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Student Life-Cycles: Your Business Education Journey


Posted October 16, 2019 by Pedro Gonzalez - Director of Career Management for the Graduate & Executive Education Programs - Haslam College of Business, University of Tennessee in Knoxville

The youngest of the millennials will turn 24 by the end of 2019, which also marks the end of that generational line as Generation Z comes up right behind them. The oldest millennials are now in their late 30s, which is still a relatively young period of life. As a talent management professional who interacts with professionals ranging in age from their 20s to their 50s, I get to see the variation in generational attitudes and values regarding career choices and challenges. But I also know the talent needs of the marketplace from both the hiring and retention perspectives.

Based on my observations as a corporate talent manager and longtime career advisor, I offer the following professional development suggestions that focus on how you can maximize the early decades of your work, synchronize your career aspirations with a target industry, and use a graduate business degree for career pivots and acceleration.

Our Pathfinding 20s

We start evolving our self-awareness from a reactive process to one that eventually gains structure and purpose. This is a very reflective period as we move away from the framework and rituals of college life to the ambiguous, yet demanding, working world. This decade is all about us asking ourselves that perplexing question, "What do I want to do with my life?"

This period is marked by exploring and identifying the skills we have or don't have and becoming aware that we need to start developing them to meet our professional aspirations. This includes the soft skills that are universal to any career and the technical skills that may be specific or overlap career paths.

Also during our 20s, we make early job choices based on expediency; for example, "It was the first job offer I got, so I took it." In this decade, we may not have a career strategy as we cobble together various job experiences that often are transactional and ad hoc, but could eventually lead us to realize what we really want to do professionally. The dilemma here is that we jump into the professional world and are asked to use skills we have or don't have yet, which, for many, may lead to the angst of "imposter syndrome."

As we work throughout our 20s, it is the first time many of us are getting formal feedback, in real time, from people we work with. We receive direct and indirect feedback on our work style, the quality of our work, and our skills. This feedback culminates into an early iteration of our professional persona. At this juncture, we may decide to retool ourselves for either higher-level responsibilities in our current occupation or aim for a different profession altogether.

Our Working 30s

This decade is all about creating a track record of accomplishments. We now begin to establish a work history that shows our ambitions and our goals (or lack thereof). This track record becomes the foundation for our professional future.

In our 30s, our skills begin to morph into competencies that represent our value proposition to employers. For example, having good communication skills in combination with problem-solving skills demonstrates an aptitude for people management or business development careers. These competencies then become the second iteration of our professional persona or brand.

During this time, if we work in the same job or have different jobs in the same industry, we intentionally or unintentionally add that industry to our professional brand. For example, the marketing professional who works for three different pharmaceutical companies throughout their 30s is not just a marketing professional; she is a marketing professional with specialized knowledge of the pharmaceutical industry. Therefore, doing what you love for an industry you can be enthusiastic about is the ideal career feat during your 30s.

Career Pivot or Career Acceleration: The Graduate Degree

Historically, the full-time MBA students have tended to be in their mid-to-late 20s . With the emergence of the executive MBA option, as well as part-time and online programs, accomplished professionals are now pursuing MBA degrees in their late 30s, and even into their 40s and 50s. The MBA has proven to be a highly marketable and relevant credential for decades. Therefore, the MBA is an option for professionals in business wishing to pivot—or change career directions. Obtaining an MBA can give you new skills necessary to move from a career in marketing to one in finance or supply chain, for example.

Although it should not be the most important factor in pursuing an MBA, the potential salary boost gained by earning an MBA can be significant, particularly if you graduate from an accredited, top program. According to GMAC’s 2019 Corporate Recruiters Survey, the projected median base salary for new MBA hires in the U.S. is 115,000 USD.

The MBA is also an option that allows you to stay in your current career but accelerate your progression toward roles with more seniority and/or managerial responsibilities, eventually improving your marketability with other companies. The premise of most part-time MBA programs is to help students stay in their current company but gain access to roles requiring more strategy planning skills, finance knowledge, or managerial potential.

Ultimately, the MBA is a versatile degree that can help enable you to reinvent yourself for a new career, obtain a job promotion, or simply develop your business acumen to be a better business professional.

If you are interested in a more in-depth discussion on career life-cycles and milestones, I invite you to watch my webinar, Career Lifecycles: Embracing Your Career Destination Decade By Decade.


Pedro GonzalezPedro Gonzalez is Director of Career Management for the Graduate & Executive Education programs at Haslam College of Business, University of Tennessee in Knoxville. He has 20 years of work experience in the professions of university admissions, MBA career services and corporate talent management. 

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