MBA Lessons From Previous Downturn

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If you've just graduated from business school, a story in the current BusinessWeek may be just the pick-me-up you need. It looks back at five students who graduated in 2002 - during the last really awful job market - and asks if there's something to learn from their experiences.

In profiling students who graduated amid the recession, the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, Enron and the dot-com bust, BusinessWeek's Geoff Glockler concludes:

"If the Class of 2009 is looking for rules for navigating a slumping economy, there's really only one: There are no rules. Flexibility and patience will be rewarded in the end, but so too will a single-minded focus and jumping at the first opportunity that comes along. In the end, everyone must discover what works best - for themselves - and make their own way in an economically inhospitable world."

On the bright side, all five 2002 MBA grads landed on their feet. As Glockler observes, that indicates "graduating at a time of economic upheaval is, despite appearances, not the end of the world."

They completed high-profile MBA programs - UC Berkeley's Haas, Stanford, Harvard, UNC's Kenan-Flagler, and Georgetown's McDonough.

While everyone does indeed have to find their own way, you can use the same tactics that worked for them.

- Be flexible about the job you take. If an offer comes in that's not your dream job, consider how the job might be a stepping stone to your dream job.

- Changing careers is tough even in a good market, so don't expect your MBA to automatically bridge the gap between the old and new field. Use internships to pick up experience, prove yourself and gain networking contacts.

- Get started on your job search as soon as you're accepted to business school. Begin information interviews with alums as soon as the career center will share contact information with you.

- Join campus groups and professional associations related to your chosen profession.

- Devote time each week to networking and job hunting.

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