So you received that much awaited admit letter from the B-school of your choice! Huge pat on the back and time to get ready for the ride of a lifetime – yes, you will cherish the time spent there. But are there things you should know before you enter the portals of a B-school and are hit by the workload of case studies and myriad assignments? A little prep along the following themes may go a long way:
Think through what goals you want to achieve by being in the B-school
If you don’t know where you are going, any road will take you there. This holds true even for an MBA program. There are so many choices to make (courses, clubs, industries/companies, etc.) that you can easily get lost in the tremendous momentum that hits you right from the very first week. So, if you have thought through your goals, you will be better positioned to make the right moves that drive you towards your goal.
Are you a fresher from undergrad college and looking to get an overall understanding of the business world in the first year before making firmer choices in the second year? Are you coming with experience in an industry and looking to change your industry after MBA – what would you need to do? Are you planning to change disciplines - coming from sales & marketing but want to go to finance? Is your goal to take up an international assignment straight out of B-school? Do you aspire to the popular choice of “want a consulting or I-banking job”?
Achieving a goal needs appropriate investment of work. Find out what those might be for your chosen goals. Grades, experience with a particular club, recommendation from a specific professor, etc.?
Seek out and talk to a few alumni from the B-school you are about to join
Most B-school programs will be of two years hence providing an opportunity to interact with a senior batch. But the experience of recently passed out batches is valuable in understanding the big picture of how the B-school helped them realize their goals; and even learning about which mistakes to avoid. So, seek out alumni from the B-school on professional forums like LinkedIn and talk to them. Most will be happy to take out some time and share their learnings with you. This exercise will feed into the ‘know your goal’ theme.
Acclimatize yourself with a few disciplines (and some terms)
Mind you, the work load is going to hit you. So the more prepared you are about what’s being taught and discussed in the program, the better are your chances of learning.
What is business and what’s a company – and how does this entity called company operate a business? What disciplines are involved in running a business? How does the importance of one or more disciplines vary by industry (e.g. Marketing in FMCG versus Product Management in Internet & Mobile.) Try and understand how a business is run – your current company, a company run by someone in your family or even your neighborhood store. This will provide you a perspective as you embark on the learning in the program.
You may also want to drill down a few levels, for example, what’s Marketing and how is it different from Sales? Does it differ in B2B versus B2C companies? What are the broader areas of Finance and how do they differ; How does the stock market work? Why is Statistics important in MBA? What role does HR play?
Do some homework on who are the great professors/lecturers in the B-school
Let’s face it. Not all teachers are made equal. Some are exceptional in the way they deliver a course and especially if these are elective courses, you don’t want to miss out on the chance to experience their brilliance. If not a course, there might be a chance to do a research paper or a consulting assignment with them. To identify these profs, you’ll need to find about them through alumni, existing senior batches, what has media written about them, etc. And let’s not underestimate the damage a not so great teacher can do; Knowing about them will help you navigate your way since you may not have a choice to avoid some of these in the core courses.
Research the industries / companies that you may want to target
Enamored by branding and desperately want to get into Levers or P&G; But do you know that you may have to go through a rigorous sales stint before you even lay your hands on the first branding assignment? Love the lifestyle of a successful I-banker and want to break into the world of high finance; do you have it in you to crunch excel sheets eighteen hours a day, for years at a stretch? Would you be worried about the questions raised about ethics in the investment banking industry post 2008 financial crisis? Fancy banking; but do you know that selling credit cards is different from managing corporate finance which is different from working on the commodities trading desk?
If you are getting into a traditional two year MBA program where your summer internship will be decided within first four months of entering the B-school, such research will help you in making a rational choice.
Keep an open mind
Lastly, open your mind to the possibilities that may present themselves while at B-school. The network of peers that you develop, non-traditional creative courses on offer, the cult of this-is-the-way-we-have-fun specific to your B-school will all make your stay memorable!
The above piece tries to answer the question on people’s minds before they join a b-school. This is a three-piece series where this question was tackled last week - First question: Should I do an MBA? and I will tackle the last question soon: Final question: How to make the most out of my time at B-school?
Vineet Taneja is an alumnus of IIM Bangalore and a Corporate Leader in the internet & mobile technology industry.