MBA Summer Blues

You are a newly minted MBA. You don't have a job. You are not alone. Here's what you should do.

More than 100,000 MBAs graduated from business schools across the country this spring, and while many of them walked away with a sheepskin — some graduated without a job or internship.

Seven business schools contacted by Fast Company indicated that 60-85 percent of their MBAs received job offers upon graduating. That is a higher percentage than last year, and job placement officials say the job market has largely rebounded from the 2001-2003 slump. While hiring by manufacturing firms has stayed stagnant, job placement has increased in investment banking, consulting, and hedge funds.

That's well and good, but what about those who didn't immediately trade their mortar board for the boardroom? The reasons why some recent grads didn't get jobs vary. Some new MBA's limit their searches geographically to stay close to friends and family. Some hope to switch industries, and others even turned down offers and opportunities that didn't meet their aspirations and expectations.

Whatever the reason, if you just graduated but find yourself with a summer full of perhaps unwelcome free time, there are still some solid steps you can take this summer. Don't wait until someone asks you what you did last summer. Here's what you should be doing — now.

Work Your New — and Old — Network

You may have just graduated, but it's never too early to tap into the professional network formed by your graduating classmates and other alumni resources. Recent graduates should contact alumni from their undergraduate schools, as well as B-school, and reach out to classmates who worked at interesting companies before they sought an MBA, says Julie Morton, associate dean of MBA career services at the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business.

Business people should network continuously — not just when they need work, she says. Maintaining ongoing relationships can be more productive — and fun — than cold calling people solely when you're in between projects. "One of the mistakes students make is to ask, 'Do you have a job for me now?'" Morton says. "Networking is about building rapprochement and relationships so that you have contacts and connections."

Find Your Focus

Throughout business school, students are bombarded with information about a myriad of industries and practices: corporate finance, investment banking, sales and marketing, manufacturing, and technology development. It's easy to get distracted and forget what you really want to do.

Lewis Lin, a 26-year-old graduate of the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, says that it's important to keep focus. Before going to business school, Lin earned a computer science degree at Stanford, worked at Citigroup and CPlane in Sunnyvale, Calif., and was a product manager at Sun Microsystems' networking hardware group. He decided to go to Kellogg — and to intern at Microsoft last summer — to learn more about marketing. Both experiences helped reinforce his focus — and helped him land a product management job at Microsoft. "For me, it's high-tech or consulting," Lin says.

David Lenze, director of MBA corporate relations at the Penn State Smeal MBA Program, adds that focusing your job search can help you free up time to improve your skills. If you apply for an international position, focus on a second language. And improve your interview skills before you apply for your first job. "It is a rare opportunity to have the time to do this," Lenze says.

Do More Homework

Once you pinpoint your focus, it's time to do more homework about the industries and companies in which you want to find work. Recent graduates should make a weekly action plan complete with goals and deadlines, says Regina Resnick, assistant dean and director of the office of MBA career services at Columbia Business School. "Make a list of companies you want to work for, do research on them and respond to their job listings," Resnick says.

If you care about where you live as well as where you work, use the summer months to travel to cities you want to work in, suggests Melissa Carlson, associate director of career development at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College. Don't limit your visits to the amount of time you might be in town for an interview. "Get out there and start talking to people," Carlson says.

Always Be on Call

Jobs can become available unexpectedly. Your call could come at any time. When it does, will you be ready? After two grueling years in business school, recent grads may deserve a break, but before you book that flight to Australia, make sure you can still be reached while in transit.

Wenning Xing, a new Columbia MBA, was on a cruise ship in the Caribbean Sea when he got an email from the Hong Kong branch of a multinational investment bank last Thanksgiving. Company executives wanted to schedule a job interview by telephone, and Xing managed to contact 10 company leaders using the ship's satellite phone. The interviews paid off; the bank made him an offer he turned down to take a position in New York. And Xing paid off, too: The satellite phone bill neared $1,000.

To prepare for cold calls, develop a clear and compelling story about yourself, your experience, and your goals. "Help recruiters connect the dots," suggested Carlson, of Dartmouth. "And present yourself in the best possible light."

Never Settle

Eager as you may be to land a job, don't jump at the first opening that comes up. Step back, take a breath, and gauge whether it's really what you want in terms of function and location. "Don't panic," says Morton, of the University of Chicago.

One recent graduate Morton worked with turned down an offer from a Boston-based company because he planned to relocate to Los Angeles, where his wife lived. After moving, he built a new professional network in his adopted hometown — and landed a consulting job this spring. "Don't let the difficulty in finding a job drive you to accept a job that's wrong for you," says Lenze from Penn State. "The goal is to find the right job."

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