More learnings on the job search

Olga Lermontova

Had someone told me before the start of the programme that some of my greatest learnings from INSEAD would be during P4-5 (when the academics is almost over), I would have laughed in their face. However, it turned out to be true! Every day, talking to employers and “trying on” a certain role in an organisation, I reflect on my motivations, past experiences and plans for the future. A year ago I thought I’d just get a very nice international degree, will learn some basic business subjects and will ultimately be able to read The Financial Times without a dictionary.

But reality turned out to be much more complex.

The main professional quality I have been working on for the last several weeks is having a “proactive” approach to work. The main reason why employers are inviting MBA graduates to join their companies is the renewed mind and enthusiasm, which allows them to get a new perspective of the company’s business and decide what to do next. As a result, many companies have a very unclear understanding as to why they are hiring a particular person and what his/her exact role will be – very often there is no job description as such or any particular goals that the person would be achieving, apart from making money.

This approach forces the interviewee to play a consultant role – to figure out what the company’s goals are and to make suggestions on how he/she can help achieve these goals. This is the exact reason why our current interviews are far from the habitual format of “Tell me about your professional experience” and are more like “These are the sales figures for the last three quarters. Based on that, could you advise us on ways to improve our partner relations?”. Such format of interaction between companies and future graduates sometimes create ambiguous feelings among students, who used to work in concrete well-defined positions with a clear job description and achieving measurable targets.

Here lies the main difference between pre- and post-MBA job levels, as now (ideally) you aren’t perceived as a tiny little instrument inside the company’s system, but rather as a person with broad knowledge capable of looking at the big picture, identifying problems and finding effective solutions. This doesn’t mean, of course, that with an MBA you’ll be automatically interviewed for CxO level positions – in 99% of cases, this doesn’t happen. However, post-MBA positions are generally not about “selling as many candies as possible”, rather about ways to optimise the candy sales processes, finding new value propositions for candy-lovers and launching a new candy to the market.

At the beginning, I felt as though I was being interviewed for positions, that in reality, don’t exist. All candy-sellers are already in place, candy supplies are being sourced from suppliers at minimum price and all manufacturing, marketing and processes are set as well. But you turn out to be an “optimiser” or an “orchestrator”, whatever the trendy name for that profession. I guess that’s the right time for us MBA students to reconsider our past professional experience and decide if we’d like to continue being the best specialists in our field (best in breed candy-sellers) or want to develop and grow into an independent and proactive professional who is good at seeing the big picture and defining our own objectives.

The more senior you are in the “big picture” profession, the more ambiguity and responsibility there is and the more difficult it is to define the scope of the business you’re managing. You no longer have a “boss” in the classical sense of the word, now it’s your turn to understand what you want to do and also persuade others to agree with your goals and plans of action.

This concept is really striking at first, and I guess most of us need some time and self-reflection to understand the new reality and be able to respond to the new challenge.

Another important lesson for me has been my process of deep re-evaluation of my future goals and the job I’d like to do after INSEAD. While I see that many classmates have shifted from a relaxed observational approach to job search to “finding any job offer at any cost”, I am the complete opposite of this. During P1-2, I was quite confident I wanted certain things and tried to approach the job search in a very formal way-  by making a list of desired companies/professions and setting up search agents on specific websites.

Now I feel the need to zoom out of details like salary, geography and to start thinking more in terms of the way I want to feel in my position, the type of relationships I want to have in the team, the company spirit, the content, and thus segregate the important things from the superficial. This process is very much supported by numerous job interviews, when you try different things and can see what works and what doesn’t. This constant trial and error method lets you distinguish between illusions and reality.

Sometimes facing reality means realising that you’ve spent the last six months trying to achieve something you never needed or wanted.

Before INSEAD, I was very skeptical about things like "true calling" and thought most people inevitably don’t love their jobs and merely drag through a career to make a living. I am therefore very grateful to INSEAD for changing my perceptions and making me understand the true meaning of the mantra: “You don’t need to keep doing what you’re good at”. This helps build inner self-confidence and search for true things, even in times when what you really need is a stable job and a guaranteed salary. This makes you persevere and do things properly to get what you really want without unnecessary compromises.