Rebecca is the Associate Director of the Stanford Graduate School of Business with extensive experience working with students and alumni on resumes, career resources, self-assessment, and other job-hunting issues. She works with recruiters to create a strategy to attract top talent, and students and alumni with questions around new business career paths, roles, and new focus areas. Rebecca especially focuses on giving tactical help on positioning and networking.
From pre and post-MBA experiences, Rebecca shares insights driven from her 21+ year career working with Stanford MBA students.
Interest and opportunities among MBAs has changed
The MBAs certainly want to accelerate their careers, find leadership roles and have a significant impact on the organizations they join. They hope to move up quickly and maybe even start their own companies. Some may be looking to have a more global career. When I first started working at the GSB, most MBAs took roles in finance, consulting or big fortune companies. Some still do take those roles, but a lot has changed.
I think that there is a lot of discussion about how the “generations” prioritize different rewards from their jobs. If I asked each generation they would probably have the same wish list for their work – working with friends, work-life balance, social impact, and opportunities for entrepreneurship/
Startups are much more amenable to hiring MBAs than they used to be, although a few still are wary of candidates with any sense of entitlement. In the past, people spent their whole careers at the same company. Now everyone has the ability to change jobs without a negative impact. The diversity of interest among our MBAs has certainly increased over time and they have lots of options.
Just look at the list of hot companies that come out of resources like Wealthfront’s blog, LinkedIn, and Fast Company!
Mckinsey & Google are no longer the priority
The brand name isn’t always as important to the current MBAs and they see these smaller companies as exciting. The opportunity to learn quickly and get promoted faster is attractive.
Many MBAs see working at a startup as a path to learning how to start their own company. Of course, if there is a chance to get equity, that is a big incentive too. You can see some of the employment trends in a report by our membership organization MBA CSEA.
The cost and risk of a start up has decreased
There are a variety of key factors for this change. For entrepreneurship, the cost and risk of starting something right after completing an MBA has gone way down. The amount of information and capital available on just how to get started and succeed has also increased.
At the GSB there are classes like Lean Launch Pad and Startup Garage that allow students to experience putting a startup team together.
MBAs like “Moonshot” companies
There is a new sense of urgency among students to have social impact as quickly as possible. The definition of impact varies from person to person. With so much innovation in science and technology, students know that there are plenty of opportunities to blend business skills and do good. MBAs look at a wide range of issues and solutions. It could be fintech, healthcare, impact investing, cleantech, mobility, or foundations. The MBAs like “moonshot” companies. Things have even changed in nonprofits and government.
When I started my role, there were very few non-profits leveraging the talents of MBAs for summer or full-time. In the 1990s, one of our GSB alumnae starts an organization to match MBAs with non-profits. Her goal was to show non-profits the value of the MBA skill set. She felt strongly that social sector opportunities for MBAs had changed so significantly that she retired recently!
Most want to be at the core of decision making
Most MBAs have a wide range of roles out of their programs. If they are taking operating/company roles (rather than finance or consulting) most want to be at the core of decision making. They would like to be as close to the leadership team as possible. The biggest growth in interest for the last couple of years has been the product manager role. BizOps roles are also popular.
There seems to be a growing number of companies trying to hire top talent using the “Chief of Staff” job title. So there, of course, is much more interest among students to land one of these roles if it is truly a strategy role. In the future students will likely be trying to anticipate the needs of companies. Perhaps thinking about developing skills in coding, machine learning, data analytics. It will be interesting to see what happens.
Leverage “Superpowers” and build up people skills
I am not sure there one way to become an “operator.” The MBAs seem to go after PM, BizOps, leadership programs, or anything that seems like a general management role. Sometimes to keep their options open. I would guess that building up your people skills is going to be one key. But I’d suggest candidates know and leverage their unique skill set or “superpower”.
The company Clearcover has a very fun career site showcasing their employee’s superpowers. And if you are not building it yourself, find an organization and team you love.
Career advisors and recruiters are a platform for help
We think of the job search is much more like dating. Our hope is that the MBAs conduct self-assessments, explore the market, and network like crazy once they get focused! They have to find the jobs themselves.
The career center team is hoping to teach, coach, and provide opportunities to explore the market. And we are a platform to connect MBAs with employers.
Design thinking as a career tool
“Designing Your Life” is a course taught Stanford by Dave Evans and he wrote a book on the methodology. Using design thinking, students explore various possible paths. We also utilize this process when talking about career design with our MBAs.
In job searches, this means having a few hypotheses to test and doing lots of testing and informational interviews. Design thinking applied to anyone’s job search – MBA or not – is powerful.
MBAs pivoting their role may not be an obvious fit
There are really great recruiters out there that have an eye for great talent. Recruiters are usually looking for an exact fit for their posted roles. However, MBAs may be using their school experience to pivot in some way – could be a change in industry, function or location.
This is exceedingly true at the Stanford GSB. What that means for the current students is that they may need to find a way to land a role in a company outside the normal screening since they are not an obvious fit. Once they become experienced alumni with more experience and expertise, the recruiting firms become a relevant additional network.
Strategies for Hiring MBAs
- I know from our own company conversations that recruiting is really hard and time-consuming. But there are many ways to engage with career centers to recruit MBAs and alumni. At the GSB, our career center team can help companies come on campus for events or coffee chats. We have a job board and resume book. Connect with student clubs for company events, treks, and conferences. Get your MBA alumni involved in recruiting if possible.
Our career management team is always happy to strategize on best practices. Feel free to ask us what would attract the most candidates to apply!
- Think about interviewing and hiring a few candidates with non-traditional backgrounds. Many MBAs are trying to make a big pivot and might not look like a fit on paper. Internships are a great way to try this out. Consider international MBAs – they have amazing skills and background too.
- I read a blog recently where the CEO mentioned he should have hired a Head of People sooner. In a market where hiring can be challenging and competitive, maybe it does pay off to start building a pipeline and relationships early.
Thanks to Rebecca for sharing her deep knowledge of the MBA arena.
Interested in more from the Operators Guild?
Not yet a member?
Learn about joining the World’s Top Operators for access to an exclusive community of Talent, Live Forum Discussions, Master Classes, Focus Sessions and more.