Getting Ahead in the Corporate World – Old Advice vs New Advice!

Things change over time, to be sure; but what about advice for a new MBA graduate regarding getting ahead in the corporate world NOW – as opposed to THEN.

I dusted off some old speeches and articles from back in the mid 1980’s and early 1990’s regarding how to get ahead in the corporate world. Let’s look at the environment and recommendations made at that time. I’ll use as an example a speech that I delivered to the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business on March 6, 1985 (27 years ago!).   U_of_C_Speech_1985

In that speech, I said:

  • In 1960, there were approximately 4,000 MBAs in the United States.
  • In 1985, there were approximately 70,000 MBA graduates, but approximately 700,000 individuals WITH the MBA degree in the United States.
  • In 1985 there were approximately 250,000 “Career Capstone” positions – those positions that are (or should be) the target positions for any aspiring MBA degree holder who wants to rise to the top.
  • The turnover rate for these “Career Capstone” positions in 1985 was about every ten years.

The conclusion then?

My quote: “Many of us will never fully satisfy our lofty goals; we may even have to accept never getting to the executive suite.”

The advice then?

Don’t rely on the company to take care of you; take charge of your career yourself!


  • Find a trusted “career partner” – one with whom you can confidentially discuss your career goals and tactics;
  • Keep an “attitude diary” – one in which you articulate your feelings and attitudes about your job and career every two or three months.
  • Use the “Doom Loop” as a diagnostic tool – it will help you predict career crises and keep you from making stupid career moves.

So what is the situation today, what conclusions can we draw, and what sort of career strategy and tactics can we use?

Well, here are some unpleasant facts:

  • According to the Graduate Management Admission Council, as of 2008, there were more than 250,000 students enrolled in MBA programs and more than 100,000 MBA degrees awarded annually. These MBAs represent at least 66 percent of all graduate business degrees conferred.
  • It’s difficult to pinpoint the number of “Career Capstone” positions, but factors such as increased corporate efficiency, consolidations, and downsizing over the years suggests that there may be approximately 300,000 such jobs.
  • The turnover rate of these “Career Capstone” positions has not decreased – but most likely has increased by a year or two.

The conclusion now?

The corporate world is just as competitive these days as it was in 1985 – even more so. Far more individuals with MBA degrees are competing for fewer high level positions.

The advice now?

The need for you to manage your own career is greater than ever.

The recommendations made in 1985 still are solid.

  • A “Career Partner” is always helpful;
  • An “Attitude Diary” still helps;
  • The “Doom Loop” is probably more important than ever because you will most likely be in each job longer – thus enabling the effects of the “Doom Loop” to appear.

Perhaps the salvation of today’s world as opposed to what it was in 1985 is the access you have to information about jobs available and the programs/websites that are available for you to examine these jobs and pursue them as you wish.

Certainly the MBA degree continues to have value – at the worst case, it is most likely better than NOT having one (although you might consider the fact that both Steve Jobs and Bill Gates were not even college graduates).

The “Critical Skills” have changed only modestly since that speech at the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business in 1985. Specifically,

  • The “Information” skill has changed because of the enormous effect of the internet.
  • The “Continued Education” skill has become even more important because of the changes in technology that occur on almost an annual basis.

On balance, “Getting Ahead in the Corporate World” hasn’t changed very much with the major exception that it has become far more competitive.

This means that your Career Management must be better than ever if you wish to achieve your goals.

And, in the meantime, don’t forget about the “Critical Skills.” They could be the keys to your rising to the top!

Good luck in your journey!



Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.