Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Open letter to current & recently minted MBAs

Dear MBAs:

I hope you are all getting a good experience at b-school. I am sure these are difficult economic times for all of you. I am sure some of you are all going through some soul searching, wondering whether this was the right thing to do, how the loans will get paid, will you ever find a job, and how long this downturn will last.

I've lived through some very difficult economic conditions myself, and faced the brunt of it (remember the post-internet bubble in 2000 and 9/11). I saw a venerable investment bank's M&A staff get decimated (going from 600 to 70) and a financial services startup with great products and outstanding young people fold two days after the tragedy of September 11, 2001. I've also seen many suffer through it - so depressed they could not get out of home (and sometimes bed) for two years, settled people moving countries with families, and even being out of work for three years.

Usually those who suffer through tough times do so because they take a long time to get through the denial phase - that there are no high paying jobs in i-banking, consulting, hedge funds or private equity at the moment. By then its quite late in the cycle and they need to wait till it works. The important thing is to be agile, flexible and open to options.

In case you are going through similar pains and personal struggles yourself, I have eleven recommendations.

1. Grab a brand name job in tough times: When you try to get out, the brand name will help. E.g. if you want to be a banker (later) working in a brand name company may allow you to get into equity research and eventually into banking. If you cannot get that brand consulting job, take something else, and have a two-year strategy to get back in. If you cannot get a brand name job, work part-time or as a "consultant" to a brand name company.

2. The cycles are predictable: Remember that this economic cycle (or any economic cycle) will be behind you within years; you just have to find a way to sit tight for 2 years and then you'll get a chance to move to do what you really want to do. [For those of you from India] I've seen people move to India and return to the US to get into sales & trading jobs at investment banks when the markets turned. The important thing was that they had the skill set to get back in.

3. Feed, nurture and grow the network: Don't withdraw. Make friends. Keep a bold face. Be kind and helpful to those with your own rolodex. If you cannot help yourself, help someone else.

4. Be good. Do right by the people who need help in this job market if you are doing well - or even if you cannot help yourself, if you can help someone else. These people will remember you when things are good for them.

5. Keep your eyes and ears open: Anecdotally, for example seem to be jobs in the Healthcare sector in Boston (consulting with smaller companies). Also watch out for the big layoffs. Biopharma - if you are in Sales appears to be in trouble. Long term I believe healthcare is a sector that does not have violent cycles so if you like this space, try to build a career in this sector.

6. Follow the early-growth hot spaces: Cleantech is one of those spaces. In cleantech, the hot spaces are water and solar (from what I hear). Read equity research reports and follow the markets, download all the ppts and you can become a knowledgeable person in this space quickly. There are few people with experiences in this area.

7. Free work is better than no work: If its international its likely worth even more (long-term): Work for someone important or a good position for free. Think carefully before you give up a chance to do a free internship instead of no internship. If it takes you to India or China, take it ! Make sure you learn from friends from Asia and Russia. You may end up there and it may do wonders for your dreams.

8. Hang with people who protect your confidence Do a simple test of the people you are with. If you walk away after hanging or talking to them and are left with a bad feeling about yourself, you're hanging with the wrong people. They are bringing down your confidence.

9. Always surround yourself by diversity of thought and background: If you are in Finance, find out what the marketing people are up to. Know what's going on in high-tech if you are non-tech. Stay open minded. You may bring perspectives they don't understand. E.g. financial modeling is a valuable skill for those in marketing. There is a lot of tech invested in financial services. Once you get a job, make it a point to hang with people that aren't like you regularly. When things are bad for people like you, chances are that those similar people will be in a similar situation. So always hedge your networks; also remember that best ideas come from groups that are different from each other. That's what has made America so vibrant and innovative (and frankly very difficult to replicate)

10. Look at the facts: I don't know any bankrupt recently minted MBAs with repossessed houses and no Indian MBAs like myself whose careers careened off a cliff in tough markets. I am sure there is the exception. However, if you are tenacious, persistent, focussed and an inherently good person, good things will happen.

11. Don't be afraid to ask for help. These may be bad times for very smart people, so don't let personal pride and unnecessary ego get in the way. If you are in desperate need of help, please tell people around you. Take that pay cut. Be humble.

Good luck. Remember it gets better. I've been through it, as have all my friends. Getting out of the problem is game of probabilities and street smarts. It is controllable for highly educated people like yourself. It is not controllable for most people less fortunate.

And once you've been through the storm, you realize its not the end of the world. You can go through it again and be a better person for it.

Take care and good luck.


1 comment:

DKB said...

Thanks for sharing your thoughts. It is always inspirational to read your blog.