Most Executive MBA (EMBA) participants are looking for some kind of career change, either during the programme or after graduation. However, individual professional development needs and goals tend to differ widely amongst participants, and the INSEAD Career Development Centre for Working Professionals (CDWP) is in place to support you in the process of self-assessment and discovery, as well as execution of your individual career plan.
At a recent panel discussion, two Global EMBA Class of 2019 participants, Joanna Reijgersberg-Siew and Hannes Hentze, shared their career development journey during the programme, and offered advice to incoming participants.
What was your professional situation when you started your INSEAD EMBA?
Joanna: When I joined INSEAD, I had nearly 10 years of experience at Philips under my belt, having worked my way up from software engineering roles to corporate strategy to pre-sales, and finally a senior position in business development. I had the wonderful opportunity to work in the Netherlands and the Asia Pacific region, but at that point was feeling quite unsure what to do next.
I was debating whether I should change industries, go back to the Netherlands or stay in Singapore. Besides, I just had a baby, which was a new chapter for me, and as such, I was also looking for a change.
Hannes: I am originally a research scientist from the biotech and pharma sector. For the past 20 years, I had been working at various different companies and research agencies, while also teaching pharmacology and R&D basics as an Adjunct Professor since 2012.
I was experiencing a mid-career slowdown and was contemplating what to do next.
At the same time, I realised that I had no business sense whatsoever, and hoped to gain tangible knowledge and skills that would enable me to evolve.
What was the first step you took at INSEAD to embark on your career journey?
Joanna: The first step I took was to book an appointment with our in-house career advisor, which was really helpful. He walked me through all the available resources at INSEAD, and I decided to follow the recommended step-by-step approach to reflect, develop and then execute.
I chose a career coach who had a similar background to mine in technology, and through our discussions, I decided that I wanted to stay in Singapore and further explore the areas of Artificial Intelligence and Data Analytics. Together, we developed my personal branding and sharpened the messaging that I wanted to communicate to potential recruiters and hiring managers.
Hannes: I did not have a clear idea of where I wanted to go or what I should do next, so, to be honest, I felt really overwhelmed at first. Finding the right career coach was really important to me, so I took some time to have an introductory discussion with a few of them before deciding on one that I felt a strong connection with.
Subsequently, we had a series of very deep discussions, and I really value the connection and trust we have built.
Throughout the programme, I would go back periodically and bounce off thoughts and ideas with my coach to evaluate the different options for my next career move.
What happened next, and how has your career evolved?
Joanna: I concentrated on LinkedIn and the INSEAD Executive Profile Book as my main career search platforms. The LinkedIn workshop offered through CDWP was very useful and helped to further strengthen my profile. At this point, I was able to clearly articulate what my strengths were and what I wanted to do, while also being aware of what I did not want to do, which is equally important.
Next, I made an extensive list of target companies and started reaching out to my network and speaking to people to sound out the job market. About two months later, the right opportunity came up, and I will soon be changing positions to start in my new job in the technology sector.
Hannes: One of the great opportunities at the EMBA was the chance to participate in the INSEAD Venture Competition where I teamed up with a group of MBA students to advise on a biotech project. This experience got me interested in the startup scene, and I’m now looking at joining a new start-up company in the healthcare sector next year.
I wouldn’t have deemed this possible before, but my background in pre-clinical consultancy combined with the newly gained business knowledge has opened a lot of avenues to consider!
What advice would you give to incoming participants when it comes to planning their career evolution?
Joanna: Especially for senior positions, recruiters will not automatically come to knock on your door. Though the INSEAD brand on your resume definitely helps, you will have to put in a lot of effort yourself and it will be a mix of industry networking, getting acquainted with alumni in that space and actively looking out for positions that will lead you to success.
I also realised that many opportunities depend on the budget and the fiscal year cycle.
If you start the EMBA in autumn, don’t try too many things at the same time. Finish your core courses and exams first before you move into an active career search.
Make the time and effort to truly engage in the EMBA, invest in friendships and enjoy the experience. It may sound clichéd but it’s really true: the more you put in, the more you will get out of it.
Hannes: My advice is to not try to get through the jungle all by yourself!
It is normal to feel overwhelmed and lost at first.
The self-reflection that comes with your career coaching but also Leadership Development Programme (LDP) discussions can at times be painful, feel repetitive, or add to the confusion.
Nevertheless, make use of all the resources that are available through the CDWP. Take the process seriously, take notes after each coaching session and keep track of what you’re doing. From there, carefully pick the resources you need, and eventually, the fog will lift and gradually it’s all going to start making sense.
My experience is that help can come in so many unexpected ways, and the more you talk with your coach, peers and alumni, the more ideas and opportunities will develop.