Getting The Most From Your First Year

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You made it! Welcome to the club!

Everything you did – the GMAT, the application, the interviews – was all worth it. Now, your life is falling into place. Two years at Booth or Ross – then a six figure gig at Goldman Sachs. From there, you can move onto a hedge fund and write your own ticket. You can almost picture: Your bedroom will overlook the ocean. And who knows, you may even have something named you.

Well, not so fast. Business school requires a lot of preparation. You’re going to be taking out loans, catching up on your reading, giving notice, and even moving across the country (or the world). These are necessary and exhausting steps, no doubt. In the end, they will do little to help you capitalize on the next two years.

What will? For Rohan Rajiv, a first-year student in Kellogg’s Full-Time Two-Year MBA Program, one key step is recognizing the larger “frames” that will shape student experience. In his recent essay, “A Letter to an Incoming MBA Student,” he outlines the three principles that guided him through his first year.

And first – and foremost – is this tenet:

“The MBA is a two-year course in decision making and trade-offs.”

When you step foot on campus, Rajiv observes, you’re going to be bombarded with opportunities and expectations. And how you prioritize these will ultimately determine how your experience turns out. For Rajiv, there are six priorities that you must balance in business school.

First, there are academics. As you’ve probably heard, most employers could care less about grades. Unlike law school, class rank and honors won’t help you land an internship. However, that doesn’t mean you blow off class, says Rajiv. Instead, he urges incoming students to focus both on mastering the fundamentals and looking for connections. “…the MBA provides this broad-based education, it is critical you spend time developing mental models that will help you remember the stuff that matters. As your understanding develops, you’ll find that almost everything is connected. The better your understanding, the more the connectivity.”

Second, Rajiv cautions students to be judicious about working with recruiters. “Recruiting hits you much quicker than you’d expect. Expect to be bombarded with messages about information sessions about every company you can think of. You can’t do them all.” As a result, he encourages students to spend time over the summer thinking about their long-term career goals. During the first year, he advises students to reach out. “Find a group of friends looking for the same kind of opportunities and prepare with them, engage second-years and seek their advice and support, use the career center and professional club resources.” Even more, Rajiv counsels incoming students to master an often-overlooked skill: job hunting. “…the days of long tenures at a single company are long gone. This means that the chances that you’ll be looking for a job in the next 48 months and then again in 48 months after that are incredibly high.”

Kellogg's Rohan Rajiv

Kellogg’s Rohan Rajiv

Rajiv also encourages students to approach their social life strategically. Noting the “funny high school-meets-20-somethings dynamic at school,” Rajiv recommends that students cultivate both a small circle of close friends and a “collection of other friends across various social groups.” However, he warns against the clique mentality. “I’d consider creating a diversity check on your calendar every six months – just ask yourself if your close circle of friends all look exactly like you (e.g. same country / language /profession). If so, it is worth asking yourself if you are learning anything from the diversity around you.” Most important, Rajiv points out that students shouldn’t force networking and relationships. “Instead of attempting to get people to like you, I’d consider working hard to earn their respect through your work ethic and track record. I tend to find that going for respect often ends up resulting in you being liked by people who share similar values.”

In his first year, Rajiv found that extracurriculars were the “single best way to get to know your classmates and build real relationships.” Even more, they were a great training ground for building a business. “Through them,” Rajiv writes, “you can learn how to work with smart peers, how to attract and hire people you want, how to select the right people for the job and team you’re looking to build, how to inspire them to be as committed as you to your cause, etc. Take your pick.” At the same time, Rajiv promotes running a side projects outside of clubs. “This stuff helps improve your productivity and also teaches a valuable lesson,” he writes. “Successful entrepreneurs and executives always find time for these side projects. We should too.”

As you balance academics, clubs, job hunting, and a social life, Rajiv also recommends that students stay connected to both their past life and their physical health. For example, Rajiv blocked off Saturday mornings to catch up on personal matters, stay in touch with loved ones, and send thank you notes to maintain goodwill. And the same time, he exhorts the class of 2017 to prioritize sleep, good food, and exercise to promote good decision making.

These priorities will be constantly in flux, Rajiv adds, with areas like academics or health (for example) receiving greater and lesser weight by the week. To avoid falling behind or burning out, Rajiv suggests taking an hour every weekend to reflect on where you spend your time. “Prioritization is incredibly hard. But it is the single most important life lesson that graduate school can help you learn. The quality of your life will be directly proportional to your ability to prioritize…If you don’t prioritize your life, someone else will.”

After prioritization, Rajiv’s second principle for thriving in your first year is this: “The experience is entirely what you make of it.” 

For Rajiv, an enriching experience won’t just fall into a first year’s lap. In fact, he warns that business school may seem rather competitive and intimidating at first. “Suddenly, you’ll be in a pool of talented peers from across various programs vying for the same jobs. You’ll even have to compete for opportunities to volunteer your time for extracurriculars.”As a result, he issues a challenge for first years to step it up after they arrive. “…the competition isn’t what this is about. This is about you investing
two years in your own learning. You can really own this experience and make it exactly as you’d like it to be. In graduate school, as in life, the people who do well aren’t those who are much smarter than you and me – it is people who maintain a laser-like focus on what matters to them.”

And this focus dovetails into the third principle: “Foolishness is believing your value multiplied by 10 just because you spent two years running around a university campus.”

Remember that Federal Express commercial, where a newly-minted MBA and an assistant tour a through the shipping area? When the MBA tells her that “I don’t do shipping” and “I have an MBA,” she replies, “Oh, you have an MBA….In that case, let me show you how.” The same principle applies to Rajiv. “Just running to classes for two years on a university campus doesn’t automatically increase your value,” he argues. What I would really worry about is whether you’re making the most of the opportunity to get better.”

To read the full essay from Rajiv, click on the link below.

DON’T MISS: ADVICE TO THE NEXT GENERATION OF MBAs

Source: Kellogg MBA Masters