If you’re applying for an MBA, you’re bound to be brimming with questions.
How do you make the most of your MBA experience? Should you focus on extracurriculars, internships — or keep your head in the textbooks? What’s the best way to approach networking?
Without the beauty of hindsight, it can be difficult to know how to best spend your time. So why not steal the hindsight of some successful MBA alumni?
Here are five things former MBA students from the University of Georgia’s Terry College of Business wish they’d known when applying for their MBAs.
1. Don’t dismiss the value of soft skills
Terry graduate Viju Krishnan, now a business valuation manager at Deloitte, advises incoming MBAs to take soft skills seriously. This includes learning how to pitch yourself or practicing mock interviews.
“I remember feeling so silly during mock interviews, but that’s the stuff that’s helpful,” Viju says. “When the next networking opportunity arises and someone asks what you do, and you have 20 seconds to answer, it’s great to have that preparation.”
At Terry College, you can brush up on these skills with workshops run by the MBA Career Management Center, which coaches you through the job application process, identifies your strengths, and helps you land relevant internships with local firms.
2. It’s OK to make mistakes on your MBA
Business school isn’t always easy, Terry MBA Sonya Penkova remembers.
Sonya applied for her MBA to become more familiar with financial concepts and advance her management skills. Building up this expertise paid off dividends in her role as product innovation manager for risk solutions company LexisNexis, where she handles complex data analysis and manages several teams day-to-day.
She emphasizes that challenging moments on your MBA are vital to helping build your resilience, and come out with a broader, more experienced view of the business world.
Learning from things going wrong is what the MBA experience is all about. “An MBA is a low cost-of-error environment,” Viju says.
Unlike at work, you can make mistakes on your MBA and nothing is going to happen, so don’t be afraid of going out of your comfort zone. Often, that’s where there is the most potential to learn, which is what you went to business school to do!
3. Always do your homework before networking
If you land an informational call or meeting with a potential connection, you need to do your research.
“One eye-opener came when I connected with a contact I found through Terry early in my first term, and he was very candid with me about not doing enough research before speaking to him,” explains Terry MBA Thomas Saunders.
Thomas focused on finance and consulting on his MBA before becoming a vice president at Harris Williams, a mergers and acquisitions company.
After this experience, Thomas prepared in-depth for future networking opportunities, researching his contacts thoroughly before meetings, and going in with direct, specific questions to make sure the time they had together was valuable on both sides.
“With this change in tactic, I saw a quick shift in receptiveness with everyone I was reaching out to,” he adds. This new approach helped him build a strong network to leverage.
4. Learn as much as you can from your peers
Business schools are a great place to encounter diverse perspectives and learn from the experience of others. Don’t miss the chance to learn as much as you can from your classmates.
“The small class sizes at Terry College were a great chance to build personal relationships often with people experienced in a different industry to you,” says Thomas, “That’s something I appreciate so much more now that I’ve gone.”
“Terry made me a much more rounded person,” agrees Viju. “I’ve got a broader perspective from listening to my peers and becoming close with professors, and I now use that knowledge meaningfully in the workplace.”
5. Be willing to go the extra mile
Ultimately an MBA is what you make of it, so being willing to put the hours in is a must.
“The MBA is an investment in yourself — your chance to dedicate some time to personal and professional development,” says Sonya. This is best achieved by going all in.
“I can’t tell you how many Thursday and Fridays I was in Atlanta late, having informational chats, or coffee interviews with folks,” says Thomas.
For Viju, the effort put into extracurriculars such as case competitions helped him in the long run with presentation skills. It was an area he wasn’t as confident in before but now uses regularly in the workplace.
“No matter what your path is, an MBA can be a great experience if you go with the mentality of knowing what you want and the determination to pursue it,” concludes Sonya.
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University of Georgia - Terry College of Business
Athens, Georgia - United States