Time goes by so fast. I remember reading Kryzak and Rhyme’s entries, and soaking in their experiences and words of wisdom. I know what many of you must be going through right now: the pain-staking wait for decisions; the excitement of the first acceptance; the self-doubt after the rejections.
Now that I’m almost done with b-school. I can say that the classroom learning is just a piece of the puzzle that creates MBAs. The recruiting process, the emotions rollercoasters, and the roadtrips with classmates are all important. Cherish all the ups and downs, and believe things will work out at the end.
I was a part of the “zero-admit” club, two years running. I only made on a handful of closed list my first year. Because of these “failures”, it helped me stay humble and forced me to be extremely prepared for interviews. I ended up making some of the most coveted closed list spots my second year, and landing my dream job (the job that I had wanted when I was a kid).
I hope to share some of my takeaways in choosing school, b-school life, and recruiting. I hope that it will helpful as you begin your journey. Choosing School
I chose school based on three major factors: 1) ranking, 2) location, and 3) culture. In this order. In retrospect, I had gotten the criteria right, but the order backwards.
I wanted to go to a top-tier school because of the opportunity it provides. If I was going to give up two years of my life and my salary, I wanted my exit option to be attractive.
I didn’t know it when I was applying, but location and culture is highly correlated. I know I didn’t want to spend the majority of my academic year in trekking through the snow didn’t appeal to me, and I wanted a college town feel. I’m so glad I made that my #2 criterion, because a side perk is the culture that comes with a small town Southern school.
Let’s face it, there aren’t that many things to do in Durham. Because of that, people spend time at the same places with the same people all the time. That’s a lot of bonding time. I think that may be the key to a culture of collaboration and niceness. It appears other small town schools share the same mentality. Of course, the college town feel isn’t for everyone. If you love glitz and glamour, you would hate it here.
Now, why do I think my criteria are backwards? Well, schools are like GMAT, above a certain threshold, most schools will get you where you want to go. It is more important to see if your dream company/role recruits at the school. It doesn’t matter what school you go to, if the company doesn’t actively recruit at the school, you will be facing an uphill battle.
What is important is culture. Think about how an artist would feel working with engineers, or vice versa. There’s nothing with either culture. Just depends on which one works for you. If you are planning to give up two years of your life and a good salary why spend it being miserable. After all, b-school is about networking. I have leveraged my network so much in my job search, and I will definitely count on my friends in the future. It’s very difficult to make friends when there’s a huge culture gap.B-School Life
If I can give one advice regarding b-school life, it would be “set your priorities early, and stick with them.
” Once school starts, you will be bombarded by academics, club activities, recruiting, and social activities. Don’t kid yourself; you wouldn’t have time to do everything. Setting some boundaries will help you keep your sanity. Here’s my skinny on the major b-school activities. Academics
There are three types of class: 1) tool kit classes; 2) mind changing classes; 3) easy, fun, but useless classes. The classes to take depend on your MBA goal.
The tool kit classes allow you to be able to understand basic business principles, I emphasize “basic”. These courses are inescapable, as most of them are built into the core curriculum. You’ll learn stuff like 3Cs and 4Ps, newsvendor model, monte carlo simulation, time value of money. I think if you want to specialize a in a specific field, it would be good to take some higher level tool kit courses.
There are also courses that will change the way you look at the world. For example, Rick Wagner (former GM CEO) co-taught a course on managing distressed businesses. Hearing from him and other top executives talk about their thought process when contemplating bankruptcy. Understand how bankruptcy affects the company morale; how bankruptcy shifts board’s focus from revenue generation to self-preservation. Stuff that you can’t learn from a book. I find these courses most intriguing.
Inevitably, every school will also have the easy, fun, but useless classes. These classes are usually a complete waste of tuition dollars, but they help you collect course credit. If b-school is just a piece of paper with a prestigious brand name, these are the classes for you.
With that said, I feel that academics are not that important in b-school. The only jobs that may care about your grades are banking and consulting. Even then, they look for the whole package and not a book geek. It may behoove you to expand your horizon beyond academics in b-school.Recruiting
I will not going in to the specifics such as networking and interview preparation. You will be more than prepared for that by your career management center. I will discuss some of the softer takeaways of recruiting.
Love it or hate it, recruiting will be an integral part of your b-school experience. A part of me hates recruiting, because it is just a dog and pony show that takes away from your learning. However, I learned some valuable lessons from the process, such as presenting myself in an articulate and concise manner, carrying on small talk, and thinking in a structured manner. These are life skills that I need to succeed in a real business environment. If you approach recruiting for a positive attitude, you’ll enjoy it much more. After all, you have to do it, might as well enjoy the journey.
The recruiting experience is most similar to the b-school application experience – an emotional rollercoaster. You will have the pain-staking wait for decisions, the self-doubt after the rejections, and the reassurance of the first offer. This is normal, it happens to everyone, even the recruiting rock stars. If you stay true to your goals and prepare, things will work out.
The biggest mistake I see at b-school is the “herd” mentality. I see people come into b-school with a diverse set of post-MBA goals; however, after they get here, everyone changes into consulting. Consulting offers great opportunities, but the downside is always downplayed due to the heavy presence of consulting firms. If the job is truly that good, consulting will not have such a high attrition rate (even if it is “up or out”). The upside is also a bit exaggerated. Search LinkedIn, those who leave M/B/B in two years do not fast track their career significantly. I’m not sure everyone who follows the herd has a full grasp of the drawbacks.
Besides the fact that you may end up doing something you dislike, another drawback is spreading yourself too thin for other jobs. Consulting and investment banking is very network and interview preparation heavy. If consulting or investment banking is your top choice, go for it. If it’s not, you will be cannibalizing your chances with other career opportunities, because many of the other industries are also network heavy. I see tons of my classmates deprioritizing their pre-MBA target industry/company in order to do the case preparation, and end up not getting either.
This is why it is important to “set your priorities early, and stick with them.” I feel that those who ended up with their top choices put in 100% of the effort towards that goal. I guess what I’m trying to say is, “chase your dream, not someone else’s, and enjoy the journey.