Mila Komarova, Executive MBA Careers Consultant at Imperial College Business School

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A crucial aspect of the Executive MBA is nurturing the potential of our students to help them grow into truly exceptional leaders. The Careers component of the Imperial Executive MBA is just as important as the academics.

Through the Executive Leadership Journey careers track that runs for the duration of the programme, students are assigned an executive career coach. This coach works with them over the two years on their personal and professional development, helping them better understand themselves so that they can reach their full leadership and career potential.

In this Q&A, we speak to Mila Komarova, one of the Executive MBA coaches. She gives an insight into how she supports our Executive MBA students to achieve their career aspirations through support from Imperial College Business School Careers.

Can you tell us about your background and journey that led you to become a career coach?

My background is in consulting – prior to joining Imperial, I spent nine years at Finalta, a McKinsey data analytics company. While I was following the ‘classic’ consultant career path, I was finding coaching and mentoring to be the most rewarding parts of my role. I was also increasingly approached by people outside of the company for career coaching, and what started as a side project became my full-time occupation in 2019. At the moment I’m working with the Executive MBA, Global Online MBA and Weekend MBA students at Imperial alongside my own coaching practice.

What is the role of Imperial College Business School Careers and how do you support Executive MBA students throughout their programme?

We all know that simply doing a great job does not automatically lead to promotions and the best career opportunities. You also need to actively manage your career, build your network and promote yourself in the right way – something that senior leaders know all too well, and something that the Careers team help Executive MBA students to achieve. 

Throughout the programme, students work with dedicated executive career coaches to define their goals and progress towards them. Part of this work could be strengthening their self-presentation via CVs and interviews. Students are also supported in expanding their networks through targeted events and training – a critical element of effective career transitions. Knowing where Executive MBA graduates tend to go, we help them meet potential future employers through panel events and access to executive recruiters.

For students interested in entrepreneurship, there is additional support through the Imperial Enterprise Lab where they get feedback on their ideas and on-going mentorship to help bring those to life faster.

Executive MBA candidates have a different profile to someone studying an MBA full-time – the candidates you work with are still working full-time and are in senior roles. What specialist support do you provide to EMBA students?

Executive MBA students work with executive coaches who understand specific challenges involved in a senior role and are experienced in supporting development and job searching at senior levels. Candidates also benefit from sector-based support around senior roles in industries such as finance, consulting and tech – through dedicated events and working one-to-one with industry specialists.

Something that actually surprised me a little when I started working with Imperial Executive MBA students is how engaged they are with all things careers. I think this reflects how they are used to managing intense schedules, but also a testament to the quality of support they get from the Careers team.

How does the relationship between an Executive MBA student and their personal coach develop over the programme?

All students get a dedicated executive coach who works with them throughout the programme on one-to-one and group basis. This work is completely bespoke: sometimes more specific and immediate, e.g. helping the student prepare for an interview, and other times more in-depth and long-term – such as supporting them in progressing to a C-level position.

The Executive MBA programme requires intense self-exploration and at times brutal honesty with oneself – ‘who are you as a leader?’ ‘what makes you stand out?’ and ‘what parts of you get in your way?’ These are all million-dollar questions, and ones that can make all the difference between an average career and a brilliant one – so we are committed to helping students address those.

Can you tell us about an exceptional Executive MBA student who you have worked with at Imperial - how did they used your support and the programme to achieve their career goals?

I recently worked with a very talented legal professional who wanted to become one of the youngest in the office to be promoted to Partner. Spoiler alert – he made it. He mentioned three things that have been particularly helpful to his success. Firstly, the programme helped him improve his understanding of the business’ strategy and ability to contribute at a level above his own. He felt more confident in important stakeholder meetings, and it showed. Another crucial step was to construct a clear action plan for his promotion application, focusing on ways to showcase his strengths and build some key relationships that influenced the outcome. Finally, we had a few meetings to get him ready for the interviews, giving him the opportunity to practise in a safe (but challenging) environment, get feedback and make tactical amends which eventually helped him feel more confident and relaxed in his real interview.

What piece of advice would you offer someone who was considering pursuing an Executive MBA in 2021?

At the moment I am speaking to many leaders whose career plans have been put on hold, or made uncertain, because of the pandemic. I believe that in times like these, one of the best things anyone can do professionally is to stay on top of new and relevant trends, continuing to develop themselves and, most importantly, their networks.

As I mentioned before, simply doing a great job might not be enough to have a competitive advantage in the (tough) job market. I think that those who will make the effort to consciously manage their career, strengthen their value proposition and their network in these uncertain times, will be rewarded.

How can the Imperial Executive MBA impact your career?