Why a MBA / Leadership Development Program (vs. direct hire)?
Prior to applying to BPís Future Leaders Programme, I went on a series of direct hire interviews where I discovered opportunities that made me feel as if I was restarting my career. I needed something that would take into consideration both my education and experience while allowing me to develop a long term growth plan to achieve what I had aspired for the future.
As I was transitioning from a business where I spent eight years developing a strong reputation, it was important for me to show up to the next organization with a piece of the reputation and credibility I had built previously. Entering BP as an FLP shows that you already exhibit the values and behaviors of the organization and are identified as a high potential employee from the start. In addition to providing a view on your credibility, it also gives you more flexibility in your career as the rotation allows you to find your true anchor in what is best for both yourself and the organization. The international rotation was an attractive option in my decision, as gaining a global understanding of the organization is important to my growth plan.
My decision was based on finding a program that had a balance of flexibility in defining your career aspirations, while emphasizing experience as well as education as a prerequisite to joining. Entering a company through a leadership development program allows your peers to immediately set a level of expectation that may present greater challenges, but also greater visibility across the organization.
What are the key advantages / disadvantages of being on a MBA / Leadership Development Program?
Advantages primarily consist of having the flexibility to mold your career in a way that works best for you and the new organization you are joining while being identified from day one as a high potential candidate. The program allows you access to leadership support and a network of peers that have similar growth aspirations. Being engaged with such a network keeps your energy level high and provides a unique work environment. The cohort is usually quite diverse in capability, job function, and business area, so there is minimal competition amongst each other which allows for a healthy networking environment.
The program has two rotations over the course of four years. Planning for the second rotation (especially if international) is a challenge since you will need to have developed your networks and role to target within the first year and a half of the program. Having a four year commitment in rotational assignments can make it challenging to plan longer term if you are unable to obtain the desired assignment in the second rotation.
How does the MBA / Leadership Development Program fit in your career goals?
The program aligns nicely with my career goals as it forces me to keep on track in a specific time frame to develop the capabilities necessary to become a senior leader. Part of my career goals is to gain as much exposure to the overall business across multiple functions. The FLP allows me to gain access to senior discussions that I may not have been involved in otherwise. Being able to understand how senior leaders operate and what is top priority from a strategic standpoint allows me to choose the appropriate capabilities to develop in places where I may not have considered before.
When I first entered the program I had a clear understanding of the exact role I saw myself in at the end of my second rotation. Now that Iíve gained better visibility into the business, Iíve been able to re-evaluate where I want to be, but more importantly what I need to work on to get there. My focus has shifted slightly, but has become much clearer while I have the ability to validate my aspirations through my mentor and peer network.
How strongly did you weight the location of the program?
Location was important in my decision, but the role and program had much greater weight. As I am in the process of looking for my next rotation, I am trying my best to put location aside as my focus is on finding the best role first. This is a great challenge especially when balancing personal and family life. For me, the location and the role together need to create the most value. If the location creates hardships that outweigh the value of the role, it is important to reconsider since a work life balance will have an impact on my overall performance and future progression.
What to look for in a MBA / Leadership Development Program?
If you come from an experienced professional career that you developed, then my recommendation is find a program that really values your experience. The last thing you want is to enter a program that is strictly focused on education where it may discount your experience to a point that you feel like starting over. A program that tags you as a high performer based on both your proven track record and excellence in education is critical to ensure you are continuing your career to the next level and not just changing your existing trajectory.
Itís also important to understand the organization you are joining Ė do their values and principles coincide with your own? When speaking with the individuals within the program and the organization, ask questions that validate the values and behaviors you expect them to represent. Is it just a message typed on their website, or do they really represent what they say?
Look past the program and see if this opportunity will allow you to achieve your long term goals. Having a program that has a clear mission on developing you into a leader of the organization and also has a proven track record of doing this is important. Find out where others that have completed the program ended up in the end.
Can you summarize the recruiting process you went through and how look it took?
The recruiting process was quite clear as there was much communication throughout. I believe I first learned of the program on MBA-Exchange.com through an information session prior to applying. The first part of the process was a standard submittal of my resume, cover letter, and recorded video interview. This was kind of the prerequisite review to ensure I met the criteria of the program. It then followed with a number of rounds of both behavioral and technical (including a brief case study) Skype interviews with members in both HR and managers/senior leaders across the broader BP Downstream group. After the rounds of Skype interviews there was an invitation to attend an in person assessment center. Prior to the assessment center there was a brief aptitude test. In the assessment center I was grouped with other candidates where there were individual interviews, team activities, and individual case studies. The assessment center was the final phase prior to receiving an offer.
What were the required skillsets and prior experience and how were they evaluated (behavioral interviews, case studies, assessment center, panel interview, etc)?
As described above, there are multiple interviews both technical and behavioral prior to attending the assessment center which evaluates more of your professional experience.
The skillset requirements do vary based on the region and position, but generally speaking in terms of the program itself, the entry requirements begin with a post-graduate degree and five years of professional experience. Showing a strong academic record is important and will allow you to continue on in the interview process, but prior experience is necessary as well when it comes to the case based scenarios. Having a solid balance of academics as well as a proven track record in the workplace is very important. The technical capabilities will vary based on the role you are applying for.
What advice and tips can you share with those interested in MBA Development Programs?
Learn as much as you can about the program, the company, and the people prior to deciding if this is something you want to pursue. There are many platforms to do this on, such as MBA-Exchange.com, LinkedIn, the companyís website, and also earnings calls if the company is public. Listening to how management speaks about the growth and future of the company should help you get a feeling for how they align with your future goals as well.
The most important thing to remember is that this is not a short term focused effort. Similar to business school, you will be expected to commit and have a long term vision on what it is you want to get out of the program. I think a common misconception of these programs is that everything is set up for you and someone will be managing your career and ensuring you make the correct decisions along the way. It is important to keep a view that your career will only move as far as you are willing to take it and the program should be used as one of the many tools to advance your career. Being self-managed and being the first to reach out will take you a long way.
What does your average workday consist of?
I can say that there is not much of an average workday as mostly every day and week is constantly changing. Iíve had the opportunity to lead large proposals that work across multiple functions, countries, and levels of leadership. My role today is currently focused on inorganic development (corporate development), so my day consists of working towards developing proposals to acquire external companies or plan strategic initiatives related to inorganic growth. A typical day can involve financial modeling, developing business cases, hosting strategy sessions, or external networking to help accomplish our strategic agenda.
Although I have a focus in my role, I am also tagged at times to participate in other activities where I may provide some benefit to the teams. One thing that Iíve learned about BP in general is that a job title does not always define exactly what is performed in the role. In my role specifically, Iíve had the flexibility to develop the position in a way that works best to gain the level of exposure and build the capabilities needed for my next rotation and future assignments.
Regardless of the task at hand, I am normally communicating with individuals across different time zones and countries, so planning meetings and events is expected to take up a portion of what I do.
What are the major challenges or obstacles you have encountered during the program?
In the beginning I had challenged myself with re-creating the reputation and credibility I had from my previous company after being there for eight years. When you arrive at the company under the title of the program, not everyone is aware of the professional experience and capabilities you bring to the table. I learned that as I worked on multiple projects and across teams that there was plenty of opportunity to build the credibility and reputation I previously had.
The number one challenge for me in a program like this is balancing long term personal goals with professional goals. For example, if both you and your partner are very career driven it can be extremely difficult to decide which country you will live in for the next two years of your life or which of you will need to compromise (or sacrifice) for the other to continue on. Itís a challenge that I work through daily. The positive is that there are many others going through the exact same situation that you have the ability to reach out to and bounce ideas off of.
Building meaningful relationships within the program allows you to overcome many obstacles as you can bounce ideas off one another while having open and honest discussions. Many of the obstacles Iíve overcome have been due to my ability to seek out individuals that have gone through the challenge Iím faced with and learn from their experience.