Ever wondered exactly what professional mastery business school grads get along with their shiny MBA? We asked six alums what they learned at some of the top business schools in the western hemisphere—and how to leverage those lessons in your job search.
1. Investing in yourself is the best investment you can make
“Happy, well-rounded people are absolutely magnetic,” says Lisa Goller, who has an MBA from Toronto’s York University and runs her own content marketing business. “To sell yourself, you need to be at your best—so take good care of yourself.” Goller’s brand of self-care is yoga and meditation.
2. A competitive advantage isn’t just for new businesses
“In business school, you often discuss how companies developed their strategy against competition in their given market,” says Nihar Chhaya, a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business, executive coach and president of Partner Exec.
Job seekers can similarly develop their own competitive advantages “by deeply understanding what the prospective employer values in the given role and expressing the unique aspects that set them apart from other applicants in fulfilling this need.”
3. You need to know how businesses work
When you’re targeting jobs in a particular department, it’s easy to put on blinders to every other department that keeps the company running. This is shortsighted, though, according to Elatia Abate, an alumna of the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, a former recruiter at The Wall Street Journal and current career coach.
“Having a broad understanding of how all the pieces of the puzzle work together can help you make better business decisions, have clearer communications with colleagues outside of your functional area and generally think better and smarter about challenges you face,” Abate says.
4. See yourself not as “I” but as part of a team
In school, students loathe teamwork. But at work, it’s a reality. Digital strategist Chris Hood, who has his MBA from Indiana Wesleyan University and is also an adjunct instructor at Southern New Hampshire University, sees this every single day.
“In business you are constantly asked to participate on teams where you may not agree with someone, or have employees who don’t pull their share of the work,” he says. As you interview, demonstrate a team-first point of view rather than an all-about-me mindset.
5. Brand yourself like you would a product
Personal branding is a big-time buzzword for a reason: The more you think about your own brand, the better idea you have of what you have to offer to a potential employer. “For a powerful mindset that builds relationships, consider how you can help others versus selling to them,” says Goller.
6. Confidence is everything
When you’re surrounded by top talent, it’s easy for your self-confidence to take a hit. Beat back imposter syndrome with a “fake it ‘til you make it” attitude, Chhaya says. “Faking it, in this sense, doesn’t mean lying, but rather acting as if you belong, because you do,” he adds.
“Remind yourself there is a reason why they are interviewing you: You already have something special they are looking for.”
7. Always over-prepare
It’s better to be over-dressed than under-dressed—and the same principle applies to your interview prep. “You live in a competitive world, and you can never underestimate how much others around you might be preparing for any given opportunity,” says Chris Gorges, a partner at branding agency Rocketure and MBA graduate of NYU Stern School of Business. To stay in the game, don’t just go in and wing it.
8. Strategizing your job search will keep you on track
Business plans aren’t just for start-ups, says Ricky Singh, who received his MBA from the University of Maryland University College and is the CEO of AIRR Media, which helps start-ups with online marketing.
“There are so many people who just jump into doing work without really thinking about how the work they are doing fits into the overall goals,” he says.
Before you begin writing cover letters and filling out applications, think about what you want from your career and this next job, what kind of salary and benefits you need to support your lifestyle and the type of skills you want to develop, for starters.
9. Not everyone is in your target market
Job boards list thousands of openings. Are you going to apply to all of them? No way! “Focus!” Goller says. “Be selective. Go after companies and roles that will make you want to jump out of bed on Monday mornings.”
10. Articulate your skills in business terms
Communicating isn’t just about talking about yourself and what you do well. Hood suggests framing your skill-set in terms of business needs and goals.
To prepare for interviews, study up on a company’s pain points and assets outside of your target department. Figure out how your talents and past responsibilities and achievements fit into that puzzle.
11. Soft skills matter
When everyone in the candidate pool possesses the same technical skills, it’s almost always the people skills that set top applicants apart.
“As you become more senior in an organization and begin to take on management roles, work on cross-departmental projects and negotiate with vendors, these soft skills are the ones that will help you achieve success,” Abate says.
12. Your job search doesn’t have to be a solo endeavor
Who says you have to tackle your job hunt all by yourself? Not Chhaya, who encourages building a loyal support system. Many people in your network do want to help you, he says, “you just need to ask.” Bonus? “It also gives you the opportunity to help them when they are in need,” Chhaya says.
A support team can coach you through the process, introduce you to employers, read through your application materials and more.
13. Thinking like an innovator sets you apart
The way you think is one thing nobody else can one-up you on. Whether you’re looking for a job in creative departments, like advertising or editorial, or are more of a business-side player, a candidate who can brainstorm creative solutions is a keeper, says Singh, who emphasizes the “need to be different,” whether that means the way you work or the products you work on.
14. Think long-term
Is what you’re doing now helping you move toward your eventual career goals? If not, it’s time to reevaluate your path. “Continually assess whether what you’re focusing on right now is going to be advantageous for you 5, 10, 15, 25 years from now, both professionally and personally,” Gorges says.
If your end goal is long-term freelancing, for example, 80-hour weeks in the office that don’t allow you time for a side hustle might not be the best choice.
15. Comprehending your leadership style
You don’t have to have a project manager title to be a leader. Chhaya explains that each member of a team is “collectively driving the effort forward and being a leader in their own way.”
Be wary of couching your leadership skills in terms of the titles you’ve held. Instead, think more deeply about the areas you tend to take point on and how you take control.
16. Change is inevitable. Learn to adapt
Your ideal career path might not be the one you settled on right after graduation. To stay tuned into your happiness, check in with yourself regularly—every 3 to 6 months—and audit your life. “Be willing to let go of any activities or attitudes that hold you back from success,” Goller says.
Lesson #1 is invest in yourself. Make that a reality today by signing up for an online, video-based course through Mediabistro.