My life as a first-year… Entrepreneur, Part I

Today, an inside look at one entrepreneur’s road to success — in this case, as a career coach. Emily McLellan is the president and founder of Springboard Career Consultants, a company that helps undergrads and twentysomethings identify and realize their professional dreams. An alum of Morgan Stanley (MS) and McKinsey, Emily also spent considerable time in the for-profit education sector, with Kaplan and the Edison Schools — all excellent preparation for her new profession as a career guru for young people. So though this Xer isn’t a first-year corporate American, she is pretty close to a first-year entrepreneur, which is at least as exciting as climbing the corporate ladder. So let the schooling begin…


Three years ago, I would have laughed if someone had suggested that I’d launch my own business. In fact, I remember agreeing when my brother told me that he thought I’d make a great “company [wo]man” — a lifer at an organization whose product and mission I supported and where I could rise through the ranks to a great job in senior management. I guess that where I am now isn’t that far off — I believe in the product we offer, and I have incredible senior management responsibilities. The only difference is that instead of rising through the ranks, I’m creating them.

My motivation for taking some risk and going out on my own came from my idea. It’s good — a lot better and more exciting to work on than anything I was responsible for before — and I quickly became obsessed with making the concept work. The idea, which I think will resonate with many of you, is to provide structured support and guidance to college students and recent graduates entering the job market — to give them the up-to-date, unbiased, and high-quality advice that they aren’t getting on campus or from their parents.

I certainly needed the kind of advice we offer when I was in college! Frankly, the only reason I got a job after graduation is that one of my roommates and closest friends who is probably the most organized and focused person I know took charge of the process for me during junior and senior year. She literally outfitted me, dragged me to those painful company information sessions, told me where to sign up for interviews, and drilled me on what to say during them. In retrospect, I probably should have named Springboard after her.

Still, even with this incredible force behind me, I was really naive in the job-search process. I remember going to one interview for a summer analyst role at an investment bank during my junior year. The interviewer asked me: “If you could have dinner with any two people in history, who would you choose?” I had no idea what to say and no understanding of how to be strategic with my answer, so I answered, “Hitler and the Pope.” Not the most PC answer. I guess I was trying to be provocative and (maybe) thoughtful, but I think I just managed to freak out the interviewer. Not surprisingly, I didn’t get the job.

It wasn’t until going to business school that I really learned how to approach the job search process strategically. People go to business school to get new jobs and advance their careers, so, naturally, learning how to land a job is a central part of the experience. And, unlike in college, job search resources and support were everywhere — built into the curriculum, offered through the career services office, provided by student organizations. And the concept of networking and mutual support was integrated into the social dynamic. Why did I ace my case interviews in business school when just three years before I’d botched one terribly? Because classmates and the on-campus consulting club helped me plan for them. Older students who’d been through the process before me gave me tips, I practiced with classmates going through the same process, and the student-run club provided all kinds of case-prep materials.

After receiving so much practical guidance in grad school, I’m still surprised that today, when a majority of college students want to get jobs right after graduation, this kind of support doesn’t exist on undergrad campuses. Why do so many college grads enter the workforce as naively as I did? My goal with Springboard is to fill that void and hopefully, over time, inspire liberal arts schools to do more to set their graduates up for successful transitions into the professional world.

Next week: The ups and downs of getting Springboard off the ground…

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