Each year, thousands of MBA students graduate from business school and embark on the next chapter in their careers. This often means moving up to a higher role in a current field, taking on a new role, or jumping head-first into a new industry. The impact of these changes is often looked at in terms of quantifiable measurement, such as a higher salary, or increased long-term earning potential, but when you talk to MBA students you often realize there is so much more that an MBA education provides. I know this personally, as an MBA graduate myself, but also because for my book, MBA Insider: How to Make the Most of Your MBA Experience, I talked to hundreds of MBA students about their time in business school to understand how students were using business school to progress their careers and what they were learning in school that they found valuable and insightful.
For prospective MBA students, here are some lessons you can think about as you prepare to start on your MBA journey.
Lesson 1: Become a lifelong learner
“Business school taught me that I never want to stop learning. I will always want to push myself to learn and grow, and become the best version of myself.”
– Katie Blach Ellington, Wharton, Class of 2017
Business school is a time for learning and growth. To do that, you need to step outside your comfort zone, even if it may seem challenging. Katie Blach Ellington learned this during her time at Wharton, where she regularly raised her hand for stretch opportunities. “I took on so many stretch opportunities which taught me that I never want to stop learning, pushing myself, and broadening my perspective and pushing myself to stay curious and continue to grow.”
By embodying a growth mindset, or the belief that new skills and learnings can be gained over time Ellington was able to not only build new skills, but take on new experiences and opportunities that she may have found otherwise.
Lesson 2: Follow your own path
“The situations where I thrived the most were when I pursued activities, opportunities, that were aligned to me. It always just felt right.”
– Jasmine Ako, Yale SOM, Class of 2019
One of the benefits of going to business school is the chance to be surrounded by lots of intelligent, hard-working, and career-driven individuals. This can also be a challenge, as it can cause individuals to feel like they don’t belong. It can be easy to feel overwhelmed or overmatched when you are surrounded by so many smart people, which often leads to questioning yourself and your abilities.
To quell this fear, Jasmine Ako learned the importance of honoring your interests. “Intentionally following my passions and interests helped me quell the imposter syndrome I had,” Ako said. Furthermore, upon reflection, Ako realized that when she prioritized her interests, it allowed her to focus on her values and vision for success, not the ones of others.
Lesson 3: Experiment and take risks
“Not trying something in safe space with lots of resources is a bigger risk than failing”
– Collin Keeler, Wharton, Class of 2019
While failure isn’t “free,” it costs a lot less in a learning environment such as business school. It is a great opportunity to take intelligent risks, and to stretch yourself. Whether that’s by taking a class you normally wouldn’t have taken because it was on a subject you weren’t strong in, taking on a club leadership role, exploring an entrepreneurial idea, or trying a new career or industry, the full-time MBA experience gives you the opportunity to try things, knowing that they may not work out but things will still be OK.
During his time at Wharton, Colin Keeler decided to start BeenThere. While this was an inherent risk, Keeler knew he was surrounded with resources and access to people to support him along the way, so even if he made a mistake, or a misstep, he had plenty of resources at his disposal to pick himself back up. “I realized that the cost of trying something was higher than failing, especially in a place like business school,” Keeler said.
Lesson 4: Practice self reflection and self awareness
“In a world that moves so fast and work that demands so much of our time and mental energy, business school allows you to pause and think about who you are, what you’re good at, and how you can make an impact on the world in a meaningful way”
– Shannon Griesser, Fuqua, Class of 2019
Business school is a unique experience because it gives you two years to hit the pause button to work on yourself and your career. This is a great time to take a step back and to not only reflect on what you’ve done, but where you want to go. But reflection isn’t something that happens naturally for most. Because life can get busy, it can be difficult to find the time.
Shannon Griesser made reflection a priority amidst her many other activities. She tried to make space to reflect on her experiences and what she learned, and used those reflections to inform her future decision making. On a regular basis, Griesser would take time to write down her ideas or thoughts on what she was learning or experiencing, and then tie them to how they were helping her work towards the goals she set for herself. Griesser also relied on others to get feedback. Having experts and thought leaders like professors, professionals and administrators advising you as you work through your reflection and learning is a critical component to helping you make sense of the experience.
Lesson 5: Set your team up for success
“When building teams or coalitions, it is important for leaders to understand what those on their team want to get out of an experience.”
– Triston Francis, HBS, Class of 2019
As Student Body Co-President at Harvard Business School, Triston Francis managed a team of 70+ peers and a budget of $1.3 million. For Francis, the learning opportunity came from thinking about how to motivate peers to be excited about giving up time in order to give back to the HBS community. “What I learned from this experience is that when building teams or coalitions, it is important for leaders to understand what those on their team want to get out of an experience.”
Francis focused on empowering his peers through roles and assignments that aligned their individual interests with the needs of students and their unique skillsets. “I focused on designing roles that allow people who are working with you to have a phenomenal experience and get from it what they want all while having a positive impact on the broader student body,” Francis said.
Lesson 6: Career development is a lifelong process
“Business school isn’t just about landing a job when you graduate, but building the career development skills you will need to evolve and grow for the rest of your career”
– John Huang, Ross, Class of 2015
Students come to business school to find or transition to a new job. While many achieve that, the reality is that almost all MBA students will eventually have to change jobs or careers after they graduate. While the process of finding the right MBA internship and full-time opportunity after graduation is important, the value of those experiences is that they teach graduates skills career management skills that are useful and important for the rest of their careers, long after that first job post graduation.
John Huang began his post-graduation career in an MBA Leadership Development Program at Wal-Mart, before moving to an early stage startup, which led him to spending a few years at Twitter, before finally ending up in a Product Growth role at a fast-growing startup. Along the way, Huang used these career management skills to identify each new opportunity and pivot.
To learn more about what MBAs learn in business school, Check out MBA Insider on Amazon today.
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By Al Dea, Founder, MBASchooled.com, Author of MBA Insider: How to Make The Most of Your MBA Experience
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