when the money slows down and once strong reserves become monthly cash-flow nightmares. Managing in such an environment requires the willingness to make unpopular and tough decisions. As an “outsider” I have often been better suited to do that than a leader who is entrenched in the problem (or, perhaps, the cause of the problem).

V: Given that much of the nonprofit sector relies on the support of the government, what effect, if any, do you foresee the Obama administration’s economic and social initiatives having on nonprofits?

KG: For the right type of organization, some of the Obama administration’s initiatives can be a great boon, but that’s not without some cautions.

Federal dollars involve the most red tape, but rarely allow a realistic administrative overhead budget line to comply with that red tape. Federal contracts and grants can also be very slow to pay, requiring the agency to spend out of their reserves to provide services until such payment comes. And, always, we have to caution agencies about over-relying on any one type or source of income. A lot of the Obama initiatives are only for two or three years of funding; organizations that do receive this money need to plan from day one how they will support programs when the “stimulus plan” ends. So, yes, if you have the administrative capacity and overhead to handle a Federal grant, fantastic – but a well-diversified fund development plan is still required.

You can find Ken Goldstein on the web at the Goldstein Consulting website, or at his blog, The Nonprofit Consultant. His book, Introduction to Fund Development Planning, is currently available for purchase at Amazon.

For more information on careers in the nonprofit world, check out The Vault Career Guide to Nonprofit Careers.

Career Paths: Actuarial Consultant

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buck consultants corporate logoIn the wake of 2008’s economic meltdown, perhaps no single industry stood to gain or lose so greatly as the consulting sector.  Consultancies were forced to adapt dramatically as the ensuing budget slashing and stagnant spending threatened to stem contracts.  One such firm, Buck Consultants, has benefited from its stable of human resources and actuarial talent to develop products tailored to aid clients in enduring those rocky days.  Among them is Buck principal Chad Hueffmeier, who has specifically engineered solutions to preserve pension financing and clients’ benefit structures.

Prior to joining Buck in April 2009, Hueffmeier enjoyed a steady rise through the ranks—first as an actuary at top HR firms, then as leader of Morgan Stanley’s Global Portfolio Solutions group.  As an accomplished specialist in risk management, his credentials include membership in the American Academy of Actuaries and the Society of Actuaries.  In addition to writing and contributed to papers on the subject, including “Come the Revolution! A New Day for Pension Risk Management,” Chad is a frequent speaker at conferences around the world.  In a conversation with Vault, Mr. Hueffmeier elaborated on his accomplishments, and why he left Wall Street just in time.

VAULT: Prior to Buck Consultants, you were an executive director at Morgan Stanley.  With companies like Morgan and Goldman Sachs now under scrutiny and congressional hearings, how do you imagine the past year at Buck has differed from what you’d have experienced by staying on Wall Street?

Chad Hueffmeier: It was much less stressful!  In 2008, the failures of Bear Sterns, Lehman and essentially Merrill Lynch made it abundantly clear that job security on Wall Street was uncertain regardless of business success.  At the very least, this was a major distraction for almost anyone working on Wall Street.  Although the past year hasn’t been easy for consulting firms, we have not had to deal with the distractions of regulatory reform for our industry and public perception issues.  We have been able to focus on modifying our business strategy to reflect market opportunities.  This led to consolidation in the industry and the expansion of services provided to clients.

V: Buck Consultants isn’t your first foray in human resources consulting; before Morgan Stanley, you held positions with Towers Perrin, Mercer and Hewitt Associates.  What brought you back to HR?

CH: As I mentioned above, our industry has expanded its array of services.  Over the past few years, investment consulting and asset management worlds have began to overlap.  Many investment consulting firms have started manager of manager businesses—Buck is no exception.  Although the roots of the industry are certainly in HR, the growth opportunities in the corporate retirement space revolve around financial risk management for sponsors of defined benefit plans and participants of defined contribution plans.

V: For a relatively young professional, your resume is comprised of many top firms, and sports several distinguished actuarial titles and memberships.  Why did you first pursue consulting as a career, and how would you describe your first years at a major consulting firm?

CH: In a sense, I got lucky.  I grew up a mile outside of Linneus, Missouri—a rural town in north central MO—so I had very limited exposure to potential financial careers (e.g., accounting and commercial banking).  I randomly heard about a well paying field that pays you more if you pass math exams—the actuarial field.  I attended Maryville University in St. Louis, MO because they had one of the strongest actuarial programs in the country.  Friendly competition among classmates and the encouragement of the actuarial professors motivated me to get through about a third of actuarial exams while I was still in school.  I finished the actuarial exams a couple years later while I was working at a consulting firm.  During this time, I also took the CFA exams.  The combination of self-education, working with great people, and the evolution of risk management in the 2000’s allowed me to grow quickly in my career.

V: Your firm is an independent subsidiary of the renowned IT services firm ACS.  In a consultancy owned by a consultancy, how often does Buck collaborate on assignments with its parent company?

CH: We certainly collaborate to develop value-added products / services for the market place.  In general, our businesses complement each other so we have been able to provide value to several clients through comprehensive bundled solutions.  In addition, our target markets are complementary so we are able to provide value to a large array of clients.

V:  In addition to being a consultant, you’re also a frequent public speaker, and an author of several articles and white papers.  Are such extracurricular endeavors a necessity for those looking to pursue or advance their career in consulting, or are they more an extension of personal interests?

CH: There is a plethora of career tracks within consulting firms.  Taking time to write papers, speak, and participate on national committees are not required but pay dividends in terms of career and giving something back to the profession.

–Posted by Alex Tuttle,

Conan O’Brien Made a Smart Career Decision and So Can You

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“In three months I’ve gone from network television to Twitter to performing live in theaters, and now I’m headed to basic cable. My plan is working perfectly.”—Conan O’Brien

This is not a joke. Despite looking a bit…well unshaven…over the past few months, Conan O’Brien did not oversleep and play the world’s greatest April Fool’s Day prank 12 days too late when he announced he was going to host a late night talk show on basic cable.  It is indeed all true.  Come November, Coco, as he is affectionately called, will become latest addition to TBS, the station whose biggest claim to fame are marathons of Friends, Seinfeld, Family Guy and Office repeats, Tyler Perry shows and a George Lopez late night gab fest.  And while it doesn’t sound it, as Alan Sepinwall said in the Star-Ledger, the decision may have been the smartest career choice O’Brien has ever made.

Many expected Conan O’Brien to jump ship to Fox, the only major network without a late night talk show.  But Fox has never succeeded with previous late night entries (Joan Rivers, Chevy Chase, Magic Johnson) and affiliates were not supportive of the move, believing repeats of Simpsons and Seinfeld were a safer ratings bet.  Like NBC, these affiliates wanted to stick with the familiar, rather than the unsure.  If Fox could get Conan, the affiliates would have probably let up, only to immediately complain if Coco didn’t promptly deliver.  There would be so much pressure for Conan to beat Jay Leno that anything less than immediate success would be viewed as utter failure. A reputation was on the line.

Conan weighed his options.  He looked at his choices and thought about the company culture, the company’s history and the company’s commitment and felt that Fox would be as big a headache as NBC. He looked at TBS and saw a company looking to grow, looking to take risks and already demonstrating a commitment by sticking with George Lopez in his late night talk show.  He looked around and saw college kids watching Adult Swim on the Cartoon Network while cheering Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert on Comedy Central and realized that’s where his audience was.  He saw no affiliates calling for his head. He saw a subscription based cable system that allowed him to earn more money than Fox could offer.  As one of only a few sources of original material, he saw a network devoted to making him happy.  And because cable ratings are viewed differently from broadcast television ratings, he also saw an opportunity to succeed without having to beat Leno.  In short, Conan did his homework before rushing into making a hasty decision and made the right choice.

These lessons apply to the job search.  Just because you work for the #1 ranked consulting firm doesn’t mean that when you are fired, you have to work for the #2 consulting firm.  There are options.  Pay attention to your choices.  Research companies, create a list of pros and cons and then make an informed decision.  In the end, it’s YOU that needs to be happy with your decision.