Wednesday, September 22, 2010

MBAs: Second-Year Dilemma

Many Consortium MBAs in finance returned to business school this fall with a comfortable smile on their faces. They had productive summer internships at banks, corporations, investment funds, and private-equity firms. Many of them also had offer letters, permitting them to return after graduation in a full-time role.

But many of them have "exploding" letters, which require them to make a decision to accept or reject in a matter of weeks. If they don't, the offer is forfeited. The feel-good moments in the waning days of summer can turn suddenly into an anxiety period: Do I accept or reject this opportunity of a lifetime? Do I explore something else? Do I really like banking (or trading, investing, research or analysis)? Do I prefer to do the same at another firm? Do I give myself the well-deserved chance to shop around? Do I still look for that "dream role"? Or do I try to negotiate with the company to get more time to think this through?

Some companies apply pressure and request a final decision be made before a set date--sometimes as early as October 1. Second-year MBAs face a dilemma and must make tough decisions. Outsiders might suggest that in the current environment it's a dilemma they are fortunate to have, because they have a real opportunity and a real job at graduation.

How can second-years handle this special situation?

1. Objectives. It helps for them to understand their short-term and long-term career objectives. Many times, the offer in hand might fulfill a short-term goal (business, client, deal or trading experience, upward-sloping learning curves, extended networks, organization experience, and compensation). Does, however, the short-term goal permit you to reach the long-term goal (whatever that long-term goal could be)?

Outlining objectives and examining them thoroughly might permit the second-year to make the right decision, especially if the longer-term objective is most important.

2. Aptitude. Another approach is to understand what you want to do and what you can do. Many MBA graduates want to start in positions where they will thrive and do well. They want to launch their careers as success stories.

The second-year, therefore, may choose to delineate in detail

(a) what you want to do in that first job,
(b) what you know you can do well, and
(c) what you like to do day to day.

If all three overlap in some way, or if an MBA in finance wants to, can do, and will like doing the job, then it's likely he or she will do well starting out. When the offer presents a role where all three come together, then the MBA can't go wrong in accepting the job.

If the offer doesn't permit the three to intersect in a substantial way, then it might make sense to explore other opportunities.

It's not as easy as it appears here, because often you know you can do the job and wouldn't mind doing it, but it may be something you dislike or can't tolerate. But it may be the role that is a convenient stepping stone to a long-term objective. If the long-term goal is important and if you can do the job well, then you might rationalize accepting the offer.

These kinds of self-assessments can help guide in final decisions.

3. Options, Opportunities. Second-years in these times must survey what the opportunities and options are in finance. Uncertainty in markets and in the recovery will limit options. So they must be sincere with themselves about the implications of turning down an offer that's in hand.

Banks and other financial institutions turned up the gears in hiring in early 2010. There are hints now, however, they may slow down a bit, not because business has evaporated, but because they certainly will be cautious about over-hiring.

Second-years who want to explore options and opportunities are in the best environment to do so--on campus, where banks and corporations will continue to touch bases with business schools even if they may not be recruiting aggressively.

4. Mentors, Alumni, and Networks. Second-years would benefit from discussing their situations with others who have been through the same. They'll learn how others grasped and approached the decision and understand factors in those decisions. More experienced mentors and alumni will even acknowledge whether their decisions were wrong or bad and contemplate what they might have done, if they had the same decision today.

The second-year who still has doubts about the summer experience and is frustrated by an impending "explosion" from an offer might still ask for an extension from the hiring company. There are rules, but companies bend them. A follow-up discussion with the company might give the second-year a chance to see the company in a different way, speak to others to get more details about the position, or negotiate a move to a more satisfying or vibrant group.

At some point, decisions must be made. Most second-years will agree these decisions are tough (because they often involve relocation and personal commitment of about two years to the role), but this one may not be the toughest of all. Deciding whether to attend business school and choosing which business school might have been tougher.

Tracy Williams

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