By Marjorie Reed, Christine Thach and Kimberly A. Whitler
MBA students spend months if not years working to get into an MBA program. However, once they are in a program, the everyday demands take over and students have little time to think about how to get the most out of their program, enabling greater success. To better understand how to hit the ground running and to make sure you maximize success in your MBA program, we turned to recent and current students of top-tier MBA programs for advice.
Tip #1: Focus on Career Experimentation
Alex Haddock, Darden School of Business (University of Virginia), Interned at Goldman Sachs
Alex Haddock, a rising Second Year at Darden, suggests that you go beyond the career exploration offered through recruiting. During the recruiting process, you will have access to top companies that will try to give you a sense of what it’s like to work in different fields and functions. However, business school offers many other opportunities to learn about new roles and industries – and the chance to actually use and experiment with the skills required in a variety of roles. Classes, clubs and extracurricular experiences will let you engage in real consulting, marketing and entrepreneurial engagements, just to name a few. During his first year, Alex was able to help a local company organize its accounting records, work with a public school to streamline its planning processes, and compete in a start-up pitch competition. If you take advantage of the resources at your school, you can leave after two years already having lived the roles of marketer, banker, consultant and more. Then you can make the best decision about your career path and your future.
Tip #2: Make the Most of the MBA “Card”
David Newsome, Sloan School of Management (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), Interned at City of Boston New Urban Mechanics Fellow
Pursuing an MBA gives you an ability that is too often ignored – the ability to ask for something on the grounds that you “are an MBA student.” You can more easily get informational interviews, obtain data, attend conferences, and open more doors than when you are in the professional world with ulterior motives assumed based on your job title and company. Use this freedom to explore new opportunities, meet new leaders, and figure out what it really is you want to do.
Tip #3: Find an Activity that Gives you Energy and Make Time to do it Regularly
Rob Kenny, Haas School of Business (UC Berkeley), Interned at Google
Business school is a busy and stressful time. It can be especially draining during the first weeks and months as you meet new people and perhaps adjust to a new city or country. It is easy to neglect your personal wellbeing amongst the priorities competing for your time. I found it really helpful to set aside a set period each week to focus on myself. For me this meant running in the hills of Berkeley but it could be cooking or dancing or anything else that you enjoy. Finding something that allows you to refresh and reenergize yourself is important and I recommend that you find out what this is and ensure you do it regularly.
Tip #4: Benchmark Against Yourself—Not Your Peers
Charu Subramanian, Kelley School of Business (Indiana University), Interned in Marketing at Dr. Pepper / Snapple
It is critical that you benchmark your success based on where you were when you when started your program, rather than measuring yourself against your peers. The beauty of an MBA program is that it draws in the best and brightest from all walks of life and therefore it is futile to measure your growth or achievements based on someone else. Top business schools intentionally recruit students with an array of backgrounds and experiences. The learning curve and baseline are completely unique for each and every arriving student. Keeping this in mind will allow you to appreciate what you have learned, how much you have grown, and make sure you are prepared for your future career.
Tip #5: Be Yourself
Emily McGrath, Wharton School of Business (University of Pennsylvania), Interned at Ford Motor Company
The best advice Emily received before starting business school was that the sooner you are yourself, the better your experience will be. You will be thrown into in an environment with all new people and many exciting opportunities. You may quickly find yourself doing things that don’t actually interest you or support your goals. It’s important to try some new things while in business school, but always make sure you are still being authentic to yourself.
Tip #6: Take a Holistic Approach to Academics
Austin Wiles, Kellogg School of Management (Northwestern University), Interned at HubSpot
It’s easy to get wrapped up in understanding each and every component of all the concept taught in business school. Remember that in most cases it’s not about becoming “the expert”…it’s about acquiring a top-level understanding of key tools and skills so that you may identify potential risks and opportunities, ask good questions and make informed recommendations.
Tip #7: Go on Informational Interviews to Get Ahead
Scott Drattell, NYU Stern, Senior Global Brand Marketing Associate at Mattel
Don’t rely solely on on-campus Corporate Presentations for your internship or job search. Instead, use informational interviews to narrow the scope of your search, gather information that will give you a leg up in interviews, and build a network of contacts that will actively work to help you. When you go on informationals, learn as much as you can about your target industry, company, and role, and impress your contacts with your genuine interest and credentials without treating your talk like a formal interview. And while you should start by leveraging your “traditional” network – classmates, friends, family, professors – to set up informationals, force yourself to step outside your comfort zone. Talk to professionals that come to your school to speak in classes or at conferences, and cold contact people in your target field on LinkedIn, especially alumni of your MBA program. The vaster the network you build, the greater your chances of landing your dream internship or job. One caveat: don’t go overboard making contacts at one company. Any more than two to three people and you might cause confusion for HR or seem overeager, which can be a turn-off.
Tip #8: Focus
Laura Jakosky, Ross School of Business (University of Michigan), Interned at Ford Motor Company
Remember why you came to business school – write it down, revisit your notes and make it your mantra. Allow yourself to focus on what you really want by narrowing your options. Try making a more targeted list of companies to apply to or choosing just one club to take a leadership role in. Laura stuck to this plan her entire first year. While she constantly felt pulled in different directions, she reminded herself daily of her goals and it paid off – she felt much less stress, dug deeper into the activities in which she chose to participate, and built stronger relationships along the way.
Tip #9: Step Out and Take Risks
Brandon Olszewski, Kelley School of Business (Indiana University), Interned at Scott’s Miracle Gro Company
Take classes that are outside of your comfort zone, attend meetings for clubs you never considered joining, and introduce yourself to students you don’t know. Pushing your boundaries can serve several purposes both academically and socially. It will expose you to new ideas and ways of thinking that you might not have the opportunity to experience once you graduate. It will help build your network, which is critically important for your post-MBA career. Lastly, it will help keep you energized. Top business schools all have rigorous curriculums but the constant influx of new ideas and people in your life will keep you refreshed as you make your way through two of the best years of your life.
Tip #10: Establish a Long-term Career Goal
Michael Okimoto, Haas School of Business (UC Berkeley), Interned at The Coca-Cola Company
Having a long-term career goal makes it easier to determine what summer internship, and ultimately what first post-MBA job, to pursue. Many new and exciting job opportunities will come your way throughout the MBA, and this can be overwhelming and stressful. By taking the time up front to thoughtfully identify your long-term career aspirations, you can focus your efforts on the short-term career opportunities that matter and increase your chances of securing your ideal internship or full-time job.
Tip #11: Don’t Be Complacent
Erick Hanson, Marquette University, SC Johnson
Erick suggests that you don’t become complacent after gaining admission to business school. With your school structuring initial curriculum and bringing great employers directly to you, it becomes easy to fall into a lull of just “being present”. Erick decided to get as much out of his time as an MBA student as possible. Given the opportunity to not be working full-time, he sought different experiences that were unique to being an MBA student. This included attending networking events outside of the business school, volunteering in the community, partnering with a professor on research, and taking an independent study. Erick believes that such experiences can help cultivate who you want to be professionally, and maybe spark new passions in life. Although many opportunities are provided to you at whichever school you attend, don’t be afraid to blaze your own trail if it fits your career and personal ambitions.
Tip #12: Positively Impact the MBA Experience of Those Around You
Travis Dezendorf, Darden School of Business (University of Virginia), Interned at The Boston Consulting Group
MBA students get really good at talking and thinking about themselves during business school. The process forces you to craft a great story for why you should be hired, pushes you to analyze your own strengths and weaknesses, and provides services tailored to your specific goals. The well-being and success of your peers can quickly become an alternate pursuit or use of your energy. Avoid this trap of self-absorption at all costs! A great way to improve the value of your MBA is by having a positive impact on someone else’s experience. Your school moves up in the rankings as student satisfaction floats up. Recruiters find more candidates to bring in for interviews when the room is filled with people genuinely enjoying each other’s company. Alumni choose to work with former classmates who they shared positive experiences with. You also gain critical management skills through pursuing this endeavor. It is small-minded to consider purely your own future compensation (relative to cost) when evaluating your MBA experience. Spend time during your brief two years in school developing a positive, collaborative community and see how far that skill carries you after graduation.
Tip #13: Continue to Pursue your Interests and Relationship Outside of the Program
Jennifer Agnew, Kelley School of Business (Indiana University), Marketing at Abbott Nutrition
There is a lot going on in every MBA program: class work, networking, interviewing, clubs, social events, and more. While you will meet some amazing people and have exciting opportunities in your program, don’t forget to maintain your relationships with your pre-MBA friends and families. This community from your pre-MBA life is filled with people that support you, care about you, and maybe even helped you get into graduate school. These relationships will help you maintain perspective and optimism through challenging times while they will also celebrate the successes along your MBA journey. You should also make sure to maintain your individual interests and hobbies. This can help relieve the stress of pursuing a graduate degree and strengthen your sense of self while you grow and change with the program. Just doing something not-MBA related can help you clear your mind and give you a realistic view of the challenges the program presents. Maintaining these old ties will help you maintain your sanity, support, and a perspective during your time as a student.
This article was written by Kimberly A. Whitler from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.