Congrats! Now that you’ve got into the school of your dreams (or not), life is set and greener pastures await. Tomorrow, when you’ll wake up, all your dreams will come true – after all, you’ve got the three lettered magic wand – MBA! Or is it?
We hope that the above doesn’t capture your state of mind. While congratulations are certainly in order, what’s equally important is to say something like may-the-force-be-with-you, meaning while you might be well on your way to corporate superstardom, the next couple of years (or one), is going to be the most intense period of your life and hence, you’d need all your resources and a near god-like ‘force’ to carry you through. The good news is, most will manage it.
But if you don’t just want to manage it and instead want to really make it count, we investigate in this article on what you should be doing – we cover both the tactical and the non-tactical. We’ll try and keep it not all at the proverbial gyaan level and rather, make it a bit more actionable.
We’ve already covered about what do to before you head out here which might be worth a dekko.
5 things (and a bonus one) to do during your MBA course
Ya, let’s get the obvious out of the way. At the end of the day, MBA is an education degree/qualification. While most would have you believe that it is much more (and yes, it is), don’t neglect the basics – ever. How much of it you focus on though, has three flavours to it which is dictated by what you want to do after.
- Too much: There are certain jobs/employers out there that give special attention to your grades while there are many that don’t.
If your target is the former (e.g. most consulting firms), then it is usually a good idea to make it your business to study hard. And by that, I mean really hard.
If you are in a top program, chances are, you are competing with some really exceptional minds. And acing MBA grades is not just a matter of acing the end-term exams. You have to be at your best throughout – prepare and complete your pre-read; be actually smart to make valid points to gain class participation credits; push your group to put effort on every group assignment and the likes.
It’s a lot of hard work and can be extremely draining – so don’t forget to refer the bonus point later.
- Not much: Even if your grades don’t matter for that dream job of yours, a lot of what you have access to in terms of education during an MBA is very valuable – unlike many things we do during undergrad (especially in our country where there is still a chasm between academia and industry).
This means that even if you are not focused on grades, studying will actually give you knowledge that’ll come in handy in your job. Given the increasingly cross-functional nature of jobs these days, even if you are planning to say become a Finance (not banking) professional, it will be imperative that you understand the language of business – which is exactly what those classes, class discussions and cases in your MBA classroom (and outside) will teach you. So, pay attention – and in most cases, given the genius you are, grades will follow.
- Just much: This is not very different than the point above but with a nuance. This is about tailoring your MBA experience and by that, I mean choosing your subjects/courses and at least excelling in those.
Not just academically, but really learning the concept – chances are, you’d be able to use that effort when time comes to showcase your talent to your prospective recruiter.
2. Networking, Networking, Networking
For all we care, you could literally replace the 3-letter word MBA with NNN – yes, it’s that important. If you are headed out of the country for your MBA, kiss goodbye to concepts such as campus placements, placement week et al; it’s each one to himself/herself. I agree it may not be as ominous as I just made you feel, but it is quite close to that.
It is not uncommon for MBA grads from the best schools to not have a job 3-6 month after the program completion – some schools even publish the placement stats that way! If you’ve been doing an honest job with your application, chances are, you already know how important networking is. Let me try to make this a bit more tactical and practical though. I’d break it down into three flavours of networking again.
- Organized:Literally from the first day, there’ll be a ton of options for networking. There are platforms for networking with your classmates as well as externally (recruiters, industry etc). This manifests primarily through various student clubs – club events, treks to companies/cities, alumni chats etc.
You don’t have to attend each one of them religiously but try your best to do at least initially till the time you are capable enough to take a decision as to whether a particular event will be relevant for you or not. Till then, just go for it, push yourself to do it.
And once there, don’t just watch/listen to the presentation, sip that cocktail (sometimes you may get that – refer the bonus point) and come back. Talk. Even if you are the biggest introvert, try to talk to say 5 new people in every event. Most of these will never mean much but the ones that click, will make a difference.
- Un-organized: While it may sound that unorganized is not very relevant, I would say that this is the most important of all. By this, I refer to your personal networking efforts – when you reach out to an alum, a mentor or just someone in the industry of your choice.
Do not underestimate the power of your MBA brand and use it to open doors that were so far closed on you. Get access to the alum directory and chase those who you think can help – not just get you that coveted job but more importantly, help you understand how it’s done.
While this article will give you a whiff of it, the actual playbook will always vary by the school you go to. And no one is better equipped to give you that insight than someone whose been there and done that.
- Miscellaneous: These are events such as career fairs, pre-placement networking evenings and the likes. These may or may not be regular features and thus, not so organized. Chances are, these would happen slightly late in the game and by then, you’d already be savvy enough to know the game.
But that may not always be the case. For instance, look at what some consulting firms offer in terms of Fellowships here and here. Though strictly speaking this is not part of networking but the bottom-line is, start early and look out for any and every opportunity you get to connect with people in your target industry/role.
3. Experiment & Explore
This is where you start revelling in the opportunity you’ve got. An MBA provides you some of the most exciting avenues to experiment and explore. Mind you, that doesn’t mean it’ll help you answer the all-important question of – what should I do in life. But if you are not the enlightened one and experiment, the chances of you hitting on the answer definitely go up.
This can take several shapes and forms depending on the opportunities but most schools would have avenues to say participate in something entrepreneurial (b-plan competition), something in all fields (voluntary projects, financial modelling competitions), something broader (all your peers wanting to share their knowledge through club-organized knowledge sharing sessions/workshops etc). Don’t hesitate to take something you’ve not done ever – because this might be your last chance to do that.
4. Stay focused!
I know what you are thinking – the guy just asked me to experiment; isn’t there a self-evident dichotomy here?! Well, there is, but MBA, like complex corporate jobs that you’ll take up, is full of trade-offs and apparent paradoxes. Let me explain. While you are experimenting and juggling 20 different things, it is important to have a plan.
By that, I mean have at least one role/job/industry/companies that you are working towards; if possible, right from the start. While this may evolve and you may start straddling two boats at once, it is important to at least have one solid option that are you working towards and doing everything you can to make yourself irresistible for that.
A tactical tip – keep that CV updated almost at all times (you never know when the next networking opportunity will present itself) and continue being a self-judge. Look at what you have and what is the gap from a prospective recruiter’s perspective. This will keep you focused and help you plan ways to plug those gaps.
5. Gain relevant skills
Assuming you have sorted the previous point, you would also know the skills you want to have and how you’ll pitch yourself. Apart from getting the requisite coursework, which on most occasions will give you knowledge, not necessarily skills, there are ways you can get those skills and also showcase them. A few examples.
- Internships: This is an obvious one. If your program has this option, use it to your advantage. If you are seeking a career change, there is no better way to make it happen then a solid internship.
Even if you are not looking for a career change, an internship can be an excellent way to test out some of those fancy case studies and concepts you just learnt in the last term. While there will always be a gap between classroom and practical, approach your internship in the spirit of applying at least some of your newly learned skills.
- Projects: This might be an add-on or the only option you may have. A project, preferably with an industry partner, is another great way of showing your intent and interest in that field.
Many times, these would have an academic supervisor which can make it easier to bridge the gap between academic and practical worlds. If you are doing this, do it with some end impact in mind, something that you can talk about. Don’t do this just as a mechanical exercise.
- Competitions: Bschool competitions are excellent avenues to test your skills and if you win, showcase them. These can range from things such as mock investment portfolio to business plan pitching contests. Pick the ones most relevant for you and try to earn some stripes.
- Group work: This is a vital part of your MBA experience, something that many realize only after landing in the program. While most schools would have you work in small groups of 4-6 for your coursework assignments, there are also ways you can do more.
Several of the clubs facilitate formation of small groups outside of academic requirements. These can help both in tactical ways (for instance mock interview prep) and strategic (sharing of cross-industry/cross-cultural insights). So go ahead and make one for yourself.
6. Enjoy…well at least try to
That’s the bonus feature. After all this work, it is easy to get lost and completely soaked up in the demands that an MBA puts on your time. While some might claim MBA is one big party, it really depends on whether you make it out to be one.
It is definitely a lot of hard work as you would have figured by now. But it can be one of the best times of your life to with the right prioritization and planning. A lot of times, partying and having a good time can also lead to some really interesting conversations and feed into the #2 above.
Don’t feel guilty at letting your hair down every once in a while and taking a breather…at least try!