Think Macro: How MBA Students Can Learn to See the Bigger Picture in Their Careers

Fall is a time when many college and MBA students are interviewing for post-graduation, full-time employment opportunities. The questions I often get asked by MBA students are...

Last week, my visit to Cornell marked the 12th consecutive year that Warren Ellish, Founder and CEO of Ellish Marketing Group and Visiting Senior Lecturer at the Johnson Graduate School of Management at Cornell University, held the Marketing Executive Coaching Program (MECP). The program is an opportunity for marketing alumni and fellow marketing executives to mentor current MBA and Cornell College of Business students on campus.  

Fall is a time when many college and MBA students are interviewing for post-graduation, full-time employment opportunities. The questions I often get asked by MBA students are: 

  • Should I go into CPG or into the Tech industry? 
  • Should I choose company X or company Y? 
  • Should I take a job in Function A or Function B, from product management, to brand marketing, to client management, etc.? 

It is important to think beyond these types of questions because careers are non-linear. So here are my five tips for the graduating MBA class, and for those who are considering a job or career change. 

1.  Be intentional in your career planning. 

A student will likely think of his or her career at a micro rather than a macro level. Students invest so much time and money into their education that they may make decisions based on popular opinion, prestige, reputation, salary, etc. While these facets are important, thinking more strategically (at a macro level) about the direction of your career will add a higher degree of confidence to your decisions.   

2. Keep your career roadmap directional. 

Having a career roadmap is great, but do not be so rigid in following it that you miss out on emerging possibilities. Many major brands and disruptors did not even exist 25 years ago (e.g. Amazon, Facebook, Google) or some 10 years ago (Uber, Airbnb). Digital transformation, across all industries and functions, is allowing for a new set of interesting roles such as Data Scientist or Artificial Intelligence (AI) Researcher. 

3. Know yourself. 

An important part of your career journey is in knowing who you are and being the best version of yourself. Over time, you will discover your core strengths (superpowers) and the kinds of cultures and environments that will enable you to be your best self. Make note of those attributes. They add to your “database” to help you make smarter choices in the future. 

4. Culture is even more important than your job choice. 

When you are interviewing with a company, it is a two-way street. It is not just about the company interviewing you for a role; you are also interviewing them for the right fit. Does the company have a mission that you feel passionate about? Does the culture feel good to you?  Ask the interviewers how they would describe the company culture and ask yourself whether those qualities align with what you are looking for.   

5. Build friendships that last. 

The MECP at Cornell was started by Warren Ellish and four of his early colleagues at Frito-Lay to ‘pay it forward’ and to develop the next generation of marketing executives. In fact, former Frito-Lay executives still make up the largest group within MECP. It has grown so much, in terms of the number of participating executives and the number of students receiving coaching. I love seeing this reunion of former classmates and colleagues. The friendships that you build over the years, from classmates to colleagues, are what make your journey so unique and memorable. 

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