New MBA grads looking at alternative careers

As anyone from the MIT Sloan School of Management Class of 2009 will tell you, looking for work this spring has been no picnic. But now that most of them have landed jobs, they might also admit that the global economic downturn had some unexpected benefits.

For some, the financial meltdown forced them some to consider different industries, different locations, and even different career paths and turned them on to new professional challenges. For others, the recession caused them to reevaluate their priorities and determine what they wanted to do with their lives – often trading jobs with status and hefty paychecks for careers with a positive social impact.

"Students became more reflective of their job choices as the market shifted and have made very thoughtful decisions," says Jackie Wilbur, head of Sloan's Career Development Office.

Wilbur estimates that 80-85 percent of the class will have an offer by graduation. This represents a 5 percent decrease from last year at this time, but is in line with the school's results during the last severe downturn in 2002.

At a time when Wall Street is downsizing many soon-to-be Sloan graduates – including Ilissa Schild - say the economic downturn broadened their horizons beyond the finance industry.

"Just as employers are more selective, we can be more selective too."

This summer, she will start a new job at First Act, a Boston-based company that makes musical instruments from entry-level drums for kids to custom guitars for expert players. Schild, who grew up in a musical family and has played guitar since she was 12 years old, will look at new technologies for their line of interactive musical toys.

"This is an opportunity to be creative, to innovate, and to apply technology in new ways," she says.

Other students, like Daniel Hsu, say that the downturn made it easier to put aside financial considerations and focus on social issues. Hsu recently took a job at a Chinese start-up that makes products for customers in the developing world without electricity.

"The downturn made it very easy to remember my original priorities and stay on a more direct path towards a personally fulfilling career."

The recession enabled other students to consider jobs in far-flung locations. David Hsu, who will soon graduate from MIT with a Masters in Engineering and an MBA, signed on at Lufthansa, the German airline. He will spend the next year-and-a-half rotating through the company's operations and finance divisions.

Hsu, who is originally from New Hampshire and does not yet speak German, says that while he hadn't planned on moving overseas after graduation, "it's really exciting to go international, to live and work in a completely different culture, and learning a new language."

He says that the economic crisis gives new MBAs a singular opportunity to prove themselves in their jobs because companies are more willing to explore different solutions. "When things are going well, companies are reluctant to do anything differently for fear of messing it up. But now with all these challenges in the marketplace, companies are struggling, and they're more open to change," he says. "Now is the time to make an impact."

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