Getting an MBA is a transformational experience for many MBA graduates. However, transformation doesn’t occur overnight, and it doesn’t come without hard work and diligence.
When Emma Plaut, a recent MBA Graduate from the University of Virginia (Darden) set foot on campus she (in her own words) had “no idea” what she wanted to do. By using her strengths, trusting the process and relying on her supportive peers at Darden, Emma was able to make the next transition in her career, and she was kind enough to share some of her thoughts and lessons from the journey.
Coming into business school, I had no idea what I wanted to do. I felt a lot of pressure to know, and of all the things that were stressful about the first few months of business school (tough classes, networking events, and “Bloody October” and “Black November” when Darden’s case method classes combine with the height of recruiting period to push first years to the edge), the “who-even-am-I?” anxiety I felt about not knowing what I wanted was the worst.
Looking back on it, I actually did know a lot of things about what I wanted and didn’t want from my next job — I knew I wanted to do something where the customer was a regular person, that I wanted to find something that would use a lot of the skills I’d spent the last 6 years at work developing, and that I wanted to be an owner, not an advisor. The hard part was translating these feelings into business-school speak so I could match them with the most attractive career opportunities.
The recruiting process is a long-haul that feels like a sprint every day. I’m a worrier by nature, and I was pretty sure I would miss something crucial if I missed any event — and Darden does a lot to help, so there are a lot of events! After class every morning for what seemed like most of that first semester, I would attend either a career center workshop (on things like “Telling Your Story” or “Cover Letters”), a company briefing (where top companies come to campus to sell their internships), or a reception hosted by companies I was interested in. Luckily, since I had narrowed down my search to either General Management or Marketing roles, I didn’t have to spend every evening at the bar attending “happy hours” like some of my banking focused friends.
By the end of the semester, I had a list of about 10 companies I wanted to have an interview with, and I was focused on getting invites for those interviews. I leaned on the Darden second years for their advice — how many people should I call at the companies I liked (and who!), how should I change my resume so it made sense outside my previous industry, why am I spending this much time on a cover letter, etc. They were also key when I started practicing for the interviews, happily spending hours helping me figure out how to tell my story. This prep time paid off for me, as I got interviews with the companies I wanted and then had the nice problem of choosing between different offers for my summer.
I loved how supportive the Darden community was — from my career advisor, who had tissues and chocolate on hand all the time, to the second years, who were ready and willing to tell it like it is about any company or any facet of the recruiting process. Even my fellow first years, often as stressed and uncertain as I was, were there for me all the time. Some of the best friends I made were with people who were recruiting with the same companies as I was — we shared tips, interview questions, and celebrations as we all found our best fit internships.
Relatively speaking, my job search was on the more unstructured side. I didn’t come in with a list of companies I knew I would want to work for, and until I made my final decision, I didn’t know what my top choice was. I made my decisions about where to drop my resume based a little bit on gut-feeling (I could just see myself there, working with the people I’d talked to) and based a lot on the decisions I’d made in the early fall, about which companies looked interesting enough to start networking with. In the end, the interviews actually helped me make my final decision about where to spend my summer — I was attracted to companies that I’d had exciting, interesting discussions with during the interviews, rather than rote recitations of my past work experience.
“Trust the process”
At Darden, they tell you over and over again, from day one to end of the year, to “Trust the Process”. That’s not easy. I had spent the last 6 years working at one company, and I knew how to be successful there — I knew who I had to talk to, what I should be spending my time doing, and what doing a good job would feel like. At school again, and particularly thinking about recruiting, which was something I basically had no experience with, I felt lost and anxious a lot of the time. But I was doing everything I needed to, and actually, in retrospect, I was doing a pretty good job!
That’s what I wish I could go back and tell myself — if you work hard and listen to your career advisors, coaches, and second years, you’ll be doing a good job, even though it may not feel like it at the time. So calm down, and Trust the Process!!