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Boosting career decision making and employability through mental toughness

Paula Quinton-Jones

The global job market has never been tougher and for new and returning entrants, the ability to stay focused and motivated coupled with a strong differentiation from the rest of the talent

pool is key. To offer support to international business students facing the realities of this employment challenge, Hult International Business School has embedded mental toughness into its core career services delivery. Hult has found that mental toughness is a unique and practical tool for students to use in key areas of job searching and career development:

• Identifying the most appropriate/optimal work environment to allow candidates to function at their peak performance

• Articulating skills, strengths, and behaviours in a meaningful way

• Understanding managerial style as well as how they like to be managed

• Staying motivated and maintaining focus.

It is the first two of these areas that we have found deliver most value in career coaching and we will focus on them here.

Hult is the world's largest business school by graduating class with approximately 2,000 graduates per year. This has been achieved through very rapid growth and a network of five global campuses in Boston, San Francisco, London, Dubai, and Shanghai as well as rotation campuses in Sao Paolo and New York. The student body is highly diverse with in excess of 100 nationalities represented and no one nationality makes up more than twenty per cent of the student body on any campus. Whilst many of the employment challenges faced by Hult students are the same as for any graduates entering the employment market today, there are several unique aspects of the Hult experience that intensify this challenge. The structural elements of the programmes offered, specifically the one year duration and the fact that students can choose to rotate to two additional campuses for the last four months of their programme, mean that the Hult year is out of synch with the recruitment timetable for many MBA and graduate recruiters and that for many students their time to explore career ideas and get “market-ready” is realistically only six to eight months. The result? Hult students need to be creative about finding channels to market and creating opportunities. They also need to “hit the ground running” and be prepared to make decisions and follow through with actions, sometimes in the face of limited information and often running two or three career searches simultaneously.

Whilst the diversity of the Hult student body is an advantage in many ways, it also delivers some more specific issues in terms of approach to job search and student expectations. Whilst students from Western Europe and the US are used to a degree of self-sufficiency in job search, the business school recruitment process in India centres around companies coming onto campus to source candidates with connections outside this channel not allowed. This creates an expectation of the school “delivering” jobs to students which is not Hult's approach and sets a possible tension straight away as students either feel disappointed about the school's lack of delivery against their expectations or scared by the prospect of approaching the market directly.

Even for those students not facing practical issues in terms of job search (visa regulations in the UK continue to be a barrier to market entry for non EEA (European Economic Area) students), the realities of an international career move include the need to adapt to a working culture and set of social rules (a situation that manifests early in the job search process in terms of application and interview etiquette) which can be, at best, different and at worst, at odds with native culture. As a result of the above the role of the career services team extends beyond basic coaching on career decision-making and job search technique to supporting cultural transitions, managing expectations and helping students revise plans and maintaining motivation throughout the process; we act as cheerleaders, policemen, and confidantes.

With a starting point in identifying potential drop outs from business school, the MTQ measure has already proven its relevance in this environment; it is for this reason that the measure was initially interesting to Hult. The concept of mental toughness and its parallels with sports psychology as well as its unique perspective in a crowded market were felt to accurately reflect the Hult experience as well as the school's philosophy of innovation and alternative thinking and our practical pedagogy. We focus on an holistic experience for our students where as much learning happens outside the classroom (in teamwork exercises, mixing with colleagues, staff, and external contacts etc.) as in, and as we further investigated and developed our understanding of the measure and trialled with students, various other applications have emerged. For example, an early and simple mapping of mental toughness against GPA (grade point average) shows that it is a better indicator of academic performance than the GMAT test.1

When mental toughness was initially adopted by Hult as part of our career services offering, the focus was on using the measure to understand how to approach the year at Hult on an individual level (approach work, teamwork, goal orientation). As we have built mental toughness into the careers programme and wider philosophy, our use of the tool has become increasingly sophisticated and we use the concepts and associated interventions as lenses through which to view and examine various elements of the career decision-making and job search journeys.

The vast majority of the careers work undertaken at Hult centres on early career entrants and career changers. Whilst industry focused activities and speakers help students understand the mechanics and work content of various roles, students often find they are able to perform a number of different roles but don't know which will make them happy or play to their specific strengths. In situations such as this, mental toughness provides a filter to lay over the role based information; to think in more detail about the environment and work practices involved in various positions adding further granularity to career research. Conversations around roles can vary from the basic identification of “right-fit” jobs (someone who is at the sensitive end of the scale on challenge would be best placed in a role requiring regular tasks with strong attention to detail for example actuarial work, compliance, technical drawing etc.), through to a high level of detail around the best work environment or firm for a particular student. This kind of decision information is best illustrated within the financial services industry where a student may have decided to work in corporate finance and have a challenge score of nine or ten matched with a high score on emotional intelligence. In this instance they will most likely thrive in a highly competitive (daresay ruthless) environment as they will be motivated to prove themselves as well as be able to receive criticism in a balanced way and not allow it to detract from the goal in which case they would be suited for the stereotypically high-pressure, high-reward US banks.

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