Career Development 101: Love the Industry you're in and Be an Expert

There is without a doubt a stereotype for recent MBA grads – folks who are ambitious, smart, hard-working, but oftentimes lack experience or domain knowledge. Looking around and at myself, I think this is somewhat true, but there are steps to take to quickly be treated as a peer among veterans in the industry of your post-MBA career.

Here’s what you gotta do.

This is the 5th and final post in my series, Career Development 101, tailored specifically for professionals with MBAs, doing their MBA, or thinking of doing an MBA.

Read like crazy after the MBA

Imagine you were starting your first day as a surgeon and your whole team was waiting for you. The nurses have cleaned the patient up, and the anesthesiologist has fully sedated the patient. You walk in there and start mumbling, “Uh, nurse, could you hand me that pointy looking thing? No, not that one, the bigger one... Yeah, that’s the one… Let’s see… what does this do again?”

Sure, the MBA equips you with general business skills, but you definitely don’t want to be the recent MBA grad that doesn’t know anything specific.

Here’s the thing about industry-specific coursework in MBA programs – by the time anything becomes a case or makes it into a text book, it’s already outdated. That’s not to say that the general concept is useless, it’s just not directly applicable in your everyday role after the MBA.

This leaves you with a gap in knowledge right after the MBA. Sure, for the first few weeks or months, your colleagues might just give you a pass since you have the “new card” in hand. But the ambitious and hardworking MBA shouldn’t just stop there.

There are three things you should read post-MBA: 

1) Latest internal strategic documents and slide decks that are relevant to your work 

This is a good place to start as it allows you to put your work in the context of the entire company’s strategy. It also allows you to get the company’s jargon and acronyms down so you start understanding and using the right terminology.

Start by reaching out to your manager and team mates to see if you can find some decks or memos related to this. Company press releases are also a great place to start. In addition, people in strategy roles or market research either collect, or are authors of, these documents and it is good meeting with them early on.

This is probably the single most important thing for a new hire to do in order to enhance leadership performance. As I’ve discussed earlier, if you don’t know specifically how your company is maneuvering in your industry to beat competitors, then you cannot justify the importance of your work and will find it difficult to network or lead meetings effectively.

2) Any news related to current or future competitors in your industry or product type 

This is kind of a no-brainer. Within a few months, plan to have a full understanding of your direct competitors and how their strategy differs from your company’s. Pick your favorite industry newsletters and try to read a few a week (here are a few for the biopharma industry). Most MBAs should be doing this in school anyway so I won’t spend too much time here. The important thing is to actually spend time reading and not just collecting emails.

3) Analysis by well-known folks in your industry 

Again, not much to say here. A good idea is to follow these folks on LinkedIn or Twitter or any specific blogs or columns they may hold on major news sites. Usually if you have a question related to their articles they’ll respond and it’s a great learning experience.

Apply what you read 

If you’re like me, you struggle to find the time to actually sit down and read stuff. It got bad enough for me that I blocked 2 hours on Friday afternoons just to catch up on reading as part of a resolution for 2016. I found one way to get the most of your reading time is to not just read but to think and apply.

Basically it’s the difference between “hmm, that’s interesting” and “based on that, I should think about this”. There’s a ton of random crap published each day that is interesting but just isn’t applicable to what you do. Those are the ones you should skip but take your time with the ones that are relevant.
It’s both an external and internal check that you actually are in the right place with your career choice. 
Don’t just read, but also think. I’ll give a personal example. Healthcare payment models are incredibly complex and are constantly evolving. I started reading up on blog posts and articles about this, and even reached out to a few authors to clarify concepts/data. Combined with osmosis with internal colleagues I’ve finally gotten my head around this topic and how it applies to the company’s strategies and tactics.

Talk to people 

If you have a burning question, just ask. I’d imagine most companies have an open door policy these days and I think those that have collaborative cultures are receptive to this. Obviously, the quality of your question will determine the quality of the response (and whether you annoy the other person), so exhaust other venues first (like the ones listed above).
I think this is a good Litmus test for passion – if you find it difficult to learn deeply in your industry quickly then you may not like the line of work enough. 
Asking questions that are strategic in nature and having discussions that contain no clear answer indicate that you are a person that is driven by passion and curiosity. This is super important and you should find an industry or role that has this effect on you. It’s both an external and internal check that you actually are in the right place with your career choice. Conferences are also great places to discuss cutting edge topics and grow the depth of your industry knowledge.

Internalize, but never repeat MBA frameworks 

Stuff like Porter’s Five Forces, the 3C’s or 4P’s of Marketing are great frameworks to have in mind and good for first year MBA coursework. However, never, ever repeat them in your full time role after the MBA, or risk getting stereotyped as one of those “MBA” types with no real world experience.

Rather, internalize these basic business and analytical frameworks such that they become automatic as you consider the decisions businesses in your industry are making. When you read stuff, the business rationale and trade-offs should be easily evident. Anyone that passes their first year MBA strategy course technically should be able to do this (and should enjoy doing it).

If you don’t become an industry expert quickly, then you probably don’t like your industry enough You’ve all heard famous people say the same thing – basically find something you absolutely love and own the crap out of it. In other words, don't ever settle for something you don't love.

I think this is a good Litmus test for passion – if you find it difficult to learn deeply in your industry quickly (say in 6 months post-MBA) then you may not like the line of work enough. I genuinely believe that everyone has a gift for a particular type of work and it’s all about finding that right match.

Basically – just find an industry you love – and dig in.




This is the 5th and final post in my series, Career Development 101, tailored specifically for professionals with MBAs, doing their MBA, or thinking of doing an MBA.


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