How to Make the Most of Your MBA: A Primer for Entrepreneurs-to-Be

This week’s tips come courtesy of Alison Albeck Lindland, a fellow Vassar graduate who went on to get her MBA from Columbia Business School, graduating in 2008.  Prior to business school Alison worked on the Goldman Sachs and Jaguar accounts at OgilvyInteractive and was an early team member at TheaterMania.com, a startup media and ticket software company. After graduating from CBS, she worked at American Express Interactive, and is now director of business development at Kohort, a venture-backed  group management and event planning platform.

Alison says these tactical pointers cover a potential entrepreneurship career. Personally, I think her recommendations apply to anyone hoping to take a big jump into something new and different careerwise.

  • Get to know everyone in your cohort. There’s a temptation to gravitate to the people you are just going to be friends with or have to work with in study team but guaranteed you’ll be missing out on some terrific people and contacts.
  • Network with your classmates. Once you’ve identified the industry or area of focus that you want to pursue after graduation use all the internal databases and  or LinkedIn to identify current classmates who worked in that field and do coffee chats with them. I met lots of great classmates who I otherwise would never have met socially, whose background ranged from telco engineers who gave me mini tutorials in how mobile tech actually works to mobile entrepreneurs who had worked on interesting early mobile dating apps.
  • Get to know your professors personally and tell them what you’re interested in.  Having gone to a small liberal arts school, I came from a mindset where you always got to know your profs personally and would have them over to your house for dinner.  Most business schools are not this way so you can really stand out if you make an effort and you never know what it will yield.
  • Seek out opportunities to TA for your favorite profs or help with their research.  I TA’d for Prof. Whadwa’s excellent strategy consulting class for a session for the Exec MBA class.  This a great chance to get to know my favorite professor better, and to know 65 terrific Exec MBA students.
  • Volunteer to help out institutes or think tanks in your school.  You would be surprised how many institutes and think tanks your school funds.  Though the smaller ones may not have a great profile to students you would be surprised to learn how many industry and high profile alums may be involved.  At CBS I was thrilled to discover the Columbia Institute of Tele-Information and I simply walked in, introduced myself and said I wanted to get involved.  Turns out they were in the early stages of planning a Location Based Services conference for the summer . Given my contacts from my summer doing mobile at Amex, they were happy to enlist me.  It was without a doubt one of the best experiences I had in school.
  • Get off campus and talk to everyone.  If you’re nervous about cold-emailing people for networking coffee chats, start with the guest speakers in your courses. Connect with them in person before they left the actual classroom and follow up that day asking for a coffee.  It’s a great warm intro and usually you’ll know more about what they’re working on after the talk.  In my case, if they could not meet with me, they would give me someone else to talk to.
  • But if you’re nervous about cold emailing people – don’t be.  Being an MBA gives you carte blanche to reach out to people – it is what professionals expect of MBAs.  Just say you’re really interested in something related to their career or company and can you come to their office for a 20 minute coffee chat.  90% of the time people said yes to this request – and again, if they didn’t I’d ask them if there was someone else I could talk to. Remember to make networking hay while the MBA sun shines.  And set yourself a target – like 3 a week so you keep doing these.
  • Take a class in another school or that is widely cross registered. MBAs are great but you’re going to spend most of your career working in cross functional teams – why not get to know these people (lawyers, journalists, designers, developers etc) now.
  • Lastly, I’d be remiss if I didn’t remind you to go to all the happy hours and on some major group trips.  You’re working hard in school and this is a great way to recharge and really grow those relationships – plus you’ll never have time in your adult lives to do things like this again.

Phew! It’s exhausting, but that’s the beauty of the MBA experience — it’s all there for you if you want it.

By Betsy Massar, Havard Business School graduate and founder of Master Admissions. Master Admissions acts as a campaign manager and champion, setting you up for success in applying to your top-choice business schools. Visit masteradmissions.com for a free consultation with Betsy Massar.

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