What B-School Teaches You… That the Real World Can’t

The first thing people ask themselves when they’re considering getting an MBA is “do I need it?” And the question that typically follows, and one we hear quite often around here, is: “What is b-school gonna teach me, anyway?”

Both are very fair concerns. You’re gonna be spending some serious cash on business school, so you better be sure it’s worth the investment.

So, what can business school teach you that the real world can’t? Well, our knee-jerk reaction to that question is always, “Don’t worry about learning in b-school, everything you actually NEED to know, you will learn on the job.” And from a technical standpoint, that is, of course, true.  Don’t worry about learning modeling, financial techniques, blablabla. All that stuff is easy… and you’ll have to learn it (and quickly) on the job, anyway.

That being said, there is still a TON that you can learn in b-school; stuff you won’t necessarily learn at your job. And things that will make you better at your job down the road.

Interviewing skills. Very quickly upon arriving at b-school, you will “recruit,” and you will interview with a TON of companies. School essentially SHUTS DOWN during recruiting season. How many do you wanna interview with? 5 companies? 10? 20? That’s a LOT of interview practice. And interviewing is an important skill you’ll use time and time again in your career. So forget “what you learn in class”; you will become a MUCH savvier interviewer after just a few months at b-school. How long would that take you in the real world?

How smart you are. You will NEVER be surrounded by a group of people so smart as the group at a top b-school.  If you’re used to always feeling like “the smartest person in the room,” get UN-used to it at your MBA program.  You will, perhaps for the first time, get a TRUE sense for how bright you are compared to your peers.  And what aspects of your intellect are TRULY unique – what are you great at, EVEN compared to this room of SUPER smart peeps; what your true strengths and weaknesses are; and so on.  This is one of the most valuable skills to be learned….anywhere.

What you’re REALLY interested in. (And good at.)  The world is a BIG place, and the business world is too.  No matter how strong your background was prior to b-school, there are a TON of things you’ve never experienced before.  If you play your cards right in school, you can discover new ideas, new fields, and new areas of interest.  Do you not know much about “consulting”?  Well, learn about it in b-school.  Maybe one day out of the blue, you find marketing to be exciting, but you’ve been a real estate guy the whole time prior to school.  In b-school, you can learn about ALL these new areas… and maaaaybe even find one that you LOVE.

How to present confidently.  There is nothing more intimidating than raising your hand in front of a room full of 89 classmates who are all RAZOR sharp and having to say something “worthy” of that room.  It’s a tough, tough room, folks.  Beyond any skills you may pick up along the way, in b-school you will learn how to present to a group of intelligent, impressive peers.  This will serve you very well in the future, as you will surely find yourself in such a room down the road (whether pitching to get a job, or sitting in a Board of Directors meeting). Learning to compel people – to CONVINCE smart people of your opinion – is key.

Ok, ok – you will learn SOME hard skills.  Especially if your background is WEAK coming into b-school, there is no substitute for coming out and “knowing your way around Excel.”  Similarly, there is no substitute for knowing what “the 4 Cs” are, or what SWOT stands for when doing an analysis.  The less you knew coming into school, the better served you will be, leaving you with a sufficient knowledge of IRRs, WACCs, etc. And there is SOME benefit here for sure, but numbers 1-4 above will be far more valuable, I assure you.

The Tuesday Q&A: Should I Interview On-Campus, or Off?