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Advice for the MBA Class of 2017

What I wish I knew before I started school

Jack Mara     |     Aug 16, 2015

Wikimedia - Workman

The blog last week on how we actually select featured articles was the least popular blog in months. Apparently no one cares about how the sausage is made…my bad! I won’t do that again.

With many of our readers headed to their first year of school I figured I’d write about what I wish I knew before my first year.

1) Don’t worry about what anyone else is doing, worry about what you are doing

Everyone enters business school with goals. Chances are you had a nice relaxing summer with time to think and reflect. Chances are you developed some hypotheses on what you might want to do post business school. Chances are these hypotheses are well thought out and align with both your skill set, personality and dreams. Chances are you are still open and eager to learn more about what is out there and where you may or may not fit.

Then you enter school and those first couple of months are so frenzied. If you don’t already know before school you learn fast when you arrive that there is a perceived hierarchy of business school jobs and companies. You learn excellent reasons why gunning for the top of the hierarchy will accelerate your career and put yourself in the best possible position. Second years returning from internships at the top of the hierarchy are highly respected in the school. Most of your classmates are recruiting in this direction and more end up caught in the herd. These companies come to your school early and often. They are well-oiled recruiting machines.

Recruiting goals of your classmates start to change drastically. Students rationalize why pushing goals for a couple of years actually makes more sense. MBAs try to fit their skill set into the perceived best jobs, even though it is like fitting a square peg in a round hole. MBAs try to change their personalities to fit these cultures, often saying “it’s just for two years.”

MBAs, particularly in the first couple of months spend far too much time worrying about what everyone else is doing. Don’t. Worry about what you are doing. Worry about what you want to do, where your skill set best aligns, where your personality is the best fit and where you will enjoy the work the most.

2) Appreciate the different skill sets of your classmates

This one seems so incredibly obvious because going in it is a business school cliché: “You will learn more from your classmates than your professors.” But I promise you, it is not obvious. Once you are settled into school smart becomes defined as who is best in business school classes and who lands the best jobs. Business school smart is very tied to who can do the best analysis.

Starting 10Thoughts second year I learned how many different skills are involved in a business. I learned that different classmates thrive in different areas. I learned that many of the skills do not easily reveal themselves in the classroom.

The skill set to analyze data is different than the skill set to think of a creative way to design an experiment. It is different than the skill set to design a webpage from scratch. It is different than the skill set to code out a manual task. It is different than the skill set to make an ask of a complete stranger.

Different classmates were helpful in different parts of the business. I learned to appreciate that my classmates all had different skill sets and were very smart in different ways. I encourage you to challenge yourself to learn from all your classmates, not just the ones that are strong in class and “business school smart.”

3) Quick Hints

Think cultural and where you fit best when you recruit, not just rankings. Make time to stay in touch with your friends back home – don’t get too caught in the bubble. Select classes based on professors (when you actually pick), don’t overcommit yourself to clubs / activities / organizations / extra projects – do a couple well, have fun – it’s an awesome experience. MOST IMPORTANTLY, stay well versed on what your peers in the business world are reading – DON’T STOP READING 10THOUGHTS!

Written by Jack Mara - Please submit all responses to jackmara@10Thoughts.com

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