In the final episode of the Career Lab podcast series, we talk to Elizabeth Vale, managing director at Morgan Stanley to get her advice on building and sustaining a career. We also hear from Karen Le Vert about launching her own business and a few current and recent MBA students, who describe the route they took to business school and beyond.
Elizabeth Vale: I would ask questions like who has been successful in this role? What are models which have been a good fit here? What training, what gifts combined to make a person successful in this role?
Elissa Sangster: Hello and welcome to episode three of the Career Lab podcast. That was Elizabeth Vale, Managing Director at Morgan Stanley. We asked Elizabeth what questions she would advise asking of a perspective employer. After all, now is the season when many college seniors are about to graduate and commit to their first job.
Elizabeth: I would ask also about a career path. I think one frustration with many jobs I’ve been in has been you really need to create your own career path. Is there a logical progression? Is there the ability to move around? Very often people get stuck and I think you want to make sure that the firm generally endorses multiple experiences. So I think that’s not a bad question at all to ask and perfectly appropriate.
Host: This episode, we ask some of our Career Lab speakers for their top tips for women who are just about to enter the job market. They all had one refrain in common: you don’t have to figure it all out ahead of time. But they also had some more tactical advice based on their own early career experiences.
Karen LeVert: I’m Karen LeVert. I’m the CEO of Southeast TechInventures, and I co-founded the company about three and a half years ago. And the company works with inventors that are in the university. They feel they have an idea with commercial potential, but not necessarily the business expertise to get it into the marketplace.
Elissa: We asked Karen for her advice for women who know they want to go the entrepreneurial route.
Karen: One of the main things in preparation is knowing thyself. When you go into business on your own, you start by yourself a lot of times. Sometimes you have one or two other people around you, but you have to learn where your strengths are, and I’ll call them growth edges, to where you need to compliment yourself. Secondly, it’s always better to get into something where you have some background about the market that you’re going to be in. Businesses have high failure rates for money, for not approaching the market correctly, not really understanding the customer, so you can give yourself a better chance of success if you put some of those things in your favor.
Elissa: Karen is one of our many speakers who decided at some point in her career that an MBA would give her the edge she needed to accomplish her goals.
Karen: I wasn’t sure actually right when I graduated that I would get an MBA. I started eight years after I was out of school. I don’t think that you necessarily have to have an MBA to be successful in business, but I learned a lot about business plans and the financial side of the business so at least you could build forecasts and see if you’re meeting those. And again, you don’t need an MBA for that, but it was helpful that way.
Elissa: Some of our other speakers also talked about the decision to get an MBA and at what point in their careers. Damali Rhett is a recent graduate of the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth. Today she works for Deloitte Consulting.
Damali Rhett: I think for me the timing was good. I’d been at my job for three years. I did have a mentor who was the VP of my job who was working on getting his actually Executive MBA from Columbia, and so I sat down and really talked to him. From there, I just started exploring and asking questions. So I started researching schools. I loved it. I think everybody taking a two-year break and they’re so excited. We call it reverting back to your college days, but everybody’s so excited. It definitely was an adjustment to sitting in class and actually having assignments due and taking tests, but because everybody’s going through it at the same time, your whole class is supporting you. Your study group had been in the working world before. People are coming from different countries. It was just so much fun, and just the people that I met were just so wonderful and so supportive. I was most surprised by how diverse the interests are. We had people who wanted to do non-profit work. We had people who wanted to do real estate. We had people who wanted to do just all kinds of things. It’s not just one kind of person in the mold.
I think one of the good things about business school is that you are given an opportunity to try a lot of things. You do have to go in with a plan. So I knew I wanted to try an international experience. I knew I wanted to do some sort of voluntary consulting project, and I knew Tuck has a program called Field Study in International Business, and so I knew I wanted to do that. I’m working in the energy industry as a consultant, and that was a direct relation of the field study international business that I did. I knew that I have a passion for international relations, and that was a direct result of me being able to go to France on exchange for three months. And so I do think business school does offer you the opportunity but I think given the short period of time, because you don’t have four years like you have in undergrad, you don’t even have three years, you really have to have an idea of what are the things I want to try to see if I like them.
Elissa: For women thinking about a career in business, timing is key. Business schools want students with real world experience, but that doesn’t mean you have to follow a set path between college and grad school. Katherine Marcella just finished her first year of graduate school at Wharton.
Katherine Marcella: Honestly, I’d had two different careers before even coming to business school. So I’d been in the workforce since 2002 when I graduated. I entered into a healthcare consulting firm doing marketing and new business development. I did that for about a year and a half. I learned a lot. From there I ended up in federal management consulting. I have three major pieces of advice just from what I’ve learned in my four years working and now my first year in grad school.
The first one is that you don’t have to commit to a job your first year out of school, like a specific job for the rest of your life. Your early 20’s to mid-20’s is your time to experiment and take on a lot of different roles and test things out. I mean I had two totally different careers before coming here and I learned so much in both of them and it was very valuable. And I didn’t want to do either of them for the rest of my life, but I wouldn’t give what I have experienced at those jobs back for the world, so I think just knowing that you don’t have to find your dream job at day one. I think if you’ve been trying to take on a different variety of jobs to try to figure out what your dream job is that you’ll eventually aspire to hopefully within the next 10 to 20 years.
I think the second piece of advice is that you really need to find a mentor within the company. Whether that’s a mentor that you’re assigned to, or a peer mentor, maybe it’s your manager, but really finding someone who has more seniority than you. They know the political scenes. They’re familiar with different processes. They can help you. They’ll be your advocate. They’ll help endorse you.
And then the third piece of advice I would say is to ask for help. Network, take advantage of the networks. I know I sent out a few emails to alumni from my undergrad and they love to help. So I think really taking advantage and not being scared, having the confidence to email people. Yeah, you’re not going to get 100% response rate. People are really busy, but even if it’s just finding that one person who’s going to speak with you about their job, what they’ve done, and maybe they do have an opening at their firm or maybe their friend does and just really educating yourself, taking the initiative to speak with people, and to learn.
Elissa: Jordan Bookey, who graduates this spring with an MBA from Wharton echos the same advice.
Jordan Bookey: In terms of just picking your first job and advice for picking your first job, I told myself this and I would tell any young women or young person out of college that you should take the job in the thing that you were really passionate about. You naturally do better because you’re naturally excited about it, and you want to put in all of your effort, and so often times I think we can get very caught up in what other people perceive to be the best first job or this or that. So I think number one is really choosing something that you’re generally interested in, and number two is picking a place where you like the people. Make sure that you like the people that interview you, make sure that you like the people around you, and I think that will take you very far cause in your first job especially you spend quite a bit of time with your friends and colleagues at the office or whatever type of work environment you have.
Elissa: Great advice from all of our speakers, and I want to thank them for appearing in our Career Lab events around the country over the last few months. To learn more about the Career Lab, visit fortefoundation.org. And for those of you graduating this spring, we wish you the best of luck wherever your career takes you. If you’re interested in hearing more, check out our Forte Forum podcast, which features an extended interview with Elizabeth Vale about how she built her career at Morgan Stanley over 25 years. You’ll find it at fortefoundation.org. This podcast is sponsored by the Graduate Management Admissions Council. Visit mba.com for more information about the GMAT, test preparation, careers in business, and finding the right school for you.