Monday, April 25, 2011

Two Years After Completing My MBA

It has now been two full years to the day since I completed the MBA at Queen's. I find myself in the same apartment after a day at work three years after starting the MBA, two and a half years after the worst financial crisis in my memorable history and two years after completing the MBA. The economy is improving, slowly, and it is much stronger than when I graduated. The good news for me is that my chosen industry, oil and gas, is doing better than most. “A rising tide floats all ships,” as they say, and I feel like I have chosen the right tide indeed.

Right now I am working in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. However, I am not in the role I took originally. After six months in my previous position, as a Market Analyst with a manufacturer of tubular products for the oil and gas industry, I conducted a self review. I took stock of where I was at, where I was going, how I was fitting into the organization I had joined and where I would fit in the future. The tough truth was that it wasn't the right fit.

After taking time to figure out exactly where I wanted to go, I started talking to friends, colleagues and recruiters. In the end, a friend referred me to a position that I absolutely love.

I am currently an Exploitation Engineer with a large Canadian exploration and production company in their Acquisition and Divestment team. As a professional engineer with a background in reservoir engineering and evaluation engineering I have a solid understanding of the technical and economic aspects of oil and gas. With my MBA I am able to go through the financial and corporate materials of small companies we are assessing for acquisition opportunities. It is the perfect place for me to be since it satisfies my desire to learn more about the corporate finance side of the business without necessarily having to take on a banking role, while at the same time allowing me to maintain my professional engineering status I worked so hard to get in the first place.

In addition, this role is definitely helping me advance toward my long-term goal of assembling a skill set that will allow me to be a member of a senior leadership team within an oil and gas exploration and production company in the future. Also, this position came with a raise that has put me above my pre-MBA earning level. It took bit of time with the downturn, but everything is looking up now.

This past year has seen some of my MBA colleague move into new positions as they found their dream jobs. In addition, the last few people who were holding out for the perfect job were successful. With those changes, I would say that the majority of my class has been successful in pursuing the dreams they set out to achieve when they started the MBA.

The class has drifted significantly apart in the past year. I see the one classmate here in Calgary about once a month, but I only hear from my other classmates about every six months and then it is only a few select people who make the effort. This is completely understandable as people move forward with their lives. From what I have been able to tell it is the same even when there are a lot of them in the same city (i.e. Toronto).

I have been attending a few of the alumni events for the business school and for the MBA program. It is here that I stay in touch with the administration staff and meet past as well as new grads. Through the administration staff I am able to hear about what my other colleagues are up to and what is new with the program. Also, I am able to help with information sessions when the school comes to town to promote the program and the school. It is during these visits as well that I have been able to learn that the placement level of the current class has returned to pre-crash levels.

Overall, my decision to complete an MBA has been a good one. It is taking a little longer for my career to get moving again than I had anticipated, but that is to be expected with what happened in the economy. However, I can definitely see where the MBA is already helping me advance and where it will help me in the future.

Well, that sums it up for my two year entry.

Until next time,

Sunday, April 25, 2010

One Year After Completing My MBA

It has now been one year to the day since I completed the MBA program at Queen's and I find myself sitting in my apartment enjoying the weekend re-charging for another week of work. Twelve months, gone. It is hard to believe so much time has passed. Even more strange is contemplating that almost exactly two years ago I was just starting the MBA program at Queen's. So, one year later, what has the MBA done for my career, would I do it again and where is the class? Hopefully I can answer these questions with this posting.

Right now, I find myself working back in downtown Calgary,Alberta, Canada. I'm in a role as a Market Analyst for a large multinational corporation that manufactures pipe and sells it to the oil and gas industry. The role I have been hired to fill uses both my engineering and industry experience as well as my MBA. The organization is very MBA "friendly" as there are people with MBAs throughout; even a few with the MBA/engineering combination I have. I did, however, have to take a slight pay cut from my pre-MBA salary, but that is to be expected with the economic downturn. In addition, it took me seven months to find this position. Also, I am working with my supervisors to expand my role as I am finding I could take on more responsibilities.

Overall, I am very happy with my decision to return to for an MBA. Although it took me seven months to find a position and I had to take a pay cut afterwards, I count myself lucky. I believe both of these can be attributed to the economic downturn, which I would have needed to navigate regardless since I couldn't have stayed in my pre-MBA position for much longer. I look at where I would have been if I had not returned for my MBA and I am very glad I did return to school. Without my MBA I would have had to try to find a different purely engineering position in an environment filled with more qualified people, with no additional skill set to offer and I would have had to take a pay cut since I would have been leaving the lucrative world of consulting. The MBA allowed me to leverage my previous experience and find a rewarding job with future growth potential with only a minor pay cut despite the economic downturn.

The summary, bullet point format, of where I am one year later:
  • In an MBA role that uses my previous experience
  • With a company that values both my MBA and previous experience
  • With a company that has long term career growth potential
  • Slight pay cut, but this can be attributed to the economic downturn
  • Took seven months to find this job after graduation, but again this can be attributed to the economic downturn
As for the class, there are still a few people looking for jobs. However, it seems that the biggest barrier for these people is there limited work experience prior to completing the MBA and/or their commitment to staying focused on just one type/segment of work (e.g. only want to work for bio-tech start-up firms in a business role). As a whole, almost everyone has found employment. I'm sure the employment statistics are not pretty for my graduating year, but that holds true for MBA grads across the board.

The class has managed to say in touch somewhat, but some people have disappeared. My wife and I have returned to Toronto once for a classmates wedding reception, which was great since we got to see a lot the class. Also, there are a lot of weddings happening now that the program is complete. These are couples that were met while in the MBA as well as people who had been together prior to starting the MBA. Overall, a lot our classmates have lost touch as their post-MBA jobs and lives take up their time. However, since we all know each other so well, because it is a smaller program, there is never any hesitation to pick up the phone or drop someone an e-mail to say "hi" or to meet up if they are passing through town. I have met up with several of my colleagues as they pass through my town on business and I suspect I will continue to do so as the years go by.

Another interesting aspect of the post-MBA life is being invited to attend information sessions to answers questions from perspective MBA students. It is strange since I know I was once in their shoes. Also, it is a nice way to stay in touch with some of the faculty that travel to put these information sessions on. Furthermore, it has been interesting to become a member of the Queen's University and Queen's School of Business alumni community in my city.

That about covers my one year entry. If you, as a reader, have questions please feel free to write, but be aware that I don't check this e-mail as frequently as I once did. I may write a one and a half year or two year entry if the mood strikes me, but if not, this is likely my final post. It has been fun to write this blog and I hope others have enjoyed reading it.

Until next time,

Wednesday, November 25, 2009


Well, it has been over 7 months since my last test at Queen's and over 300 CVs sent out, but I now have a job. It has been a struggle to find opportunities as the economy is down and even harder to secure interviews as there are a lot of qualified people looking for work too. However, by persisting, using all the tools available to me and being able to show some adaptability it all turned out in the end.

I will be working as a Market Analyst for a company in Calgary, Alberta, Canada that manufactures and sells drilling pipe. This is not where I saw myself when I entered the MBA program, but the company is a great fit and the position require both my oil and gas engineering background as well as my MBA education, which is exactly what I was looking for. In addition, this will put me back in the heart of Calgary and if for some reason this doesn't workout, which I don't see why it wouldn't, I will be in a good place to see what else is around.

The main job hunting method that helped me get this job was networking and my school's alumni network. By attending a Queen's School of Business event I was directed to contact an alumni relations person who in turn forwarded my resume to this company. As it turns out, this company has a strong relationship with the school and that helped too.

All the other methods were very helpful too, but this was the one that got me the opportunity I signed on with. Sending resumes to specific advertised position worked. Sending resumes to companies "cold" worked, but only if the timing coincidentally happened to be right. Sending resumes through recruiters (a.k.a. headhunters) worked. However, it was through face to face networking that I found this opportunity.

Most positions I found were advertised on company websites. Although and were helpful, I found that they were not as thorough as going though the company websites myself. They will likely improve in the future, but at this time they seem only to find jobs posted on larger companies' websites or jobs that have been posted for a few weeks. Their major weakness was finding jobs posted by smaller companies. Sometimes these companies don't post a html job description and instead opt for a PDF of a scanned print of the job description. A bit low tech, true, but effective none the less. These PDFs, however, do not get "crawled" by the job search engines and as a result you do not see them in the results. So I recommend going through a list of specific companies once a week to check postings as well as using job posting search engines.

Because I found this job so close to Christmas, my start date has been delayed to the new year. By the time the company can get all the required IT and HR items in place, a lot of people will be gone on vacation and the company doesn't think there will be any point in my starting prior to the new year. So, I am unemployed for another month, but it will give me time to look for a suitable place to rent and spend some time with my family.

Overall, the hardest part has been keeping my moral up. Nobody wants to interview or hire someone who is "down in the dumps", but it is hard not to feel that way when you graduate from an excellent MBA program and can't find a job for months. Talking with the career counsellor at Queen's, working out regularly and getting out to network were the three major things that I did to stay positive. Having a supportive wife, family and a group of understanding friends were major factors outside of my immediate control that helped me through this tough time as well.

My advice to anyone going back for an MBA is to make sure you "plan for the worst and hope for the best". Make sure you have your support system in place prior to entering the program just in case you need it. With luck, you won't, but it sure helps to have it there if you need it.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Six Months After Completing My MBA

Six full months have passed since I completed my MBA at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario, Canada. I find myself sitting at the kitchen table of my in-laws. When I returned to school, I definitely did not think I would find myself still looking for employment six months after completing my degree. I am very thankful for the support my family has given me during this trying time. It has not been completely without opportunity, it is just that none of those opportunities have turned into job offers.

I have been fortunate enough to be included in an article in Canadian Business magazine that was just released and is centered around MBA degrees. I am one of several people they profiled. The Business Career Centre and Marketing Department at Queen's University recommended me as a potential candidate when asked by the magazine. This may turn up some leads, but it might also not. Great exposure to get during a job hunt and I'm thankful for the opportunity.

A lot of my classmates have found employment. I'm not sure what the exact numbers are, but next month the school is due to publish the class stats. Although I have been counting the days since my last test, the career centre counts them from graduation. Their"six months" employment stat count is a month further away. Speaking of the career center, the career centre saw two of their most experienced people depart. A loss for the students, for sure, but the opportunity for new people to try a new approach perhaps. Should be interesting to see where things go.

There has been a lot of opportunities since my last post three months ago. One alum I met with contacted me to see if I would work on contract for his newly forming oil and gas advisory service. However, after this initial contact I have heard nothing. After tracking him down, it turns out that he is doing okay, but there is no room to take someone on with no experience. Although it was flattering to be contacted regarding this opportunity, there is no way it will actually result in a position, which is frustrating.

I have also been exploring traditional engineering jobs that would not make use of my MBA. A recruiter that contacted me had a client who was looking for an A&D/Exploitation Engineer and I was the first name that came to mind. Again, however, this turned into months of delays. First it was that they were "taking their time to review candidates". Then it was "the VP is on holidays for two weeks". Next it was "they are very busy". Then I hear they bought another company. All of these delays are understandable. After all of these delays, they went with another candidate and I never even got a call for an interview. I was a perfect fit for the job description, but with the economy the way it is, there is a lot of highly qualified people in the market making competition tough. Once again, it was flattering to be thought of for this opportunity, but very frustrating it hasn't turned into anything substantial. Following this same stream of job hunting I have found a Development Engineering position with a great organization in Calgary, but I still need to see if anything happens with this position after meeting with the recruiter trying to fill it.
Yet another opportunity came from the Queen's Business Career Centre (BCC). A former alumni asked the BCC , in confidence, to provide a few candidates for a potential position. They did not want to post an advertisement and they had not been happy with the results of the internal recruiting process they had almost completed. So, myself and one other classmate were recommended. I met this individual for coffee. It seemed like a dream fit and that everything should be a "go". This was just after the middle of August and the next round of interviews were promised for the first week of September. Then it was that it would take four to six weeks for HR to get things going and get an official interview. Next it was that he had been "too busy to start the process". After that it was that he would be on vacation for the next week. Then he gets back to me only to tell me he has been too busy with merging different division to start the process so it should be another four to six weeks. Then I get a message that a job posting has been sent out that closed on Oct. 7th and I will find out on Oct. 13th if I make it to the next round. It was delayed, again. Now interviews are supposed to be happening on Nov. 11th, but with a track record like the one this potential opportunity has, I won't be holding my breath. I was fortunate enough to discuss this with a career coach at Queen's and the conclusion I have come to is that all I can do is keep being "nice" and find other jobs. Yet again, it was flattering to be thought of for this opportunity, but very frustrating it hasn't turned into anything substantial.

The opportunity with Hatch that I mentioned earlier has dried up. They sent a few e-mails delaying the process and now they have just gone silent.

One of the best things I have done is contact and meet the Queen's University alumni in Calgary as well as attend a Queen's School of Business alumni event in Calgary. Both of these have resulting in strong leads. I couldn't believe that Queen's University has a person in Calgary that they pay to stay in touch with alumni and put them in touch with each other where appropriate. Contacting and meeting this single individual has resulting in an excellent opportunity I would never have found on my own. I have already had a first round of interviews for a position in the Marketing Division of a Multi-national company that sells pipe and the second round is for next week. This could be the opportunity I have been waiting for.

On another note, there have been some interesting consequences of expanding the class. The class size is 111 people. However, there are only a maximum of 80 people per class allowed in the electives. As a result, when it came to choosing electives there was a line-up of people outside the office at 6:30 AM, which opens at 8 AM, as people tried desperately to get the classes they wanted. I'm sure with different students having different goals and people going on exchange that everyone will get what they want for the most part, but its still tough on the students.

All that aside, I have strengthened my resolve to simply find a position that uses my skills and has decent compensation, whatever that may be. I am casting my net as wide as possible, applying for anything that I could even plausibly think of doing and that my skill set could fulfill, even if it is a long shot. From all business (i.e. Investor Relations or Financial Analyst) to all engineering (i.e. Exploitation Engineer or Development Engineer) and everything in between. I have designed myself a business card and put a three bullet point "mini-CV" on the back so I could network like never before and continue to look for and attend any possible alumni or professional event as I can. This "new" approach is starting to bring in a number of opportunities to apply for. 28 in the first week alone. Will this new approach work compared to the careful targeting of individual organizations and positions encourage by my career councilors? Who knows? Only time will tell...

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Three Months After Completing My MBA

Three full months have passed since I completed my MBA at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario, Canada. I find myself sitting at my in laws still without full-time employment. I split my time between my in laws and my parents living in subsistence as I job hunt. I'm very thankful I have this safety net to fall back on as I don't know what I would do if I didn't have it. The previous few months have not been completely without opportunity, but none of them materialized into a full-time position. As a result, I remain on the sidelines as the economy continues to improve and my bank account continues to empty.

I have not heard what the official class employment stats are, but from what I have heard through the the people I have been talking to, I am guessing we are more than 25% but less than 50% placed. (Aside: one of my readers wrote me and said they asked about this in their entrance interview and they says it is close to 65%) Many people have found and started jobs, but some have had to return to their previous employers which I know was not their first choice. Additionally, I have heard of one person who had signed on with a consulting firm last fall and had their position put on hold. As a result they are now looking for other opportunities as this may no longer pan out.

I understand that this year is by far the exception with the economic downturn, but it doesn't help ease the situation for those of us caught in the thick of things. If this had been next year, or two years earlier, most of the class would have been hired by this time. I'm curious how long it will take until everyone is employed. The only saving grace seems to be the work experience we brought with us into the program.

Through my face-to-face networking, I was able to secure an opportunity to interview with the business consulting practice of Deloitte with their Calgary practice. After countless hours of case interview prep and two interview session of three hours in length each, Deloitte informed me they had decided to go with another candidate. This is what I disliked about the "consulting" route from the outset. The enormous investment of time and energy just to hear "no". However, that isn't what really got to me about this process. Deloitte didn't pay or offer to pay for the expenses I incurred to travel to these interviews. I have interviewed with many different companies in a variety of industries in the past and all the companies, except the very small "ma & pa" outfits, offered to pay for the expenses incurred. Deloitte is not a small company and for them to pick-up a few dollars of gas wouldn't affect them, but it would make the world of difference to an unemployed MBA saddled with debt. Other than this factor, Deloitte was very professional and the interview process was an excellent experience. I would advise others considering this route to keep the time, energy and capital requirements in mind at the beginning.

Another consulting opportunity that has been slowly working through the process is with Hatch Management Consulting. Hatch has traditionally been a technical consulting company providing engineering, construction management and project management for very large mining, metal and infrastructure projects on a global scale, but they are looking to add management consulting to their other offerings. Although the company has been taking their time to launch their projects and hire people, they do seem to mean business and I'm interested to see where this opportunity could lead.

Additionally, I have been seeking out business development opportunities related to my previous oil and gas background. When I find an opportunity, I look for alumni who are in the ranks of the companies I have been targeting via the alumni database. Through these contacts I have been able to learn a lot about the position(s), people and future outlook of the organizations I'm hoping to join. Furthermore, these conversations often lead me to other opportunities. One specific case led me to a finance position with CIBC under a top energy analyst as a research associate. As luck would have it, one of my former classmates from my undergrad was working in a similar capacity with CIBC. After discussing with him the details, I decided this position would not work for me. Research associates are expected to work 12 to 14 hours a day, starting at 5 AM, 6 days a week and potentially more during "peak" periods like quarterly reporting. They spend half their day finding data and crunching financial models in excel for the companies they are covering. The other half of their day is spent writing research reports on the data and correcting the reports after their analyst has reviewed them. When I asked my friend about life out side of work, he didn't have one. No time to workout. No time for a relationship. No time. The compensation isn't even that good. Most of these positions start at 80,000/yr salary, no overtime and the "potential" for a bonus of 100% of your salary. The hourly rate on these jobs just doesn't seem worth the HUGE sacrifice required and the career path is simply to move up the ladder one rung to do slightly less work for more money or to move to managing a portfolio for an investment firm. As I am married and would like to stay that way, this is not the path for me, but for someone who was willing to sacrifice this much for a few extra dollars, there are opportunities to do so in the way of Equity Research.

Other opportunities I have been considering have been more in line with my previous background in oil and gas engineering. These positions wouldn't specifically make use of my MBA, but I need work and I figure if I brought the skill set to the table it would get used as I proved myself. More importantly, there are positions being posted in this area, but these positions have only been showing up in the past month and not nearly in the same quantity as when I left industry. Although the economy is "improving" and the Bank of Canada has declared the recession "over", things are still limping along. Yes there are more positions being posted, but when I discuss with recruiters about being considered for these positions, I am told that companies are waiting for individuals with significantly more experience. As many companies went through downsizing, mergers and acquisitions, there are highly experienced people displaced by these events available to fill these positions. This makes the job market very difficult. I have heard this all before when I graduated from my undergrad. "If you just had five more years experience...". Well, if over five years of experience, a professional engineering designation and an MBA doesn't cut it, then nothing ever will. I can't think of a better candidate to hire into an organization. So, I continue to persist and ask simply for the opportunity to be presented as a potential candidate.

At this time I have been reduced to looking for any opportunity that offers fair compensation and a chance to expand my knowledge while providing a reasonable work-life balance. I am no longer holding any grand delusions that I will find my "dream" MBA job right out of school. That will have to wait for the next position I take down the road or perhaps the one after that. I have invested a lot of time, money and energy into my education and I need to start seeing a return on that investment. The loans and lines of credit I used to finance my education will need to be paid back and sitting on the sidelines unemployed will not accomplish that goal. To top it off, I'm bored. I want a challenging job that requires me to use my skills and knowledge to solve difficult and dynamic problems.

Overall, the best method of seeking out information and potential positions has been contacting alumni and either conducting informational interviews via phone or over a cup of coffee. Meeting for coffee has by far been the best. This method has worked so well that I have received an e-mail concerning a potential opportunity that I would never have found on my own from one of these previous contacts a few months after our meeting. Moreover, during a different meeting my contact provided me with a different perspective and list of ideas to continue looking for opportunities when I thought I had exhausted all avenues. Also, sending "thank-you" cards after these meetings is essential. These people are taking time out of their busy schedules to meet with me and I really appreciate it. In addition, I think they like to be recognized for the gift of their time and it sets me apart from anyone else they meet. Meeting with them has also helped boost my moral and keep me in a positive state of mind. Both essential when conducting a full-time job search. In addition to this method, I keep checking eluta and indeed as well as the school's job website and many company career websites for postings. This is my holding pattern for the moment until I find employment.

In summary, most of the class still does not have a job. I have seen good results using the methods encouraged by our career center, but it still has not resulted in a full-time position. I have explored the traditional "consulting" and "finance" avenues taken by MBAs to no avail and I don't think I would find them especially rewarding. My expectations have been significantly reduced and I'm curious to see where I will find work as well as how long it will take for my cohort to do the same.