Time in the MBA sure flies! It’s exciting to see that as our class nears the finish line, next year’s class is queued up already. My two years at BYU have been transformative and I feel prepared to tackle business challenges. But it seems like yesterday that I was an anxious prospective MBA student, unsure of what to expect. Here are five things that I wish I knew before joining the programme.
1) Learn to read effectively and efficiently. A typical MBA class session will entail case studies or chapters. You are reading 100 to 125 pages a day. So if you are a slow reader like me, keeping up with classes will be excruciating and agonising. I would suggest you devise some reading strategies that will enable you to understand, learn and reason from the text. I really benefitted from an advanced reading strategy class. Not only do I get more out of the readings now but I also retain more. Academic reading has been really euphoric and a joyful experience ever since. I found the assigned book Learn More and Read Faster by Isakson immensely helpful. There are also a few tutorials on this subject available on YouTube.
2) Learn to listen. An average MBA is competitive, opinionated and articulate. You will feel the urge to dominate class discussions and team projects. I found that it can be easy to get stuck in trying to contribute and not doing a good job of listening. But remind yourself that everyone craves understanding. By encouraging feelings of respect, you will have the ability to persuade and successfully negotiate. Inviting others to share their viewpoints and then asking probing questions to get a deeper understanding, will help you build upon the last comment and move the discussion forward. You can practise this before the MBA. In your conversations, check if you’re actively engaged and listening to the other person. This is an extremely important skill to have and is something that the most successful leaders are known for.
3) Plan for the long term. Don’t let your focus be limited to short-term goals, full-time placement, or moola (money). Let your decisions about classes, club leaderships and so on be guided by a long-term career plan.The tip I got early on was to picture the role you want to have much later (say you want to be the chief executive of a Fortune 500 company) — then pursue the best opportunities that can get you there. There are so many activities to get involved with during the MBA, so choosing the right ones requires this clarity. Leadership development is lifelong. My tip would be to start working toward long-term goals even before starting the MBA. Do some reading, attend conferences and spend some time listing things you want to achieve professionally.
4) Read more books. No doubt, you will do a good amount of reading in business school for classes. But the amount of reading you do outside class could have an even bigger impact in shaping your understanding of the concept and drawing connections. I always enjoyed the comments from my classmates that drew upon something they read and how it applied to the business setting. Reading for fun will help expand your vocabulary, boost creativity, improve writing skills, enhance memory and develop analytical thinking.
5) Get a portable laptop. During my undergrad days, the fad was to wear the back pack on one shoulder. I did not realise that my ageing shoulders are not in shape to take any tonnage now. Three weeks into the programme I switched to a lighter and compact system. This saved my back and shoulders. I finally abandoned the paper notes and used my laptop to take notes that I can reference anytime. This has helped me to boost my typing speed, too.