By Ashwath Muralidharan ‘15
A few days ago, as I sat cramped between two classmates on the long flight back from Patagonia, I became engrossed in Eric Ries’ bestseller, “The Lean Startup”. Ries advocates that startups follow a deliberate and iterative process of building, measuring, and learning, while bringing new products to market. Since startups operate under conditions of extreme uncertainty, even the best thought out strategic plans are unlikely to be relevant when confronted with market realities. Instead, frequent hypothesis-driven “validated learning” will allow entrepreneurs to quickly understand what works and what doesn’t, and “pivot” in a new direction.
I started to ponder how Lean Startup principles could be applied to career management, particularly in business school. Despite the amazing resources Career Services provides, it is simply not possible to discover one’s career passion in a few weeks during orientation. Additionally, for those just starting out in business school it is not always obvious what our unique competitive advantage is. Finally, our long-term careers are fraught with uncertainty, and innovation-driven disruption may render the hot industries and jobs of today extinct. A deliberate information-seeking strategy to steer our careers in the face of these looming questions could be the difference between long-term career satisfaction and a mid-life crisis.
So how can we more rapidly uncover critical information about our longer-term interests, unique advantages, and future career prospects when the structured nature of on-campus recruiting often does not permit it? First, we can choose to take a few challenging classes outside of our planned concentrations and initial areas of consideration. Lab classes are particularly useful as they are often a real substitute for internships. Performance in these classes can be a valuable indicator of our abilities in certain fields. Second, we can even work part-time and do projects for professors during the quarter. Third, we can be deliberate about setting up networking conversations with alumni, professors, and industry experts even when we do not plan to work in those fields immediately after graduation.
These recommendations are relevant regardless of whether your Plan A worked out. I’ve known more than a few classmates who landed great internships during their first year and continued to challenge their assumptions and choices even after signing on the dotted line.
I personally started at Booth intending to concentrate in Strategic Management and being convinced that I wanted to work in consulting. I soon discovered a passion for big analytics when I took Data Mining and the Healthcare Analytics Lab purely out of curiosity. Subsequently, my part-time work at an artificial intelligence and analytics startup in Chicago helped me discover that product management might be the right fit for me. Countless networking phone conversations helped me gain critical perspectives on careers in data science. After completing my summer internship in consulting, my experience recruiting with a number of firms across sectors suggest that my skills and experience might be more valued elsewhere.
Only time will tell whether my experimental mindset in business school was worth it. But I certainly won’t die wondering what could have been.
Ashwath is a 2nd year student and Career Advisor. He explored post-MBA careers in economic development, consulting and technology, and will ultimately be working in product management after graduation.