I’m a very structured person by nature. However, I didn’t have a clear idea on how to make a plan for the first year of my MBA. The common phrase I’d heard about the first semester is it is like “drinking from a firehose.”
This is a function of the environment, you could say. MBA students become time management ninjas because of the competing priorities that we need to navigate. However, I found that there is a better way to best prepare for your first year as an MBA student.
If you make a quick Google search of “how to prepare for your first year as an MBA student,” it yields results that are superficial at best and disorganized at worst. One site recommended to prepare paperwork and reflect on your career goals and aspirations. Another site suggested that incoming students should brush up on math and reading skills and attend as many pre-orientation programs as possible. I knew I had reached the depths of the internet when I stumbled upon an article on how to prepare for business school when you’re in high school!
The problem is there isn’t a prototypical MBA student. As a result, there shouldn’t be a prototypical set of advisory points and list of accomplishments for your first year of school. So how do we reconcile this with the desire to feel and be ready to start the program?
Going back to my inclination for structure, I developed my own framework for how I approached year one. I think it is flexible enough to apply to all students and simple enough to not feel overwhelming. It is a five point plan that covers the major areas of the experience and allows you to define what is important to you. My anecdotes stem from my experience as someone who is transitioning careers from general management into consulting. At the same time, my framework and recommendations are flexible enough to be applicable to all students.
POINT ONE: ACADEMICS
In my first year, I got a lot of advice to prioritize recruiting over classes. ‘Yes, you’re in school to get a degree,’ they said, ‘but you’re also here to switch careers. And to switch careers you need advocates. To get advocates you need to do a million coffee chats. And if those coffee chats conflict with class, pick the coffee chat.’
Maybe I’m a contrarian. After three-four coffee chats with a given company, I was running out of new, amazing questions that would wow that person and make me feel like I’d be guaranteed an offer come January. Moreover, a goal of mine was to feel like I was learning again – and learning from top-tier professors like those at NYU Stern. I pushed that narrative in my application essays and it was genuinely important to me to feel like what I learned that year that would make me a successful professional in the future. So moving forward, if I was scheduling any more chats, I would do them around classes so that I would have the time to immerse myself in the classroom experience.
I didn’t recognize just how much this would come to benefit me until I was sitting in one of my final round interviews. I froze on a brainstorm question in a case interview about B2B consumer goods manufacturer and how they could increase distribution in a given region. I was able to use some core concepts from my strategy class to help get me unstuck, complete the case, and ultimately received an internship offer.
The moral of the story is don’t forget that you’re in school to earn a degree. With that degree comes lessons, theories, and first principles that allow you to be a better thinker, a better listener, and a better communicator. So go to class, listen to your classmates, and engage with your professors.
POINT TWO: RECRUITING
There are three broad aspects to recruiting:
- Figuring out what you want to do
- Getting the interview
- Getting the offer
Some students know exactly what they want to recruit for and others start knowing what they don’t want to do. Of course, there are always your peers who have no idea at all. Those are all fine in September. Realistically, you need to quickly narrow down options to prevent getting overwhelmed when recruiting starts. The best thing to do here, whether or not you have a clear path forward, is to start building a relationship with your school’s career office. Even though I knew I would recruit for consulting, I still built a close relationship with advisors in Stern’s Office of Career Development. I relied on them throughout the semester for focus and guidance, especially as I weighed my offers.
Preparation is important once you know where you want to be recruited. Of course, it won’t matter if you don’t get an offer in the first place. What this means is that you need to learn about each organization and build authentic relationships with people who work there. Corporate presentations are one way to meet people in a low-barrier-to-entry manner. Following that, schedule coffee chats to get more individualized information about the firms and also see if you genuinely like the people you meet. Every person you speak with will probably tell you that it’s the people who make them stay. That’s why it’s so important to talk to as many people as you can. You’ll get a feel for what the culture is like and also present yourself honestly to get a sense of whether you fit into the culture. All that being said, don’t go overboard on coffee chats. If you’re not learning anything new, you can save yourself and the person you’re chatting with valuable time in your respective schedules.