In my first year as an MBA alumna and as a startup entrepreneur, I have realized that the same lessons for startups apply to how you might conduct yourself in business school.
Two years is not a long time “ ask any recent grad “ and making the most of the experience is something every student should think about before they arrive on campus.
I’ll admit I could be stretching this analogy “ but since startups and MBAs are my life, here is some of the best advice I’ve received as an entrepreneur that I think applies to making the most of your MBA.
Be willing to fail fast. While I am reluctant to employ the word fail in any article directed at ambitious, high-achieving MBAs, I start with a lesson that successful tech entrepreneurs constantly emphasize to other entrepreneurs. Just as I have had to approach business with an open mind, you too should come to school with a few ideas about what you want to do with your career and your life. Don’t get wed to just one ideal job, company or recruiting track. I can assure you, things will change. Be willing to let go of something if it’s not working for you, and move on to the next.
Learn the jargon. Learn how to align (agree with) your classmates, while making sure to circle back (revisit) ideas that you put in the parking lot (brushed aside as mediocre or irrelevant). After you get your ducks in a row (get organized), you’ll realize that all this jargon is about building credibility in the business world. As a startup entrepreneur, I have had to learn phrases ranging from Twitter jargon (twintros, FFs and hashtags) to capital-raising abbreviations. It’s been a fairly steep learning curve, but I think I can manipulate the English language enough now to convince even the most seasoned MBA or entrepreneur that I am one, too.
Expand your network. More specifically, extend your reach beyond your classmates and friends. Talk to anyone and everyone who has experience with an industry, function, or product that you’re interested in. Meet with professors outside of the classroom “ they could become trusted advisors to your new startup, or a subject matter expert when you’re running a Fortune 500 company. Sign up for alumni mentor programs organized by your student association. Talk to administrators “ they have seen more students go through the program than you can imagine and have lessons to share. This has been an absolutely critical activity for me as an entrepreneur “ and frankly I wish I’d done more of it while I was at business school.
Use informational interviews. Use them a lot. In fact, most career centers will tell you this, but you should always begin a relationship with a professional person with an informational interview, rather than an explicit ask (e.g. for an interview, a job, a connection). Building relationships of trust when you are networking for a job is the same skill set that I have to use as an entrepreneur when networking for a partnership, a new writer, or a sponsorship opportunity.
Try not to do what everyone else is doing. Commonly called, groupthink, atrium effect, and following the herd, these phrases describe the business school phenomenon of a student arriving at school with one career in mind, getting derailed and then recruiting for something entirely different. It can be alluring to recruit for the sexy industries at b-school “ management consulting, brand management, private equity/venture capital “ but they might not be right for you.
Occasionally I have fallen into the trap of trying to pivot my business to become something it’s not because right now hot new companies focus on things like gaming and hyperlocal mobile apps. But I know my business is something different. In the 1990s, people scoffed at Apple’s products when prevailing industry standards dictated hardware designand we know how that story ends.
At business school this may happen to you too “ you may feel the urge to follow the crowd, but look inward and remember who you are – even if who you are isn’t what everyone else wants to be. Maybe you’ll just be the next iPod 5.
This piece was written by Jenn Yee, the Founder & Publisher ofMBA-social.com, an online lifestyle magazine that provides MBAs with national content covering popular topics such as Career, Family, Love & Dating, Social Life, and Style. Follow MBAsocial on Facebook and Twitter for the latest in business education news, social life and advice.
For more tips on succeeding in business school, take a look at our book, Case Studies and Cocktails.