Science says a common piece of career wisdom may be wrong

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Picture two candidates for a job at an investment bank: Steve and Mike.

Both graduated from the same prestigious MBA program, where they concentrated in finance.

Steve worked in advertising before enrolling in the program and interned at a consulting firm. Mike, on the other hand, worked at an investment bank before enrolling in the program and also interned at an investment bank during the program.

Who do you think is more likely to land the position?

If your vote is for Mike because he demonstrates a clear commitment to investment banking, while Steve is more of a dabbler, you might be wrong.

New research, cited in The Harvard Business Review, suggests that, contrary to common wisdom, generalists receive better job offers than specialists do.

For the study, researchers at Tulane University and Columbia Business School looked at nearly 400 students who graduated from elite American MBA programs in 2008 and 2009 and pursued work in investment banking.

Specifically, they wanted to know whether students who had demonstrated more focus in a specific career area before and during their MBA stints were more or less likely to land good investment banking job offers.

After the researchers controlled for factors like gender, age, and academic performance, their results showed that specialists were less likely than generalists to receive more than one job offer from an investment bank. Moreover, specialists received signing bonuses that were 36% smaller than generalists' signing bonuses.

The researchers can't say for sure why generalists have an advantage here. One possibility is that most MBA grads are specialists, so generalists stand out.

These findings are especially meaningful given that the last five to 10 years have marked a growing emphasis on building a "consistent profile" in one field, the study authors told HBR.

But the authors also told HBR that experienced hiring managers "said things like, 'Someone who has accomplished a lot of things is better than a one-trick-pony who just keeps doing the same thing and isn't taking advantage of what the MBA has to offer.'''

RELATED: Tips to help you land your first job out of college

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5 tips to help you land your first job after graduation
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Science says a common piece of career wisdom may be wrong

Take advantage of your college career center
Most universities offer career coaching from trained professionals who specialize in development and advancement. Whether or not you have an idea of your career plans post-college, it can be beneficial to take a few hours out of your day and set up an appointment with one of the counselors. Many times, these professionals can review and help you tailor your resumé and cover letter. To top it off, because of their experience and networks in various industries, counselors have the potential to connect you with hiring managers.

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Begin creating and using your network 
One of the most important aspects to finding a job is taking advantage of your professional and personal network. Your connections can vary from your family members and friends to your professors and alumni. If you feel as if you're lacking a valuable network, however, business association events and gatherings are the best way to gain important contacts.

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Participate in recruiting and career fairs 
This piece of advice may be the most obvious, but many students fail to take advantage of it. Careers fairs orchestrated by your specific college are invaluable. They allow you to not only learn about opportunities in your respective career, but it also allows you the opportunity to network with hiring managers and employers of the companies present.

Use your social media wisely 
It goes without saying that we live in a social media world. Everything you do online can be tracked, so it's important to make sure you are representing your personality and style accurately, and in the best possible light -- you never know who may be looking at your page.


 
Always follow up  
With the advancement of modern technology, most job applications are done online. Because of this new process, it oftentimes makes it harder to find the person of contact to follow up with. However, you shouldn't let that initial obstacle prevent you from following up. If you can't find the name of the hiring manager directly reviewing your application, use LinkedIn to do a search of the next best person to reach out to. Many potential employees miss out on interviews by not being proactive and sending follow up emails.
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Based on this research, it's unclear whether generalization is beneficial in other career fields as well. But the study authors did tell HBR that leaders tend to be generalists and are able to manage multiple areas.

Regardless of what industry you work in, perhaps the most important takeaway is to be skeptical of conventional career advice. Do specialists really have an advantage over generalists, or might employers view diverse career experience as beneficial?It's worth investigating before you assume your varied background puts you out of the running for your dream job.

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