MBA Students: Choose Your First Job Wisely

The life of an MBA student is demanding. To manage the classwork and interviewing process today is much harder than it was when I was an MBA student. Outside of class, students must spend more time networking and preparing for the interview gauntlet to live up to the expectations of recruiters and compete effectively against impressive peers. You can have dozens of smart, talented, exceptional students vying for one or two coveted positions. It’s simply not easy.

However, what I’m noticing is that with all of the preparation to get the offer(s), there isn’t much time or energy left to think through what these first jobs mean to a 40 year career. Often times, when I ask students where they want to work, the response is: “On a brand I love”. I also find a number of students who want to pursue the Mark Zuckerberg career path and start their own company or work for a small start-up.

As somebody who did neither of these things, I want to provide a different perspective on how to consider job opportunities. This is obviously biased by my experience, and I recognize there are many paths to success and happiness, but I do believe these are important aspects to at least consider before rejecting a Blue Chip company opportunity. What follows is an open letter to students who are grappling over which job offer to take.

If I may, I’d like to provide you with some thoughts about this opportunity. I’m going to give you some perspective on how these early decisions will impact your entire life – thoughts you may not have had. These are considerations I didn’t make when I accepted my internship offer at Procter and Gamble in the 80’s. I got lucky and had the right mentor, Chris Puto, who pushed me in the right direction. He convinced me to turn down exciting offers (I turned down two internship opportunities to work at Ogilvy and Mather on Microsoft – the Google of the late 80s – and Mattel – the fun brand at the time) to take a “corporate” and less exciting job at Procter and Gamble, where I spent all summer working on Dash, the world’s smallest and most insignificant laundry detergent brand. On day one, my boss (Rick Thompson – a great coach and mentor) asked me what laundry detergent I used and I said “I don’t know”. That’s how excited I was to work on laundry detergent. But here is some perspective:

1) Your work “Brand” is enduring. Procter and Gamble was and still is considered a top tier marketing company. Just like Harvard and Darden are “ranked” higher than many other schools and have greater prestige, companies are also ranked. However, while your educational “brand” influences early job opportunities, your work “brand” will dominate over the course of your career. It endures. When I talk to executive recruiters who place C-level executives in different roles, they care about the “training” and “experience” a job candidate has had, particularly in the formative part of their career. Working at a great company (I mean businesses that are successful, that have a pedigree for being leaders in their industry over time and that have a reputation for creating best-in-class businesspeople) is a brand stamp that will follow you for the next 40 years. It can open doors that otherwise would be shut. I learned this when, during my second year of the MBA program, every company I wanted to interview with wanted to interview me. Why? Because I had P&G on my resume.

2) As a result, your internship and full-time employment after the MBA program have “annuity-like” benefits. In a review of C-level marketing job specs I did, 70% of C-level marketing jobs list as a requirement that the candidate have “P&L / Brand Management experience”. 19% of the job specs overtly stated that the candidate should have had prior “Blue Chip” company experience. In reviewing the work history of over 100 C-level marketers, most had a “Blue Chip” company early in their background. These early experiences provide you with greater opportunities later to pursue whatever path you choose. I have many Procter friends who have become CMOs, CEOs, entrepreneurs, and executive recruiters, etc. Early brand stamps (great companies) provide a broader and stronger launching pad from which to consider later opportunities.


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