Options for MBAs Without Jobs

New grads needing work can choose between three strategies. Jack and Suzy Welch like the boldest one best

In about a month, I'll have an MBA—but no job. I'm at a respected school, my GPA is 3.5, I've got two years of retail consulting experience and great references, and I've been doing all the right things to get hired. Please help.—Anonymous, Chicago

What a terrible bind you're in—you and thousands upon thousands of others. Word is that at some business schools upwards of 30% of this year's grads, even in top-tier programs, have yet to land positions. Recruiters just aren't coming to campuses like they used to, and if they are, it's for "informational" purposes only. Word also is that many companies, hit by worsening results and alarmed by dire forecasts, have delayed start dates for their MBA hires or rescinded their offers altogether. It's not a jungle out there, it's a wake.

But you didn't ask for sympathy. You asked for advice.

And so allow us to pass along the exact three recommendations we offered a twentysomething MBA friend we met up with this week, who is, like you, still empty-handed and beginning to feel desperate.

Three-Forked Road

You can settle and learn to love it. You can go a little crazy. Or you can do your own thing.

Settling first, because it's the fastest and easiest.

Look, you already know you're probably not going to get the kind of job—in terms of industry, title, and salary—you were dreaming of the day you started your MBA, back when trees grew to the sky. But there is, very probably, a job out there, here or abroad, that offers you a reasonable amount of relevant experience and a livable salary.

You could accept that job. And more important, even with its disappointment factor, you could embrace it, working ardently to innovate processes, improve your team, and make yourself indispensible by constantly overdelivering. In your case, you might work at a retail store of some sort, with the goal of having your stellar performance eventually land you in management and get you noticed at headquarters. Sure, the day-to-day work of ringing up sales might seem like a pitiable return on your MBA investment at first. But think career strategy. Being a star performer at virtually any solid organization is a ticket up or onto a better opportunity elsewhere. In time, your humility—and results—will likely be rewarded.

The Long-Shot Strategy

Now for going a little crazy, which is the approach we prefer in the current circumstances but still recommend with trepidation. Because not everyone can pull off a highly targeted beg-and-plead campaign while remaining likable, and that's basically the program we're suggesting. With this option, you pick the one or two places you've always wanted to work (or the two executives you'd give a kidney to work for) and repeatedly make your case to them in the most creative, appealing, and persuasive way you can—with letters, e-mails, phone calls—just to get a five-minute interview. Which you then have to nail with your brilliant insights and positive energy.

Yes, this is a long-shot strategy. But when it works—and here's why we like it—you'll be starting your career in the right place. And you'll have experienc­ed the kind of hunger it takes to get ahead.

Finally, if settling and a little craziness don't work for you, there's starting your own business. Figure out what you know and what you're good at, find a friend who brings something to the table—like brains, contacts, seed capital, or very little need for sleep—and then, like entrepreneurs the world over, get out there and hustle. If consulting becomes your gig, for instance, take jobs for $5,000 or $10,000, or negotiate with clients for a percentage of the increased revenues you bring in or the savings you create. You know the drill, and you probably know the risks, too. The current climate makes becoming an entrepreneur an extraordinary act of courage, and only you know if you have the mettle.

Self-Awareness Is Crucial Now

Not to sound harsh; we're just trying to be realistic. These are unprecedented times for MBAs, as they are for any job seeker, requiring unusual levels of self-awareness. The global economic crisis will likely last another year or two, and there's no point in waiting and hoping for a miracle.

You really just have three options. Make a choice and press on.

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