Note from Art: It’s graduation season again in the U.S. and for most newly minted MBA graduates, it’s time for a reality check. Here’s my annual (updated) note offering some hard-won words of wisdom on how to navigate the steps immediately following your graduation.
All over the U.S., there’s a fresh new crop of MBA candidates preparing to say goodbye to their classmates as they wrap up what will be for many, the final phase of their academic careers. A key question on their minds is, “What’s next?”
For the graduates, there’s an expectation that the degree will reasonably and quickly translate into new opportunities, fresh promotions and improved earning power. While those who graduate from the top-tier schools may find themselves on a fast or at least faster track towards opportunities and increased earnings, many (read: most) MBA graduates face a reality that looks an awful lot like more of the same, albeit, with a bit more free time.
There will be ceremonies and speeches and parties, and rounds of drinks offered up by coworkers at local watering holes. Bosses will congratulate the new graduates, and then June will melt into July, and in many cases, not much will change for the now former students.
For those who find themselves facing a post-school return to corporate or professional normalcy, without the hoped-for “pop” from the degree, here are some thoughts on coping and capitalizing:
10 Key Do’s and Don’ts for Newly Minted MBAs:
1. Do accept that your boss views you the same on the Monday after graduation as she did last Friday. Nothing has fundamentally changed about you in her mind. Sorry, but there’s no immediate mantle of legitimacy or wisdom bestowed upon you as you shake hands and grab the diploma. You’re a work-in-process, just like the rest of us.
2. Do congratulate yourself for having the intestinal fortitude it takes to complete your degree while working, balancing family responsibilities and all of the other challenges of life. Believe it or not, your current and many future bosses will view your accomplishment not so much as remarkable or rare, but rather as a sign of your tenacity and ability to stay-the-course.
3. Do make the effort to connect with as many of your fellow students as possible on LinkedIn. You share a lifetime bond with your MBA classmates and if properly cultivated, this portion of your network will be there to refer, hire, recruit or support your efforts for your entire career. Of course, you are there to support your classmates as well.
4. Don’t expect a promotion just because of the degree. It happens, but it’s not as common as you might have anticipated. The almost immediate post-MBA promotions are most often an outcome of a development program already in-place coupled with the recognition that the timing is right to task you with more. Every boss knows that the new MBA will toy with the idea of moving to greener ($) pastures, however, if you weren’t on the high-potential or fast-tack list prior to the degree, the sheepskin won’t make much of a difference in the current environment. Translation, you’ll have to navigate your own way up or out.
5. Do use the milestone as an opportunity to work with your boss and refresh your professional development plan. It’s a great time to sit down with your boss and update or create a professional development plan. There’s every reason for you to assert that you can and want to do more for the firm, and every civilized boss will recognize the need to start feeding this fresh appetite or risk losing you.
6. Don’t even remotely hint that unless you are promoted you are gone. It’s time to show what you can do, not show that after 3 years and $150,000, you’ve grown arrogant.
7. Do accept that the completion of your MBA is the beginning of your next apprenticeship as a leader and a professional. Grad school doesn’t teach you how to lead, nor does it turn you into a great strategist, a future CEO or a management innovator. You’ve apprenticed on the tools…mostly the science of management and you’ve got a license to begin applying them. The real work of learning to lead and learning how to create value for your stakeholders has just begun.
8. Do recognize that your primary task is how to make yourself more valuable to everyone around you. Now that you are no longer distracted by school, it’s time to answer, “What have you done for us lately?” Accomplishments are the currency of the realm, not degrees!
9. Do take responsibility for developing your own professional brand. In a world where we all own our own brand, take responsibility to cultivate and manage your brand by using the tools readily available to all of us. Start a professional blog. Contribute to articles. Seek out leadership opportunities at work and in your private life and use tools like LinkedIn, your own personal website and others that emerge over time to showcase your professional value.
10. Don’t shirk your responsibility to continue learning. Too many professionals complete the degree and then go decades without investing in their on-going development. Keep reading. Start writing. Pursue training and development around leadership, strategy or in your chosen discipline. Sign-on to teach as a means of giving back. Just don’t let the gray matter rest for too long. It needs to be stimulated and fed.
The Bottom-Line for Now:
Congratulations! I’ll buy the first round and then tomorrow, we’ve got to figure out how to thump competitors and survive and thrive in this incredibly complex and fast-moving world. Sure hope you paid attention. Now show me what you’ve learned!
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An ideal book for anyone starting out in leadership: Practical Lessons in Leadership by Art Petty and Rich Petro.