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What Do You Want to Do?

I was quite jealous of the investment bankers and consultants who had know for months where they were headed and were working their way through the pre signing bonuses in Colombia, Costa Rica and anywhere the sun shone. In my section of 90, there were 3 of us, entrepreneurs and that is the way it has remained 2 years out. As a search funder I travel constantly, in fact I’ve seen 72 of my 90 section mates since graduation (mainly to stay on their sofa), but it occurred to me recently that this 2 year point has begun to feel very like the last semester at HBS. The bankers just had their bonuses and the consultants are nearing the end of their golden handcuffs and are now asking the question that they didn’t really have to at HBS, “what do I WANT to do?”

Of the 90 in my section, to date 27 have changed job since graduation, only one had her job terminated and got a nice payoff, a 4 week holiday and started in a better job thereafter. Our section president has had 5 jobs since graduation, but he’s now in a fantastic role and is probably the happiest, not remotely concerned about what would happen if a job change was required (and he has great stories). When I apply a lens of ‘interesting’ the same trend I noticed in the last semester at HBS seems to be cropping up now. The job bank was bereft of anything interesting in March before gradaution…. but in April there were lots of unique and challenging roles at companies we’d never heard of (Zynga, Gilt).  Of course in the real world outside the HBS bubble this makes sense; most innovative and fast growing companies dont know they have a need more than 3 months ahead of time, or at least they dont actively recruit for it. To get the interesting jobs it was about networking, being vulnerable and being open minded. My roommate was employee number one in a company based in Pittsburgh. Two years later with over 50 employees, tens of millions in funding, he’s been buying million dollar equipment on e bay and dining with Al Gore, not bad, you may say, for someone who had his job offer rescinded by another firm 2 weeks before graduation. He got the great job through a relationship developed during a field study.

The voiced fears of not getting a job, being fired, or ending up in a location you don’t like don’t really come to anything. The biggest challenge is the lure of the big bank or the consultancy firm. For some that’s a great lifetime job, for most in my section (I count 32 as active job seekers from these big firms) it’s a 2 year holding post, whereupon they’ve made a bit of a dent in the loans, but feel the vulnerability that comes with needing to take a chance on a job that doesn’t have a fancy name and a great benefits package. So face it at graduation, face it later, eventually the gnawing need to do something really challenging hits home… and then it gets tricky, managing your partner, working out how much cash flow you need to service the loans and then deciding whether the job that is badly described, but potentially perfect, could be your route to intellectual satisfaction and a real chance to retire those loans.

The main thing I learned was in relation to the ‘ticking clock’. The best lesson is from the most successful member of our class. Now worth tens of millions of dollars from an entreprenuerial venture. On graduation day he had nothing more than a business plan…. and so what did he do? Took 6 months off to go cycling with his girlfriend.  Holding your nerve can pay off in the end.

March 28, 2011

ONE COMMENT ON THIS POST To “What Do You Want to Do?”

  1. Emeka says:

    Great article Paul! Exactly what I need to hear!

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  • Emeka says:

    Great article Paul! Exactly what I need to hear!

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