I completed my MBA in 2010 and haven’t looked back since! Here are my thoughts on how I got the most out of my time at the Business School and the networking opportunities open to me.
There are three main factors in choosing to do an MBA:
- What you learn
- The business school brand you get on your CV
- Networking opportunities
The MBA provided me with an excellent grounding in business and management knowledge, and certainly having the name ‘Imperial’ on my CV has opened doors – people know the name, it means something. But I believe the real value you get from your MBA is the networking – and this is where you should focus your extra efforts in order to maximise your MBA.
I studied the Full-Time MBA. It was a massive personal expense but a real luxury. The reason that doing a Full-Time MBA is a luxury is because of time: Time to think about your next career move, time to explore possibilities and most importantly time to talk to as many people as possible. I spent a lot of my time during my MBA attending industry events, meeting people for coffee, reading blogs and commenting on articles, having career planning sessions and talking with a professional development coach. What I realised is that spending time on these networking activities was the most important factor in securing me a ‘good’ job.
Securing my work experience placement for third term dissertation
The Career and Professional Development Services team at the Business School had some great business placements to offer, but I specifically wanted to work in retail and therefore took it upon myself to find my own placement. After attending an ASDA trade conference in Harrogate I wrote to the one speaker whose presentation resonated with me the most – that was the COO. I explained that I wanted to come to ASDA for three months and complete a project as part of my MBA.
Two weeks later his PA contacted me and said that the COO wanted to meet me in Leeds to discuss the proposal. In between me meeting the COO for the first time, and starting my placement, he became the CEO. What a coup! I attended future job interviews with a reference from the CEO of a major UK retailer on my CV. How did it happen? Networking.
Securing my first job out of business school
After two terms of full-on networking I was pretty sure I knew I wanted to go into some kind of consulting/project based role in the retail sector. But I didn’t feel ready to specialise just yet – I was still exploring and I was keen to have exposure to a variety of functions and/or brands within retail. I applied to Kurt Salmon – a specialist retail consultancy firm for a job as a consultant – and went through the interview process, which culminated in my being offered a job straight out of the Business School. Success!
However, I never went to work for Kurt Salmon. Throughout my MBA I was having other networking ‘conversations’ and in the most unexpected way I got a better offer… here is how it happened…
Earlier in the year I went to a random event at the Guardian building in North London to hear the HR Director of Tesco and the HR Director of McDonalds deliver presentations on ‘the changing nature of HR in consumer businesses’. After the presentation I introduced myself to the HR Director of Tesco and gave her my student business card. She agreed to meet me for a coffee at Tesco head office and tell me more about her role and how she built her career.
We had a very interesting meeting, and at the end the HR Director asked me if I had a job lined up post-graduation. I explained I was open to exploring opportunities in project based roles and yes, I was interested in working for Tesco. So she kindly referred me to someone in the operations team. I had a phone interview and I completed some online aptitude tests. Then I was invited to attend a final interview in person. But a week before the interview I pulled out, because I had accepted the Kurt Salmon job.
However, a month later (when I was working on my final MBA project in Leeds for ASDA) I had a random phone call from a man called Neil: “You don’t know me, but I was due to do your final interview at Tesco when you pulled out”. He went on to explain that he had found out I withdrew my application because I had found a job at a consultancy firm: “So I am calling to tell you that I now work for Deloitte in the retail consulting team, and I reckon you should come for an interview to work here instead of Kurt Salmon”.
The rest is history. I got a job in the retail consulting team at Deloitte and had a very interesting 2 years working on a wide variety of retail projects with large international retailers. All this happened because I went to a random event at the Guardian building and introduced myself to the Tesco HR Director.
Categorically the most important factor to which I ascribe most of my career opportunities and breakthroughs is because I was able to meet people, talk and keep in touch – networking.
A few thoughts on networking
It’s a bit of a cliché, but to be honest the word ‘networking’ makes sense… and with LinkedIn and email and electronic diary reminders it has never been easier to connect with people and build a network of useful, interesting and engaged business professionals.
And it is so easy to network when you are a student:
- The job title on your business card is ‘Student’. This is one of the most unthreatening job titles in the world: It indicates that you don’t want to sell people things or services, you don’t want to steal their job, and you don’t want to give them unwanted advice. In short, when most people see the title ‘student’ it indicates you are learning and it makes them want to help you.
- People like taking coffee breaks. Even better when people can take coffee breaks and talk about themselves and their awesome careers. And have someone actually LISTEN to them! And as a student I really enjoyed meeting people and hearing about how they built their careers (I still do), I appreciated their advice. In most situations it was a mutually beneficial arrangement.
- One connection leads to many others. If someone concludes that they like you and have a good rapport with you then they will validate their views by endorsing you to others. So, your network can quickly grow from one conversation to three or four. Therefore, building and expanding your network doesn’t take tonnes of consistently equal effort… it is actually an exercise which can get easier and easier the more you do it. Honestly!