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Behind the Curtains - Life After Elite MBA

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When I was an aspiring MBA candidate, I had this dreamy view of the lifestyle of an Elite MBA. While some of the “happily ever after” endings came true, other parts not so much. This post is to provide a peek behind the curtains of fancy LinkedIn profiles, and understand the human aspect of an Elite MBA grad. It’s not to discourage candidates, but to paint a realistic picture of life after Elite MBA.

The selection of profiles are based on my personal relationships with classmates and colleagues, all class of 2012.

BCG Principal – One of the few survivors still in MC after 5 years. His wife left the consulting world before the birth of their son. He’s making a bit more than their prior combined income now as a Principal. He still has the same travel schedule and the grueling hours as he did when he was a new consultant. Thus, he rarely sees his son, and missed most of his son’s developmental milestones. They took their first family vacation together last month. He confides that he doesn’t see himself pursuing the partner role due to change in the nature of the role (strategy to sales), and even greater politics.

Ex-McKinsey Engagement Manager – Exited McKinsey after 5 years as a director at a medium size company, taking a lower compensation. He feels a bit disillusion by the promises of McKinsey. Some of our classmates that chose the corporate route holds similar positions at larger companies.

HBS/Sloan/Tuck/Kellogg/IESE Ex-Colleagues – Joined the same Leadership Development Program at F500 together after b-school with the promise of fast-tracked. After 5 years, 3 out of 5 got their first title promotion, without increase in responsibility. Having been moved by the company to distinctively different individual contributor roles, the option to leave the company becomes limited without a big pay-cut. The path ahead is unclear. Promotion means longer hours, more stress, higher risk of being fired, with minimal increase in pay. Some are planning to parlay one more title promotion into an exit out of the company. Some decided to settle within their role, and focus on family and work/life balance.

LDP Turned Entrepreneur – Crushed the GMAT with a 770 score, but was unsuccessful at converting a consulting offer. Joined an Leadership Development Program without any real end-goal in mind. Took full advantage of the company’s vacation policies and traveled the world with his wife and son every year. Last year, decided to start his own company. Making his pre-MBA wage now, with a positive outlook on the future of his company.

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New post 05 Aug 2017, 12:53
Thanks for your post

Really insightful post of real experience for people to imagine reality after MBA.

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New post 07 Aug 2017, 22:56
Wow that is very insightful asimov
Thanks for posting. How much would you think some of these guys were able to achieve what they wanted? I guess the McK guy already felt disillusioned. But my point is most of the MBA applicants wants a car, a great paycheck, a house and money as the basic goal of an elite education. Do you think most of the examples were successful to achieve that with some sacrifices that came in the way? (Family etc). What could some of them have done differently in school or later to change some of the things that they don't like about their lives now?

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New post 07 Aug 2017, 23:43
Thanks for the post :)

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souvik101990 wrote:
Wow that is very insightful asimov
Thanks for posting. How much would you think some of these guys were able to achieve what they wanted? I guess the McK guy already felt disillusioned. But my point is most of the MBA applicants wants a car, a great paycheck, a house and money as the basic goal of an elite education. Do you think most of the examples were successful to achieve that with some sacrifices that came in the way? (Family etc). What could some of them have done differently in school or later to change some of the things that they don't like about their lives now?

You highlight some good questions. It’s a reminder how fortunate life in the West already is. All the things you listed (car, great paycheck, house) can easily be accomplished without an MBA (from any school). I have close personal relationships with all of these people. I could affirmatively say that their aspiration of post-MBA life much higher.

The point I wanted to illustrate for aspiring candidates is that dig deeper into what you want out of life, what will motivate you to go to work every day.

    Often, we look to “successful” people and think “I wish I had that life.” In truth, that person made a lot of sacrifices to get there, and probably still is.


    Don’t blindly chase a transactional goal. As a candidate, “if I can just get into A/B/C school…”; as a student, “if I can just get an internship/job with X/Y/Z…”; as a professional, “if I can just get that next promotion…” This frame of thought is like trying to pass the car in front of you on a roadtrip. You will always be behind someone. Even when you get to be the lead car temporarily, you may find that road a lonely and boring one.

    Instead, know you end goal, and look 3-4 steps beyond the next milestone. If you do that, you may find that there is other better more satisfying path to where you want to go. When I was at Fuqua, one of my undergrad classmate was weighing whether to join an elite b-school or to take a job at a company he wanted to join after b-school. He ended up doing the latter. Now, he’s at an equivalent level of what he would be at post elite-MBA.

At my 5 year reunion, the classmates who were the happiest were ones who didn’t chase the fancy jobs. (You cannot imagine how difficult that is when everyone around you is doing the opposite). They knew what they wanted, and went after it.

Last edited by asimov on 08 Aug 2017, 08:12, edited 1 time in total.

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New post 08 Aug 2017, 07:51
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asimov wrote:
souvik101990 wrote:
Wow that is very insightful asimov
Thanks for posting. How much would you think some of these guys were able to achieve what they wanted? I guess the McK guy already felt disillusioned. But my point is most of the MBA applicants wants a car, a great paycheck, a house and money as the basic goal of an elite education. Do you think most of the examples were successful to achieve that with some sacrifices that came in the way? (Family etc). What could some of them have done differently in school or later to change some of the things that they don't like about their lives now?

You highlight some good questions. It’s a reminder how fortunate life in the West already is. All the things you listed (car, great paycheck, house) can easily be accomplished without an MBA (from any school). I have close personal relationships with all of these people. I could affirmatively say that their aspiration of post-MBA life much higher.

The point I wanted to illustrate for aspiring candidates is that dig deeper into what you want out of life, what will motivate you to go to work every day.

    Often, we look to “successful” people and think “I wish I had that life.” In truth, that person made a lot of sacrifices to get there, and probably still is.


    Don’t blindly chase a transactional goal. As a candidate, “if I can just get into A/B/C school…”; as a student, “if I can just get an internship/job with X/Y/Z…”; as a professional, “if I can just get that next promotion…” This frame of thought is like trying to pass the car in front of you on a roadtrip. You will always be behind someone. Even when you get to be the lead car temporarily, you may find that road a lonely and boring driving.

    Instead, know you end goal, and look 3-4 steps beyond the next milestone. If you do that, you may find that there is other better more satisfying path to where you want to go. When I was at Fuqua, one of my undergrad classmate was weighing whether to join an elite b-school or to take a job at a company he wanted to join after b-school. He ended up doing the latter. Now, he’s at an equivalent level of what he would be at post elite-MBA.

At my 5 year reunion, the classmates who were the happiest were ones who didn’t chase the fancy jobs. (You cannot imagine how difficult that is when everyone around you is doing the opposite). They knew what they wanted, and went after it.


That is so true. A big reason why i want to pursue MBA is fancy car, luxurious lifestyle and big house. After all the sacrifices made to move to a different country with entirely different culture, it feels like its worth it. But deep down i know it will be temporary. But lately i have found the true reason, i need to accomplish something in life and its more than just money. Its being able to touch people's lives, its about helping people who are going through same stuff that i went through. Just because i didn't have anyone to rely on, doesn't mean others should also go through same stuff by themselves. Money for sure will help in that manner but true happiness is more than an extra zero on your pay cheque.
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What a wonderful idea - great thread! Let me add a few more profiles without revealing too much about the candidates.
On my side, I feel however, happiness at work and a career/job fit are challenging items and MBA is not going to fix them, like it won't fix being disorganized, having poor speaking skills, or character flaws. However, MBA can definitely help in many cases to get out of a dead-end job, particular geography, or industry - it did it for me....


Top 20 to Gaming: a candidate with a strong resume with a unique background from a small town USA. While his pre-mba job was interesting, it was remote and probably in a dead-end trajectory without much growth prospects. He was smart and hard-working. Got into a top 20/10 school with a scholarship. Worked his tail off to join tech such as Microsoft/Amazon/Google but did not get through the last round of interviews and switched his focus. Ended up doing an internship with a Gaming coming and joined as a team lead after graduation. Classic MBA transition. Several promotions within the last 5 years and a recent job shift/switch gave him substantial responsibility with another gaming company. In the career growth process, I am hearing he has been able to amass a small fortune through company stock plans but not without a cost. He seems to have split/separated with his long time fiance whom he met while in BSchool... Happiness level - definitely happier than pre-MBA. Gets to play games for a living ;-)


Top 10 to Silicon Valley: a candidate with a pretty standard F500 pre-mba profile. Got into a top 10 school. Ended up recruiting in Silicon Valley with a Tech company (one of the big ones) but into a dead-end position and it appears, without much mobility. At first was pretty happy as the job provided a good life/work balance with work from home opportunities to spend more time with the family and kids. However, at the price of anemic salary growth, no promotion opportunities, and eventually motivation. Happiness level - probably low. Looking to get energized and switch jobs due to an issue/disagreement with the current supervisor but the lack of upward momentum and substantial accomplishments in the current job is hurting his recruiting chances for the good positions.


Top 30 back to India: Great candidate with strong work experience and network in India (slightly older). Got a full ride into a Top30 school (no admits into a top 20 but a few higher ranked Top 30's but without a scholarship). The 2 years flew by and internship and jobs were scarce. He got a good number of interview requests but did not make it past the interview stage (my guess is his slightly heavier accent was part of the reason). After staying in the US for a year and doing some short-term consulting jobs, he decided to go back to India as he did not see any reason to stay in the States. The last straw was not getting the H1B lottery two years in a row. In India, found a great job right away with strong pay (probably saving more than he would have in the US). Happiness level - content for now. However, still a bit not thrilled about spending 2 years on the MBA and 1 year on consulting jobs US only to leave at the end. But then he did not pay for the MBA either, so not too much of a regret.
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Thanks bb for contributing and thanks asimov for sharing the reunion anecdote.

Perspectives are pretty different in different geographies. For example, in India, you could get into a great Indian B School and make decent money to live a luxurious life. But most people who are applying to US B Schools chase a little extra. For myself, I want to start working in an economy which is less corrupt and more developed in a lot of ways that India cannot offer right now (and unfortunately will probably not). There are other social issues as well. I want to live in a space (at least for some years) where I won't be in the fear of being vilified for my views on religion (or lack thereof), food and culture, while at the same time working on/for products in ed-tech space, something that I have truly care about.

Anyway, I digress. Coming to the other part of the discussion asimov you mentioned the folks who seemed genuinely happy did not chase fancy jobs. I wanted to get a bit more detail on the definitions of happy and fancy. Would you call Google fancy? What would happiness mean - more vacation time? Intact marriage/relationships/satisfaction with work or...?
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New post 09 Aug 2017, 08:47
souvik101990 wrote:
Anyway, I digress. Coming to the other part of the discussion asimov you mentioned the folks who seemed genuinely happy did not chase fancy jobs. I wanted to get a bit more detail on the definitions of happy and fancy. Would you call Google fancy? What would happiness mean - more vacation time? Intact marriage/relationships or...?
Pinning down "happiness" is the million dollar question. In the end, it may come down to expectation vs. reality.

The herd mentality while I was in school was M/B/B or GS or JPMorgan. Tech or startup was not as big of a draw as it is now.

For international students, the reality of landing a job in the US and getting a green card out of it was difficult while I was in school. This was the case across all schools. Many of my classmates ended up going back to their home countries. Some have done quite well (one is now Tesla's China Country Manager). I would imagine it's much more difficult now, in the current political landscape. As an international student, knowing that potential uphill battle, and aligning the expectation would be beneficial in evaluating school choices.

Even for US students, 70% of one's post-MBA career is uncontrollable by the individual (i.e. the incompatible manager, racial/gender bias, etc.). Having the high-level end goal in mind in making school and career decision choices will be beneficial. Even if you hit traffic jam on a road that leads to your destination, you'll be closer to your destination than if you take a random road, hoping you will stumble to your destination.

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New post 09 Aug 2017, 19:04
A few more profiles:

The Pursuit of Happiness: This hard-working candidate graduated from a Top5 MBA and joined a F500 though not in the best of roles. (It was a safety job and it ended up being exactly that). A year or two later, moved into Finance with a bump in Salary to $130K+bonus, which is better than most grads get even today. However, if you do the math, $130K gets taxed at about 28%, plus insurance, 401K contribution, and you have about $6,500 per month left. Try living on that in a big city with a family while trying to save for a downpayment. Both parents have to work to cover the family costs. Several years of hard work and persistence and a promotion that was promised never came. Later a lateral promotion opened up that provided a better work/life balance but the salary growth stagnated... several years of looking and landed a job with a Silicon valley startup. Very good benefits/salary/incentive plan - a great senior role but a lot of risk and some travel. Short term security but long term uncertainty. The MBA definitely opens up some great opportunities but it also requires you to put in your dues if you want to keep rising.
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New post 10 Aug 2017, 13:19
This is an amazing discussion. Very sobering.

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New post 02 Sep 2017, 06:57
Pretty scary discussion!!!
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Re: Behind the Curtains - Life After Elite MBA   [#permalink] 02 Sep 2017, 06:57
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