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What to do after an MBA? Interview with Michelle M.

What to do after an MBA? Interview with Michelle M.

Many students ask themselves what to do after an MBA? Michelle M. who recently graduated MBA shares her story.

Behavior and change are themes that have always interested me and that I deal with constantly in consulting.  My father was a Ph.D. in industrial psychology, so you might say that I grew up with this as a natural interest. As an undergraduate, I got an internship with an organizational-development consulting firm. My career took off from there, and I have been in consulting both before and after the MBA.

With the MBA, I was able to expand on a career in consulting but at a broader and more strategic level, and with a more solid set of quantitative skills to support my decisions.

Desirable Traits to Be Successful in This Career

You must be effective under pressure and never more than in this weak economy—in a market in which we are lucky to have work, we promise the world, they have to deliver it. You must also deal well with ambiguity since the pace is fast and the facts always change or are incomplete.

Strong quantitative skills are a must. The MBA-level courses in finance, economics, research, and operations are good preparation and a good test, but they will be a substantial challenge.

My group, Management Solutions, and Services consults to a range of Fortune 500 clients but began by focusing on middle-market clients, namely those companies with revenues up to about the U.S. $50 million who are emerging strategically.

I help companies improve their strategic and operational effectiveness in order to sustain their competitive advantage. For example, my recent projects have included a merger integration, strategic planning for a chain of upscale restaurants in hypergrowth mode, process redesign, energy trading and risk management, and various technology selection projects.

I travel up to five days a week, depending on the engagement. I am currently working in Houston, so I do not travel weekly. However, out-of-town engagements have required me to travel and work at the client site for four days, then return home and work from the Houston office on Fridays for the duration of the project (four weeks to 12 months).

What I Enjoy Most

I love problem-solving, especially in the context of behavior and how people deal with change. When we look to improve operational efficiency as consultants, we are looking at these dynamics. We actually enable our clients to make change happen, so we make a difference that I see right away. That is important to me.

What I Enjoy Least

Travel is not the glamorous thing some might think it is. Travel in a consulting context means that we are working in spaces that weren’t designed as offices at all, so we have none of the luxuries of a modest office. In fact, because we are considered expensive and have been brought in to work and create value—not to have fun, we spend every minute working when we are traveling on a client’s dime.

We live and work at hotels and airports. Although this is the least enjoyable aspect of consulting, I work well enough as a minimalist, so that constant travel and ad hoc space to work in are things I handle pretty well.

Words of Advice If You Are Considering This Career Path

Consider a smaller firm; the possibilities to work directly with clients might happen sooner than at a big firm, where there are more layers between you and the clients.  I have worked in both but in retrospect am glad to have been in a small firm early on.

Be very comfortable with the idea that travel is not something fun but is something that adds two or three hours to every workday—either because you are traveling that day or because there’s nothing really to do but work when you are already away. When we ask about travel in interviews, we can discern quickly who is realistic about what travel means to consultants.

What I Did Before This (Including Pre-MBA and Post-MBA Jobs)

My first job was an undergraduate internship in industrial psychology at PDI, an organizational development firm. After college, I got a position at a boutique consulting firm, Restructuring Associates Inc. (RAI), where I got two years of great industry exposure in the organizational side of operational improvement (business process and redesign work) with Fortune 500 clients who had labor-management partnerships, also in the pharmaceutical field. I had lots of interaction with clients, as this was only a 45-person firm.

From this knowledge of the labor and organizational components to performance, I became interested in how businesses remain sustainable. Since I had no background in the quantitative sides of financial and operational performance, I applied to business school.

My MBA internship was with Entergy in Houston, where I worked on a PeopleSoft implementation with Accenture.

Educational Background (Undergraduate, MBA, Other)

MBA, Baruch College, Zicklin School of Business, concentration in management, 2012
Bachelor of Arts, Georgetown University, major in psychology, 2008

In MBA Programs, I’d Suggest You Look For…

Before bothering to look at any school, take stock of who you are and determine how your own goals will work in different environments. I tell people that the MBA isn’t a “gold card” to success by itself—your résumé tells a story that has to make sense even before and after the MBA.

If you know an MBA is right for you, do not let anything like the large quantitative load or the application process intimidate you. I took my GMAT® twice, took a prep course twice, and was not admitted to some of my top schools because of my test scores. Through perseverance, tenacity, and realistic expectations, I have built a successful career that has even resulted in my being profiled on this Web site.

I wanted to be a big fish in a small pond, and I wasn’t looking to change careers entirely. For me, Tulane was not only small enough to offer me the personalized experience I wanted, it was in a different region for me (I had been on the East Coast of the U.S. for a long time).

I needed to build quantitative skills, and the school was strong in finance, with the Burkenroad Equity Research Program well regarded; I knew that people in that program would surround me and that I would benefit from their financial expertise.

All of this came true; I am glad I trusted my instincts.  Zicklin was a down-to-earth place, and I even became president of my class and helped initiate our Graduate Women in Business chapter. Since graduating, I have served as a guest lecturer in the management consulting course, and I still recruit MBA’s for my firm.