1 year into MBA: Things I wish I knew

Hi all,

Longtime reader and writing as a small way of "giving back." I'm in my second year at H/S/W and thought I'd share some thoughts and insights. My background is traditional – think IB / Consulting / HF / PE.

On the whole, I've had a very rewarding experience so far, especially in terms of personal growth / professional development, and am very happy I went. That being said, there were a few nuances of the experience that I wish I had known about going in

1) The job search is still competitive

Some people assume that getting into a great business school will guarantee them their dream job (e.g., analyst at leading HF, MF PE, VC position, chief of staff at a "hot" startup). This is so far from the truth. True, many of these opportunities are AVAILABLE to you – but they're also available to all of your peers, as well as folks from other schools, as well as laterals within the industry. As a result, getting any of these jobs requires a combination of 1) hustle 2) having the "right" prior experience, and 3) doing well in interviews. I would take this even further and say that even jobs that hire lots of MBAs like consulting still require you to "put in the work"

2) Know what you want to get out of the experience going in - or at least have a hypothesis.

Business school is an incredibly busy time and it's easy to get pulled in many directions and honestly "go through the motions" without achieving your objectives. Between clubs, parties, meeting with people, trips…there's a lot. For example, one of my goals (like many "traditional" students) was to improve my interpersonal and leadership skills. As a result, I overindexed on classes / programs that touched on these and made sure to put in the work for those classes. This brings me to a related point…

3) Business school isn't a transformative experience in and of itself.

For example, if you want to improve your soft skills, going to school alone won't do it. You still need to do the work outside of class. Let me give two examples. Say that you want to be a better public speaker, for example. Taking a presentation class will help, but to REALLY impact change, you need to incorporate what you learned into your life. Maybe after your class you continue to record yourself give speeches and practice multiple times. Another example would be if you wanted to learn more about a certain industry – you better be networking / doing research out of class as well.

4) Many people aren't as "happy" in B school as they'll tell you. While B school is certainly an indulgent, consumer-type experience, parts of it are profoundly stressful. Many people feel like they don't have enough friends or that they're not connecting deeply with people. Many people have FOMO and go to parties they don't want to because everyone else is. Many people who were incredibly talented for their whole lives now find themselves to be "average" – which can lead to imposter syndrome. And what makes this challenging is a general culture that celebrates B school as "the best years of your life" and promises students 2 happy and carefree years. And this results in people who struggle feeling like they're the only ones as nobody wants to admit that things are hard. While for many students it is the best 2 years of their lives, for others, it's not - and that's OK.

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Comments (34)

Oct 19, 2018 - 1:38am

Solid post with solid advice. I agree with all your points and these seem to be overlooked a lot.

Number 1) is something people definitely underestimate and I get reminded every time I go job hunting. In fact thousands of people have graduated before you and are potentially your competitors as well - you aren't that unique. Aside from the startup, I see you mention mostly finance roles here - I'm guessing it goes for everything else too?

I can definitely see 4) play out and yet I'm kind of surprised by it. So everyone wants to act like they're super polished, act like everything is great and pretend they have no weaknesses; the cognitive dissonance is massive.

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Oct 21, 2018 - 3:54pm

I'm a bit closer to the finance and investing roles given my interests. I do think many of those are especially competitive given the limited number of seats - for example, many HF / PE / VC firms might only hire 1 post-MBA a year across all b schools, and can afford to be extremely picky in terms of fit, background, and other preferences. Compare this to consulting, where it's by no easy to get a job, but each firm is planning on hiring dozens of folks.

In general, I'd say the most competitive jobs are the ones that are glamorous and have a very limited number of seats. KKR Capstone and similar programs would fall into this category, as well - the job seems "cooler" to more folks than vanilla consulting, with very few full-time positions.

Oct 30, 2018 - 10:54am

A few more questions if you don't mind:

  • Regarding point 1) - Is it helpful to side-hustle for jobs, searching and networking outside of the school's boundaries and not relying too much on OCR or the school?

  • How do you allocate your time between activities? In Year 1 there's probably a ton of FOMO

  • Knowing what you know now, what would you do the months before entering b-school? Do a summer internship? Travel?

Nov 1, 2018 - 3:02pm

1) Yes, in general. Less necessary if you're looking to go into a field which primarily hires through OCR (e.g., consulting or working for a large tech company like Amazon).

2) This will vary from person to person significantly, based on their situation (e.g., a sponsored consultant will spend no time recruiting, etc). For me, I've prioritized recruiting, my partner / significant other, more meaningful relationships with a smaller number of people, self-care (gym, sleep) and a few classes which were important to me. The flipside of this, of course, is what I'm choosing not to pursue: academic excellence, intense club leadership positions, and large parties / "mixer" type events. This isn't the best approach for everyone - different people have different values / priorities and spend their time accordingly.

3) Whatever you want! This is a truly special time and the most "free" you will be for a long time, if not the rest of your life. I spent much of the summer traveling and had a great time doing so. I also spent some time doing "nothing" (e.g., going to the gym, watching netflix, meeting up with friends), which I hadn't done in years and therefore enjoyed. I do wish I had spent more time with my family (parents, siblings).

Nov 2, 2018 - 11:33am

Very helpful.

  • How does one best recruit outside of OCR? Assume it's contacting alumni, looking around at internship openings on websites, etc.?

  • What do the returning consultants end up doing with their time?

  • What's the main appeal of club leadership, does it help much with recruiting?

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Nov 1, 2018 - 3:08pm

Depends on the type of job. For places hiring large classes of MBAs (like banking or consulting), I think the advantage is less pronounced.

For the super competitive positions - or at least the buyside (HF / PE) - I imagine there is an advantage. Anecdotally, most of the other candidates I've seen at superdays or heard about in hiring processes have been from HSW. It's obviously possible to break into these fields from other great programs, but I imagine it requires a bit more hustle and networking.

Nov 2, 2018 - 12:35pm

I'd imagine a lot of the HSW advantage goes away after we account for the fact that HSW already has the strongest people, especially for PE and HF roles. Harvard and Stanford especially seem to have the lion's share of the B-school candidates who come in with previous top-notch buyside experience. Not easy to tease out that effect but anecdotally I know a lot of PE associates have an attitude of "HBS, Stanford or nowhere" which cuts both ways: speaks to the strength of the schools as well as the possibility that those schools are just passthroughs for the PE/HF insiders to check a box before moving to the next level.

Nov 4, 2018 - 11:12am

1) no

2) yes

3) Yes, I did one between my first and second years as does virtually everyone

4) If any of your classmates "care" about your undergrad, do you really want to be friends with them? Personally I don't care where others have gone to school! For consulting / banking don't think anyone cares, and for other types of recruiting, your actual work experience is what will matter.

Most Helpful
Nov 2, 2018 - 11:26am

OP what do you wanna do after MBA?

I'm going into BB IB as an analyst soon and I don't see myself being a banker for the rest of my life. I come from a semi target and I've always entertained myself with an idea of H/W/S MBA. Quite frankly tho; I'm not book smart and after 4 years of undergrad and professional accounting qualification exams, I don't think I can take exams anymore.

How challenging are MBA courses? Are some of the modules you take as boring and mind numbing as other qualifications? I think with any qualifications, there are always some elements that I hate with a passion which are essential to the qualification.

Nov 2, 2018 - 11:31am

Great Post-really insightful. Will appreciate if you can answer the following questions.

  1. How do you see internationals performing at OCR(Consulting & Banking) given the challenges with the visa ?
  2. I see a lot of internationals at Tier 2 Consulting firms and at Non GS/MS/JPM Banks. Any thoughts you can share on this? Why not a good number at MBB and GS/MS/JPM?
  3. How much is the drop if one were to be at a Top 20 vs an M7 school?


Nov 2, 2018 - 6:29pm

What's your sense of the conversion rate for applications to first round interviews? I'd assume that, especially if done via OCR, you'd almost always get called in for the first round.

Life's is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.
Nov 4, 2018 - 1:05pm

Think it depends on how many slots there are - I know there were certain OCR internships etc. where I didn't get interviews, so imagine other people were in a similar position.

Nov 5, 2018 - 6:23pm

One of the most objective and accurate assessments that I have seen. Big business schools have this habit of promoting themselves as the end and be it of all - and doors will miraculously open once you have graduated. This is not true. At the end of day, school is still school, and does not substitute for experience. Yes, you can supplement your experience from leanings by school, but going to a big B alone does not help (which also makes you question the 200k in fees).

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Nov 5, 2018 - 7:36pm

Thank you for your sincere giving back of your experiences :)

I am a foreigner who is dreaming of getting into the top MBA and want to ask you something briefly!

Given the score of GMAT and GPA of average score provided in class profile and some average story making, will full-time at Big 2 Accounting firm(Deloitte, PWC) financial advisory service work out as a valid pre-MBA work experience? (Assuming CPA license, Recommendation letter from the executive level senior.)
Or would it be better to look for internship opportunities at BB IBD?

I've heard of tons of people from BB or MBB going into top H/S/W, but not that much from the former group.

Thank you in advance and have a decent day.

Nov 8, 2018 - 1:16pm

As with everything in MBA admissions, it depends.

Where are you from?
How many years work experience do you have?
What are your post-MBA goals and aspirations?

Average story making will rarely allow you to stand out as a CPA with average stats. Take the time to reflect on what you have done so far in your life and how an MBA will set you up for success in 5 year and also in 20-30 years.

MBA programs admit PEOPLE, not profiles, so it is imperative that you tell a story that captures the minds of the folks reading your application.

As you think about how you might stand out in the admissions process, you might take a look at this article - CPA to MBA: Conduct a Pre-Business School Audit

Susan Cera Director of MBA Admissions Stratus Admissions Counseling - www.stratusadmissions.com FREE Profile Evaluation - www.stratusadmissions.com/consult
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Nov 6, 2018 - 12:39am

Hi Bschool,

Great read. Thanks for the candor. I'm looking to enter grad school next year and wanted to get your thoughts on a few things related to your post:

On point 1) Given the competition, do you have a strategy for applying to roles? Like of course you apply to all your dream roles and hope for the best but do you also apply to less competitive roles to maximize your chances for a job? I guess my question is-- do you have your own rule of thumb for an "optimal" mix of role applications?

On points 2 and 3) So my main takeaway would be-- come in with a learning plan, and stick to that plan (e.g. party enough but not too much, and don't feel fomo lol). Hearing the same sentiments from friends also in B-school, actually.

Man, really appreciate this post. Thanks again.

Nov 6, 2018 - 8:48pm

1) I don't have a strategy per se here and haven't thought about this specific point that much.

2 / 3) I would reframe it as "stick to your values." If you absolutely love to party and going out every night of the week makes you happy, you should absolutely do it. The danger I think is doing something that's NOT meaningful and/or fun because you are "supposed" to do it. It's also fine if your plan changes based off of what you learn / experience.

Nov 8, 2018 - 1:19pm

@engineer_moonshot- One of the most highly sought after counselors on my team was a petroleum engineer prior to attending HBS. She went on to work for McKinsey. Check out her advice - [Five Tips for O & G Professionals Applying to MBA Programs][]

Susan Cera Director of MBA Admissions Stratus Admissions Counseling - www.stratusadmissions.com FREE Profile Evaluation - www.stratusadmissions.com/consult
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Nov 9, 2018 - 2:04pm

4 can be applied to undergrads at targets. Imposter syndrome is definitely real.

“How do you measure yourself against other golfers” “By height”
Nov 19, 2018 - 7:45pm

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