Finals v. Job Search, a battle 16 years in the making

The MBA is a fascinating hybrid of job search and skill building. As someone going back to school for the first time in 16 years and who hasn’t had to do a full search for employment since college either, the last couple of weeks have been a fascinating experience of balance and prioritization and at what changes in life over time and what… doesn’t.

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I can’t honestly say that my first MBA finals made me nervous, or anxious, or scared. And that’s not because there wasn’t anything at stake. While I highly doubt my GPA will come up in a future job interview, I do rely on keeping a 3.5 to hold onto a scholarship which amounts to more than 1/2 the cost of my admission. And while the classes are curved to ensure that the lowest score you can get is basically a 3.0, I do not have a heavy quantitative background, which is the main basis of three of my four this quarter.

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One of the questions from my mid-term for Economics I actually answered by writing “Math is Hard.” I am not used to this level of intellectual challenge. I maintained a 3.5 in undergrad, and that was with a frequent focus on extracurriculars (and no, I don’t mean that in quotes, I really was involved in a lot of student activities!) And at a pretty damn good school too (as Lisa Simpson famously said, “There’s no way I’ll get into an Ivy League school now. At this rate, I probably won’t even get into Vassar.”)

 

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“I’ve had just about enough of your Vassar bashing, young lady.”

 

But, perhaps because old habits die hard, I found myself campaigning to my fellow students in this, my first quarter of grad school, to be careful how much they prioritized their classes and classwork. I actually take a lot of pride that I have had a couple of friends tell me they realized I was right and would focus less on their homework next quarter. The beauty of the MBA is that our goal, first and foremost, is to get a job after we graduate. That’s what ultimately drove me to this decision – I considered a Ph.D. – but knew that what I needed most was a chance to open doors to a larger salary and, I mean this sincerely, a larger impact.

Actually, check that. Not to get a job. Let me quote what I’ve said to a lot of people in informational interviews recently. And, again, it’s a good line, but I also really do mean it sincerely. “I’m not looking for a job. I’m looking for a career.” Translation? These two years are designed for us to explore, to dive deep, truly dive deep, into what excites us, moves us, and motivates us in the working world. And that can be partially discovered in a classroom. But anyone who has spent time outside of classrooms will be the first to tell you that the only way to truly learn it is in the real world.

 

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Easy opportunity to show how old I am by putting in a picture of the original cast of The Real World on MTV

 

And that’s both the contradiction and the beauty of an MBA. You are studying business. In a classroom. Because the idea that you can’t learn real-world skills in the classroom is kind of a tired stereotype too, right? Am I really paying tens of thousands of dollars a year just to have three letters by my name?

I didn’t have any perfect professors this semester. Anyone who knows me knows I am not shy to call out their imperfections. But I also want to take a moment to detail the kinds of things, I, who have already 10+ years in the workforce, most of it as the leader of my organization, learned just in the last 10 weeks alone.

And recognize these are core courses, designed not necessarily for directly applicable skills but to give you a baseline to build off of. And yet… some unbelievably pertinent learning, simple but profound, emerged from this quarter.

Micro-Economics (or as we call it, Markets and the Firm)

Every business I go into or connect with these days, I am aware exactly how they are trying to utilize price, sales, and a host of other techniques (in the case of the airlines, making things as unbearable as possible – actual reading from class) to make sure I spend exactly as much as they want me to spend. I can read financial news and not get overwhelmed by my lack of understanding – this is indeed a core skill to build off of.

Financial Accounting

After years of doing my own books for my small business, I sure wish I had taken a class like this. To be able to interpret the numbers for what they really mean… let’s just say I would have liked to have left my theater company in better financial shape than I thought I did when I exited.

Statistics (or as we call it, Data Analysis for Managers)

I’ll keep it simple here and say I hadn’t done any real math in fifteen years. And in a way, it’s like practicing an instrument. You have to keep it up to even keep your baseline skills going. I’m tremendously glad to have my baseline returned. But I won’t be taking Stats 2… at least for now…

Articulation and Critical Thinking

Two things stand out for me in this course. The first is a little bit of a humble-brag, but a necessary one to explain the value sometimes revealed in the learning process. I realized that all those years of learning to speak publicly in the theater will have a major payoff in my ability to impress and succeed in the more corporate world. I started out great in this class and never stopped.

That said… on the writing end, one in which I felt equally proficient, I finally conquered a nagging feeling that my writing, much like this blog, was too profuse and standing in the way of my efficiency in delivering my point to business audiences. As simple as it sounds, this class returned me to some basics I badly needed.

I delivered my point in short sentences. I used simple verbs to emphasize my ideas. I analyzed both sides of an argument, clearly articulating biases. In fact, I’m doing all of that right now.

On that note, I should probably go back and edit this post from the top…

But, I’m not being graded on it… so I won’t.

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*Interesting author’s note. As I was writing this my grades were coming in for multiple classes. I pumped my fist a couple of times. I frowned a couple of times. I felt my value as a person increase and decrease. I also quickly moved on. Things change. They stay the same.

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