In order to develop your value as a business leader during your time at business school, you really need to do more than attend classes and join student organizations. Studying all of the disciplines of business and focusing on a topic or two is only the baseline for grad school success. Yes, understanding the language of business and becoming competent in business mathematics is incredibly important. But it’s important in a foundational way; it’s difficult to lead in business without understanding accounting, finance, and marketing, but becoming competent in those areas is hardly a competitive advantage. You need more. Much more.
Learning Between the Lines
So for anyone beginning their first year of b-school or considering applying, here are a few ways to add value in, around, and beyond the classroom.
So you’re taking Managerial Finance and you understand the theory of time value of money and the concept behind a firm’s value? Go build me a corporate valuation model. You’re taking Marketing and you know how to write killer content that attracts potential customers? Go distribute your message and build a customer database to track their individual responses.
You’re not going to be of much use in businesses if you can’t apply theory to the business systems that firms rely on. It’s likely that you will get a small bit of training on systems like Excel, Access, Salesforce, or others in some classes, but it’s on you to push yourself to really learn them. If you aren’t already fully proficient in these types of systems, you should seriously consider doing some self-imposed training through YouTube. You’ll be glad you did this when you interview for post-grad jobs and can confidently say that you not only understand theory but can apply it in a practical manner for business.
Interview Your Classmates
From the day I was accepted into the Graziadio School, it was pounded into my brain that I should be networking, networking, and networking some more. My classmates and I were told to be proactive about reaching out to the Los Angeles business community and Pepperdine alumni network to do informational interviews in our desired fields. I did a few of these and they were certainly helpful, but it does take a decent amount of effort to connect, coordinate, and meet up with some business professionals.
What doesn’t take much effort, though, is interviewing your classmates and friends who came from the industry you want to enter. In my rather small class I could easily learn about real estate finance, securities trading, sports management, social media marketing, outbound marketing, or business norms in China, India, Russia, Germany, and Brazil, to name just a few backgrounds. Your classmates have the same schedule as you and you’re already friends with many of them. There’s no easier group of business people to learn from.
Be Aware of Group Dynamics
Business school could easily be renamed “Two Years of Group Projects.” Most MBA students are going to spend the vast majority of their time researching in teams, writing in teams, and presenting in teams. If you want to add value to your MBA, don’t just survive the groupwork grind, learn from it. It’s easy to get overwhelmed with projects and just want to complete the work. But step out of your situation for a moment and analyze how each person is interacting with the group. Become self-aware of your tendencies in group situations.
Some of your classmates are going to try to do everything in a group; others will do their share only once they’ve been given direction, and others will completely slack off. If you are looking for quality managerial training, look no further than groupwork. Even if you’re not the group leader type, try to figure out how to motivate each personality in the group to maximize their contributions. If you can figure out how to get the most from a group where there’s no official boss, you’re going to go a long way in business.
Is there anyone who actually likes textbooks? Didn’t think so. They can be helpful to provide foundational understanding of concepts, but no one has ever looked back on their education and said that some textbook was the catalyst that really spurred them onto greatness into their field. If you want to learn about real-world business in a human voice, go buy some novel-sized books about your field of interest.
If you’re into investment finance, check out Money Masters of Our Time and The Intelligent Investor. If you’re into marketing, grab Word of Mouth Marketing. Whatever industry or position you want to get into, there are books out there that apply to your niche and provide more relevant information than any textbook could ever provide.
Use Web Videos to Supplement In-Class Learning
Khan Academy. You’re welcome. An incredibly smart Harvard and MIT-educated man named Salman Khan started tutoring a family member online and soon other family members wanted tutoring. Eventually all sorts of people saw his YouTube tutoring sessions and requested new subjects. It all snowballed into the Khan Academy where you can go for free to learn about almost anything in small bites.
Curious about mortgage-backed securities? There are three 8-minute videos covering MBS. Fell asleep during the lecture on producer surplus? You can catch up with another quick 8-minute video. Your MBA professors will no doubt teach you well, but if you need to spend extra time studying a particular concept, you can almost certainly find what you’re looking for at Khan Academy or YouTube.
As long as you’re going to spend $80,000-100,000 on an MBA, make sure you get the most for your money. Classrooms are essential, but to become a future business leader you really need to take control of your studies outside of the classroom.
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