False Starts

As MBAs, we dedicate a substantial part of our time to the job search. Most of us look forward to that day when we land that fabulous consulting or finance job or the marketing position with that global organization. Those days are over. It is time to start looking from the inside out when it pertains to jobs and careers. Rather than the amount of hours you are expected to work, ask the question of how much of the company’s time is dedicated to those social responsibility activities that you are passionate about. Instead of how much you will be getting paid, ask how much value the brand brings to its consumers.

Before coming to business school, I interned for a year in a bank and I remember feeling out of place every day I went to work. It had nothing to do with the bank and everything to do with me.

Nigeria has a high unemployment rate and most people will work at any job they find. My decision to leave my internship with that bank was looked upon as insanity by most people. Yet there I was leaving a secure job for the unknown because it did not feel right. Back then, I had no clue what it meant to align my values with the organization where I worked. I was a fresh graduate with no experience but even then I knew it was the wrong job for me.

It took me three months to get another job offer. I remember meeting with the CEO and trying to imagine myself working with him for the next few years. It was of no use and soon I was glancing outside the window of the room where he was speaking. Right across the street were the orange and white colors of another bank; the bank everyone else said lived for its customers. I remember looking outside that window and thinking to myself ‘I belong in a place that lives for its customers’.

I left that meeting with a resolve to go work for the ‘orange’ bank. It took me another three months of tests, tears and training but I finally landed the job. There, I learned everything I know about customer service and professionalism. There I was able to live out my dream of making customers happy. There I was at my innovative best. Why? Because I was doing what I loved.

This summer I interned in Western Union’s office in Colorado and while the culture is a whole lot different from the ‘orange’ bank’s, it felt very familiar. Western Union exists to make the lives of its consumers better. All summer long I got to interact with people who truly believed in serving the customers.

Joining Western Union this summer helped me continue my dream of making customers happy. With the ongoing economic downturn and recession, it is anything but easy not to take the first job that offers you a salary or some kind of security. Many economic pundits have however pointed out that the only way out of this trying time is innovation.

How can you innovate in a place where you are not passionate about the people or the work that is been done? How can you be passionate about a people or work where your values do not align?

As another school year begins, the race in on to snag those internships and jobs. The thing about races is the beginning can determine how well or badly you finish. So before you apply for that next job, think about what the company stands for, what the brand means to you and what it would mean if you had to work there for the rest of your life. This is what should drive your job search.

Anything else would be akin to a false start. Just ask Usain Bolt.

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Damilola Ashaolu

Damilola Ashaolu is a full-time MBA student at the Mason School of Business.

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