What to do during your MBA

As the placement and recruiting season is on at ISB and other B-schools, I am seeing people not getting their dream offers and getting depressed. Considering the current economic scenario, where companies are just being cautious and while most of them are just on a hiring freeze, I think this was expected. While going through some old archives on my computer, I found this advice useful (found somewhere on the internet, forgot the link) that I believe every B-school student should read before entering B-school and get themselves ready.

As You Begin….

Write down your goals: What are the top 3-5 things you want to accomplish during your B-School run? Review these goals regularly – hang them on your wall or keep it in your planner.

Get organized: If you do not already have one, get yourself a Palm Pilot, Treo, or paper-based system (Franklin Planner) to keep track of your (1) schedule, (2) rolodex, and (3) to do list. The rolodex is especially important – as you meet people (classmates, interviewers, professors, alumni), enter them in so you have record. Entering their names also will enhance your ability to remember them – repetition is the mother of skill.

Keep your resume up to date at all times! There is no official “resume season” – you could be asked for it at anytime, and failure to present one may preclude you from a great opportunity. Before you get knee-deep in classes, add your last experience to your resume if you haven’t already.

It’s all about Networking….

Get good at small talk: The best way to engage someone in small talk is to (1) remember their name when they tell you and (2) ask them questions. I always have four questions ready to go for anyone I meet:
– What is your name?
– Where are you from?
– Where do you/have you worked?
– Where are you living? (on campus/off campus)
Any of these four questions can lead you to “Level 2” questions: For example – “where are you from” leads to things like “I’ve never been there – what is it like?” or “did you like living there?” or “sounds like paradise on earth – do you want to return there?” etc.

Meet, Greet, and Meet Some More: Meet as many people as you can. Even if you do not regularly socialize with them, you will be surprised how your former classmates will welcome an email from you 10 years down the road, even if they barely remember you.

Keep Your Guard Up: One of the things I learned from my 1st year Negotiation class is that there are two broad sets of negotiators: Givers (“Pie Makers”) and Takers (“Zero Summers”). Givers are people with loads of integrity and are willing to work with you to create a bigger pie before negotiating on how to divvy it up. Zero Summers are in it for themselves; their sole purpose is to take as much as they can off the table. When a giver negotiates with another giver, there is huge potential for mutual benefit, but when a giver negotiates with a taker, the giver gets royally hosed every time. If you are, by nature, a giver, be very wary of the takers. (I typically assume someone is a taker until they prove they are giver.)

Don’t Become a Social Outcast: You are going to meet plenty of people who are just plain intimidating (Perhaps, you will recognize these people by the fact that they are going to pull up in Mercedes/BMW’s, talk about the CEOs they play golf with, and come from esteemed families/social circles). But there are plenty of people there who DO have things in common with you. Also, your social circles will develop over time, so don’t get freaked out if by the end of September, you have not found a group to hang out with.

Watch the Gossip: This probably won’t be an issue for you, but there will be plenty of opportunities (usually around beers) to make fun of people based on their classroom comments or other social gaffes. Try not to participate – it has a habit of coming back around, and you never know when you will have to work with that person on a team project.

Sometimes You Gotta Force Yourself: If you find yourself not feeling like going to a meeting, extracurricular, company brief, or social function, go anyway. I can’t tell you how many times I have dreaded going to one of these functions only to have learned something important or to have met someone that helped me down the road.

Today’s Professors are Tomorrow’s Colleagues: Meet your professors, get to know them. They value you – you keep them young and energized. Down the road, you will want to network with them. I did a horrible job of this.

The Classroom….

Go to Class: Not sure how classroom participation works at Berkeley, but at HBS it was a significant portion of the grade. Regardless, go to class – you will learn more that way. And don’t show up late – it is unprofessional and you will look bad – very bad. If it came down to being late or not going at all, I chose not going at all.

Recognize that you bring value to the table: Don’t be intimidated (as I was) by the I-bankers and Management Consultants. They will have really good, strategic work experience. But you have an equally relevant base of knowledge and experience. You have the advantage of having worked in an operational role, and knowing what works day to day amongst people who make the strategy happen. More importantly, not many have your experience in web marketing. Use these as your base.

Learn the jargon: You will find that the consultants and I-bankers will come in with a certain level of business savvy that you do not have (and I did not have going in to HBS). These people have operated at a more strategic level than you; learn from them. Listen how they talk and write down phrases you hear that sound good. Also write down phrases that sound equally ridiculous – you may be able to start a game of Business Bingo or even write a B-School comedy.

Have fun learning new stuff: You are paying a lot of money for this – focus less on grades, and more on learning.

Leverage other people’s knowledge: Form a study group with people with diverse backgrounds. Aside from the learning aspects, it is a good way to socialize.

Get the Wall Street Journal: Read it everyday, even if only for 15 minutes over coffee – it is the best way to get educated on business, and gives you tidbits to contribute to conversations in and out of class.

The Future….

View yourself as your own business: You officially work for YOU Inc. You are your own business. Figure out what things interest you (e.g. web marketing), and become THE expert on it. Then find opportunities (not necessarily “jobs”) where you can leverage your expertise. There will be times in the upcoming years where these opportunities will take the form of a job. Other times, these opportunities may take the form of a consulting/freelance role. Ultimately, these opportunities lead to the development of new skills and expertise, which open up a whole new set of opportunities.

Don’t settle for a job: Figure out something that interests you and go from there. I was interested in technology, I researched a couple of industries, and decided to go into telecom; I did not waste my time learning about other “hot industries” like Financial Services. Perhaps I could have made more money, but it did not interest me and I would not have been successful because I did not have the interest.

Don’t wait ‘til “interview season” to look for an opportunity: Devote time each week to learning about industries/companies/opportunities you are interested in. Get yourself a small notebook to jot down statistics or quotes that you can use in interviews, cover letters, and conversations. This is all part of the building expertise theme – you need to come across as an expert and part of that is industry knowledge.

Watch Your Burn Rate (a.k.a. Beware of Clothing Companies): In keeping with the “view yourself as your own business” theme, the #1 reason why startups fail is they run out of cash. So don’t let YOU Inc run out of cash. Rest assured, Hickey Freeman will try to sell you a $1500 suit, claiming that “you need this suit to be successful in your interviews.” Unless you are headed to Wall Street, a tailored $300-$400 suit will do you fine. The more general idea behind this is don’t do anything that unnecessarily raises your burn rate. Doing so will raise the amount you have to borrow and puts you in a deeper hole.

Organize Your Finances: Consider getting Quicken – it is a good time to get your finances organized. Also, keep good paper records around your school loans. We bought a plastic, portable file box with 2-3 accordion files to go inside – one was for our School Loans and the others were for bills, etc. Just don’t do anything to screw up your credit rating. You will need it later.

Debt Fears: Don’t worry about your debt – you will find a way to pay it off. We emerged from B-School/L-School with over $100K of debt; we paid it off, and we don’t exactly have Wall Street power jobs. (In fairness, they kinda do have big important jobs)


Dino said...

Awesome post. Great advice.

The Teacher said...

Thanks D. G. I just shared what I had. I'm sure it'll come in handy during your stay at Kellogg. ;)

anvay said...

thanks for this post
its an awesome piece of advice

Nikhil said...

Good read. Great that you took the effort to post the "gyan" you got in your archive! :-)

Ankit said...

Useful tips!
Small-talk (schmoozing) and keeping focus on industry that you like are spot on. Some may argue that you should go with an open mind and explore about all the industries before making a choice. While it sounds good in principle, the academic rigor, peer pressure and quick onset of placement season makes "experience-all-decide-later" approach go haywire.

An addendum w.r.t. Indian B-schools:

Grades do matter a LOT, especially if you are aiming for Consults.

Lower grades in first year can even prevent you from taking elective courses of your choice. Electives are bidded using points derived from first year grades. Lower grades --> lower bidding points --> higher probability of losing the bid.

Unknown said...

being wary of the takers and assuming everyone is a taker unless proven otherwise - this kind of thinking makes me a little sick in the guts. If you really are a "giver", why should you care ? If givers keep giving to givers, the inequities just keep increasing !!
Not the mindset for a manager in a world ridden with so many problems.

Rhiannon Rhythm said...

One word - Comprehensive
No Two - Comprehensive and Awesome!
Really liked your post - There are loads of things that could be useful in an everyday job as well....:)

Thanks for a good post!

Anonymous said...

very useful and fantastic writeup........

Sugnyan said...

I want to get in touch with you to get some help on ISB admission. I would highly appreciate if you could email me your contact details to sugnyan@gmail.com

abhi said...

Awsome, looking fwd to see you at ISb Dude ;-)
Some of this stuff can be done easier as a group. Like making and sticking to the todo's and exploring industires etc.. let us pair up on that sometime.

Vinit Garg said...

Another great read Nitin. Everything, almost everything, we should be aware about before landing into the madness at ISB ( You have ofcourse seen it a year longer than everyone else ). Thank you for sharing. I am going to link your post on my blog. By any chance, if you happen to find a link of the original source please do let me know. This guy may have many more interesting posts.

The Teacher said...

Hi Vinit,

Thanks for the kind words. Even though I have been through an extra year, the next year would be as a student and will be new to me too. Looking forward to it.

Thanks for linking back. I'll link back to you too.

While random browsing sometime back I found that text and stored as a text file. But your question prompted me to google and I found the source here:




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