How to Motivate MBAs to Own and Prioritize Their Job Search

By Susan Whitcomb

Susan Whitcomb, highly regarded coach of coaches, presents her lesson for coaches in three parts: 1. Reconciling Expectations of student and coach 2. Managing Student Objections 3. Motivating Students to Take Action But if you do not have the one hour to listen, here are 17 quick tips from Susan’s presentation that you will find useful for motivating MBAs to own and prioritize their job search (each with the time stamp when she covers the technique in her presentation): 1. See your students as alumni (8:50). 10 years from now, how do you imagine they are doing? 2. Treat your students as smart and capable (10:50). If you do, when they do something that didn’t work, they will be resourceful, clever and energetic in their search for a solution. 3. Treat the coaching session like a business meeting (11:03). Establish a shared agenda. Acknowledge the amount of time you have both allotted. Clarify the objective of the meeting and what you hope to accomplish. When the sessionends, clarify action items and the whether the objective was met. 4. Establish a roadmap (13:13). Provide an overview of the work with milestones, but avoid providing a detailed data “dump.” They will not remember all the details and may shut down due to the enormity of the project, which, after all, is discretionary. Certainly they will focus only on the elements that are relevant now in the short term. 5. Listen for expectations (15:34). For example, one common request is “I was hoping you would give me some contacts.” In response, say: “Networking is an important piece in the puzzle; glad you have it on your radar. Let’s think first about WHO you want to contact, what is their role, how you are going to impress them to make time for you, etc.” 6. Avoid judging behavior or attitude as “wrong” (17:00). If you do, they will shut down. So be optimistic and positive. For example, say “here’s what we hear from alumni about the kind of preparation they want students to have done prior to reaching out to them.” This way, you are not the bad guy, and you are bringing a third party perspective that has clout. 7. Manage objections (22:25). Notice and name, but do not judge. Say something like “I think I sense some hesitation” and be silent until you get a response. You may ask “what are your thoughts?” Use “what” and “how” questions open ended. 8. Use the “Sandwich Conversation” technique (25:35). Start a balanced conversation asking about actions taken by the client, like “What have you researched” and “Who have you contacted and how?” Then provide advice by saying: “Here are some best practices we’ve seen work.” Then ask: “How might you work some of these things into your strategy?” Note who is doing most of the talking; use silence to allow time and space for client to control the direction of the process. 9. Stay neutral (29:00). Avoid defensiveness, and avoid emotional reactions. Notice if you are starting to feel negatively about the client. Fight fire with water, not fire. Consider that the client may not be moving in the wrong direction, but may need to try before moving on to realize advantages of other approaches. 10. Leverage metaphoric language (33:50). For example, if you say “job search is like dating,” you bring a smile to the face of the client, and the comparison delivers an important message. Try saying “if you think about job search as an MBA course, what would get you an “A”? Say “competing in the MBA job market is like the Olympics, because you are competing nationwide, not just among your school classmates.” 11. Hold the vision, the big picture (36:15). Use “what” and “why” questions before “how,” as this will provide the incentive needed to do the job search work. In fact, focusing on vision may lead to an understanding that spending time to network to make professional contacts rather than pursue As is a good investment decision. 12. Leverage strengths (38:05). Frame the work in a way that brings the best out of your clients: if project manager, project manage; if analyst, analyze; if marketer, market; if consultant, problem solve and sell. This approach gives client the confidence to move forward. Have your client clarify their strengths that would give employers a good ROI. 13. Coach with Compassion (39:00). Don’t crack the whip. Assure client by saying: “you are not the only one who . . . “ Acknowledge the effort by saying: “This has been a stretch time for you.” Make sure the client is keeping long-term goals in site (the “Why”). 14. Prioritize tasks (44:00). Share observations about misalignment between vision and use of time. Encourage efficient management of time to do the things that build momentum and generate important progress. 15. Ask questions to generate insight (46:30). For example, ask: “As you transition from student to business professional, what elements of your personal brand do you want to drop? Strengthen? Like exercising, what would putting in 110% look like for you? When can you be more efficient with the use of your time? 16. Always encourage/require action (47:22). Ask questions that call for a commitment to action, with accountability, such as:

  • “How would you bullet point the follow up steps you’ll take now?”
  • “When is the best time to get that done?”
  • “What might get in the way and how will you handle that?”
  • “What would that look like in terms of a S.M.A.R.T. goal?”
  • “Who do you need to talk to?”
  • “What other resources will you need?”o “What deadline do you want to give yourself?”
17. Say it straight (49:40). Remember: truth is never optional; timing and technique are. If dress or hygiene, for example, is an issue, you should say something like: “I know recruiters notice these things.”