Abhishek Gupta, PGPEX: The Top 10 Career Advice I Got at IIM Calcutta


I always wondered why some MBAs reach to the top position of large corporations as CEOs; while a majority don’t. In many instances non-IIM grads shined and rose to the top of the corporate ladder. Are a solid foundation in management principles, a career jump start post an MBA from a top notch college and a good network enough to rise to the top office? Not really.

Almost all teachers and mentors tell one to work in the right direction with great intensity till one succeeds in reaching the top. But what is that right direction? Can any type of student follow that path?

This article captures the Top 10 advice that MBAs like me received at IIM Calcutta from alumni, professors, and business leaders, who have already traversed a significant distance on the path to the top positions in their career. Hopefully this article will serve as a guide to MBA aspirants, current students, as well as recent graduates.

1. Ensure a great career start in first six months post MBA: First impressions matters when you join a new job. Seniors/Managers observe you and make quick judgments about your abilities and future growth potential. In this period the company could decide to either invest in growing you or wait till you demonstrate results, so it’s crucial that you perform well on assignments. If your managers judge you to be an average performer during this crucial period, it could take a couple of extra years of hard work to change that impression. So a good strategy is to be more cautious in the first place and give your 120% effort to learn and perform in the first 6 months.

2. Fitment in the firm: You should understand the firm’s culture quickly: what values or behaviors are encouraged within the firm, what is the definition of success, who are the role models and how do they behave? Comprehending the power structure is equally valuable and will give you an idea about who the key decision makers are, what their expectations are, what will impress or disappoint them etc. An early grasp on the firm’s culture and power structure will lead to faster recognition and trust worthiness within the organization.

3. Build a network: A good professional network can’t be overemphasized. Your network may comprise of your college network, previous colleagues, vendors, customers, competitors, industry experts, market analyst, media persons, government officials, etc. A network will be considered healthy and active, if you can approach people in it openly for any help and they respond effectively. A professional network allows quick access to the right people who can help or guide you in the right direction in a crunch situation.

New opportunities or contracts typically start coming more from your own network as you move up in your career. Employees who effectively build and leverage their own network are valued more in organizations and perceived as resourceful.

Now days social networks like linkedin and twitter make networking a cinch. Just remember, the network works both ways – you should also actively help people in your network and invest in social capital that can be leveraged later.

4. Find mentors: Right from an early stage you should identify mentors who can guide you on your professional journey. They can be your past or present boss, alumni, professors, or part of your business network (e.g. client, industry expert, senior leader etc.).

You can have multiple mentors for different areas of expertise e.g. for an industry or functional area, for leadership & team management, for personal development etc. You can change your mentors overtime as needs evolve.

It is important that you respect and trust your mentor; hence choose them wisely, connect with them at-least half yearly, and be open in seeking their advice. Mentors typically can show you direction, act as a sounding board for your ideas, and provide a third person outside-in perspective that can help you make better choices in your career.

Some managers especially at a senior level create a more formal mentor relationships by hiring them. Such formal relationship works well and can be more sustainable because no one is doing anyone a favor and everyone benefits.

5. Build relationships: A relationship of mutual trust with stakeholders like your supervisors, juniors, vendors, customers, media, government agencies, professional network etc allows a highly energetic and healthy working environment which boosts productivity. Without such relationships, it’s much more difficult to seek cooperation from other stakeholders for meeting more stringent quality or meeting deadline requirements.

Relationships could be built by investing time in the relationship, for example by going for lunch together and ensuring that you don’t breach each other’s trust. 

6. Influence others: The ability to influence others a very important trait for effective leaders. To influence others you can understand and build capability in an array of tactics. For example you can use your expertise, position, referent, or reward power to influence others.

abhishek-gupta-pgpex-top-10-best-career-advice-i-got-at-iim-calcutta-one-year-mba-executive-mba-iim-cIn an extreme situation you can also be coercive to influence others. In order to motivate others, as per the McClelland theory, you can first try to understand person’s dominant motivation factors (achievement, affiliation or power oriented) then suitably align your influencing technique based on the person’s need. Such an approach breeds mutual trust and credibility between you and the person you want to influence.

7. Learning & growth: You need to take charge and proactively manage your learning. Curiosity, a habit of asking the right questions, reading, and having the right network are important to ensure constant learning.

Try to pitch for projects that provide more opportunities for learning and exposure at an early stage of your career. Also by maintaining a healthy environment of peer learning, the whole effort of learning could be made quite fun and exciting. If you feel you are not learning or growing in your current role, take a risk and look for change. Your learning is your responsibility.

8. Balance work with time for family and other interest: At an early stage of your career it might be important to sacrifice the balance initially: it will help you earn credibility at your work place. In this phase try to spend more quality time with your family in whatever time you get.

Later you will become more efficient and will find more time for work life balance. Also having an interest outside work and committing to it will give you greater satisfaction and provide you avenues outside of work to develop leadership skills and other skills that will help you lead a richer life.

9. Manage perception: Perception is reality so seek regular feedback from people to know how people perceive you and actively manage it. Demonstrate a strong commitment and show an openness to contributing actively to your organization to set the right perception. Also be known for being ethical in the organization. Only one small unethical incident is sufficient to jeopardize how others perceive you. Being 100% ethical is lot easier than being 99% ethical.

10. Keep looking for what you really want: Think strategically about your goal and direction – where are you right now and where do you really want to go? Satisfaction is derived from the journey towards your goal, hence keep exploring and setting challenging goals. Self reflection and discussion with your trusted or loved ones will help you in making the right choices. (Cover image courtesy endofthegame.com)

Contributing Blogger Abhishek Kumar Gupta (AKG in short ) is an MBA (PGPEX) candidate at IIM Calcutta (Class of 2015). Abhishek graduated from IIT Bombay in 2007 and after working in strategy & operations consulting and with an NGO (TechnoServe) over the last 7 years, he now aspires to lead Indian businesses to global success. He can be reached at [email protected]

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