Many of the world’s most influential people have one thing in common: an MBA.
Sheryl Sandberg, George Bush, Shaquille O’Neal, even TV chef Ina Garten—they’ve all got one.
It seems the course lends itself to any walk of life, as long as it’s success that’s on your lips.
With this in mind, BusinessBecause has rounded up 21 top tips from high-flying MBA students and graduates on how to reach your full potential—and some of them may just surprise you.
1. Know yourself
Tatiana Arventi, Imperial College Business School
Tatiana joined Microsoft as a product marketing manager in September 2018, having completed the Full-time MBA program at Imperial College Business School in the same year.
"Self-awareness is key to one’s success,” she says. “You need to objectively evaluate where you are in terms of skills and achievements, and where you want to be, what drives your ambitions and—most importantly—how to transform and develop yourself to get there.
“Sometimes, taking a step back to reflect on your career and retrain yourself might prove pivotal for long-term success."
2. Promote yourself
Johanna Beer, Oxford Saïd Business School
Johanna has had a successful career as a consultant and director of the Oxford Seed Fund, and is currently studying for an MBA at Oxford Saïd Business School.
She is adamant that communicating one’s achievements and goals is essential.
“During my MBA, I chaired the Technology Society, and managed activities at the Oxford Seed Fund. Initially, these extracurricular efforts were not acknowledged—not until I started communicating my accomplishments,” she explains.
“These success stories facilitated a meeting with the McKinsey global managing director. Talking about my goals and achievements with him, I positioned myself for the kind of projects that will advance my career after my return to work".
3. Tackle the status quo
Natalia Giovanoli, European School of Management and Technology (ESMT)
An MBA graduate from ESMT’s class of 2016, Natalia is a digital marketing manager with experience in luxury, hospitality, tourism and business services marketplaces.
"It is not our talent, education, or skills that lead to guaranteed success in business. People with a rigid mindset, those who believe that the current paradigm stays forever, are much less likely to flourish than those with an agile mindset,” she asserts.
“Even subtle changes should propel you to question the status quo and be ready to adjust and adapt in order to thrive."
4. Grasp every opportunity
Claudio Romani, Alliance Manchester Business School
Having graduated from Alliance Manchester Business School last month, Claudio is now working in Rome as chief strategist at Resi, a telecommunications software company.
He says that you should embrace compelling opportunities early on in your career, even if you’re not certain of the outcome or how to execute a specific project.
“Try to set realistic and achievable goals every day that are aligned with your job description, and grab a coffee with your boss to seek feedback early on.
“Gathering an understanding of your organization’s vision, tackling problems, and presenting solutions are very important habits to establish your credibility.”
5. Plan ahead
Michael Magdongon, Rotterdam School of Management
"Look at your post-MBA career as an extension to your MBA,” says Michael, who is an operations manager at Amazon and a graduate of Rotterdam School of Management’s MBA class of 2017.
“What skills, experience, and network do you want to obtain that will get you to the next level? In addition, it’s an opportunity to solidify your brand after graduation. Similarly to how an MBA can significantly alter the direction of your career, so will your post-MBA job."
6. Persistence, persistence, persistence!
Silvana Ramos, HEC Paris
Silvana currently works as a consultant at Bain & Company in Switzerland, having recently graduated with an MBA from HEC Paris.
She says: “Be ready to stumble and try again. Your career is a journey with ups, but also many downs.
“You need persistence; be ready to take a hit, then get back up and try again. Embrace failure and use it as an opportunity to learn and improve. Success does not come easy, it takes consistency and a lot of determination.”
7. Use your peers
Alvaro Encinas Bascones, IESE Business School
Alvaro, a qualified chartered financial analyst who is due to graduate with an MBA from IESE in 2019, says that there are two phases involved in forging a successful career.
“In the ‘pre-job phase’, it is crucial to deeply reflect on your strengths and weaknesses. Don’t be afraid to ask others; during my MBA I learnt many surprising things about myself from my peers!
“Then, work on mastering your strengths. It is more important to sell your strengths before trying to improve weaknesses. In the ‘job phase’, take any chances that come up (even if they don’t fit into your original plan), then deliver! Delivering consistently will boost your visibility, allowing you to choose better opportunities in the future.”
8. Grit and determination
Marcelo Correa, Alliance Manchester Business School
After working in Brazil for 10 years, Marcelo pursued an MBA at Alliance Manchester Business School in 2016—he was awarded the Manchester Business School scholarship.
“Think about any successful business person and all of them will have one thing in common: grit.
“This will probably have the biggest share in your secret sauce to success! Perseverance and passion for what you are doing is crucial. During the MBA, you will be stretched in ways that you hadn't been before, especially if you are currently in your comfort zone, or an expert in your field,” he says.
“You will have to discuss subjects that you may have never heard about, talk to people more experienced than you, and continue to grow to get to the other side. But enjoy the ride: in the end, you will have one of the best experiences of your life!”
9. Leave your comfort zone behind
Kamran Heinrich Ahmad, Stanford Graduate School of Business
Kamran’s top tip is to always be on the lookout for ways to branch out of your comfort zone—after a life in oil exploration and geophysics, he is doing just that, studying for an MBA at Stanford.
“Whether taking on new responsibilities on the job or working on side projects, finding ways to challenge and differentiate yourself is key to building momentum in your career,” he adds.
10. Find a mentor!
Murielle Liu, EDHEC Business School
At 25, Murielle is the youngest student in her MBA class at EDHEC. She’s drawing on her own top tip—finding a mentor—to develop her own startup, an online recruitment platform called TanZu.
“99% of people start their businesses without a mentor, choosing instead to believe that trial and error is the best plan,” she says.
“I agree that failure is the mother of success, however, as an entrepreneur, one tiny mistake could lead to a great loss. Guidance from an experienced mentor who has been there before could make your path to success much easier and quicker.”
11. Don't let an opportunity hang, ACT!
Jenna Hattingh, University of Exeter Business School
Alongside cultivating a 40-acre orchard as director of Oak and Pitts farm, Jenna is also studying for an MBA at the University of Exeter Business School.
“Act!” She asserts. “Once you have recognized an opportunity, action is what creates success. Self-confidence, taking risks, and passion are all essential. Perseverance and resilience are also key. Think of obstacles as opportunities to adapt and create new pathways.
“Next, network with those internal and external to your industry. This facilitates shared knowledge, which creates opportunities for your business, cements relationships, and improves your business profile.”
12. Use your users
Heath Gasgoine, Australian Graduate School of Management (AGSM)
Freelance business transformator, Heath, graduated with an MBA from AGSM in 2010.
In the eight years he’s spent helping businesses adapt and thrive, he says one thing often sits on a lot of senior executives’ tongues.
“How do they change and stay competitive? They know they need to change, but change is not easy,” he explains. “The key to success, in my opinion, is get the users involved; get support from the top; and be clear about the why (objective), how (strategy), and when (implementation).
13. Invest in you
Adrien Bernier, EMLYON Business School
Adrien’s background is in science and product development—he has five years’ experience managing new technology projects.
During the MBA at EMLYON, from which he is set to graduate in March, he has learned one vital lesson.
“The best investment is in yourself. Keep developing yourself throughout your life to grow and increase the value you can bring to a company and to the market you are involved in,” he asserts.
“It is important to work hard on yourself, on every aspect of your life, and not only on your daily, short-term job activities. Invest energy in improving yourself instead of living in denial, blaming external excuses. I believe what we get depends on who we are and what we do. By changing yourself, your environment and life will change.”
14. Dip your toes in unchartered waters
Nikhil Lasrado, IE Business School
Nikhil Lasrado is now a country manager at Prodigy Finance, based in India—he graduated with an International MBA from IE Business School in 2015.
“Given the VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) business environment we live in, I have found that the one standout way to achieve success in business is to proactively volunteer to take up pilot projects on any FOAK (First of a Kind) opportunity,” he advises.
“Resistance to change is often a barrier to success, and being among the first to venture into unchartered business territory often results in failure. However, while failure will never be held against you, the occasional success brings recognition, and with it, the opportunity to work on more challenging initiatives, resulting in a virtuous cycle of fast-track career growth.”
15. Feedback is golden
Nina Bomberg, ESCP Europe
ESCP Europe EMBA graduate Nina has a golden piece of advice for career success: feedback is a gift.
“The person giving it is taking the time and effort to share it with you and, in most cases, has taken even more time behind the scenes to observe you, think about what they have seen, and consider how they will deliver it to you.
“Be thankful, consider it carefully, and think how you want to act upon that feedback. At the same time, when you observe someone doing something worth mentioning, do so. They will appreciate it.”
16. Curiosity never killed the MBA
Massimiliano Sormani, MIP Politecnico di Milano
A student on the MIP International Flex EMBA, set to graduate next year, Massimiliano has recently completed the fabled career ‘triple jump’.
“Be curious, never stop learning, discovering, and challenging yourself and your ideas, and be open to listening and learning from others,” he says.
“Think outside the box—just because something has been always done in a certain way, it doesn’t mean you can’t do it in a different, perhaps better, way.
“Finally, care about others. We cannot succeed alone, it has to be done together in a team!”
17. Self-confidence is key
Erica Toews, The Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth
Erica comes from a non-traditional MBA background—she studied English at Stanford before embarking on the MBA at Tuck in 2016.
For her, confidence is key!
"I arrived at Tuck with a non-traditional business background, having majored in creative writing and worked in the education sector. But, I was confident in my ability to succeed,” she says.
“It’s more important to be self-aware and open to learning than to have all the answers at the outset. Be honest about what you know and don’t know and ask questions. Have the courage to stay your own course, and don't conflate other people’s goals with your own.
“I knew I wanted to work as a product manager at an education technology startup in the Bay Area, and although that meant I didn’t have a job when I graduated from business school, I’m happy I didn’t settle for anything else."
18. Embrace your failures
Juan Pablo Brotfeld, Bath School of Management
Moving from Chile to the UK was done all in the name of an MBA for Juan. And, it all paid off—he’s now heading to London to work for a top marketing company.
But, he’s not naïve, and knows the importance of learning from past mistakes. His key tip for finding success?
“Failing is crucial, and something that one must encounter in order to succeed in every aspect of life,” he says.
“The key is to embrace your failures as learning curves and question yourself. What can be done better next time to avoid this? Failure comes with frustration, but also forces you to become stronger and more resilient. If you really want something, you’ve got to fight for it”.
19. Learn to act fast
Oliver Yogananthan, Cass Business School
“Decisiveness is a critical skill for any successful leader to have, whether in the wardroom or in the boardroom,” says US Navy Veteran and current MBA student at Cass Business School, Oliver.
"Per the US Navy’s definition, 'decisiveness means that you are able to make good decisions without delay'.
“In high pressure environments, a good leader is better off making a decent plan, rather than waiting for the 'perfect' plan to develop while the present situation simultaneously worsens. This, of course, applies to business. For me, the key to success, in any walk of life, is good decision making."
20. Reel in your emotions
Mari Ito, Lancaster University Management School
Mari began her MBA journey at Lancaster University Management School after a six-year career at Mitsubishi.
Her tip is to master self-discipline. “Getting a grip on your emotions is crucial to becoming successful,” she asserts.
“Once you develop your career plan, stick to it. Although it may not be easy at the beginning, stop repeating bad habits and develop good ones. Self-discipline needs practice and repetition.
“The Lancaster MBA made me aware of my cognitive habits and I was able to rectify them. Essentially, self-discipline can be developed by recognizing your weaknesses and striving to change the way you act."
21. Covet clarity
Umair Sheriff, The Ohio State University Fisher College of Business
Clarity, says Fisher College of Business MBA graduate Umair, is tantamount to career success for any MBA. Indeed, for him, it’s meant a finance graduate position on the Zurich Insurance UK Leadership Development program.
"This clarity could be about the dream industry, role or location,” he explains. “You should take the time to answer these questions before you apply for colleges.
“Your time during the MBA will be limited, and if you have locked down your preferences before you start the program you will make the right trade-offs to land your dream career. This also helps you pick the university that is right for your aspirations.
“You can get this clarity by doing your own research, hiring career consultants, interviewing business professionals, and, most importantly, by knowing yourself better."