MBAchic AMA #1: advice for business school, careers, style and more

ask me anything - advice for the MBA
Advice for business school

We recently hosted an Instagram AMA (Ask Me Anything) offering advice for business school, careers, style and more, and there were some great questions asked. We discussed business school, MBA applications, career advice and more. This was a lot of fun to do, and I certainly will host more in the future. Would love to get your input on these as well. Meantime, any questions you have or content you want to see, drop a quick note! Let’s get on with these questions…

Q1: Advice for business school: I took the GMAT and the quant section killed me. I cried and tutors are too [expensive]. Any tips?

First off: don’t count yourself out!

Take a look at our crowdsourced study resource tips from our very own MBAchic community to help you bump up your score.

Take a TON of practice exams. If you’re looking for free resources @hey_emilyhuynh suggested using Kaplan Test Prep’s free videos to practice the questions (she used them for data sufficiency) and to get tips on strategy for answering. More advice here!

If the quant section of the GMAT is just. not. happening. for you, seriously consider the GRE. More schools now take it instead of the GMAT and we’ve heard from schools including Wharton, who say it’s not an issue (GRE will be treated the same as the GMAT). We’ve spoken directly with Admissions Committees (“AdComs”) who confirm that taking the GRE instead of the GMAT is not going to be held against you.

Finally, the GMAT/GRE is just one piece of your application package. As @boohbear15 put it, don’t let a “low” score keep you from applying: “always apply!” You really never know what an AdCom is looking for in each student as they assemble their next MBA class. Put together your best possible application that shows who you are and go for it!

Q2: What’s your go-to style on asking managers for feedback?

Different managers approach it differently. Here’s what’s worked for me, when I ask for feedback, and when employees ask for mine:

1) GIVE THEM TIME TO PREP

You probably have a regular 1:1 (one-to-one) meeting, but don’t spring it on them. Give your manager time to gather their thoughts (any feedback they give you on the spot will be rushed). Tell them that in your next 1:1 (or in a separately scheduled session), you’d like to get their feedback

2) BE SPECIFIC *AND* BROAD

Show them you’re *really* thinking about this, so have some “buckets” prepped to help steer the convo. Are you in an analyst role? Ask for feedback in a couple of areas, spanning from the specific to more broad

a. quality of the analysis you’re delivering / what your actual job entails

b. communication / how you’re presenting your thoughts, and how you’re generally presenting to management / decisionmakers

c. general feedback on your performance, potential, career goals and how to make those happen

You probably know your manager, and how much structure they’ll need. I once had a manager who was amazing at providing clear, honest and actionable feedback, with little / no notice). These buckets can be flexible but use them to steer the convo towards getting you the input you need.

3) TAKE ACTION

This is *extremely* important. Bring a notebook to your session and take notes, so you can develop an action plan for improvement. Get their input, and schedule a follow-up (or plan to carve out time in a future 1:1) to track your progress.

Can’t tell you how discouraging it is for someone to ask for feedback and not use it or take it into consideration, so you definitely want to follow through on this. If you drop the ball here, good luck getting honest feedback from them again, so be sure to ask only if you really want it and will act on it (you might not agree with everything, but focus your plan on what you want to achieve and check in on them).

Q3: [Advice for business school] When should I take the GMAT?

As soon as you know you want to get an MBA! It sounds funny but the closer to college the better, because you’re basically a “professional test taker,” and it hurts less to get yourself back into study mode.

GMAT and GRE scores are valid for five (5) years. Taking it a couple of years out of school allows you the option to apply to business school after gaining a few years of work experience.

Also, be aware that your goals may change over time; be flexible in your plans, because you never know what life-changing opportunities will come your way. Business school applications require you to be specific about why you’re pursuing the degree. Unless you can articulate what you want out of the experience, it might be too soon to apply.

Q4: Advice for business school: How do you find jobs after graduation from your MBA?

If you’re job-hunting a few years out of school (of if you did your MBA part-time and weren’t exactly looking for a job upon graduation), definitely look to your alumni resources (career services and alumni networks)… They can be very helpful and if you make a friend there, they can keep you in mind as opportunities come up.

As a general rule, try not to lose touch with your professional and academic connections. Stay in touch / network when you’re not looking for a job, so you can reach out when you’re looking for something new. (MOST of my roles have come through my professional network.)

Also cannot stress enough the power of social media in developing your industry-specific network and knowledge. Being a valuable, insightful part of industry conversations on Twitter, LinkedIn or *PLUG* MBAchic can lead to a new role or opportunities for collaboration. At the very least, you’ll have new professional contacts to add to your growing network. Check out these MBAchic articles on networking, and be sure to subscribe to #TheWeeklyChic for weekly job openings.

Q5: Advice for business school: How do you decide between part-time and full-time programs?

This depends on a lot of things (this is in no way an exhaustive list, but hopefully helps kick off your thinking):

What you’re looking to achieve…

Looking to switch careers or regions? Full-time might be better to help you build a global network that spans industries and locations. Looking to advance in your current industry (or company)? Part-time or online might be the move, if you think you’re up for the juggle (we didn’t even mention Executive MBA but more on that in another blog post).

How a full two years (or single year) out of the workforce fits into your life…

If taking one or two years off is not possible (personally or financially), part-time or online might make more sense. Also check to see if your company will sponsor you to pursue your MBA, and if they prefer you to leave and come back after graduation, or study while working full-time.

What your budget looks like…

If you don’t have a lot saved up, or you don’t secure a ton of scholarship money / don’t want to take on a lot of debt, a part-time program might be more feasible in that you can “pay as you go” per credit hour.

Please note, this is a super general / initial response to provide some food-for-thought. Without knowing your specific aspirations or background, it’s hard to answer this for everyone. Personally, I have a lot of friends with similar backgrounds/goals who have pursued the MBA in entirely different ways and they’re all very happy with their own experiences. There’s no one set formula for everyone, but happy to help you figure it out and highly recommend seeking out mentors and professionals you look up to, to find out how they made it happen.

Ultimately, the MBA is a tool for you in your career, and schools are making it even more accessible and flexible. There are so many ways to make it happen, and we are here to help you figure it out!

Q6: Banking or consulting?

Depends on what your goals are – if you want to go into banking, figure out if you want to go IB, PB, AM, etc, and think about what you’d like to do. Working in M&A (IB) is going to be a different experience from servingv on a team of RMs (PB), so think about what you’d like to do. This can change, you’re certainly not locked in, but you want to be able to communicate a goal in your interviews and chart some kind of expected course for yourself – it helps keep you focused, especially if you start working long hours, where days easily turn into weeks, then months.

If you want to keep things broad, consulting is a great way to gain experience working with different clients and companies, in different areas and industries. I’d recommend planning to hop back and forth between industry and consulting, to stay fresh. Remember that it won’t always be glamorous international travel, but it is a great experience and you will learn a TON.

This Q came from a current undergrad student so I’ll leave with this: any analyst program will give you a great baseline set of skills for working in the corporate world, so even if you decide to switch later on, it’s not wasted time. Work hard, be smart, take full advantage of the opportunities, don’t gossip or get involved in office politics, try to stay healthy (and SLEEP) and you’ll make a good impression.

Q7: Advice for business school: Best advice for a 180-degree career switch for a 10+ year professional doing a part-time MBA?

If you’re still trying to figure out your next chapter, take advantage of your student status and tap into your school’s network or the personal / professional you’ve built over the last decade. (Don’t forget here on MBAchic, too!) People tend to be more willing to help a student rather than someone looking for a job (being a student sets a friendly, non-competitive tone). People are generally happy to help a student, via informational interviews, introductions, advice and more.

Cast a wide net and speak to people about their own career paths. Follow different thinkers on LinkedIn and Twitter, to help tap into your interests. Attend events hosted by your school’s clubs and take diverse electives, to see if anything pulls you in.

Whatever you do, don’t be nervous about a big change. Try to embrace all the opportunity and uncertainty that comes with it! Be as open as possible (get yourself into “sponge-mode”) and soak up as much as you can. You’ve done a lot so far in your career, so give yourself this time to figure it out. The next company you join is going to benefit from your skill, experience, relationships and shiny new degree, so take your time.

Finally, keep a “what I want to do” list as well as a “what I don’t want to do” list. If you’re ever overwhelmed by the number of opportunities and possibilities that lie ahead, let the second list anchor you. Recognize that you’re whittling things down as you go. Even if the next role you take is one you’ll add to that second list, you’re still closer to your dream job.

Full gallery of snapshots offering advice for business school, careers and more below!

Advice for the MBA

What questions do you have about bschool, careers, style and more. Leave a comment or reach out! Be sure to subscribe to #TheWeeklyChic and get involved!

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