A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

When you contemplate accepting a new friend request on Facebook, or perhaps a connection on LinkedIn, what is the first thing you look at?  I’d venture to say most people look at the profile picture first.  Why? We want to see who we’re linking with to establish a human connection, before allowing a person into our network.  As professionals, it’s especially important to have a good profile picture on LinkedIn.  Take a look at our Top 10 LinkedIn Photo Do’s and Don’ts for tips on how to make sure you’re putting your best face forward.

Top 10 LinkedIn Photo Do’s and Don’ts:

  1. DO use a photo of YOU in your profile.  But please, no selfies (self-portraits).  Photos that obviously look like self-portraits come off as unprofessional.  Instead of awkwardly reaching out your arm to take a photo or using your computer’s webcam, use the self-timer function on your camera, ask a friend to take the shot, or even hire a photographer.  Many companies take a professional headshot, so ask to use that one if you like it.
  2. DON’T include others in your profile picture.  And don’t crop others out of your shot…no errant body parts allowed!
  3. DO smile!  You want to appear approachable and warm.
  4. DON’T use an old photo.  Can you imagine how embarrassing it would be if you met someone for the first time and they didn’t recognize you?
  5. DO dress professionally.  LinkedIn is a professional networking site – make sure that you are representing your firm and industry appropriately.  Women should avoid wearing a strapless dress or top; if your shoulders are bare in the picture, it will make you look way too casual and unprofessional!  Men should avoid wearing Hawaiian shirts, or t-shirts in general.  Choose clothes you’d wear to a job interview or an important meeting.
  6. DON’T put up a picture that is grainy or pixelated – you want the picture to be completely clear.  Make sure you use a high resolution photo, at least 200×200 pixels in size.
  7. DO use a headshot!  Your LinkedIn photo appears as a thumbnail; if you use a picture of your entire body, you may be unrecognizable.  Use the upload editor to crop the photo to appropriately frame your face; don’t let the background be a distraction.
  8. DON’T use a party pic!  Everyone likes to have fun, but be careful to not use a photo of you holding an adult beverage, smoking a stogie, or amongst a large crowd.  Likewise, avoid using a vacation shot, for example you on the ski slopes.  Unless your job is to sell slope side properties or you’re Bode Miller’s agent, this may not send the right message.  There’s a time and place for everything, so only use professional images on your LinkedIn profile.
  9. DO be consistent with your professional image.  Try and use the same photo for all of your professional and social networking profile pictures.
  10. DO upload a picture!  According to LinkedIn, your profile is 7 times more likely to be viewed if you have a profile photo.

John Benner, Darden 2010, recently updated his LinkedIn content and decided it was time for a fresh face on his profile.  A friend helped him get the shot he wanted; check out how great the end result looks!

John’s Before:

John’s After:
Benner - after

Helpful tips:

  1. Take several photos and ask family or friends to help you choose your best shot.
  2. Wear your most complementary color.  Avoid wearing white, it may make you appear washed out.
  3. Keep it simple, avoid busy backgrounds.  You want the focus to be on YOU.
  4. Use a setting with good natural light and avoid a stark white background which can give the picture a “mug shot” feel.
  5. Look directly at the camera and relax.

We hope you take the time to follow our advice, so you can put your best face forward.

Cathryn Davis, Associate, Armstrong Center for Alumni Career Services at the University of Virginia Darden School of Business

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MBA’s in High Tech

MBA’s in High Tech

We are constantly reminded of Darden’s awesome alumni community.  Whether it be talking with prospective students to share their own student memories and experiences or giving advice about breaking into an industry to a fellow alumnus, Darden alumni always amaze us with their generosity and willingness to help fellow graduates of this great institution.  Subha Shetty, MBA ’06, is one such helpful and loyal alumna.  Even as a student Second Year Coach she helped fellow Dardenites with job search.  Having been a software engineer in India pre-Darden, Subha’s illustrious product management career in the Bay Area started at eBay, and  included stints at Walmart International and ODesk.  She is now Director of Product Marketing at  Simply Hired, a vertical search engine and aggregator for jobs and career opportunities.  Subha has been an incredible resource for Darden students and alumni looking to find their way into or around high tech companies on the US West Coast.  We were thrilled that Subha agreed to document some of her knowledge about MBA careers high tech.   This “guest blog” will be supplemented by more of Subha’s insights on the Alumni Career Services website.


I am honored to have this opportunity to share my humble opinions and knowledge of high tech hiring in the San Francisco bay area gathered from working here since 2006.

The San Francisco bay area is a unique job market known equally for its innovation and its elitism. It is also coming into focus for Darden as a key strategic location and this development will help demystify the region and strengthen corporate relationships. Regardless, it’s a vibrant and growing market, which has withstood many economic downturns – plus you can’t beat the weather!

Typical MBA Roles

MBA roles in high-tech are broadly of two types – corporate roles and entrepreneurial roles.

Corporate:   To understand typical corporate MBA roles, let’s start with how technology companies are organized. Broadly speaking, technology companies have the following groups

  • Engineering
  • Sales (also Business Development)
  • Finance (also Corporate Development)
  • Product (includes Product Marketing, Program management)
  • Marketing
  • Operations
  • Human Resource Management

A variety of MBA roles at all levels are available in all of the above groups with the exception of the Engineering groups that tend to hire mostly technical folks. Here are some sample entry-level (0-3 years post MBA) job titles and a brief on the job responsibilities.

Product Manager

  • Lead small to medium sized product area in the company. In technology companies, products can either be an actual physical product (eg. Cisco router), a software solution (eg. Microsoft Office) or an online service (eg. LinkedIn).
  • Work alongside cross-functional teams to gather market requirements, plan the product direction and investment priorities

Marketing Manager

  • Responsible for messaging, campaigns, promotions and events
  • Work with media and public relations teams to communicate the right message

Financial Analyst

  • Perform financial forecasting and analysis and typically support a functional or business unit in the company

Here are some sample experienced (~8+ years post MBA) job titles and their job descriptions that explain the responsibilities and skills required to perform the job.

Senior Director of Product Marketing

  • Responsible for business planning and marketing for a large and/or complex product suite
  • Create and manage the go-to-market strategy across all channels of how the product is sold to the customer
  • Manage a team of marketing, product marketing and content managers to create the right messaging across the product suite

Business Development Leader

  • Provide subject matter expertise
  • Support a business’ key goals such as sales efficiency, customer support or any other customer facing function
  • Manage teams and/or partnerships with key clients


To understand entrepreneurial roles, let’s start with understanding the entrepreneurial ecosystem.  Broadly speaking, the stakeholders in an entrepreneurial ecosystem are the entrepreneurs themselves and the investors.

An entrepreneur’s job description is self-explanatory. As the founding member of a company, they wear many hats and steer the company in the direction of growth and profitability.

As an investor, most jobs are available at Venture Capital firms. Some sample job titles and responsibilities in these Venture Capital firms:

Entry Level – Analyst or Associate

  • Perform due diligence on companies that the firm is interested in
  • Prepare financial analyses, projections and memos that determine decision of the firm to invest

Experienced – Principal/ Partner

  • Invest capital directly in firms
  • Sit on boards of companies they have invested in to provide guidance and direction
  • Typically VC firms do not advertise partner jobs, therefore it is difficult to come across a job description link. These jobs are mainly filled through networking.

Career Paths

Similar to the MBA roles explained earlier, career paths in the corporate or entrepreneurial world are also distinct.


Corporate career paths typically culminate in heading a function (CFO), a business unit (General Manager of Americas) or the company itself (CEO).

The career path of a functional head is obtained by gaining additional responsibility within that function with time. For example:

Financial Analyst –> Senior Finance Manager –>Director of Finance –>     Vice President of Finance –> CFO

The career path of a business unit head is typically through gaining experience in Sales, Product or Marketing functions. For example:

Product Manager –>Director of Product –> Vice-President of Product –>   GM of Americas

CEOs in technology companies have a wide variety of backgrounds and can rise from within any of the functional groups in the organization.


In the entrepreneurial world, a career path is either on the operating side or investing side. On the operating side, the typical path is to be an entrepreneur/founder of a company and that is a career in itself.

In the investing side, a career path is usually working in a venture capital firm to collaborate and support entrepreneurs.  An investing career path typically follows two routes:

Those with a financial/investment banking background. For example:

I-Banking associate –> Analyst –> Principal –> Partner  OR

Those with an entrepreneurial or executive corporate background. For example:

Entrepreneur –> Principal –> Partner or Functional or business head at a corporate company –> Principal –> Partner

Subha is writing and sharing more about MBA jobs and Darden alumni in high tech careers in the Bay area.  Look for the information on the Armstrong Center for Alumni Career Services’ website.

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Mythbusters: The Career Management Edition

I love the Discovery Channel show Mythbusters where the co-hosts “debunk curious notions and old wives tales”.  As a career coach I talk with hundreds of Darden alumni and I often must dispel false notions about career progression or conducting a job search.  Here are some common myths and why they aren’t necessarily true:

Myth:  You must hide your age when job searching.
The real issue is whether employers blatantly discriminate based on age. Knowing that employers will eventually find out your age anyway, figure out ways to debunk their myths about your age! Recruiters cite a variety of concerns about older candidates including higher pay requirements, ability to learn new things, physical stamina, and longevity in the position.  Older professionals must work harder to show they have the relevant skills, energy, and cultural fit to win a job.  Steve Hoard MBA ’74 faced a job search in 2011 and rather than covering up his age, he embraced it.  He showed potential employers the many ways he had kept his skills and attitude fresh over the years, including continuous learning, getting professional certifications, and embracing social media.  All that combined with a clear objective, solid research and persistent networking landed Steve a new job in record time.

Myth:  LinkedIn is only for job seekers.
LinkedIn’s 250 million members can stay in touch with their professional network, participate in affinity groups (like the Darden group), prospect for new business (especially good for sales professionals and entrepreneurs), conduct basic company research and more.  Do you know you can easily find your fellow Darden alumni using LinkedIn’s Network->FindAlumni feature?  As long as we’re debunking myths… no, you don’t need to pay for the premium version of LinkedIn for the service to be useful, and yes, you can control the access around your network (read LinkedIn’s Official blog to see how to control your privacy).

Myth:  You need to hire a professional resume writer.
I have yet to meet a Darden grad who could not craft an excellent and well-targeted resume with a bit of coaching and the benefit of a few good samples.  Before you spend the money, check out the detailed Resume section of our Job Search Toolkit.

Myth:  You can never return to a company you left.
It is possible to return, if, a few conditions are met.  First, consider your motivations for leaving in the first place.  If you’re positive about the company’s prospects, you know you have the skills to do the job and you liked the culture the first time around, it’s worth investigating.  If you left on good terms with the manager and team, and if you’ve kept in contact with the right colleagues you’ll have a better chance of opening the door for a return.

Myth:  You will have to relocate to land your next big job.
Job-related relocation can be daunting for both the candidate and the employer.   Ted Bills MBA ’06 turned down a number of interesting internal job opportunities at GE over the last five years because they required him to move cities.  While he did aspire to a higher-level role, he had already made a decision to stay put in Minneapolis where he wants to raise his family.   The expertise he developed in pricing at GE made him a good candidate for a large local firm, Boston Scientific.  He landed a job as Pricing Manager with increased responsibility and the move sets him on a path in the fast-paced healthcare industry.    Geography can be one of the more puzzling aspects of career management… whether to seek a better job that is located elsewhere, or maximize job options in one’s current location.  Where you want/need to live is a very personal decision that should be considered as part of your short and long term career goals…read more about geography in our ACS blog from last July.

Myth:  You must find your own mentor.
Finding a mentor is more a function of being ready for the right learning relationship at the right time in your career.  In other words, you can’t force the fit and it takes more than a simple request to engage in a meaningful mentor partnership.  Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In has a great chapter (‘Are You My Mentor?’) on the do’s and don’ts of seeking a mentor.

Myth:  Landing a new job will take a few weeks.
Myth:  You can’t land a job during the holidays.
Based on feedback from hundreds of alumni and ACS Survey data we know a realistic timeframe for job search is at least 6 months.  Before you land you’ll need a thoughtful plan, a set of well-researched target companies, persistent networking, and typically weeks of interviewing, follow-ups and finally negotiations.  This process can sometimes slow during the holidays, but hiring doesn’t stop.  We’ve seen plenty of alumni land in December after several months of effort, or, land in March or April having started outreach during the holiday stretch between November and the New Year.

Myth:  Headhunters are the key to getting hired.
Myth:  You have to apply to LOTS of online job openings to get a new job.
The real key to job search success is not the volume of opportunities you pursue, or answering a headhunter’s call.  Rather, it’s having a clear objective, defining and researching a set of target companies, networking effectively, and nailing the interviews.   Consult our Job Search Toolkit for resources on all aspects of the search process, follow us on twitter, and contact us us for free one-on-one counseling.  We’ll help you uncover the myths in your plan and set a successful course of action.

Marty Speight MBA ‘96, Associate Director of the Armstrong Center for Alumni Career Services at the University of Virginia Darden School of Business

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“It seems like hiring is picking up…” Cautiously Optimistic for 2014

I just got a message from Brian, an unemployed alumnus who, for the last six months, has been diligently looking for a full-time job while he works on projects to pay the bills and keep his skills (and mind) fresh.  In his email, he says “I have three final round interviews in the next two weeks … it seems like hiring is picking up.”  I hope that Brian is right,  as he’s not alone in his long quest for a mid-level job.  During this first week of the new  year, lots of labor analysts, recruiters and career advisors have been speculating about what the labor market is going to do in 2014 – here’s what I have surmised from reading and studying the trends as well as observing hundreds of job searches in 2013.

Over the last few months, labor statistics in the United States have shown growth in employment and have signaled a job recovery.  But, expansion in management and executive employment is not as apparent.  Execunet’s Recruiter Confidence Index reveals  expected growth in hiring at the upper levels to be slow, at best.

Companies continue to hoard cash, and are still not investing in growth.  It seems that aspirations of stability and strength are trumping growth – evident in how very cautious and careful companies have become in making executive hiring decisions.  Employer interest is less about finding good people and more about finding people who have experience doing exactly what the job entails.  The propensity to take a risk on a promising, yet green,  new hire is much lower than it used to be.

Cautious hiring managers favor the candidate who comes with a personal introduction and/or endorsement from a colleague, classmate or friend.  It’s less risky.  Also, recruiters are seeking the “perfect” candidate — someone who already has experience in what the job requires.  Being focused in what you are looking for will allow you to highlight the right skills, traits and experiences to portray you as that “perfect” candidate to recruiters.  If you are looking to change jobs, it will help immensely to tap into the people who surround the hiring managers.  And, acting quickly when you hear of an opportunity, being first to the hiring manager if possible, could even help bypass the formal recruiting process.

Once you are in the recruiting process though, don’t be surprised if the company seems to take forever.   Employers are treading carefully these days and the hiring process has lengthened.  Our 2012 alumni survey indicated that the average job search for Darden alumni was 6.8 months.  So, patience and persistence in job search are key.

Another trend being reported by Salary.com is that more people are looking for jobs in 2014.  They are looking because they are unhappy with their jobs, their pay, and their prospects for advancement.  Many are unhappy with their jobs because they don’t feel appreciated and are not feeling challenged.  Over 2/3 of alumni working with career coaches at Darden’s Armstrong Center for Alumni Career Services in the last quarter were currently employed.  Many of them are looking for better fitting jobs, having “stuck it out” through the recession in positions that weren’t exactly right for them.   Perhaps confidence in the economy has provided the impetus to make a change.  If employed managers make moves, their positions will open up and employers will presumably become more active in recruiting too.

Overall, I am cautiously optimistic about the management job market for the coming year.  Candidates that know what they are looking for, understand what their target employers need, and focus on how they can make a difference for those employers and get their network energized to connect them with hiring managers, will have a better time in the search.  Patience, persistence and dedication will pay off — let’s hope it does for Brian in the next few weeks!

Connie Dato English,  MBA ’91  Director of the Armstrong Center for Alumni Career Services at the University of Virginia Darden School of Business


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The Twelve Days of Career Management

The holiday season is upon us!  Accordingly, we suspect that many of you will be partaking in feasting, last-minute shopping, family get-togethers with your nearest and dearest, general merriment and mirth, and of course, career management.  That’s right:  job search doesn’t take a break during the holidays.  In fact, if our schedules are any indication, job search is ramping up for many Darden alumni who are presumably looking toward the coming New Year, reflecting on their career goals and determining “what’s next.”

The Armstrong Center for Alumni Career Services is here to help you with your career management needs, offering our take on The Twelve Days of Christmas:

On the Twelve Days of Career Management my Career Coach gave to me:

12 LinkedIn Connections

11 Targeted Opportunities

10 Employer Research Links

9 Networking Calls

8 Professional Goals

7 Resume Edits

6 Recruiter Tips

5 Books to Read

4 Interviews

3 Negotiation Tips

2 Career Coaching Calls

1 Promotion or Awesome New Job!

If you have a few spare moments over the holidays, we encourage you to dig deeper into the Job Search Toolkit and Career Management sections of our website.  As always, we are here to support you and your career goals and we encourage you to contact us to schedule a one-on-one appointment.

Whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, or perhaps even Festivus, all of us at the Armstrong Center hope you have a happy holiday season and a prosperous New Year.

Cathryn Davis, Associate, Armstrong Center for Alumni Career Services at the University of Virginia Darden School of Business

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Interviewing: The Secrets of Success

There I was sitting across the little table facing a 10 year old boy who was nervously struggling to answer a simple question – “why do you want to work here?”  I was an interviewer for the 5th grade Junior Achievement BizTown, a full-day business simulation where the kids take on jobs in a make-believe town to learn about careers.  Interviewing this young man brought to mind the many mock interviews I’ve done with Darden alumni.  Everyone dreads the mock interview, yet invariably alumni who mock get vital feedback and tips to help them land their next job.

Preparation and practice are the real secrets to interview success, but how do you accomplish this effectively? Our ACS website has a detailed interview section which addresses issues such as interview formats, timelines, and the people involved.  The heart of interview preparations should involve preparing your answers.  It’s best to tackle this by dividing your efforts into three distinct components of the interview – background, qualifications and research – each requiring its own unique planning.

Most interviewers start by asking some kind of introductory question about your background.  The typical prompt is “tell me about yourself” or “walk me through your resume,” which is ultimately your chance to tell your story.  Your answer should not be a literal point by point walk-through of your resume, as the interviewer can see this for herself.  Rather, the best answer is a well-crafted one, spanning about two to three minutes, highlighting your key accomplishments while addressing how well-suited you are for the job opening.

A good introduction technique is to write a script of your talking points.  The idea is not to memorize the script, but rather it is to think carefully about which moments to highlight, to polish the transitions, and to ensure that you cover some of the ‘why’s’, e.g. why you chose certain roles or jobs and why are you seeking this position.  Practice telling your story out loud in front of a mirror to watch your delivery, and time it to ensure it is the right length.  Scripting and practicing will help you construct a powerful introduction that will start the interview strong.

The second step of interview preparation gets you ready for the myriad of questions that may be asked of you that will judge your skills and qualifications for the job.  These questions typically start with “tell me about a time when…” or “give me an example of…” and may also include hypothetical situations like “what would you change about…”  Rather than trying to guess what the specific questions may be, your time is better spent using the STAR (Situation-Task-Action-Result) method to develop background stories.   To utilize the STAR method: (1) create a list of skills and traits necessary to land the job (ideally gleaned from the job description); (2) map each skill back to the evidence found in your background that supports how you can succeed in the position.  The best answers give a very brief synopsis of the situation/task and focus more on the action, your role in that situation, and the result or outcome: what you delivered or accomplished.  If the question involves a ‘negative’, like “tell me about a project that failed,” you’ll still follow this format, focusing on the result of what you learned and how you plan to react differently in the future.  Be sure to think about how to bring each answer back to the interviewer’s specific needs and job opening.

The notable and dreaded question “what are your salary requirements?” requires a different approach.  This often comes early in screening and can throw you off.  Most people don’t want to reveal their current salary for fear of losing later negotiating power.  Dealing with this question is actually easier than it might seem.  First, use online services such as Glassdoor.com to research a variety of salary data around similar roles and job titles in the geographic location in which you are interviewing.   Prepare a short statement such as “my research reveals that this kind of role commands a range of about $125-$150 thousand in your market which is on target with my current level of compensation, so I’m sure we can agree on compensation if the match is right.”  See our Compensation page for more resources and talking points.

The third aspect of preparations is focused on your ability to ask the right questions at the right time.  Being asked “what questions do you have for me?” is your chance to show that you’ve researched the role, company, and industry and understand their business challenges.  Don’t waste the interviewer’s time by asking questions that you could easily research yourself.  Do ask questions that are suited to the role of the interviewer.  If it’s HR conducting the screening interview, ask “what is your process and timeline for hiring?”  If it’s a senior executive, ask a macro question about the firm’s strategy.  See our Questions to Ask page for more examples.

This kind of detailed preparation, along with some deliberate practice will give you the confidence to face most any conversation.  Contact us to schedule a mock interview or other free career counseling services at Armstrong Center for Alumni Career Services.

Marty Speight MBA ‘96, Associate Director of the Armstrong Center for Alumni Career Services at the University of Virginia Darden School of Business

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Shopping with a Purpose

It is so much easier to find “it” when you know what “it” is!

A couple of weeks ago, my sixteen year old daughter asked me to take her shopping for a dress for Homecoming.  Having suffered through such excursions in the past, I strategized how to make this fun and efficient.  Before setting out in search of the perfect outfit, I queried my daughter as to her preferences of style, length and type of dress.  This information, along with the acceptable price range, helped narrow down where to start the shopping trip.  Once in the right stores, surrounded by possibilities, the saleswoman (having asked about preferred colors, cuts and styles) presented several dresses for my girl to try.  Since we had a good idea what she was looking for, we were able to help her and the process was quite efficient.  It was an enjoyable and successful outing!

And so it is with career transitions: if you start with self-knowledge and identify your preferences, meaningful work in an environment that suits your style is much easier to find.  Being “open to anything” can make it difficult for other people to help you and can be personally overwhelming.

This past weekend, a group of alumni came to Darden for Finding Fit, a Career Transitions workshop.  The group had a wide range of backgrounds, but all came seeking a focus and a plan.  An alumna who ran her family’s business for the last fifteen years was contemplating “what to do” now that the business has successfully been sold to a larger company.  Two alumni who will be retiring from active duty in the US Navy and US Coast Guard respectively, were faced with similar open slates.  Another alumnus had recently left his role as President of an arm of a large global communication company and knew what he doesn’t want to do, but wanted to figure what he DOES want to do.

In every case, the participants needed to know themselves to enable good decision making and marketing plans.  Professor Jim Clawson masterfully guided the group through a self-assessment process using objective, projective, behavioral, 360 and journaling exercises.  When you are facing a search or a possible transition you might employ this process.

The process includes data generation, insight gathering, theme identification and implication development.  Getting a clear idea of what makes you tick, will help you determine what type of work you will seek to achieve a desired lifestyle – it will help articulate your career objectives.

Articulating your objective includes the “What, Where, and with Whom” of work including role, skills utilized, intensity, schedule required, type of organization (size, structure, market position), culture, type of industry, location, etc.  Job seekers often balk at the idea of focusing in such a way, but once they do they realize their search is so much more effective and the likelihood of finding a well fitting job is so much higher.  Knowing what you are looking for will help you identify your target audience, tailor your marketing plan appropriately, connect with the right people and uncover the little known opportunities because you will be shopping in the right store!

In the words of one of the workshop “graduates” going through the self assessment process helped him   “learn about myself, my  purpose and how to find the work that I will find satisfying.”     Hopefully their impending transition processes will be as efficient and successful as my daughter’s dress shopping outing!

Resources available to help with getting to know yourself:

Connie Dato English MBA ‘91, Director of the Armstrong Center for Alumni Career Services at the University of Virginia Darden School of Business

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Master the Career Fair: Hook, Line and Sinker!

I’ll be heading to Houston to attend the National Black MBA Conference in a few weeks.  I first attended this annual gathering a couple of years ago when it was in Atlanta and I was blown away by the number of companies that set up shop at the Career Exposition eager to connect with management talent.  This is a career fair on steroids!  The networking opportunities for MBA alumni, students and companies at a conference like this are amazing.  But, even small career fairs can be intimidating for the uninitiated.  The fall is a prime time for these affairs so here are some tips on how to maximize your time at a job fair:

Embarking on a career fair without a focus would be like going fishing without bait on your hook.  Employers send recruiters to screen interested candidates for possible openings in their organizations.  Often there are long lines of candidates waiting to talk with representatives of a company.  It is the recruiter’s task to quickly discern where in their company this person might fit so they can make a follow up connection.  If you don’t present your focus quickly and succinctly, the recruiter does not have time to figure it out for you.  If you know where in their company you would best fit, you make their job easy.  Present the right bait and you have a chance of catching an interview!

Some career fairs are humongous.  There are hundreds of fishing holes and it’s up to you to pick the ones that are most likely to have the right kind of fish in them.  Go prepared!  When you register for a fair you get access to the list of organizations that will have booths set up.  Research which companies fit what you are looking for and which ones actually have roles (not necessarily openings or postings) similar to the one for which you are looking. Do an Advanced People Search on LinkedIn using title and company name or use the resources listed on the ACS Employer Research page to help in this endeavor.  Knowing where the fish are biting will help you plan a rewarding trip.

Before you go to the career fair, identify connections you may have at the company and reach out to them to get inside information.  They can help you highlight the right information or ask the right questions.  If you’ve ever hired a fishing guide, you know they can get you to the secret fishing holes quickly – their “local knowledge” is indispensable.  Insiders might even connect you with the recruiters BEFORE the fair so you can arrange a personal meeting outside the chaos of the large ballroom.

Practice your techniques and check your tackle box before heading out for the main event.  Approach the career fair as you would an important interview.  Practice your pitch, prepare targeted resumes (in addition to the one you send in at registration), get your suit pressed and shine your shoes.  Even if you aren’t employed, bring business cards so you can exchange them with people you meet along the way.

Set realistic expectations — it is unlikely you will get a job offer at a career fair.  But these events provide a forum to meet human representatives of companies and make an impression, opening up opportunities for future conversations.  Remember, it’s your job as the candidate to make it easy for them to match your qualifications to their needs.  Preparation and research will help you make the most of an event.  Done correctly, perhaps you’ll catch a fellow WAHOO!

Let Darden’s Armstrong Center for Alumni Career Services help you manage your career and prepare for all aspects of job transitions.  Contact us to set up an appointment with an alumni career counselor.


Upcoming Career Fairs open to MBA Alumni:

National Black MBA  Conference and Exposition         Sept. 10-14, 2013              Houston, TX

Asian MBA Leadership Conference & Career Exposition     Sept. 19-21. 2013    New York, NY

National Society of Hispanic MBAs                 Oct.  10-12, 2013   San Antonio, TX

Service Academy Career Conferences              Nov. 21-22, 2013               San Antonio, TX


Connie Dato English  MBA ’91,  Director of the Armstrong Center for Alumni Career Services at the University of Virginia Darden School of Business


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“Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes”: Thinking About Job-Related Relocation

I’m not a Jimmy Buffet fan, but that old song “Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes” has been running through my head lately.  It was a summer of significant experiences for my family – a long sleep-away camp in Maine for my boys and a splendid trek through Spain for me and my husband.   I thrive on the new places and unexpected adventures; I’ve also moved and lived in five different cities since graduating from Darden in 1996.  Thinking back on my own changes I understand why relocation considerations are a large part my career discussions with Darden alumni.  Geographic constraints are part of most job changes and potential moves can be triggered in many ways – promotions, a desire to return to a familiar home base, reaction to shifting family dynamics, or as a response to job loss.  Of course each situation is highly unique, but the themes inherent in the intersection of geography and job search have crystallized in my years as a career coach.

There are two obvious components that factor into career progression and job search:  job function and industry.  Answering the basic question “what do I want to do and where do I want to do it” are fundamental to career management.  “Where” can represent industry, sector, company, and even division or department.  There is also a third component – geographic location – that has the potential for the biggest impact on personal happiness.  Gaining momentum in a career can sometimes lead to geographic change and many alumni confront the choice between where they want to live versus where they are willing to live in order to enhance their career.

An unexpected job loss will often feel like a trigger for geographic change.  Many people think they will “have” to relocate in order to find a commensurate job, or that being completely “open” to job location will increase their chances of finding a new job fast.  I’ve found that the reality is often counter-intuitive.  While some industries have definite geographic concentration, most industries, or related sectors, have wide representation around the US. So there are usually more opportunities for job change in one’s own “backyard” than at first meets the eye.  Likewise, being “open” to a geographic move won’t make finding a job search easier; it actually can make the search a bit harder since there is no focus to the “place”.  Job seekers must remember that the competition for an opening is often a company’s own internal aspirants as well as equally qualified local candidates, making the prospects for recruitment even more challenging for the long-distance contender.

Alumni must think through a series of decision points when considering a potential job switch and relocation. First and foremost you must ponder whether a different location is what you really want or need.  If moving is a necessity for personal reasons, consider every alternative to make the move with your current employer; it’s often easier to get established in a new area when already employed.  On the other hand, if you’re unemployed and you’re certain about moving to a specific locale, consider moving in advance of conducting the job search in order to immerse yourself in the local market.  If you’re searching for new work and willing to move, but unsure about the destination, thoughtful assessment of your industry/function/geography objective is essential.  I share these tips with anyone thinking about a move:

  • Focus on a specific place or a limited number of cities/regions and research the target market carefully, finding companies that meet your objective (industry and function) and overlap with your target geography.
  • Travel to the target geography and make the most of your trip by doing the pre-work, setting up as many “informational” meetings as you can;  primary research will help you understand the local market better and also might uncover some ‘hidden gem’ jobs  in your target sector.  Read the local business journals regularly.  Internet-based research can also help give you a sense of companies, salaries and cost of living.  Glassdoor.com is a useful tool for researching companies and cities, and they now publish a report card “Employment Satisfaction by City”.   CNNMoney also has a handy cost of living calculator.
  • Engage your network, reconnect with old friends, former colleagues, classmates from Darden and alumni, and let everyone know your intention to relocate; your “pitch” needs to incorporate your reasoning for a move.
  • Know that you must have rock-solid credentials and skills for the long-distance job opportunity in order to gain an edge over the local competition.
  • Don’t make assumptions about relocation expense assistance, ask about company policy early in the interview process and be flexible when negotiating a comp package.

Making job-related move, whether you expressly seek the change or it finds you, can be exciting, inspiring and rewarding.  If you find yourself considering a big move, contact Darden’s Armstrong Center for Alumni Career Services for free career assistance.  Happy Travels! 

Marty Speight (Darden MBA 96), Associate Director of the Armstrong Center for Alumni Career Services


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Making Lemonade Out of Lemons : When a Layoff Turns Into a Great Career Move

If you’ve ever gotten a pink slip or been told you were being let go, you know it is a horrible feeling.  No matter how “prepared” you think you might be, the news still hits you hard.  There is no easy way to take the news, but there are ways to capitalize on the situation … to make lemonade out of the lemons that were thrown at you.

Patty Marshall* graduated from Darden in May, 2012.  She had successfully landed a well-paying job at a top consulting firm during the student recruiting process.  Although she had lukewarm feelings about her summer internship in consulting, she thought she could make this work … get a couple of years with a brand name firm and then find a job in an industry and function that she could really enjoy.  Much to her surprise, only six months after starting her job, she was called into the boss’ office and told that she was to be a victim of a massive corporate wide reduction in force.  She had not seen it coming and was stunned.  That was March 7, 2013.

Rather than wallow in her sorrow, Patty reached out to people she thought could help her process what had just happened.  Darden Alumni Career Services was among one of her first calls.  She reflected on her last six months and realized that, despite the solid salary, she did not enjoy the day-to-day work of professional advisory services.  It was too far from the product, and she knew she wanted to be “part of a company” rather than an advisor.  While she enjoyed the high-level strategic analysis she missed being part of the execution. Rather than take the easy bait of jumping to another consulting firm, she decided to use this as an opportunity to make a career shift – one that capitalized on her interests in organizational development and people strategy.  Developing a focused objective helped her make the best out of the conversations she started to have with people in her network.  Rather than shun her colleagues at the consulting firm she reached out for their help.  (After all, who has better connections than partners at a consulting firm?) Those conversations quickly put her into contact with people in companies that fit her search.  Her last day at the consulting firm was April 19th and she was already in the final rounds of the interview process at three different companies!

What can we learn from Patty’s layoff?  First of all, realize that being laid off means that the organization is going through some difficult times and/or you are not being fully appreciated and are probably in a poorly fitting job.  So, the idea of being forced to leave a bad situation is not such a bad thing.  Being forced out also forces you to reflect on what kind of organization you want to work in and what kind of role would allow you to leverage your strengths and follow your passion.

If you are let go, you will most definitely have a feeling of loss and may experience anger and disbelief.  Thus, you’ll need time to process what has happened and rationally plan how to proceed.  Be careful not to pounce on your network the week you get laid off – chances are you’ll be putting off some negative vibes.  Instead, use that initial week to decompress, reflect and plan. This down time can prepare you to present yourself better to your network.  But, don’t wait too long as you do want to capitalize on your supporters at the firm you are leaving – they will probably welcome the opportunity to help you as it will help them feel better about the awkward situation.

It is important to stay positive —and this is easier said than done.  Enroll your close allies and Alumni Career Services to be your cheerleaders; they’ll also need to let you know if you are being sour.  Remind yourself that this is an opportunity to find a better situation – a stronger company, a closer fit, a fresh start.  Set out to work as hard on your search as you would in a paying job.  Employ discipline and scheduling into your routine.  Be focused and diligent with a clear objective in mind.

Patty accepted the role of Director of Global Workforce Analytics at a large consumer products company on May 7th, exactly two months from the day she was told she would be let go from her consulting firm.  The new job has all of the elements of the “dream role” she was looking for — it is a high-level strategic position where she is helping build out and up-skill a function, and has the right mix of strategy and execution.  This successful search is just one example of how a layoff can be a good thing in one’s career.

This summer, when I delight in the sweet refreshing taste of a cold glass of lemonade, I’ll be reminded of how Patty made lemonade out of the lemons she was handed.

* not her real name

Connie Dato English MBA’91, Director of the Armstrong Center for Alumni Career Services at the University of Virginia Darden School of Business.

For more information on what to do when you lose your job, see the Job Loss section on the ACS website.

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