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My second-year business school classes and my life are punctuated by a field study requirement, the Applied Management Research (AMR) project that every student in the full-time program must complete. This requirement is a 20-week consulting project performed in teams of four-to-six students (my team has six) solving a real problem for a real client.
My client is the Los Angeles Unified School District, where I interned last summer. Although I can't write about the details of the project, I can say that it involves helping the school district move toward greater transparency with its constituent base. My faculty advisor, Dr. William Ouchi, has suggested that the task at hand will help the troubled school district improve the way it operates and ultimately, one hopes, graduate more students from high school.
More than another course requirement, AMR is one of the ways in which Anderson (Anderson Full-Time MBA Profile) differentiates itself from other programs. There is an office and staff that support roughly 70 student teams each academic year.
So far, AMR has been a series of meetings, some of which don't have anything to do with the client, such as a three-hour orientation to the program, its goals and academic expectations; a meeting with an Anderson librarian to get us started on our research needs; a meeting with Sarah Tucker, a former AMR director, who helps students develop teamworking skills through the Coaching and Team Skills Program. Although some peers have complained about these add-on meetings, many more have told me how instrumental the sessions have been in getting students focused or in solving conflicts between team members.
For me the heavy work of AMR is just starting. The first draft of our first deliverable (there are two) came back from the client with lots of feedback. Our team is also about to begin conducting eight focus group interviews and 18 individual interviews with school principals—while studying for finals and closing out the academic quarter.
Although not nearly as intense as last year's core, the second year is busy for different reasons, including AMR. Most important, school will be over in six months and we will need jobs. Recruiting has begun for many jobs other than traditional ones in the banking and consulting industries. Although I have not begun the hunt in earnest yet, I did go on one interview with a private-sector company. I didn't get an offer but I can say that I learned a lot from the experience.
First, I learned that searching for a job is the equivalent of taking on another class—or maybe even two. The level of dedication and networking necessary to get an initial interview and make it through successive rounds is intense. In preparing for my sole interview this quarter, I practiced case interview questions without end, sometimes at the expense of class assignments. I practiced after class straight into the evening. I practiced on weekends. Practice, practice, practice.
Second, companies are not usually looking for subject-matter experts. Some are mostly looking for fit. Will this person like the job? Will this person fit in with our existing team? What value (skill set) will this person add to our company? It's worth getting answers to those questions ahead of time. Practice that elevator speech until you can say it in your sleep and be sure to answer these questions: "Why do you want this job and why should we hire you?" Finally, listen to your gut during an interview. I followed my instinct during the course of my interview to move the conversation toward areas in which I feel most confident.
You can be reassured during this bad job market. Muhammad Yunus, a Bangladeshi economist and winner of the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize, said the following about opportunities born of turmoil when he spoke to Wharton graduates in 2009: "While other experts are banking on gloom and doom, I see the economic downturn as a prime time to shake things up in a positive way that will lead to permanent social change. This is a big crisis but this is also a big opportunity to redesign and retool so we don't have to go back to the same normalcy. So in a certain way, the crisis is good; It gives us a good opportunity to redesign for the better."
Maybe this isn't a bad time to go into education, after all.