5 steps to successful career planning for MBA students

By | December 5, 2011

Lorraine-LucasLorraine Lucas is Business Engagement Manager – Careers, Alumni & External Relations at Bradford University School of Management. She supports MBA students in career planning before, during and after their studies.

Step 1: Start your career planning before starting your MBA

It is never too early to start planning your post-MBA career. Many MBA students make the mistake of concentrating exclusively on their studies and not on thinking ahead about their long term goals. This means that when they graduate, they have no strategy in place to inform their next career move – which delays the benefits of doing an MBA.

Before starting your MBA, fully assess your current skills, expertise and personal qualities. Ask yourself where you want to be in three, five and ten years’ time. What does the job/employer look like? What contacts do you already have that will help get you there? What gaps are there in your expertise and professional network? What barriers are there to you achieving your goals?

Julian Bartholet, Strategic Business Development Sales Manager at Bunzl Greenham Ltd, graduated from Bradford’s Executive part-time MBA in 2010. He says: “I had a clear plan from the beginning of my MBA that I wanted to use my sales expertise to make the journey from middle management into the boardroom. This meant both getting an understanding of wider business functions through my studies and developing the personal and professional skills to talk confidently at board level and influence the strategy of an organisation. By the end of the first year, I had already dramatically changed as a professional in my existing role and by the time I graduated I had the confidence to go out and target senior roles at the companies I wanted to work for.”

Step 2: Make the most of the careers advice, resources and events on offer at your business school

Once you have defined your goals, work with the careers service at your business school to set out a clear strategy for achieving them in the short, medium and long term. Also use your PDP (personal development) modules to focus on the specific skills you need to achieve your career goals in your discipline/sector taking into account your personal circumstances. It is up to you to shape your MBA experience to deliver the best results for you.

Your business school careers service will also give you regular ‘extra curricular’ opportunities to interact with practitioners. Whenever you can, make sure you attend guest lectures, panel discussions, careers fairs and networking events – and use them as an opportunity to make contacts and gain new insights.

Step 3: Use your business school’s alumni network

Your business school’s alumni network isn’t just relevant to you when you graduate. It is an invaluable resource to tap into before and whilst you are studying. Find and connect with alumni on LinkedIn, look at their career paths, ask them for help and advice. They will be able to give you unique insights into common mistakes to watch out for, how to sell yourself and when to time career moves. Learning from the experiences of those who have gone before is very useful and will save you a lot of time and energy.

Simon Kingsnorth, former first direct and HSBC director now managing director of Optimal HR, did his Executive part-time MBA at Bradford. He says: “I remain an active supporter of The Bradford School of Management and member of Bradford’s international alumni network. The diversity of people and opinions was invaluable during my study and I have maintained contact with senior business professionals across the world as our careers and businesses have developed. This kind of network is invaluable in so many ways and a major benefit of studying an MBA at Bradford.”

Step 4: Get yourself a mentor/role model

Once you have settled in to your studies and have a clear career plan, look for a mentor or role model who you aspire to be like. Your business school may be able to help put you in touch with someone from the alumni network or a business partner and set up a formal mentoring arrangement. Or you may want to choose someone with a high profile that advises up and coming business people who you can follow and learn from.

Use your mentor as a sound board and take them on your career planning journey with you. Remember that both parties should get something out of mentoring – make sure that it is a two-way relationship.

Step 5: Get social

Employers look for candidates with the right social skills to gel with their teams – and their customers. This is particularly important if you are in a leadership role. The theory that the best ideas in the workplace are born around the water cooler is the same in a business school.

It is important to socialise with your classmates when you get chance – chat to them over lunch, arrange to go for a meal or throw a party, especially if you are an international student. By sharing ideas and immersing yourself in different cultures, you will gain insights into what it is to be a business leader above and beyond those you learn in the classroom. These relationships will also enhance the classroom experience and make it more interactive and productive.

Social media is also now an important part of your career planning journey. Victoria Tomlinson, chief executive of Northern Lights PR and author of award winning e-book ‘Why you can’t ignore social media in business’ says: “Get used to reading and commenting on blogs to keep up with the latest business thinking. Use LinkedIn to connect with people you come across during your MBA studies and get introduced to potential employers through your contacts. Set up a Twitter account and use it strategically to make a name for yourself as an expert on a particular subject. Stick to that subject in your tweets and share interesting articles and research – which others will then re-tweet. Find employers that you aspire to work for and follow them to keep up to date with what they’re doing and things they’re interested in.”

So, if you’re thinking of starting an MBA in January 2012, come with a career plan in mind and talk to the careers team as soon as possible to help shape it and put it into action from the very start. If you have any questions before hand, post them here – along with ideas and suggestions for other prospective students.

About Lorraine Lucas

 Lorraine has over 15 years' experience in the retail sector, working for organisations such as Selfridges, Burton Group, GUS and Storehouse. For the last 15 years Lorraine has been involved in Career Coaching in the private and public sector. She was an associate career coach for Penna, a leading HR Consultancy and before joining Bradford she also worked with undergraduates and postgraduates at the Universities of Bristol and Huddersfield. She has been associated with the School of Management for the last ten years and in 2006 took up a full time post managing Career Development and Alumni Relations. She has a degree in Geography from the London School of Economics, an MBA from Bradford University School of Management and a Diploma in Careers Guidance from the University of Reading.

6 thoughts on “5 steps to successful career planning for MBA students

  1. Leadership That Gets Results

    Thanks! These all look like great steps to take indeed.

  2. Change of Career

    HI Lorraine,

    There’s some really useful advice for your students in this post. We’ve found in the past that career mentoring is a fantastic way for students to gain more experience and can open doors that wouldn’t have otherwise been possible. It’s important not to overlook the power of networking too.

    Best wishes, Alex.

  3. Chris Bentley

    Great advice (well, not sure about the Twitter bit, but anyway…). I would add a corollary to ‘step 1’ though – have a plan by all means, but don’t be afraid to tear it up.

    Doing an MBA is an experience you won’t repeat, so you should aim to really wring its neck rather than just coasting by. Amongst other things, that means being completely engaged by the experience rather than looking beyond it the whole time. And it may be that it takes you in a direction you just hadn’t figured on. Success in business (or anything else probably) is often about stumbling on what really does excite you, rather than what you think ought to excite you. “Find your genius”, to quote Mark McCormack. So if you’re an accountant planning the MBA as a stepping stone to investment banking, but develop a hitherto undiscovered love for HRM, I’d say run with it and see where it takes you.

    On the other hand, maybe this is why I don’t work as a careers advisor…

  4. Lorraine Lucas

    Chris, the MBA can and does open up completely new career possibilities. I also think the whole experience builds confidence and awareness and so makes people more open to new opportunities.

    I think as a starting point good to have a plan but needs to be reviewed on a regular basis and adapted to new found interests and goals. Given the current climate it’s good to have plan a and plan b!

  5. Javier

    I don’t know if Lorraine remembers me, but I’ve always said that she runs what probably is the best careers service of the UK. I still try to recall her advice when thinking on my career.

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