Interview with Career Expert Jackie Wilbur

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I recently spoke with Jackie Wilbur, the renowned career expert who has helped almost 10,000 MBAs successfully launch and build their careers. Jackie is a former Executive Director and Career Director emeritus at several of the most elite business schools including MIT Sloan School of Management, and one of the founders and past-president of MBA CSEA (MBA Career Services and Employer Alliance), the global association that created employment reporting standards for MBA programs. Today, as Consultant and Coach for Strategic Advisory Services Jackie implements best practices and ‘pitfall avoidance’ for business schools, market entry strategies for vendors targeting business schools and higher education institutions, leadership development coaching and programs, and career coaching.

I asked Jackie to talk a bit about MBA applicants’ misconceptions about business schools’ career planning services and about how executive coaching aligns with the leadership development that business schools provide.

Q. Jackie, what are some of the misconceptions about career planning that admits/prospects have about business school?

Jackie Wilbur: “In my experience, one of the biggest misconceptions that some prospects/admits have about b-school career planning is that their school will find them their internship and/or full-time job. I understand why — for some — this misconception exists. If you look at the evolution of business schools in the last 30 years you’ll see that the advent of the media rankings, and their emphasis on employment rates and ROI, led to the investment in and professionalization of the career services function at B-schools. So today you’ll see very sophisticated and generally well-resourced career offices, especially at the most competitive schools. It’s a small leap then for a prospect/admit to believe that the school will find them their job. However b-schools and the career office in particular, will tell you that their job is not to find students jobs (see my LinkedIn blog post “Ban the P-word from B-School“) but to help them to articulate their skills and experiences, discover what they want from their career, and learn how to articulate how they will contribute to their future organization(s). From my experience, those students who are able to master these three things do well in the job search.”

Q. What does an executive coach provide that isn’t provided by the leadership development resources in business school? In other words, what is the connection between executive coaching and the leadership development purpose of business school (is it just a question of different career stages)? Where could business schools be doing a better job in terms of leadership development?

Jackie Wilbur: “Executive coaches focus on helping their clients understand their work strengths and weaknesses, personal values and leadership style and how those are perceived by others within their workplace. Executive coaches then help the client to identify behaviors that may be derailing their success and to adjust those behaviors in a positive manner. The process of executive coaching enables the client to have a concentrated growth period within a work context of accountability.

I think many business schools are doing a great job helping their students understand more about their strengths and weaknesses and values, and they often are extremely helpful in helping students to define their leadership signature. The challenge that schools face is that they are operating in what is effectively a false environment – meaning that it’s an academic and not work environment and so ultimately there is a lack of accountability – – so it’s really hard for the students to apply what they are learning in a measurable way.

One of the ways that b-schools are trying to close this gap is to provide students with client-based learning opportunities. The growth of experiential learning on b-school campuses has been exponential recently. These learning opportunities give students an opportunity to try out new ways of expressing their leadership skills within a work environment, even if only for a short time. B-schools who integrate leadership development and client-based learning will do the best job of supporting their students’ growth in this area.”

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