Business Schools

Insecurity in the Job Search


How to manage the four levels of finding post-MBA employment

There are four levels of MBA student job-search status: 1) Reluctance; 2) Seeking; 3) Finding; 4) Offer Accepted/Working—and by no means is any level considered secure. Of course, hope increases as you move through the prescribed levels; however, hope without planning or action will leave you stuck in Reluctance.

Reluctance is the level characterized by fear and uncertainty. Few truly admit to this stage in business school. Many in business school have grown accustomed to success. When we face a dramatic change, we all too often approach the new challenge with the same expectations of achievement. When the success does not materialize with the same ease, we are prone to denial-induced paralysis. Students at this level will say such things as: "Companies X are no longer recruiting here," and, "I'm waiting to see how the job market plays out."

Seeking involves perusing what is available but is not accompanied by the necessary action required to obtain the advertised position. Seeking is not to be confused with looking for unadvertised opportunities; rather, it is the stage when an MBA is still letting the various job search engines and career centers do most of the work for him or her. A student at the Seeking level is sometimes characterized by brief regressions to the Reluctance level. To escape this circuitous trap, you must step out of your comfort zone and realize that the only way to find a job in a market where employers are as uncertain as future employees is to go the extra mile and use your network.

Finding is the first stage where an MBA student realizes that the first two stages will not lead to success and that his intelligence and work ethic alone no longer suffice to get people to pursue him. Rather, he has finally concluded that he must advertise his skills by seeking opportunities instead of letting the opportunities come to him. This method has always been the most successful; however, it is not always necessary for standout students during more certain economic times. It is an employer's market, and it will behoove the job hunter to sharpen his interviewing skills, because firms that are hiring can afford to intensify the interview process without driving away talent and thereby increase its standards for new hires as well.

Not Always Final

Offer Accepted is what everyone believes to be the end of the road or the holy grail at the moment, but I am here to surprise that gullible bunch with the news that that is not exactly the case. It might be the end of serious job search efforts, but in today's environment, who is going to say that the needs of the employer are not going to change on a whim? Will compensation change post-offer acceptance? "Yes" is becoming more and more likely as uncertainty continues to mount and growth outlooks are scaled back.

I fall into the fourth category, and I'm waiting to hear what adjustments to my offer lie on the horizon. I am a strong believer that the road to success is fraught with difficult decisions. This perspective is applicable not only to the individual but also to the firm. If a company needs to lower its expectations, I am ready to lower mine, at least when it comes to remuneration. Now is not the time to take one's skills and work ethic for granted, for these are the tools and values that will lead to success. The buzzword of today is no longer "synergy" but "value." While people aren't adjusting their expectations on the basis of the quality of goods or services they will pay for, they are looking for lower prices. I offer two pieces of advice to those at this level: 1) be valuable, now more than ever; and 2) do not completely let go of Level Three, because a backup plan is good to have.

Kolmodin is an MBA Journal writer for BusinessWeek.com and a member of the University of Washington's MBA Class of 2009.

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