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HBS Alum Series: Q&A with Dr. Mark Albion HBS/GSAS Class of 1981

albionDr. Mark Albion was the first of our HBS Alum interview series and if every interview went as smoothly as his did then we’d be lucky writers. His love of life and helping people determine their unique contribution is inspiring and would no doubt make you question how you navigate career choices and hopefully you don’t live a deferred life plan but choose to seize the day. His message can summed up in the “Good Life” parable.

As one of the top branding experts in the country while teaching at HBS, he is now well known as the “Purpose Guy”. He holds a degree in Economics from Harvard College and an MA/MBA as well as a joint PhD in Business Economics from Harvard Business School and the Graduate School of Arts & Sciences. He has authored seven books, including the popular “More Than Money: Questions Every MBA Needs to Answer: Redefining Risk and Reward for a Life of Purpose”, and he is the founder of Net Impact and currently runs MTM Careers with Dr. Mrim Boutla.

Find out more about how his post-HBS career changed the way he does business:

What was your experience like at HBS & how did it affect the way you do business?

What was great about my HBS experience was the vast amount of people from different backgrounds, it was a great place to exchange different perspectives. A friend of mine was asked “what did you get out of a Harvard MBA” and he said it gave him a collective knowledge base he could always tap from; when he wants to make a decision he can call 10 of his best friends from HBS and ask them what they would do and that helps him get perspective.

HBS gives a methodology on how to make decisions and we utilize that at  MTM Careers through our triple fit framework. The same job can be a dream job for one person and a nightmare for another.  It all depends on a person’s triple fit:

(1) A fit between the person’s skill set and what is required to succeed on the job.

(2) A fit between the person’s career and life priorities and organizational culture (i.e. people and behaviors present in an entry, whether a company, a social enterprise, nonprofit, or government agency);

(3) A fit between the person’s impact areas of interest and an organization’s ‘raison d’etre’.

One of the most important things you can do while at HBS is to be clear about your triple fit so that you can discern the work environment that is right for your unique priorities and skill set. For example, Roosevelt Thomas who taught an Organizational Behavior class at HBS had asked in class one day, “who has fired someone and what was it like?”. A student who had worked at Xerox replied, “ it was grueling”, another classmate from Argentina stated as a matter of fact, how he had fired 1000 people over the course of a year but it was not a big deal. It all boiled down to culture. The Argentinian was not being cruel it was just a different culture; always know what organizational culture is best for you. It is critical you know what your values are because it will help you determine the people you want to work with.

What are some things you wish someone told you during recruiting season?

One of the things I wish I had known and is now one of my well known rules is “don’t get really good at what you dowell-knowno do”. It is called being a conflicted achiever, an example would be a person who is naturally gifted with numbers but is not necessarily excited about them. You want to be proactive in developing skills that you enjoy and want to expand in.

Secondly, everyone spends time trying to position themselves as a good fit for the different companies recruiting on campus. But, if you really want to get a job you would love then you have to spend more time engaging with fewer companies, really get to know what they are are about and what they need so you can tailor yourself to meet it. Your job is to make the company’s job easier. And your job right out of business school is not to be the head of the company, you are being hired for marketing, finance etc, be clear about what you are being hired for and how you are going to add value to the company, always do your research.

The clearer you are about your triple fit the better you will be at recognizing and discerning which organizations are a better fit for you.  This will allow you to tailor your networking pitch, LinkedIn summary, resume and cover letter, as well as become more effective at highlighting your fit with specific organizations when interviewing. You will apply for fewer positions, but you will be more effective at articulating your fit with each of them, making you more effective at converting applications into interviews, and interviews into offers.  For example, when I walk into a company they know that is what my brand is, I am the “purpose guy”, that means less companies are going to hire me but the ones that do would be a better fit.

A big part of a brand is developing a company that people are really excited to go to work each day and they are motivated and feel respected. So the three main things you should remember are:

1. don’t get really good at what you don’t want to do

2. Be clear on what you do want to do

3. Understand what the company needs so you can pull it all together and turn your values into value.

As an EC how do you choose a less lucrative career path with the financial burdens or expectations from others?

I get hundreds of emails daily and it usually boils down to a couple questions and this particular question is the most common. There are 3 risks that you go through when you are taking a job; economic risk, performance risk and psycho-social risk. Economic Risk is the one laid out in this question; how can I take a job if it makes a lot less money? Question really should be “is the work you are performing meaningful?” How close are you to really being broke? If the economic risk is a huge part of your decision making process then go after the money just don’t get stuck. You could make less money by doing things you really love, you simply have to learn to live with less money. There are many sustainable businesses that are for profit which means the difference in pay is not astronomical. Sadly, you don’t see about 70% of the jobs available at these sustainable companies because they do not typically recruit at HBS. However, you can get access to them at MTM Careers because we designed our program to make the purpose/impact/sustainable career job searches as easy as a traditional job search.

What is the most important advice you can give a newly minted HBS grad?

Peter Drucker used to say “if your first job choice out of school is right you are either stupid or plain unbelievably lucky”. Truth is you find out where you fit in by not fitting in. Try to make the best choice right now for your current priorities, which could be paying off loans faster, being close to family, traveling etc. The first job choice doesn’t have to be the exact right choice, simply try to make it align with your values.Your priorities and impact area choices will change over time, and that is fine. However, as my business partner Dr. Mrim Boutla would say, “there are many ways to skin a cow”, even though you can change your mind at any time, you need to be crystal clear about your triple fit and networking pitch at all times. There are so many phenomenal speakers that come to HBS each term which means you have opportunities to engage with different facets of people and you should also connect with the alumni group because they have an endless knowledge base which can help you navigate your career. By being clear about your own unique triple fit, you can discern which leader to connect with and which presentations to skip in order to focus your limited time on the career events that are most relevant to your own unique goals.

The most important thing in your job search is to find a community you can be a part of because it embodies values you hold important, you always want to find a community not a job.

December 2, 2013
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