7 Things I Wish I Had Known When I Started My MBA

One year out of business school, the phrase “hindsight is always 20-20” has become pretty apparent to me. Looking back there are definitely things I would have done differently, and hopefully everything I share with you in this article will help you to avoid the mistakes I've seen far too many students make.

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Start Your Job Search Early: This is without a doubt the biggest mistake I saw far too many students make. Many people started their job search in March, only to find themselves scrambling, desperate and willing to take any job they could find. The summer internship is one of the most important parts of your MBA and could even determine where you end up working when you are done. So unless you want to work a job you don't care too much for, then I suggest getting an early start.

In my mind an early start is long before you even get to school. You should setup job alerts for MBA intern on all the major job sites, just so you can learn about all the opportunities that are currently out there. Once you get to school, you should be searching for your summer internship from the first week on.

The people who I have seen struggle through long, fruitless job searches always used the excuse of not having enough time. Yes, that might anger some people who are reading this. But the reality is, that you need to make the time if you are serious about getting value out of your MBA. Considering you are paying a small fortune to be in school, don't you think you should figure out a way to make the time?

Network, Network, Network: If there's anything I didn't do enough of it is network. Building a network of contacts is going to be essential not just to your post business school career, but your career in general. One piece of advice that a professor gave (that I didn't follow myself) was to aim to make one valuable connection every single month. However, I want to give you some advice on networking. Don't network with people with the sole intention of trying to get something from them. Take a genuine interest in what they do and who they are. Even if they can't necessarily get you a job, that kind of a relationship will pay off much more in the long run. When I attend networking events, I go with one goal in mind: make at least one new friend. That's it. Do that and I can promise you, the power of your network is going to be exponentially stronger. Don't forget that quality trumps quantity in almost everything in life, your network of contacts included.

Do Lots of informational Interviews:
I think informational interviews are really important in order for you to truly understand the industry you want to enter. When I started my MBA, I thought that I wanted to work in the entertainment industry. Then I had a few conversations with people in the industry and that changed my mind completely about working in entertainment. Be careful that you don't just assume what having a certain job is going to be like. Find out from somebody who has the job you think you want. You might be surprised by the fact that your so-called dream job is something that might make you really miserable.

Focus On Learning Rather Than Grades:
To some degree you may have been an overachiever your whole life. After all you are pursuing higher education. So, you probably have a natural tendency to want to get good grades. There's nothing at all wrong with that.

My last semester of school I decided that I would not even bother with my grades and I'd just try to learn as much as possible. The irony of this is that I got the highest grades of my academic career and it felt completely effortless. When you operate from a learning perspective, your ability to reach your full potential increases exponentially.

Chase Passion Rather Than Dollars:
This probably sounds like cliched advice to many of you. While it is, it's a profound truth. Many best-selling authors have done studies on motivation and our own ability to really tap into our full potential. It turns out that money is actually not the key. I can speak from experience and tell you without a doubt that if you truly enjoy what you are doing, money, promotions, opportunities, etc., will open up faster than they ever would in a job you hate.

Read Tons of Books:
You will do a good amount of reading in business school for class. But, the amount of reading you do outside of class could have an even bigger impact.

I can't stress the importance of being an avid reader enough. Reading books allows you to develop a knowledge base far beyond what you learn in the classroom. The fact is that what you learn in the classroom really doesn't set you apart from the millions of students earning MBA's. So, you're going to have to go above and beyond the call of duty.

Start A Blog:
David Meerman Scott, the author of The New Rules of PR and Marketing, and a former VP of marketing, recently wrote an article on the best job search advice for recent graduates and current students. That advice was to start a blog.

If there is one thing a blog will do for you, it's connect you to a global network of contacts. Once you have that network in place, opportunities that you might not have even expected will open up to you. In my personal network of bloggers, there have been some amazing opportunities that have opened up to people:

  • One friend (actually many) travels the world and makes money while doing it
  • Another friend got to an all expense paid trip to Shanghai, courtesy of Coke
  • Others have developed income streams of 5 figures a month
  • Another just signed her first book deal

Blogs are a fundamental part of building your personal brand, and over the course of 2 years you can really build yourself into a powerhouse. In my own experience, a blog has opened up freelance income opportunities, a day job, and this is only after the first year. Those who have been around for more than a couple years are often able to command a significant premium for their time, upwards of 20,000 dollars a day.

At the end of the day, your MBA by itself is nothing more than a piece of paper with three letters on it. It's not going to get you a job. Knowledge is useless unless you do something with it. So, to wrap it all up I would say, take what you are learning and start applying it while you are in school.

Srinivas Rao, MBA '09

Srinivas Rao, MBA '09

Surfer, Entrepreneur Problogger and Careerist at The Skool of Life
Srinivas is a Full-time MBA program graduate at the Graziadio School and among the first contributors to the Graziadio Voice when he was a student. Named one of the top 10 bloggers to watch by Problogger.com, he publishes the enlightened personal development blog The Skool of Life and is the co-founder/host of BlogcastFM, a podcast for bloggers and careerists.
Srinivas Rao, MBA '09
Srinivas Rao, MBA '09

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  1. Srinivas: Thanks for linking to my post about starting a blog.

    It is never too EARLY to start a blog. My daughter who is in high school started a blog about the subject she hopes to study in college. Imagine if she keeps it going — she will have 6 years of content upon graduation (8 years through graduate school).

    But it is also never too LATE to start. Good for you for this blog!


  2. Srinivas – This is great and thoughtful advice. As faculty at another business school (Carlson at the U of MN), I have given much of this advice to students over the years. When I worked in corporate strategy at 3M I would come back and give a “How to get the most out of your 2 years in school” talk during orientation that hits on many of your themes.

    I strongly encourage people to listen in particular to your advice about beginning your search early and being a thoughtful and interested networker. I wrote a blog post a few years ago that gets at similar themes (http://www.phils-career-blog.com/2008/09/levels-of-knowing-you/). Building supportive relationships doesn’t start with asking people for a job (hint – they know you’re looking for a job). It starts with genuine interest, building respect and being interesting and potentially useful in your own way.

    Good luck in your career and I hope others listen to your advice.
    Regards. Phil Miller
    Proifessional Director, Carlson Consulting Enterprise
    Carlson School of Management

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