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From Azerbaijan to LBS to McKinsey: how my Masters in Finance “fast tracked” my career

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This time last year, Laman Valizada landed a job at one of the world’s top consultancies, a firm renowned for its rigorous recruitment standards: McKinsey & Company.

She is clear about what got her there. “I did the Masters in Finance (MiF) at London Business School and it gave me the right skills to advance my career in a whole new direction.”

Laman says success on the LBS programme – which can be done either full-time (10 to 16 months) or part-time (22 months) – should not be measured purely in terms of the grades you get. “It’s just as important to use the MiF to achieve your career objectives.”

When Laman began the course, she was seeking to broaden and deepen her overall knowledge of finance, and also to understand her true potential and where can it take her.

“I’d been working in oil and gas industry in my home country, Azerbaijan, for seven years. I started as a drilling engineer with Schlumberger, later moved to performance management in BP where my career quickly progressed to a finance leadership role,” she says. “Finance became my real focus and I wanted to take my career to the next level. That’s why I did a finance degree, not a generalist MBA.”

But why choose London Business School? “I had great experience at a multi-national company, but I’d spent all my education and career in one country. To reach my full potential, I felt I needed to study at a truly global institution where I could learn from accomplished and industry leading faculty who are globally recognised in their given field of expertise.”

Still, Laman was “struck by the quality of the people” during the orientation week she spent meeting her new classmates. “At first I kept comparing myself to them and asking myself how I was going to fit in.”

After a “roller-coaster few weeks” studying alongside her fellow students who are some of the brightest minds from all over the world, Laman began to thrive at LBS.

“The Masters in Finance showed me there was so much more I could achieve in my career. When the lecturers talked about career paths for MiF graduates, I initially didn’t even know two-thirds of them,” she says.

This soon changed because Laman’s LBS classes had a “practical career-focused edge” to them, she says. “It’s not a theoretical degree. It lets you know what it’s like to actually work in finance because the people who teach you have worked on big financial deals themselves.”

All MiF students at LBS take three core modules: investments; corporate finance and valuation; and financial accounting and analysis. “In these classes you try out a number of areas of finance in a risk-free environment. This lets you determine where your real passion lies within the industry, so you can choose the elective modules in the next part of the degree that best suit your career objectives.”

Laman’s career “passion” became obvious almost immediately: corporate finance. “I love the way that corporate finance gives you the chance to engage with so many aspects of a company’s growth. That’s why I took an advanced course in it as one of my electives.”

But while Laman knew she wanted to refocus her career towards corporate finance, she was still unclear of the opportunities existing for her. That’s when LBS’s career advisor stepped in and provided her with knowledge and guidance as to what best suited her.

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“He pointed out that I was changing roles every two years within the same firm and that soon my current company wouldn’t be able to fulfil my career appetite. He recommended to consider management consulting which suited my profile and would provide the greater variety I needed in a job,” says Laman.

Exploring any opportunity is very easy in LBS – there is a variety of school-led events which lets students connect with literally any industry. After attending few consulting events at LBS, she realized that the advisor was right in the advice he gave. “I could move up the ladder at BP but I’d essentially be doing the same job, only with management responsibilities. Consulting, working with different companies as clients, sounded far more interesting.”

While Laman returned to BP after graduating (and secured a promotion), she already knew that there would be a moment of a career shift in the future. Two years later, Laman began applying to McKinsey. “I knew what I wanted and how to get there. When opportunity came up, I was well prepared for the interviews because of the support I got from LBS consulting network.”

Laman now puts her corporate finance knowledge to use as an associate at McKinsey, where she helps oil and gas clients on M&A, restructuring and other projects.

“My job often involves financial modelling and evaluating companies, two technical skills I didn’t have before I went to LBS. Whenever there’s something at work I’m unsure about, I even look at my old LBS notes for help.”

The Masters in Finance at LBS has also given her the “soft skills” she needs in her new career. “LBS emphasises ‘fast learning’. You might be given a week in a student group to work on a case study and solve a problem that in a company would take months. At LBS you learn to be super-efficient – and that’s also what’s required in consulting.”

Working in small student teams at LBS has boosted Laman’s negotiating and communication abilities, she says. “During the MiF you do group work with a wide range of people. Some of them are difficult, but you learn how to deal with them – that’s a valuable skill. As a consultant you’re always working with new people on short-term projects, so the underlying skills needed are the same.”

Laman says studying at LBS helped her to unlock her true potential. “It is not only about learning advanced and practical skills that would help you to advance your career. It is also about a chance to compare yourself with the best of the best, learn from them, explore the variety of opportunities, understand and shape your own path – and it might end up way more ambitious than you could ever imagine. Without LBS, I wouldn’t be at McKinsey.”

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Image credit: jeremyreds, Getty

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