Navigating Uncertainty - My Post-MBA Journey in the Pandemic World

Four apartments in six months. Cliché Emily-in-Paris locked out of my apartment twice. Job-in-limbo for half a year. 

For a time when the pandemic forced people to stay in one place, I was all over the place, I didn’t know what my place was.

Well, fellow person-in-transition with ambitions and plastered hopes of making this year yours, welcome to the co-generational class of hello pandemic, now what?

Backtrack: I was part of that first cohort that pivoted from the pre-pandemic aspirational MBA to this-is-a-movie-please-wake-me-up life.  

Zoom class after zoom class, travel ban turned city lockdown, the reality started to sink in. The “new normal” was no longer new. 

As if pursuing an MBA with my background wasn’t unusual enough. Psychology major, musician, project manager in far-off Asia-Pacific countries: I was one of those who closed off the library at 2am. Only to be amazed the next day by the previous night’s party finishers who would ace exams with eyes half-closed from their hangovers.

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Musician turned MBA Student
Musician turned MBA Student

 

My INSEAD year came in waves. But what helped me get through the tide was this: though I wasn’t sure what I wanted exactly, I knew what I didn’t want. 

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Class photo
Musician turned MBA Student

As the wave of consulting recruitment period washed over the student population drowning most of my cohorts in cases, I steered clear of the mounting pressure of case-me-and-I’ll-case-you. Instead, I threw myself at student clubs, networked like crazy, read up on various role how-tos, and slowly worked towards narrowing in on the industry I wanted: tech music. 

So why am I writing this when being a '20J sounds so ancient to today’s '21D and '21J? If I could write a "dear past me" letter - to the seemingly out-of-place MBA candidate or the about-to-graduate job seeker in a strangely upside down turned world, this is it. 

For current you, with a high chance of having a Type A personality and an obsession to plan life from A-Z, get this: uncertainty is the new norm. It actually has always been, but it isn’t so easy to shield ourselves from it much longer - welcome to the world outside your bubble. And from my limited experience of over six months of making uncertainty my friend, here’s what I hope to tell you.

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friends
Formal and informal networks will be your greatest INSEAD assets
(study groups, travel companions, club members, house mates, friends :) )

 

Don’t Freak Out

You’re not alone stuck in the unknown. Seriously. Stop wasting your time worrying about how others are spending their time.

If you feel you’re the only one not on that high adrenaline rush of casing 30 hours a week, don’t worry. If you haven’t heard back from a recruiter, or have been rejected countless times while all your housemates have just signed their signing bonus, chill out.

It’s tempting to think you need to case or do what everyone else is doing - but don’t do it unless it’s really what you want. If you’re still not in the job you want at the end of the year or even months after, you’re one of many. Don’t ascribe your fate to the numbers plastered on MBA posters - you are not doomed to jobless misery. You’re carving out your fate in your own time.

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friends

 

Stick to Your Guns

...Lest you knock yourself out.

We’re not all business or finance majors reviewing college material from years back. Learn what you can and leverage what you know. Ten to twelve months is a short time to try to master 20+ subjects. 

Making everyday choices at INSEAD is a trade-off: study, go out, do sports, interview prep... the list is endless. Be focused on what you want to master and what you want to just familiarise yourself with. The rest - you’ll have your network of INSEAD contacts you can reach out to for any subject matter when you graduate. 

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friends
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friends

 

Play Your Queen Gambit

You don’t have to do everything as long as you’re doing the right thing. Play your cards strategically when you are carving out your next step.

Attempting to shift geography, role, and industry in one go has proven to be extremely difficult. You are competing with thousands of other applicants who are just as smart, and just as experienced, with geography, role, or industry qualifications already in place. Why would recruiters place their bets on you?

Here are some tips I’ve gathered from the more than 60 people I’ve talked to in my job hunt - classmates, school staff, alumni, Linkedin strangers:

  • You can increase your chances by narrowing down your objectives to the most important ones and being flexible with the rest.
  • For applications to bigger, more structured organisations, it’s harder for recruiters to justify hiring someone without the right experience.
  • Use your background to get your foot in the door and once inside, work with their talent development teams to design your desired career path.
  • Smaller companies and start-ups tend to be more flexible with background but look for passionate individuals willing to get their hands dirty and go beyond what’s expected. 
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friends

 

Create Bridges

I found the idea of “networking” to be initially very awkward until I looked at it as having friendly conversations with fellow travellers on a plane or train. You don’t know what you’d learn until you try, and maybe they too would get something out of it. It’s important to be genuine and personal - acknowledge what in their experience appeals to you and how it relates to your own goals. Connect with INSEAD alumni – they have been some of the most helpful in my job search. Don’t hesitate to reach out to them. 

Once you’ve narrowed down your list of industries or companies, attend INSEAD events early on - forums, company talks. Be involved with school projects - business projects, competitions and ISPs - and develop a connection with company speakers, recruiters, and teams. Especially if you’re coming from a different industry or role, this shows your willingness and effort to learn about the company, provides an inroad to how the company works and helps make your profile stand out from the others. It raises your hiring chances instead of adding to the pile of applications on recruiters’ desks which happens if you merely send your CV to the public company portals.

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Who knew fellow Music Club members would be my future colleagues?
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Who knew fellow Music Club members would be my future colleagues?
Who knew fellow Music Club members would be my future colleagues?

 

Get your ROI

If you’re not applying to the typical consulting position, it’s true that your job search path may not be as straightforward.

But there’s a heap of resources at INSEAD which you can use to design your job search strategy.

INSEAD hosts a lot of events. As I pursued tech, attending these events helped me understand how the companies operated and what would be relevant in my job applications. The Career Development services was helpful in directly connecting me with my target companies. They organised virtual recruiting events, updated job postings, shared directories of alumni graduates, and gave access to platforms and dashboards for viewing tech company start-ups and scale-ups.

My career coach was a bouncing board for letters, applications, and interview questions. Some of the biggest insights I got from professors were from outside the classroom - they have been strong supporters of my skill set and career development, offering information about the industry and connecting me with their previous students. 

Frankly put: you’ve paid your tuition fees. Use it and maximise the support that INSEAD can give you in your job search.

At the end of my INSEAD year, I had no job offer. In the middle of my post-graduation trip, I got a call to start a fixed-term offer the following week. Not until after six months of uncertainty did I actually get my full-time offer, during the Christmas holidays. 

I’m currently stuck at home due to travel restrictions, starting work at 4pm with my colleagues on the other side of the world at their 9am. I’ve found work in the city I like, a company perfectly positioned at the intersection of my interest for business and music, and a role that combines my passion for analytical thinking and creativity.

Current me looks back at how past me had no idea of how I would’ve gotten here. 

Finally, here’s a message that might help current you: being nowhere is fine as long as you’re going somewhere. Navigating in today’s uncertain world is far from straightforward, but you have more than what you need to turn the tide in your favour. So hang in there.


Photo credits: Student picture - INSEAD. Music Club at Chateaux Fleury - Alex Macdougald. Romansa Musikal - Stefan Wong. El Nido, Palawan - Agustin Bastien. Insead sign - Nishant Store.Student picture - INSEAD. Music Club at Chateaux Fleury - Alex Macdougald. Romansa Musikal - Stefan Wong. El Nido, Palawan - Agustin Bastien. Insead sign - Nishant Store.