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Some advice for new MBA Students

Last week I was asked to address the incoming MBA class at the Edwards School of Business at the University of Saskatchewan. I was one of the speakers along with Peter MacKinnon, President of the University of Saskatchewan and Daphne Taras, the new Dean of the Edwards School of Business. While their comments were welcoming to the program, mine were more of sharing experience. I think that these tips are applicable to anybody entering into a business program. These tips are a result of my own experience as well as several of my classmates.

A candid photo of me at convocation.

The MBA is different from your undergrad degree
Many undergrad degrees have a structured learning model where the instructor lectures and the students listen and ask some questions. Assignments, term papers and exams entail the actions and measures of learning. MBA programs are much more interactive, where you do the reading and then actively engage in the discussion. Case studies are used extensively in the MBA.
Another adjustment needed for many comes in the depth versus breadth of information. Students from science backgrounds have a hard time with this because they are used to being world-renowned experts in their narrow field. Managers are always faced with decisions with less than perfect information. Learning to do this well should be a major goal of any MBA student.
You are now a business manager
Some students wait until they get a few classes down to start thinking like a business manager. Why wait? The more practice you get, the better you will become.
The MBA is your laboratory
An academic environment is the best place to try new ideas and see what works. It is ideal because your primary objective at school is to learn. The best part about this is nobody dies, nobody goes broke and nobody gets fired.
Don’t over compete for school awards
Every program has student awards that are given out at the end of the year. Regardless of the prestige of these awards, nobody outside the program cares about them. It’s fine to work hard to be worthy of the award, but you shouldn’t resort to tactics that will set you at odds with other students. Tony Hsieh didn’t care who won the awards at Harvard, but he did care who he could work with. Remember, the person you are competing with today could be your business partner tomorrow.
Share your experience and teach what you know
Any good manager knows that in order to be successful, you need to be able to lead people. Leaders teach. Regardless of the size of the school you attend, you will know more about some topics than the instructors and your classmates. Share this information freely. Your classmates benefit from your experience and you benefit from being seen as somebody with knowledge and the ability to communicate.
Networking is as important as the work you do
With very few exceptions, a MBA degree from your chosen school does not guarantee employment at your dream job. If you are the ideal candidate for your dream job, it doesn’t matter if your employer has never heard of you. This can be hard work for introverts, but it pays huge rewards.
If you are only doing this for the letters behind your name, don’t bother
I phrased this last tip as a “dirty secret.” It means that it is possible to get by doing the minimum to get the diploma. This is a terrible strategy that should only be pursued with an online degree, where nobody will have to work with you. The reasons why this is a bad strategy:

  • Your reputation with the faculty and students will take a beating.
  • As a graduate, you carry the reputation of the school with you. A graduate with no skills reflects badly on all alumni.
  • You are already investing a lot of time, money and effort into this. Your family also pays for this in your reduced time and possible reduced family income. You owe it to them and yourself to get the most out of the program that you can.

Other than these tips, I recommend that you find a good coffee shop nearby and to have fun. Best of luck in school!

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