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Uncertain Beginnings: Find Your Path through Your Passion

Elissa Ellis Sangster: Hello and welcome to our first Career Lab podcast. I’m Elissa Ellis, Director of the Forté Foundation. At our recent event in Los Angeles, a panel of business leaders spoke with our audience of undergrads about a career in business.

I came here because my friend invited me and she said it was going to be a lot of strong women. I’m a bit of a feminist, so I wanted to talk to some of the women that were here, find a relaxed environment where you could just talk to women on a one-on-one personal basis.

Talk about doing an MBA. It’s something that I had never considered before, but just the prospects of breaking into this field or even the fact that you can go straight out of school. It’s just something I didn’t know at all, so that was really interesting.

The one thing and the main thing that I hoped it would do is allow me to be able to compete with other individuals within a company, allow me to grow more.

Elissa: One of the surprising things that we heard from our speakers was that they couldn’t have guessed where their careers would take them.

Katherine Bair Desmond: I’m Katherine Bair Desmond. I’m the manager of Women’s Recruiting Initiatives for McKinsey & Company in North America. I was an English and Psychology major. When I was going into my senior year, I spent my summer doing marketing with Coca-Cola in Atlanta where I grew up, and had such a positive experience. Realized that actually business, which I’d always thought was just boring and what my dad did, actually might be really, really interesting. I’ve decided that, that was what I wanted to do after I graduated.

I definitely had not anticipated going into business and I don’t think I really understood what business was when I was in college. I went to a liberal arts school, I studied English Psychology and I spent my free time hanging out in the theater. It just wasn’t an area that I knew anything about. I think that first experience through that summer internship opened my eyes to the fact that actually business might be really exciting and there was so much I didn’t know about it, and so much I wanted to learn about it, that I decided I’d give it a go.

Elissa: Katherine wasn’t the only one who reported that her career path took her by surprise. Rodney Craig is the Director at Merrill Lynch Capital in the Healthcare Leveraged Finance Group. We asked Rodney whether he could have predicted where he would end up.

Rodney Craig: Never. I had no knowledge of investment banking really prior to my senior year at USC. I went to USC undergrad and I never would have guessed that I would wind up working at Merrill Lynch providing finance and for leveraged buyout, so it’s been a pretty good ride.

Elissa: Rodney also talked to our audience about his experience in business school.

Rodney: It was a lot of fun. It was a great group of people, it’s very competitive, a lot of very intelligent people. I think that it was probably the best two year of my life because I was more mature, I knew what I wanted to do going into business. Then, for me, business school validated my goals of going into finance, so it was a great experience for me.

Elissa: Eric Chambers of the Graduate Management Admissions Council gave the same advice that we heard from some of our other speakers. He said the number one thing you can do to help your career is identify what you’re passionate about.

Eric Chambers: The advice I’d give to somebody that’s trying to figure out who they are and what they’re about is that … If life is a journey and you’re constantly re-evaluating who am I, what am I about, what do I enjoy doing, what don’t I enjoy doing, what do I need to move onto the things that I want to go to, I think what people need to do is to look at patterns in their life.

They need to look at what kinds of things have they gravitated towards, what kind of extracurricular activities, what kind of people, what kind of challenges because in any position, especially when you’re successful, you’re provided with numerous opportunities to go down this road or go down that road, or go down that road. The question is, which one did you follow, what did you gravitate towards.

Elissa: Eric talks to hundreds of potential MBA students every year and he has some advice about what makes an attractive candidate.

Eric: The MBA experience is such a unique experience. It’s such a wonderful time in your life to invest in yourself and to push these passions that you have. I think those students who are self-aware, then they can let that passion come out, and they do take those programs for everything they’re worth. There’s nothing more attractive than a candidate like that if they’re applying for admission and it’s certainly nothing more attractive than having a student like that in the classroom or to have as a classmate.

I think there’s lots of great stories about people pursuing the MBA and how it completely changed their life. A good example is a woman that I know who was a chemist in college, and was very passionate about chemistry. Her father was a chemist. Her great-grandfather was a chemist. She really loved being a scientist and loved chemistry, went on to get her doctorate in chemistry. Then went and, as normal, go work for a company where you’re doing research in chemistry.

She was in the lab and doing some really great things, but after a while she started to ask questions about what’s going on in those other rooms, and why are we doing the kind of research that we’re doing, where is all this leading to, and who are our competitors, and what are they doing She started to realize that she didn’t want to be in the lab for the rest of her life. She’s passionate about, again, the research and about science, but wanted a different challenge. Took a bit of a leap and applied to a part-time MBA program.

What was neat about was that her boss started to see this and then approached her about a position that they had, that opened up. That was sort of a sales and marketing position, and also a way to look at what are our competitors out there, what are they doing, who should we be talking to, who should we be presenting our products to, to hopefully keep this company going. Really enjoyed that. Ended up moving out of the lab. Then ultimately, after graduating from the MBA program, worked for another chemistry firm, so stayed in chemistry, but it was in the competitive intelligence position.

Her job is to analyze all the products and services that are being used and are being developed by other chemistry companies, and to look at her own company and say, “Well, what are we offering? Are we doing it better? Are we offering unique services?” She loves it. There’s no way that she would have ended up in the position she’s in without having gone through the MBA.

Elissa: In our second episode, we’re going to hear some advice from author, Lindsey Pollak, about how to get your career started. Lindsey shares her tips for what to do and what to avoid when you’re starting out.

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.

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