The recruiting journey through self doubt – MBA Learnings

The MBA learnings series has two objectives. The first is to develop the discipline to synthesize and share some powerful concepts I’ve learnt while at school. With about four and a half months left at school, I’m hopeful that I’ll continue to do this after I graduate as well. The second has been de-mystify what the journey is really about. I have been surprised at the lack of really good resources on this topic and I hope to have a definitive list of 8-10 posts on the topic that will be helpful to prospective, admitted and current students after I graduate. I’ve listed the 5 posts written so far, below.

Today’s topic is one that aims to de-mystify an important part of the MBA experience – finding a job or, to use a one-word description, “recruiting.” My experiences – both as someone going through the journey myself as well as someone attempting to help others through the experience – have shown that recruiting is hard. It is probably the single hardest piece of the graduate school puzzle.

It is easy to laugh – this is almost as privileged a place to be when it comes to finding a job. Some of the best employers around the world make it a point to invest hours and days on campuses to talk to students about what life at their firm is like. All definitely true. But, I don’t think life gets any easier when you are Bill Gates. Sure, you take away worries around shelter, sustenance, and the like. But, the kind of challenges you face are in no way inferior to everyone else. In fact, it is my belief that challenges of the mind tend to be the hardest to talk about and deal with. As evidence, I have learnt that students from the law school and business schools at most universities are the biggest users of on-campus counseling services.

I think this part of the experience is particularly hard for three reasons. First, every person going through the process has a track record of success that got them into school. It feels natural to expect this to work well with relative ease (and, in a few cases, it does, too). Second, the fact that you’re going through it with so many classmates – some of whom do better than you by balance of probability – increases the pressure. And, finally, most of these folk have received really bad career advice in the past that has led them to believe that there is that one “dream company” out there for them.

In my case, I think the peer pressure involved with the experience definitely made me question my own competence and abilities more than once in those moments. I made a couple of unusual choices and those came back as questions – did you do the right thing? What if you had done things differently?, etc. It also took what seemed like ages for any progress to come through. It was tough and it definitely felt like a journey through self doubt. It all worked out though – as I believe it did for most folk who put in the work. That doesn’t mean it is easy. And, it definitely doesn’t mean it isn’t worth it.

Among the things that helped me in that period, I would pick 3 that were particularly helpful –

1. Focus on the feeling of walking away knowing you did your best. At every point, I just focused on getting to one thing – the feeling of walking away from the interview knowing I gave it my best shot. Since all my energy was focused on that one goal, it made my life a lot easier since I didn’t attach myself to any one outcome. This also took away any possible focus on a “dream job.” Sure, I felt extra pressure on a couple but, as I’d intentionally stayed away from focusing on the outcome, it felt easier. The principle here is to to focus on the process and trust that good processes lead to good outcomes in the long run.

2. Read Harry Potter. I’ve shared this story with many first years. I directed a lot of the pressure into reading Harry Potter. Now, of course, I don’t advocate you do that. But, I do think it is helpful to find something that completely distracts you – so, find your own Harry Potter. I remember my wife offering up my iPad anytime she felt I was feeling the pressure. Thanks JKR! In general, when I wasn’t in class, I made it a point to be home by myself. I preferred solitude to hearing the constant chatter about “the latest and greatest.” I was on a light course load during that quarter and had plenty of time to myself. I spent this time researching about companies, reading Harry Potter and sleeping – my antidote to the pressure.

3. A 2nd year support group. I had a small group of 2nd year friends who I stayed in close touch with during the process. I engaged a couple of them on helping me with most aspects of the interview and another couple who helped me exclusively with cases. I kept this group informed of everything that was going on and vented, on occasion, to them. While I knew I could count on them to never mince words if I was doing something wrong, they were also generous with their time, energy and support. All of this helped give me plenty of perspective and was incredibly helpful.

So, if you are a 1st year going through the process, keep plugging away. The one thing that is worth remembering is that this is one of many job switches in the coming years. Focus on the long term outcome and use the process to learn how to approach finding a job better. This is definitely hard.. but it also definitely helps to keep perspective. There are a a few billion people who’d love to be in your place.

And, if you’re a 2nd year, I hope you’ll remember to balance being direct with your feedback and generous with your hugs.

1. I’m in, Now what? – An attempt at helping you structure your transition to school once you are admitted.
2. Advice to an incoming student – A long “expectation setting” post that breaks life at school into a tension between 6 priorities
3. Designing for introversion – An introvert’s guide to thinking about the MBA experience
4. Lessons learnt from internship recruiting – Lessons + a guide to how to think about the summer before school
5. Digging into my 1st year process – A reflection on how I approached my 1st year and what I learnt

self doubt, recruiting, mba learningSource