Sunday, August 19, 2012

Well, At Least the First Choice Was Easy...

I start my "pre-term" classes tomorrow morning, but orientation doesn't start until next Monday.

No typo there -- there is an optional bunch of sessions in Math, Statistics, Accounting, and Economics the week of the 20th to the 24th.  As to whether anyone is interested, the choice is his or hers alone to make. 

For me, it was a no-brainer:  I barely touched any of that stuff as an undergrad, let alone major in it, and I haven't been a full-time student in close to a decade.  I figure the classes are a great way to sort of ease back into the school thing (they are ungraded and I believe there aren't any tests), get into the habit of commuting, and meet some new peers. 

So that first decision -- whether to take the pre-term classes -- was easy.  There will be harder ones coming.  As many friends who have gone down the MBA path previously have told me, the classes themselves aren't what stressed them out about business school; instead, it was the job recruiting, job placement, job search process.  It was figuring out what they were going to do, and then moving towards it, while juggling everything else they had going on. 

That whole issue helps explain why there are such varying descriptions of the b-school experience: For some people, they'll describe an endless blur of pub nights, intramural sporting events, guest lectures, long weekends, and travel.  Talk to others, and it's a non-stop blitz of 18-hour days, cram sessions in the library, stressful job interviews, group projects with unreliable partners, and other assorted struggles. 

Besides the natural tendency of some people to want to be ducks (appearing to glide effortlessly on the surface, but secretly kicking like hell below the surface), the major differentiator in those bimodal experience descriptions is the job status of the person going through b-school.

Here's what I mean:  Let's say you took a job out of college at a blue-chip investment banking/private equity/management consulting type of firm.  Let's say you spent 3-5 years there, and then the firm made you a sweetheart offer: Go to business school.  We'll pay for it.  When you're done, you'll come back into a managerial position.  You'll be required to stick around with us a few more years afterwards, but then after that you're free again.

Now you're basically looking at a two-year break.  You're dealing with subject matter largely familiar to you, you can completely bypass the potentially stressful campus recruiting process, you can use the 'in-between' summer to tour the beaches of Europe and Asia (or whatever else the unattached late 20-somethings with wads of disposal income do with free time), and you know that unless you really really mess something up, you're headed somewhere good afterwards. 

Contrast that with someone who comes in as a 'career-switcher.'  They came from something, whether it's Teach for America, a suit-and-tie corporation, the military, or a non-profit, and they're trying to get somewhere else, though they may not know exactly what or where that someone else is.  Meanwhile, they're trying to figure out a balance sheet from an earnings statement from a subway map.  Maybe they want to start their own venture, and maybe they don't, but whatever they do, corporate recruiting season starts almost as soon as classes do.  And that summer internship could be the 'make or break' for the Major League firm hiring decisions. 

I'm definitely in the second group, but that's not necessarily a bad thing...people in that second group tend to work a lot harder, but they also tend to get much, much more out of the experience.  And being a few years older than average, being married, having a kid, and having a commute all add up to being able to avoid certain distractions.  It's a built-in reason not to get dragged along to go shut down the Beacon Hill Pub in the wee hours of a Wednesday evening/Thursday morning. 

As valuable as networking is, I think there are lots of ways that it happens informally (as in, not during official 'networking' events at bars).  If I look at the circle of people that I talk with on a regular basis, I can't even remember how I met most of them...but can almost guarantee that it didn't happen by going to anything with 'networking' in the title.  Instead, it resulted from getting out of the house, being my usual (extroverted) self, building up a reputation, and then either meeting people directly or getting introduced to them.

With time, that really does 'just' happen.  I don't need to be the slick guy with all the business cards and the elaborate handshakes.  Especially during pre-term or orientation.

I'll get plenty of chances to say, "Hi" to my 400 or so classmates between now and 2014...and if I don't see 'em by then, well there's always the reunions, eh? 

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