Vault's Careers Blog

Career advice and job search strategies for the modern careerist

Posts Tagged ‘career planning

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

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Want to Get Ahead? Don’t Focus on Your Career

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If you’re unemployed the next career step is obvious — get a job. There may be questions about exactly what job, do you go for a career change, or how much time can you take off. But directionally, you know where you’re headed.

If you’re employed, much is written (by myself included) about working on your long-term career plan, preparing for promotion or raise requests, and maintaining a strong network.

These are all great career-related items to keep in mind. But sometimes, the best near-term step is to take the focus OFF your career and onto something else entirely — relationships, health, personal finances, community, hobbies and interests, travel, there is no shortage of other potential pursuits.

The personal benefit is clear, of course, as you get to frolic in a pursuit that may have taken a backseat. But the professional benefit, while indirect, is equally valuable — your personal renewal will contribute to your effectiveness on the job. Energy, ability to focus, creativity, likeability — all of these intangible but critical qualities will improve.

We have all experienced the Eureka moment of a breakthrough idea in the shower or of remembering a forgotten detail at the very moment you start thinking of something else. There is something magical about relaxing our grip on one area and turning our focus elsewhere. Similarly, for the benefit of our careers, we sometimes need to take our focus off our careers and onto something else where we can stretch and be challenged in a different way.

So join a sports league, sign up for a volunteer committee, and take a few books off your reading wish list.

Take the focus off your career — your personal and professional self will both benefit.

–Posted by Caroline Ceniza-Levine, Six Figure Start

Written by Phil Stott

July 8, 2010 at 12:22 pm

Job Hunting: Time for Millennials to Get Off the Fence?

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The New York Times reports today on a particularly depressing aspect of the recession: evidence that the latest generation of workers to emerge from college is finding it difficult to get work, and is simply being left behind by circumstance.

Opening with a snapshot of one 24 year old job seeker’s struggle to find work, the piece hits on many of the issues facing young careerists today. While generational differences are played up, however, one of the main themes that emerges is the idea of expectation: the job seeker in question chooses to pass up a $40,000 a year job because he worries it might “stunt” his career. His father and grandfather, meanwhile, tell tales of their own careers that involve largely getting started by accident and maneuvering as best they could once they were in a field.

That underlines a fundamental difference in approach—and attitude—that bodes even more ill for the current crop of graduates than the woeful unemployment figures suggest. We’ve all read the stories about how the millennial generation expects to be able to shape their lives to a degree that previous generations (my own included) would have found unthinkable. While it was difficult to grasp that concept prior to the recession, seeing it in action at a time when 9.5 percent of the country’s willing workers can’t find an open position is particularly jarring.

The article makes obligatory mention of the fact that millennials “are better educated than previous generations and they were raised by baby boomers who lavished a lot of attention on their children”—even going so far as to use this point to explain the “optimism” of the generation in the face of the recession. What it doesn’t sufficiently explain, however, is how that “better educated” generation can rationalize that not getting any experience of the corporate world at all is better than working a “dead end” position with the opportunity to at least make some contacts and bolster a resume.

Of course, a member of a different generation explaining the inherent danger in that kind of logic always runs the risk of being accused of being too down on the younger set. With that in mind, then, perhaps the most compelling reason is the graphic to the left that accompanies the Times piece, which shows that unemployment among the millennial generation—18 to 29 year olds—”approaches the levels of that group in the Great Depression.”

If that’s not enough to make one rethink a strategy of waiting for something better to come along—and risking falling further behind at every step of the way—not much will.