Vision, Vision, Vision. This must be the new mantra of today’s job seekers, says Tim Butler, co-founder of CareerLeader, LLP and director of MBA career development programs at Harvard Business School.
While business schools have long advised students and professionals to develop a career vision, it’s never been more important to “dream deeply and use the dream more skillfully,” Butler says.
As the global recession intensifies and well-paying jobs become scarcer, having a strong, clear vision will enable new job seekers to find alternative pathways to reach their goals in the increasingly likely event their first or second choices are blocked. Even though newly minted MBA graduates have just completed a rigorous education program, Butler reminds us that they still have a lot to learn. If they are very thoughtful about what they need to learn and where they can get the learning—if they can zero in on learning opportunities even if they are not within the optimal opportunity—they will have a tremendous advantage.
“In this job market, you may not be able to find the job you were hoping for, but if you know exactly what skills you need to pick up on the way to achieving your vision, you will have more flexibility,” Butler says. Having a vision also translates into much more success in the job interview. “Employers want to be able to see that you’re authentic, that you’ve really thought about how this job links with your vision and why you are the right person for the job.”
As major industries restructure before our eyes, and long-standing value propositions no longer hold, Butler expects that the way people think about business careers will dramatically change. Thus, he urges students and new graduates to appreciate the opportunities to be found in this time of change and uncertainty—even though they may be hard to see.
“New entities will emerge, and new ways of getting work accomplished will be invented over the next few years,” he predicts. “A lot of people who might have been considering a career in financial services, for instance, will not enter that field, but those who do will be on the ground floor of a whole new way of doing business.”
The energy industry is another tremendous area of opportunity. “No longer is it just a buzz word, but alternative energy has become a global priority, presenting unprecedented possibilities for those working in all areas of the industry—from the big oil and gas players to emerging new technology companies and venture capitalists.”
Hardship also has a way of challenging people to do better. “Think about the level of uncertainty, the need to make decisions with little information, an atmosphere of fear,” Butler says. “Managers are going to have to show true grit. They have to be smart, authentic, visionary, flexible and willing to make tough decisions. It’s going to be a real proving ground.”
Butler already senses a great deal of excitement among the MBA students he works with at Harvard. “I have a lot of optimism about the kinds of contributions MBAs will make in the coming years,” he says.
“We’ve all seen the role that greed has played in the current situation, and some amount of that is always going to be there; but students are, more than ever, really trying to figure out where they will make their contribution in the world, how they will have an impact.”
Admitting he’s deeply biased about the issue, Butler believes that even as budget concerns loom, now is the time to invest more in career services. It’s of the essence that students engage in some serious self-assessment, he reiterates. “Schools need to think about the type of personal attention they are giving to their students: First, because a thoroughly developed vision is what students need to be successful in a much more competitive job market; and second, because personal attention is what strengthens the bonds between students and their schools.”
It’s an investment that will pay off on both sides of the equation.