These are the skills that are going to pay off in the long-run and make MBA students better professionals and people.
Why might one consider getting an MBA?
Maybe you’re looking to develop some new technical skills that will put you ahead in your career.
Or you want to rub elbows with the best and brightest. Or maybe you’re really into eating cheap burritos and pulling all-nighters on case studies.
There are about 2,349,679,034 reasons to get an MBA (that’s just a rough estimate), but what are you really getting from all that time and money? What are the skills that are going to pay off in the long-run and make you a better professional AND person?
Inspired by an article in the Economist, we asked our team of expert MBA admissions consultants about the most important skills they learned in b-school. And to be clear, we’re not talking about the stuff you learn in class.
Today, we’re looking at SEVEN of those often overlooked but extremely valuable soft skills that you ONLY get from the fast-paced, high-pressure, brain incubator that is b-school.
“Through my learning team (7 people you do all assignments with), we had to do several group projects, some of which were observed by teachers and our mentor. We also had to do a 360 feedback at the end of the year to get all team member’s feedback on our performance.
Through this, I learned that I can still lead the group without being the actual leader through positive encouragement and cheerleading. I learned when to step up and when to step back. I also learned when to push for better results and when perfectionism was non-productive.
The learning team was one of the best growth experiences I’ve encountered in terms of being put with other people who want to lead and figuring out how I can still make an impact, while improving myself and my leadership style at the same time.”
–Christine Moseley, Wharton
“The most important soft skill I learned was how to lead and manage people who I had no direct authority over. There were many opportunities in b-school where I got to lead a bunch of my classmates from clubs to conferences to social trips.
Technically, they were all my peers and did not “report” into me. So figuring out how to motivate and guide them to do what I asked was the biggest skill that I was able to gain by experience. There were many classes that I took that set the frameworks such as leading and managing teams and power in organizations, but learning by doing was the best resource/opportunity.
Now I use the skills that I gained almost every day in the workplace. Everyone works on cross-functional teams where you would need something to be done by another person who is not your direct report. So this soft skill really comes in handy to figure out how to manage people and adapt to different work styles.
B-school was a fail-safe practice ground for the real world because everyone was in the same situation so you can make mistakes and learn/adjust your approach.”
–Tony Shan, Kellogg
“The most important skill I learned in business school was teamwork. Its not easy to work in teams designed to push you out of your comfort zone. I was accustomed to leading but once you hit b-school you realize that everyones accustomed to leading, and there has to be a lot of give and take to be successful.
I learned how to effectively understand other cultures, and how to be friends first and partners second. At Duke, we had a teamwork advisor whose full-time job was to help us manage conflict. He did a brilliant job. As far as I know not a single MBA student at Fuqua has murdered another.”
–Spencer Gilbert, Duke Fuqua
“Darden’s heavy student-driven culture meant that I was part of a 6-person “learning team” that did all of our cases together each night. Given that we’d completed 100 cases in the first month, this meant hours each night spent with the same group. Put 6 strong-willed, type A’s in a stuffy, small room together, and discussions are bound to get heated.
However, I gained stronger listening and synthesis skills from this sometimes-stressful environment – learning to up my active listening skills and extract from my teammates what the “real deal” was – not an easy feat, given our different points of view – and then synthesize what I heard into my own decisions.
This has served me invaluably since Darden. Regardless of your post-MBA career, you’ll be working with some sort of team…and you need to know when to speak, when to listen, and how to wisely identify the key learnings revealed. You’ll be a stronger team player AND leader for it!”
–Leslie Curry, Darden
“I’m much more aware (usually) of how I may sound to people and figuring out the personality types of the people I’m working with. I’m also better at figuring out what people really want, despite what say they want. As a result, I’m much better at dealing/working with people when they aren’t forthcoming or straightforward.
Columbia has a “Program on Social Intelligence”. There are two required classes, one on leadership, one on organizations. There are also additional exercises and seminars which include assessments (self and from your study group).”
–Lauren Sickles, CBS
“For me I think I was learning to “divide and conquer” while keeping consistency across the work. Given the amount of different projects, papers, assignments, etc., and the desire to have lives, since CBS forms 4-5 person teams, we took the approach of splitting tasks when appropriate.
While I don’t believe it’s applicable universally, in many cases it can prove to be a really nice approach to current projects following the same logic of assigning tasks due to specialization or interest. It also helped me “trust” others’ work and has taken some of the pressure off of thinking I need to be 100% on top of every single aspect of every project.”
–Regina Altaras, CBS
“Without a doubt, negotiation is the top skill I learned. Figuring out what the other party wants. Understanding your BATNA (Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement). Pursuing win-win solutions.
Negotiation is core to a lot of basic activities: decision-making, human interaction, employment, relationships, you name it. If you’re by yourself, knowing what’s most important to you helps guide your actions. If other parties are involved, negotiating helps you co-exist peacefully (and even happily!).
During business school, I took a class named Negotiation, the most sought after (and lauded) class at Wharton. I’ve noticed that the more entrepreneurial and creative I am, the more negotiation comes in handy. New partnerships, lucrative contracts, interesting employment opportunities all require my negotiation skills, something I became more aware of during business school.”
—Bryan Lattimore, Wharton
6. HOW TO INTERVIEW
“So I’d have to say the most important thing I took away from my MBA experience was how to interview. Specifically, how to be confident in an interview setting, and how to try to control the conversation.
I remember 5 months into the program I was in interviewing for a summer internship gig with Deutsche Bank, and got rocked. The guy who eventually got the job was the guy who admitted mid-way that he felt that things were not going well and suggested that they stop wasting time and end the interview prematurely. So that was kind of an eye-opener, and after that I did tons of practice.
I took advantage of mock interviews with 2nd year MBAs, and also leveraged the career center’s resources. The ability to strike up a conversation with someone you dont know, and then drive the conversation based on an agenda… while still being a pleasant person to talk to is an art that I didn’t have going into bschool. I’m certainly no Picasso here, but at minimum I feel a lot more comfortable doing that now that I ever have.”
–Ajeeth Sankaran, Ross
7. HOW TO SELL
“The most important soft skill is “sales” or the ability to sell. Regardless of what post-MBA career path you choose, you will always be selling something. You will have to sell yourself to land your dream job, you may have to sell your company’s services or products, or sell your idea as an entrepreneur looking for funding.
During my MBA at Wharton, I took advantage of Communications and Negotiations classes to hone in on my ability to build a sound argument, persuade others and deliver my story. As a startup Founder, I use these skills every day when speaking in front of large audiences, pitching the startup to new clients or customers and potential advisors or investors, and signing up new brand partnerships.
I’m constantly selling myself as an entrepreneur, my vision for the company and our products and services. Sales is often an under-rated, under-taught, and under-practiced skill, but it has been the most important skill in my career.”
–Uyen Tang, Wharton
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