Making the Most of Your MBA Journey

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Tuesday, March 8, 2022
By Dhruva Chak
Photo by PeopleImages/iStock
Starting an MBA program can be an overwhelming experience. Here are some tips on how to make the most of it.

A New World: Beginning Your Journey

So, you’ve begun your MBA program at the hallowed institution that you’ve dreamt of attending, perhaps with a queer mix of anticipation, joy and dread. You have been a high achiever and the world is at your feet. There is anticipation of the knowledge you’ll gain and the future career, with salary and benefits that you aspire to. But whoa! hold your horses; holidaying in Monte Carlo or Copacabana, post your graduation, are still some distance away.

For some, beginning an MBA program is a brand new experience; for others a familiar transition. As you begin, you find yourself amidst a whole lot of new and experienced learners and may feel utterly overwhelmed at the sheer babble of noise created by the intersection of so many diverse experiences and personalities. People, especially the ones with work experience, seem to know so much about the world and about business that it may leave you feeling inadequate. You may even begin to wonder whether you really belong to this place or will be exposed as an imposter who somehow sneaked through the admission process.

Thankfully, before you can bemoan your fate further, you are thrown into a frenzy of activity. An MBA program’s workload is unlike anything you have seen and very late nights are de rigueur.

The Initial Months

The first month passes before you know it and most students start getting attuned to the program workload, professors, and fellow cohorts. There are several learning lessons in the beginning of your MBA studies. One, for example, that you are perhaps not the smartest person in the cohort and probably not the worst. A second lesson may be that you need to develop new techniques to tackle the relentless pressures of a new learning environment and curriculum. Third, you will recognize the value of networking. You will have made new friends and special relationships are beginning to develop that will benefit you in your MBA program and beyond. Lastly, there is a lot happening on-campus and you have the opportunity to decide which of these activities you would like to be a part of.

If you haven’t already thought about it—many new MBA students may not have decided yet—there will come the time to question which specializations to take up and what career paths to pursue.

With so much going on, life for the recently admitted MBA candidate can sometimes resemble a boiler room kind of situation. What, then, can I advise the freshly admitted?

Having been through the mill myself, and privy to many agonized queries from students in the institute where I have served as head of both the marketing and the business communication areas, let me assist you with some lessons I’ve shared.

The Suggested Game Plan

  1. One of the first things you must realize is that you are not alone in what may feel like a frenzied situation. The rest of your classmates are likely to be experiencing much of the same. This realization itself can settle your nerves. Some may not look frazzled or nervous, but believe me, everyone is–only the extents may vary. The poker faced- ones are not necessarily the most confident, perhaps just better at hiding their emotions. An MBA is a great adventure in mass human interaction and a terrific training ground to prepare you for your corporate career.
  2. Begin to build a wide network and establish relationships. Choose your friends wisely, some who have the same interests as you, and, more importantly, others widely disparate from you, from whom you can learn new things. The more diverse your groups the better. Forming these relationships is how life-long friendships are made, which go deeper than mere networking. These are the individuals you can turn to for help during your MBA and in later years when you need advice, personal or career related.
  3. You must decide on your level of participation in the whirlwind of activities going on around you. Remember, academics are the prime reason you are enrolled in the program. Depending on your degree of comfort with handling the academic load, decide on what and how many co- and extracurricular activities you would like to participate in. Experiential learning opportunities are important for your résumé, as well as for rounding out your academic experience. Participating in clubs, internships, and events outside of the classroom displays your versatility and offers real-world experience. Treat this as a wonderful opportunity to explore and discover your real strengths and interests. Step out of your comfort zone and participate wholeheartedly in as many activities as you can manage—without seriously affecting your academic studies.
  4. Be prepared to give more than you receive. This attitude will carry you far. For example, do your assigned part and more in a group project. You will see more reward, both academically and personally, when you put in a 110 percent effort, not a mere 70 percent. This attitude should extend far beyond just projects, also to your networking and relationships.
  5. You may soon come to the sobering realization that you are good at some subjects and maybe not as good in others. Do not despair! The advice passed down by life- skill gurus is to build on your strengths (these are what take you to great heights) and work on your weaknesses (don’t obsess about them). This piece of wisdom applies to your studies, too. Your own assessment of your skills—not necessarily based on your initial grades, perhaps on your deep interest -plus conversations with your peers and faculty would enable you to decide on your specializations during your MBA, or your career prospects post-graduation.
  6. Use your institution’s resources, like the library, intensively—read widely and try to develop an understanding of all spheres of Management. management education is not merely about what specializations you take up. It is far bigger than that. There are no silos in real life. You will not remain a marketing manager or an HR manager as you climb the corporate ladder. It is important to strive to become a ‘complete manager’. Knowledge of all spheres of management is necessary to achieve that balance. Keep yourself open to new ideas and question received wisdom and knowledge relentlessly. Try to understand how all the subjects you are taught impact upon, and dovetail into, each other. This comprehension is what you should try to achieve to get the maximum out of your MBA.

Handling the Career Placement Jitters

Finally, no advice would be complete without suggesting how to tackle the pressures of placement. And, indeed, no advice would be adequate!!! It is a real pressure and cannot be gainsaid. You must find ways of relieving the stress and the uncertainties involved either through involving yourself in a hobby or a game which you enjoy or through a support group of friends. Those who are quick to get placed are blessed; to those who take longer I offer two proverbs of comfort, “all things come to those who wait” and “patience is bitter, but its fruit is sweet.” Good luck with your journey and may the wind always be beneath your sails!

Authors
Dhruva Chak
Professor of Marketing, Birla Institute of Management Technology
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