As I mentioned earlier, this will be the last official MBA entry of this blog because school is over and there isn’t much more about the B-school experience that I can share. Since I started this thing in Oct 2003, I’ve literally undergone a transformation from the “anti-professional” to a business professional. OK, that might be a bit of an exaggeration, but it really isn’t too far off. When I started applying to schools, I was essentially a software coder who:
- Wore baggy jeans, Timberland boots, and a t-shirt to work on an average day,
- Had never done a full-time job interview without an earring in,
- Idealistically believed that one’s career should only hinge on working hard and doing good work, and
- Didn’t recognize how on-point he truly was because his career had seemingly gone astray
Now, three years later, I’ve grown into a soon-to-be strategy consultant who:
- Has finally become a “grown-up” many years after leaving college,
- Knows how to act, dress, and carry myself like a true professional,
- Understands that career success is a balance of actual work performance and the “corporate game”, and
- Can finally see that I “bring the thunder” in terms of talent/abilities and have a limitless career potential
I knew that Stanford GSB would teach me about the ins and outs of the business game, but I had no idea that it would guide me so far. I’ve learned a lot since the start of the application process in August 2003 and, as a way of rounding out my B-school blogging, I thought I should share the lessons that I found to be most important. I’m going to phrase them as words of advice and, while I recognize that a few may seem basic, they were huge takeaways for me and they fall into three categories:
- Ideas to keep in mind as you decide how to approach the B-school experience overall
- Items that may prove helpful in interpersonal exchanges with classmates, professors, and other colleagues
- Helpful hints for how to view yourself and how you fit into B-school
Marquis’ Top Ten Lessons Learned in B-School:
Category 1: Ideas to keep in mind as you decide how to approach the B-school experience overall
1. Getting into a top business school is only half the battle —
Many applicants believe that they can totally relax once they’ve gained admission to a school. I’d argue that the real work starts and that one works as hard or harder in school than he/she would while applying. For example, as I learned during my MBA1 internship process, the biggest quality that sets you apart from the candidate pool in general (namely being a student at School X) matters a whole lot less when you’re doing on-campus recruiting and competing with other students from your class…from there, it’s all about the results of your interview prep that will move you along. In other words, getting into a good B-school can open doors for you, but selling yourself and building your skillset are key to you being able to step through the door and make your move.
2. Recognize the power of social capital and be ready to play the “Social Capital Game” —
When i started at the GSB, I was totally ignorant about social capital and just thought everything would be alright if I worked hard and was nice to people…I quickly found out that things are a lot more complicated than that. The positive or negative social capital that you build in business school can affect you, not only in school, but also for the rest of your career. For example, if you build up a positive reputation among your classmates, they’re more likely to vouch for you to a future employer, investor, or associate. On the other hand, a negative reputation can make classmates question how much they’d be willing to go for bat for you in similar situations. Also, you can be affected by the social capital of those with whom you associate yourself…you could have the best social capital in the world, but, if you align yourself with someone who is in the opposite position, the results can be disastrous for you. Because of my early ignorance about the Social Capital Game, I fell victim to negative social capital by association and not enough of positive social capital of my own during my time in B-school (read some of my old posts and you should figure out what i’m referring two in both cases)…please be mindful of it in your own school journey as you move forward.
3. “Be ruthless with your time” -Jim Ellis —
One of my favorite professors was Jim Ellis, a GSB alum who bought a small roadside assistance company and turned it into a powerhouse that now goes by the name of Asurion. One of Ellis’ most common pieces of advice for his students to follow in their careers was to be as ruthless as possible with their time and to make priorities in their lives as early and often as possible. This advice resonated with me from the moment I heard it and I’m passing it along to you because priority setting is crucial in B-school. I see the busines school experience as being a balance of three areas:
- Social life and personal time
- Extracurriculars and professional development activities
It is imperative that you figure out how much time you want to devote to each of these sections and stick to it. You can’t be all things to all people, but that won’t keep people from trying to convince you to try and overcommit across one or more of these areas. Don’t be afraid to prioritize your needs above all else while you’re in school…I didn’t do this enough myself during my first year and I definitely felt the effects of it.
4. Be confident and humble…at the same time —
This may sound like an oxymoronic statement, but I’d argue that doing this is possible and pretty much necessary in the B-school game. This one was really hard for me because, I’m great at being humble, but I found out that I wasn’t always good at expressing my confidence. I was pretty intimidated when I started at the GSB (i’ll explain this further below) and I also used to have a self-deprecating sense of humor, both of which combined to make some people question my self-confidence. Once I was aware of this possible perception, I made sure to switch things up and I could literally see the difference in the way that people interacted with me (Thank goodness for Touchy Feely). From the other direction, one should be careful about coming off as overconfident because most people can’t stand a person who is full of himself and I’d bet that there are many folks like that in the business world. A healthy balance of confidence and humility will take you a long way when interacting with classmates and others during your two years.
Category 2: Items that may prove helpful in interpersonal exchanges with classmates, professors, and other colleagues
5. Be willing to leave preconceived notions and assumptions behind you when you start school —
I’ve got to give a shout out to my man Brent on this one because he helped me to see the light on this issue. I won’t go into details, but, coming into the GSB, I made several assumptions about certain folks and figured that they wouldn’t be checkin’ for me. As a result, I never made an attempt to reach out to them and let it ride when it didn’t seem like they were reaching out to me. I changed my view on this starting with a lunch I had with Brent where I realized that I’d been “going over the net” and missing out as a result. Don’t let your existing opinions about certain types of people restrict you from opening yourself up and getting to know the people around you. No matter what you might think, it’s likely that each of your classmates want to get to know you as much as you want to get to know them…take advantage of it. Diversity is what makes the B-school experience great and it’d be a shame if someone were to let preconceived ideas keep them from getting the most out of his school’s diverse population.
6. “Allow [people] not to like you” -My T-group —
I’ve written about my T-group several times and I’m thankful for all that they did for me in Touchy Feely. One of the most important pieces of feedback they gave me is that I tended to be overly concerned with making people like me. This would sometimes lead me to sugarcoat feedback for others, if I even gave it at all, and they could tell that it made me feel uncomfortable overall. My big takeaway from that feedback is that one should use all of his energy focusing on making people like him because it’s not guaranteed to work. instead, one should just be himself and say what’s on his mind and, as long as he’s being respectful, he should be fine with it.Giving feedback is never a bad thing if it is presented well and it warranted.
7. Don’t go “over the net” —
This one is another lesson I got from Touchy Feely…one of the biggest lessons from the class is about the components of one-on-one interpersonal interactions:
- Person A’s intentions and motivations
- Person B’s intentions and motivations
- The actions that have occurred between Person A and Person B
Each person in the interaction can only be an expert at two of these components, namely their own intentions and the actions that he’s seen occur. Problems occur when one person assumes that he can figure out what’s going on in the other’s mind and often ends up being wrong…this is referred to as “going ove the net” and the cause of many misunderstandings. These misunderstandings are often one-sided with one person assuming a negative intention and the other person instinctively defending himself. The sad thing is that many of these issues can be resolved by doing some perception checking when you perceive that another person may have negative intentions with something he or she has said. This lesson has served me well since Winter quarter and it’s something I’ll be mindful of from now on.
Category 3: Helpful hints for how to view yourself and how you fit into B-school overall
8. Be yourself (within reason) but be open to “personality tweaks” —
When you start school, do yourself a favor and don’t present a facade to your classmates because people will most likely see through it at some point. It might seem easy to “reinvent” yourself when you arrive, but a huge part of B-school involves getting to know your classmates and it’s probably best to give them a chance to get to know the real “you”. With that said, there are some people who have “over the top” personalities (myself included) and, for those people, I’d recommend trying your hardest to be mindful of the impression you might be setting when exhibiting that real “you”. No matter what your personality is, you’ve got to make sure you act like a professional when you’re in a business environment, specifically referring to manner of dress, speaking, and behavior. This may seem basic, but there are probably several of you out there who (like me) are/were oblivious to this. Now, I’m going to make sure that I am the real me at all times, but I’ve learned to regulate how much of “me” I let out based on my surroundings and have toned down other parts of “me” as I’ve gotten older. I’d recommend considering some personality tweaks before entering B-school if there are any issues that might prove problematic in school.
9. Recognize what you bring to the table and KNOW that you deserve everything you’ve worked for —
This lesson was a huge one for me and yet another one I got with the help of my friends at Stanford GSB. While most incoming students feel some sort of anxiety about their qualifications, I’d argue that this can be a major issue for some minority and female students for the reason described below. Coming into the GSB, I was convinced that I had slipped through the cracks and was an admissions mistake. Some of that worry came from being awed by my classmates’ experiences and accomplishments, but some of that doubt came from B.S. I’d heard from other applicants and read on message boards about being a minority applicant. According to this B.S., a minority applicant who got into a top school was likely held to a different (lower) standard than the average applicant because of schools were so focused on bringing in diverse candidates. At the time, I knew that I was a good candidate and deserved to get into the GSB, but, after getting those negative messages so often, I couldn’t help but question my qualifications. Maybe I’m the only one who ever felt this way, but I doubt that i am. This doubt cast a sort of shadow over me for most of my first year and I was finally able to feel like I belonged at the GSB after some long conversations with classmates that helped me see what i really brought to the table. I told this drawn out story to say the following…Business school admissions folks have years of experience at what they do and, as such, they don’t make admissions mistakes…period. If you’re fortunate enough to gain admission to a top school, you should know that you earned it and that it wasn’t the result of someone making a mistake when reviewing your application or some other nonvalid reason. Don’t let anyone think that you got the “hook-up” or were judged on some lesser standard…if you make big moves, you’ve got to know that you worked hard for it and earned every accolade that you get as a result.
10. Think about the big picture —
As a general management-focused school, the GSB teaches its students about looking at the “big picture” in a business situation and I took that message seriously during my two years there. In fact, out of everything that I learned in B-school, taking a “big picture” view whenever possible sticks out as the most important and likely the lesson I’ll use most. I’ve applied that way of thinking in a variety of situations, both in and out of the classroom, and I’d recommend that you take a similar stance when approaching business school. This would require you to frame any given situation in greatest scope possible instead of focusing on the potentially “smaller” issues. For example, when you’re applying to B-schools, you’ll generate a list of schools and pick out 1 or 2 that you REALLY want to get into. If you don’t get accepted to those schools, you may get upset, even if you’ve gained admission at other schools. Rather than getting upset at that sort of setback, why not think of it as a sign that either now isn’t the right time for you to be starting at that #1 or #2 school or that God (or fate for the non-religious folks) has some sort of grand plan that involves you going to one of the schools you got into. When you start struggling through your first-year Core curriculum, you could get depressed and dwell on it or you could view it as a year-long challenge that will teach you the fundamentals of business and prepare you for your elective classes (where you’ll learn to connect the seemingly disparate concepts taught in the Core). If you don’t get the sort of summer internship that you want, there’s no need to be sad and dwell on it..just take it as a chance to work a little harder, pick up an interesting summer experience, and leverage that summer experience to improve your chances at getting a full-time gig at your desired company. Long story short, thinking in “big picture” terms can do wonders for reframing your view of “setbacks” and “triumphs” and keep your mind on what your ultimate long-term goals are.
So, that’s about it. My MBA journey be officially over in the morning and it’s been a heck of a ride. I hope you guys have enjoyed following my business school story as much as I’ve enjoyed sharing it with you. At times, it was difficult to write new entries because of the stress of certain events (the internship recruiting process, difficulties in adjusting to the Bschool classroom environment, etc), but, thinking back, this blog served as a sort of therapy for me through the bumps in the road. I’m not sure where this blog will go from here because my original plan to give the “insider’s view” of consulting might be problematic because of confidentiality issues. I’m going to get those worked out when i start work, but I’ll let y’all know where things stand as soon as I know. For now, I’ll just continue to answer any questions about business school and/or the consulting job hunt that are posted as comments and let everything go from there.
Wow, I still can’t believe that I made it to the end of the road (I’ve got the Boys II Men song playing in my mind right now) and lived to tell about it. I can honestly say that going to business school (and Stanford GSB in particular) was the best educational and professional move I’ve ever made. If any of you are on the fence about B-school, take my advice and go for it…you won’t be sorry for doing so. I guess that’s a good idea to close the “MBA Life” chapter of this blog on…you know, for most of the summer, I was worried about re-entering the Real World because I didn’t know what to expect…now, I wonder if the Real World is ready for me