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“It’s not the time to wallow in misery,” Professor Steven Rogers told graduating Kellogg students May 13. “I challenge you to see this as a time of opportunity.”

Nota Bene 2009

Rising to the challenge

Kellogg professors offer encouragement and advice to students navigating a challenging job market

By Amy Trang

5/19/2009 - Graduates around the country will leave their institutions this spring with more than a diploma. They will also depart with a larger-than-usual helping of apprehension and uncertainty as they enter a workforce that has been shedding employees at a rapid rate.

But a panel of Kellogg professors sought recently to allay some of that anxiety for soon-to-be Kellogg graduates, assuring them that their education has armed them with right skills to survive the tough economy. Their talk was part of the “Nota Bene” series at Kellogg, during which Kellogg professors offer parting insights and words of advice to graduating students.

During the well-attended session May 13, professors offered the following thoughts on career prospects and striving for one’s goals:

Be optimistic. The professors acknowledged that graduating students are facing a tough job market, but advised them not to fall into the trap of feeling sorry for themselves. Often, times of despair lead to new opportunities — including new businesses — down the road, said Steve Rogers, the Gordon and Llura Gund Family Professor of Entrepreneurship and director of the Levy Institute for Entrepreneurial Practice.

“It’s not the time to wallow in misery,” Rogers said. “Kellogg men and women are expected to be leaders in these tough times. I challenge you to see this as a time of opportunity.”

Be self-reflective. Take the time to figure out goals, values and a work-life balance, said Harry Kraemer, a clinical professor of management and strategy. He advised students to find a company that can aid in achieving those goals, even if the position they are offered is not their dream job. Kraemer said that if students start with the skills they have and then build upon them, employers will recognize their potential and help them get where they want to go.

“The tendency is to worry about job title, but don’t,” Kraemer said. “Get as many experiences as you can.”

Build on skills that are lacking. Students should scrutinize the gaps in their skill set that may keep them from achieving their career goals. Julie Hennessy, a clinical professor of marketing, said students shouldn’t focus on what they should be doing with their degree, but on what they like to do.

“Loving your job is the best competitive advantage, bar none,” Hennessy said.

Capitalize on your Kellogg network. Kraemer, also a 1979 Kellogg graduate, said reaching out to alumni who are in the desired industry will be helpful, even if that doesn’t lead to an immediate job opportunity. Kraemer said Kellogg alumni are very willing to talk and help fellow alums, which can lead to opportunities down the road.

Be patient. The first job may not be the perfect one, but that’s OK, said Paul Christensen, senior lecturer of finance and associate director of the Kellogg School’s International Business & Markets Program. The silver lining will appear when students are flexible, Christensen said, reflecting on his own career path from consulting to finance before arriving at Kellogg.

Hennessy added that students should find a position that will allow them to build and demonstrate their leadership skills.

“Don’t be picky about what you run,” Hennessy said. “Be flexible on where you can add value.”

This year’s Nota Bene series also features a two-part talk by Kellogg Dean Dipak C. Jain on the future of marketing and value creation and a discussion by Philip Kotler, the S.C. Johnson & Son Professor of International Marketing, on managing and marketing in an age of turbulence. Senior Associate Dean David Besanko will close out the series with a session for graduates and their guests.