5 things I wish I had known when I was a business undergrad...

Angelz629's picture
Rank: Baboon | 129

I graduated from one of the top 10 undergraduate business schools in the US with a 3.85/4.0 GPA, an honors degree with a double major and a minor, and an offer to work at one of the top 10 Fortune Global 500 companies. I thought I was a badass and was ready to conquer the world and take over the C-suite.

Little did I know.... there were some basics I needed to learn first...

Yes, you've heard it time and time again. Networking is key to success. Although I was part of the company's rotation program (meaning that someone managed my career for 3 years), I realized that it was important to network and build relationships early on. Not only did it help with securing future roles and great opportunities, but they were particularly helpful when it came down to learning the tips and tricks to survive in the corporate world.

Technical skills
Remember how the theory and formula for WACC was emphasized in your corporate finance class and how important it was to determine it in every case study you were given? Well, my finance peers, when you work in the corporate world, the company dictates the WACC you should use. What? You forgot the formula? No biggie. Just ask the Treasury department, and they will provide you the info - quicker than googling the formula and calculating it yourself. Basically, my point is - companies want you to do things their way. Usually, you just need to remember the theories from business school.

Workplace wardrobe
At my business school, the emphasis was on polished suits and tie for the men, and conservative blouses, skirts and pantyhose for the women. No need to shell out the hard earned cash for this unless you're an investment banker or hold some sort of external facing role because I've witnessed several pairs of thong sandals at my company. In fact, if you're seen wearing a suit, people will ask if you are interviewing. If you're a female sporting a fresh pair of pantyhose, you're viewed as uptight. I recommend business casual to be safe.

Finance is not "ALL THAT"
Finance was the most popular major in business school. You were reminded of that day in and day out. It was the major that would land you a lucrative career. When you're working in a non-finance industry, you quickly realize that you're not as important as you once were in business school. For example, if you're working in the O&G industry, engineers are the gods. If you're working in CPG, it's all about the marketers. You get the point. Basically, you need to learn to put your ego aside and get over yourself.

Advanced degrees
Based on what I have seen in my 8 year career, advanced degrees, such as an MBA, are not essential for those already with a business degree. They're helpful if you're trying to break into a new industry or a new company; however, they do not appear to be needed for internal advancement. It's definitely making me think twice given how expensive a MBA degree is.

These are the things I've witnessed thus far at my company. I'm sure the list differs depending on the company and industry. What do you all think? Any others worth mentioning?

Comments (24)

Dec 22, 2015

Very good post. As someone who's worked in Big 4 Audit and then Corporate FP&A at a F15 company, I definitely agree, especially about advanced degrees. If you're already in the door at a F500 and know that's what you want to do career wise, a MBA is not necessary, especially if you already have a business degree. However, a professional certification like the CPA/CMA/CFA should help with advancing your career.

Also, I'd like to point out that a lot of people with MBAs in the corporate world are either a) career switchers - started out in Finance but want to do Marketing/Brand Management or b) Non-business undergrad (humanities, engineering, etc but wanted to work in Finance. There are also some people with undergrad business who do part time programs, but this is entirely your call - do you want to spend over 100K for a decent program just to re-learn undergrad business?

Dec 22, 2015

Well said, greatlakes77. I'm currently in that situation where I'm trying to determine whether a MBA or CFA would be helpful for me. If I'm going to be dedicating a significant amount of time (and money) to be in a classroom or studying, I might as well make sure that the outcome is worthwhile. Have you witnessed any promotion/advancement potential for CFA holders at the F15 company you mentioned above?

Dec 22, 2015

In Corporate FP&A, CPA holds more weight than a CFA. There are very few roles at F500 companies where a CFA is relevant - mostly Treasury (groups that invest on behalf of the company or just monitor holdings) or Investor Relations. Even if you pass the CFA exams, you cannot call yourself a charter holder unless you get 4 years of related work experience.

What do you want to do at a F500 company? If you have undergrad business and are already in a Finance role and that's what you want to do in the long term, MBA may not be worth it. The CFA will give you a resume boost even if it may not be directly applicable to your role. Whether you want to spend 300+ hours studying just to make your resume slightly more attractive, go for it. If you don't have a CPA and you're in FP&A, I'd go for that over the CFA.

If you're not in Corp Finance at a F500 or if you're in Corp Finance and want Marketing or Corp Strategy, go for the MBA. CFA won't help you.

Dec 22, 2015

Also, just want to point out that I have seen some cases where people moved internally from a FP&A role to Marketing or Corp Strategy, without a MBA. Networking is key and even progress towards a certification like CPA/CFA can add more credibility if you don't want to go for the MBA.

I'm in the same situation actually. I have my CPA and FP&A experience and am disgusted at the thought of paying $120K+ to go back for a part time MBA, especially since my undergrad was from a decent business school (UMich). I'm pursuing the CFA instead even though its not directly applicable to my role, but will look good if I aim for a Treasury or some finance heavy strategy role.

Jan 4, 2016

My suggestion is be certain that the direction you want to go in requires you to be a CFA charterholder. If it does, then by all means pursue but if it doesn't then it's an insane amount of work and preparation for something you won't need and may never get the requisite experience to even call yourself a charter holder. It's a great education but it's a hefty price so know you'll need it

Learn More

Side-by-side comparison of top modeling training courses + exclusive discount through WSO here.

Dec 23, 2015

Quite honestly, I wish I had known the difference between the Front Office and the Back Office. Not all that glitters is gold and don't jump at ANY job that a global firm might offer. Water under the bridge though and life has come some way since then.

    • 2
Best Response
Dec 23, 2015

Good post. Couple more additions:

* Know the difference between searching for a 'role' and a 'company' - I used to identify what roles I wanted then look where I could work; I learned that your manager and the company culture make all the difference, so know I tell people to identify what companies you value, and then discover what roles you can target there. Roles change over time, but company culture often does not.

* Seriously, get technical - Finance and Technology (Computer Science) are rapidly converging. The amount of job posts that include requirements such as SQL/Programming/Math/Statistics is skyrocketing, and this isn't going to end. Knowing Excel moderately well isn't a differentiator anymore.

* Advanced degrees DO matter - Finance is super competitive, and to be honest, you probably feel this way because Master's degrees have become almost a commodity - everyone has one, wants one, or is pursuing one. Hence the value of the CFA or other certifications. Yes, experience matters the most in the end, but if you want to target Asset Management or Hedge Funds, you need to target feeder roles such as equity/quantitative research - and advanced degrees really do help.

* Back office is okay, but if you want to move to Front Office eventually, it'll most likely be entirely up to you - It's hard, and you'll need aforementioned advanced degrees, certifications, etc. Competition is fierce, but don't discount getting a foot in the door, working hard, networking like crazy, and achieving your goal. May just take longer than you thought.

* MBA can be a waste if you dont use it properly - Don't go back to school until you know what you want to do with your career. Too many people go get MBA's hoping it will help them figure it out and instead waste two years and several hundred thousand dollars. Know what you want to do, it will help you get more out of your MBA (and be damn sure you want to work in AM if you do CFA!)

    • 4
Dec 25, 2015

I would add there are a significant number of large corporations that see an MBA as key to moving into senior (or even middle) management for financial roles. However, this is more of a cultural issue in my eyes. One's ability to move up the corporate ladder can be very significantly hindered in some cases by not having those three letters.

    • 1
Dec 25, 2015

Yes, some companies see the MBA as key to moving to upper management. But from what I've seen, where they get their MBA doesn't matter. You see a lot of state school MBAs that are not in the top 20. And these companies will generally reimburse a good amount of your MBA or pay for that executive MBA. In that case, it's a no brainer to get it.

My issue is - if you already have a solid business undergrad and some kind of professional certification, is it really worth it to spend 120k + on a top part time MBA program? Maybe if you're looking to change careers. Also, I haven't heard of a company reimbursing more than 12k per year for a MBA.

Aug 3, 2018

Thumbs up..

Dec 23, 2015

good stuff for sure!

Dec 25, 2015

Great point with the workplace wardrobe. Before my summer internship at a F100 I went out and spent close to $1k thinking I needed to look great. In retrospect this was an overkill and I'd been a lot better off buying 4-5 pairs of nice chinos/bonobos and a few shirts. Heck, you can get some decent enough shirts raiding the local Goodwill(s). The engineers at my co. set the tone and based on what they wear (which often doesn't match) its safe to say I could have saved a few hundred.

In any case I'd be sure to get a good pair of shoes and another pair of loafers. Just got myself some Swims and they are comfortable as shit.

    • 2
Dec 27, 2015

Good stuff, though I don't entirely agree with your opinion on MBAs. Sure, they're not always career panaceas that will put you on the fast track to a good life. However, I think of several industries in which they are vital (hospitality and manufacturing) and they can still be very useful in finance.

Dec 27, 2015

Question: as an undergrad lots of future internsthe moment they get their offer update their LinkedIn profiles with "Incoming Summer Analyst at XXXX" is it just me or is this a no no?

  • Anonymous Monkey
  •  Jan 4, 2016

Its just you. Why are you on Linkedin in the first place? It is to make new connections and network. I went to a large state b-school for UG and reached out randomly to many fellow students based on their profile.

Jan 4, 2016

I refrain from updating LinkedIn until I'm I've been somewhere a few weeks. Don't want to put something out there when a firm could rescind your offer before you even start

Jan 4, 2016

Actually, I'm curious how often do you think this actually happens - offers being rescinded that is?

Jan 5, 2016

Yes, I agree with this - its better to be cautious. Linkedin is a very public profile...

Jan 4, 2016

I agree with most of your article and comments from the monkeys. Have good UG business and certification, worked in F50 Corporate FP&A and have since moved on to a smaller firm, same function. As far as advanced degrees, an MBA is really going to be relevant for career switches or, if this is your firm culture, your ability to reach the highest rungs of the corporate ladder. Some places absolutely love em and some don't care. In my estimation, a certification like a CPA or CFA is worth more because you can't buy one. Not to belittle some educations but in most places, if you get into an MBA program, you come out with an MBA as long as you pay your tuition. As far as CFA goes, only places where anyone in the org had them were Treasury and Investor Relations. Very few positions, in my experience, have required or recruit after CFA's. Their value is in a narrow area of business so be sure you want to work in that area before pursuing because that's 300+ hours per test and 3+ years of your life spent in the books.

Jan 5, 2016
Nov 13, 2016