Advice For Incoming MBA Students
I recently grinned my way across NYU Stern’s graduation stage. This was culmination of a 2.5-year trek to the industry I love and into a company I admire.
Before I pass along some advice to new MBA students, note these bio points since they frame my perspective:
- I was a career switcher, going from advertising in book publishing to business/strategy in technology
- I started school engaged and left school married (to the same person!)
- I’m 3 - 4 years older than the average ages given for Stern’s fulltime students
Okay, advice time.
You Got In. Don’t Be Cocky and Don’t Be Intimidated
GMAT scores set a standard for what constitutes “smart,” and some MBA students’ professional pedigrees scream it. If you came in with a 700 and from a “nontraditional” industry, don’t get hung up on that. And if you’re one of the people with a 790 and were a VP at Bank of America, don’t get hung up on that either.
After the initial week of introductions where everyone puffs his or her chest, everyone’s former professional reputations evaporate and reset.
Many of the people at Stern who eventually snagged the hardest jobs, excelled as leaders, and were recruited for the most group projects were not the ones who initially sounded particularly noteworthy. Instead, they were people who proved themselves to be effective and likable throughout their time at school.
FOMO… On What?
Fear Of Missing Out is an oft-repeated mantra at Stern and, from what I hear, many business schools. It’s healthy in moderation because it keeps people engaged. But the crucial question is: engaged with what?
FOMO usually refers to missing out on social stuff: another club’s party, a trip to Japan, 2 weeks
drinking studying in Hong Kong, that guy’s rooftop party, tomorrow’s karaoke night, that random girl’s birthday party, the lunch mission to Ippudo, the bar after the party after the drinks with the dean after the pregame drinking “The Tower” at The Half Pint… yeah, there’s no shortage of opportunities to act like a blacked out college freshman in business school.
The key is to pick a FOMO that works for you. I know plenty of students whose FOMO was their significant other, their own startup, a particular club, volunteering, internship opportunities, good grades, outside income, their families, and so forth. These students aren’t tagged in Facebook albums as frequently, nor do they appear in as many end-of-year slideshows, but I also know a lot of them are very happy with their experience and where their careers are taking them.
Business School Is Not The Answer, It’s A Step
If you have the money and time, attending business school is a pretty safe choice. It creates new career opportunities in many industries, plugs students into a solid network, confers credibility, and teaches useful concepts.
But that’s all it does.
It does not get you that job you want.
That’s up to you. And it’s competitive. You’re not only competing against your classmates, but you’re also competing against students from all the top business schools. The challenge is to differentiate yourself in a manner that matters to the hiring managers.
A word of advice to students attending business school hoping it will tell them what they want to do with their lives: tread very, very carefully. Business school does not exist to answer that question. If you have no idea, I’d suggest staying away until you figure it out, and then make sure getting an MBA will help with your goals.
If you’re still deciding whether business school is right for you, or want to talk about Stern, Tweet at me — @justonpayne. I’m happy to share my thoughts and experiences.