Sunday, February 05, 2006

Of career switchers and job search

This is a loaded topic in all sense of the word. The internship search by FY students has started in full swing. A certain percentage of the class has been placed already and the rest of us are looking. Needless to say, it is a time of uncertainties, anxieties and frustrations.

They come in various forms. Some people are walking away with multiple offers, some have interviewed with many companies but without success, some have resorted to off campus searches and yet others have not even got calls from companies for interviews, and some are slamming brakes on their existing pursuit to look for jobs in areas that they did not originally plan to work in.

This is a particularly difficult topic to cover. Emotions are running high, the career management center is trying to keep up, but no amount can really be sufficient. Come to think of it, placing 426 students in jobs is probably a pretty huge task. On top of it, international students (i.e. w/o work authorization for US) find even lesser options, as many companies would rather stick to people with auth than muck their hands with lawyers and papers. It is true that you don't need work auth to do internship, but these companies after all, do plan to hire you after internship. So it matters.

So how bad is it for international students? Where I am looking from, it's not easy. Maybe tomorrow, I will look back at it and say that it was part of the game. In the end, I guess people will get placed more or less where they want. When I say more or less, it's statistics, isn't it? But people are more than a data point. There will be people who get internship in areas they don't really want. And it is especially tough for career changers. A guy coming from engineering and wanting to go to (my favourite :-)) Wall street has a hard time justifying his contribution to the company. A corporate finance aspirant was asked "What work will you do as part of our team when they are deciding on whether to take up a project or not?" As a background, taking a project requires one to do financial analyses like Net Present Value (NPV) and others. Truth be told, I have no clue what else.

Now I am not looking at Corp. Fin. but I hope to learn more about this in some elective, but that is the point. I can afford to say that, but if you are a career changer, it requires a hell of a lot of dedication. You better know what you will be doing. To me, that doesn't sound easy and I am not that much of a career changer. It's not possible to change careers just like that. You can't just walk in to an MBA and walk out a new man. My advice? If you want to shift to finance/banking from engineering, catch hold of an accountant, cost accountant, CFO or local banker friend and shadow that person. Get to know what he or she really does. If you can't do that, (or even if you can) shift to business newspapers and try to understand stuff there. Non-switchers can wait till they get here to start learning their subjects. Career-switchers need to "re-wire" themselves sooner than later. I have seen some career changers succeed and some slamming brakes (at least for internship) and a major part of the difference is in their general awareness of the new area of work that they aspire for. I don't mean to belittle people's efforts here and make enemies. I am sure there are other factors, but you will face some hard questions in the interview and you better be prepared. And this preparation is not overnight! (Like I have my opertions mid-term on the day after and it's gonna be overnight for me!! :-D) You need to think like the new person, read newspaper regularly and be able to argue, defend and discuss those new topics like they are your own. You HAVE to want to do it.

So much for career changers, but let's look at some functions. Marketing and GM by far seem the most difficult roles for international students. Getting marketing in CPG for example is tough. And it makes sense. It is difficult to adapt to the native 'marketing types' suddenly for someone coming from outside US. While it is true that 'the marketing types' are outgoing and can speak beautifully to the extent that their creativity finds a fantastic outlet in their personality and speech, it is not just English. Some Indians here, for example, have better English than some Americans. It is much more than that. Familiarity with the culture, society, 'lingo' (if you remember Joey's 'How 'a you dooin'? I just can't say it that way!:-)), priorities, touch points, pain points. The list goes on.

Now there are some functions in marketing that are more open for various reasons. (And I am hoping desperately that they are). The only concrete example I can think of really is market research. There is Customer Relationship Management (CRM) and back office sales operations that I am hoping are fairly indifferent to nationality coz. I am just so interested in them. Both require analytical ability, a lot of comfort with data mining and ability to draw conclusions from data. That doesn't look like it needs one to be of any nationality or origin really. Well, we'll see...

General Management is a whole suite of things. Here, the explanation of why it is difficult for internationals is, I think, simply because many companies are fairly traditional and don't really need a big dose of international students. It's not a great reason, but I am yet to find one. It may be that American nationals make great general managers themselves. Or the companies just don't want to get into processing visa and stuff. These sound reasonable, but who knows what each company is thinking. There is a bunch of functions under GM like Leadership Development Programs (LDP), operations & supply chain management, strategic planning and finance and accounting roles. Corporate Finance role is quite open to everyone (again, just numbers and data) and others are somewhere between marketing and consulting.

Consulting and banking companies don't really seem to care. And those are probably the toughest to get in for various reasons. Consulting companies interview differently. They give you problems to solve in 25 mins (called cases) and if you do well, they take you. Cool stuff. Banking companies I don't really know much about, but from what I see, most of them require you to schmooze with them, you need to either have a finance background or you better be a cat at following finance columns of business magazines and papers. That was what was all the career changer stuff was about, so I won't get into it again.

Of course, I hope you understand that none of the above are hard and fast rules. There are no rules here. There are incredibly smart people here who pull off stuff you can't even imagine, and this is just a teeny-weeny thing called internship. To put things in perspective, we students wouldn't even be discussing it much (or at all) in a couple of years, I guess.

Addendum: I added this comment to another post and it relates to this. Since it is 2 fat paragraphs, I thought I will paste it here too:

Good luck for your results on Duke interview. I am glad my experience helped in your interviewing. Regarding the internship search, my thoughts relate to general job search for an MBA student. The two key points I want to get across is that if you want to change careers, start early and if you are an international student and have limited exposure to US society, you might have to find an entry into certain functions through different paths. I have known interns who got into brand management in a US CPG company and found themselves a little out of place. That is a reality that most applicants will face, so I just want to make you guys aware of it. Both these facts are regardless of you getting business education or anything particular to any business school. There are a lot of opportunities coming our way, and it depends on how seamlessly you can fit in. There is nothing to be freaked out about! :-) I am sorry if I painted a rather gloomy picture! :-)

To take my example, I came here with strategy and marketing in mind, and that's what I still want to do. In fact, I find myself more of a fit into some functions of marketing whereas earlier, I was inclined very much towards strategy. Overall, I would suggest exploring the strengths of schools and fit during the application process; the rest depends on individuals themselves. As far as marketing is considered, I found Fuqua fantastic. The Marketing Club is super-active, the profs. are very well known and really good and I think I have seen more companies in Fuqua campus than I could ever imagine! Anyway, I will stop my rambling and hope I have been able to answer some concerns.


Anonymous said...

Great Post! It put a lot of things into perspectives...

Anonymous said...

All the best for your internship
hunt and I hope that you get that "career change".

Anuj said...

Thanks to simba's blog that i dropped in here and its awesome.

Lot of good info and insight.

Best of luck for internship

Anonymous said...

intersting read. as someone who might end up at fuqua this year, it's nice to get a reality check about internships and such. do keep us updated on your search....and all the best.

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