4 Tips to Get the Most from a New Professional Pursuit

I'm off to my first day of school.

Thinking back on it, I've wanted to go to grad school for as long as I can remember. As a kid, I begged my Mom: "If I don't use my wedding fund by the time I'm 30, can I go back to school?"

"Let's just see what happens..." she stalled with a this-can't-be-my-daughter tinge in her tone. (Little did I know that "wedding funds" were just an idea that I picked up on TV - ha, joke on me!).

Many years later, now that the moment has arrived, people are quizzing me as to "Why do you need your Executive MBA?" and volunteering unsolicited stories and studies as to why this may not catapult my career at this stage of my game. I simply and unapologetically reply, "Because I've always wanted this."

This week, I will hop on the Paris-bound Eurostar, embarking on my journey to HEC with butterflies in my stomach. (For me, I always know I've made the right big-life decision when I'm a little nauseous). I'm not nervous about being a student, but I'm nervous about everything that being a grown-up student entails: Will I have enough energy this year? Will my train be late on the first day? Will my fiancé be upset that I'm trading in our honeymoon for a week of classes in Silicon Valley? (Sorry babe, love you!)

So I was relieved and encouraged when my friend Mike volunteered words of wisdom from his Yale MBA experience. He handed me his advice with a wonderful blend of sarcasm and seriousness. The great news is that they're really applicable to any new professional endeavor:

 

1. Getting in is the hardest part. He leaned in close and whispered this one to me, confiding, "The top schools don't want you to know this one." 

Isn't that true of the most competitive and highest-caliber opportunities in life? For example, someone recently told me that the interview and acceptance process at Apple is so rigorous that it's more statistically probable to be accepted at Stanford or Harvard than given a job at Apple. 

 

2. You won't learn any one silver bullet skill that will change your career, but you'll walk out with some serious cross-training. When Mike's team and bosses come to him today, his opinion and input is important - not because he's a financial wizard (which he is) but because he's well-rounded and thinks about problems from multiple perspectives.

This is the point of cross-training, right? It's like training for a race: once you reach a certain level of proficiency in your running, adding more miles won't actually make you faster. But incorporating weight training in your regimen will.

 

3. If they offer an Excel class, take it. "Excel has changed since you took MIS in 2003, Julie." 

I'm not thrilled about this nugget; Excel is not my jam. But I hear your point, Mike: technology has progressed. Stay relevant.

 

4. Do not try to be top in the class. "If you think you're Type A, you just wait. You're going to be surrounded by Type A-pluses, who are there to hunt.you.down."

I recently mentioned this to a like-minded friend, who joked back "Not be #1? What else is there?" But I think Mike's right. Being at the top is an adrenaline rush, yes. But if you deconstruct it, what does that mean? Nothing, unless you've actually absorbed the information and can put your fancy report card into action outside the classroom. And let's face it- in some elite workplaces, everyone's from the top of their class - so what's your personal competitive edge and brand then? The process is more important than the paper.

 

Thank you, Mike!

 

Images of me (check out that Cinderella watch - ha!) and HEC.

Posted on January 21, 2016 and filed under Tips & Tools.