Five Things I Wish I Knew My First Year of my MBA

A blog post written for Baruch College in New York City.

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There is nothing quite like that intense mix of excitement and overwhelming anxiety and fear when you start your MBA. Juggling academics and testing, applying and interviewing for a summer internship, and balancing networking activities all while trying to enjoy the experience was daunting, to say the least.

Looking back on that first semester four years ago, there are things that were important to making my experience rewarding at Baruch College. Here are my top five to help you navigate your MBA.

1. Attend the national career fairs, because the return is far greater than the initial investment (time and effort to prepare + money to attend)

  • Top conferences include the National Black MBA Association and NSHMBA (now Prospanica). These are the easiest, most efficient ways to get in front of recruiters to gain an internship or full-time role. Note: The conferences level the playing field for students. Decisions for interviews are based on your opening pitch and resumes, not whether you attend a top 10 school.
  • Submit applications to interview with companies in advance and prepare prior to attending in case you’re selected to interview on the spot.
  • Do your homework and visit your top three companies when the career expo opens at the conference. For example, I wanted to interview for General Electric’s (GE) rotational program. I got in line early before the expo floor opened and ran to the GE booth to hand in my resume. I had my pitch rehearsed on who I was and why I wanted to work for them, and I landed an interview for that afternoon.
  • Be aggressive, as the booth lines can get long, and map out a plan to execute through the career fair.
  • Go to the after parties. You’ll meet more recruiters there.

2. Networking will pay off, so keep doing it – even when you’re exhausted.

  • Baruch is based in NYC, which I’d argue is one of the best cities to network. There are numerous events in every industry and for every position each day.
  • Learning and grades are important, BUT networking and meeting people will help you find jobs, mentors, and friends, helping you build a lifelong support network.
  • People like to help students, so use that to your advantage when you reach out to people. Never be afraid to ask for something – coffee, meeting, etc.
  • Create an events calendar, share it with your cohort and take a friend with you to events.
  • Event listings: professional organizations and trade associations, startup lists (Garysguide/Charlie O’Donnell’s newsletter), coworking spaces, meetups, minority groups, non-profits, other MBA programs (Columbia, NYU, Fordham, Rutgers)
  • Network the smart way: It’s not about coming home with a bag of business cards. Target 2-3 people that you want to meet at an event and get their business cards. Remember, that is just the beginning. Immediately follow-up with an email including a thank you and next step.
  • Optimize your network. Connect with alumni and ask them to create warm introductions to people at companies you’d like to work.
  • Lastly, always remember to offer to help others: Can you connect them to others? Can you solve a problem of theirs?

3. Enjoy learning. Take courses that interest you, and not only the required courses. This is your chance in life to take a pause and enjoy education as an adult.

  • I took a course on Management Science, a decision modeling course. I wasn’t even particularly good at it. I struggled with the logic in building the models, but I loved it. I learned how to use advanced macros in Excel and how data can be crunched to make executive decisions. There’s no other time in life I would have access to that course in a classroom so I’m glad I took advantage of it then.

4. If MBA costs factored into why you chose Baruch, you’ll be thankful for your decision.

  • I was really stressed about money during business school, and sometimes doubted my decision. Would this decision pay off financially?
  • I sacrificed to reduce debt while living in New York (think 2-4 roommates, worked second year), and graduated debt free. It saved me years of additional stress (+ wrinkles) after my MBA. The debt accumulated during graduate school can take 10+ years to pay off when many people are also considering financial investments, homes, children, kids’ schooling, taking care of elderly parents, etc.   
  • Simple equation: less debt for school/housing/fun during MBA = more money for housing/fun/life post-MBA.

5. Focus on your strengths, and then make them stronger.

  • It’s very transparent from early on in the MBA that everyone has their strengths and weaknesses. People can easily be defined by skills like communications, presenting, design, analytical/numbers-driven, people-oriented, technical, problem solvers, leaders, supporters and so on.
  • Yes, you need to round out your entire skill set and be able to present hard and soft skills to an employer. BUT, take it from me. Don’t spend your entire MBA stressing about your weaknesses. I was so concerned that I wasn’t strong in finance and analytics that I majored in finance. While I learned a great deal, it wasn’t a strength of mine. It made for a miserable month leading up to mid-terms and finals, and I typically ended up sick while studying. It also confused my direction post MBA. I was going after finance roles when, in my second year, I finally broke down and had a hard conversation with myself that maybe this wasn’t the right direction. Don’t do this.
If you’re good at something, be proud of it and keep refining it. That’s what you’ll be hired for, and you’ll shine.