5 Questions to Ask Yourself before Applying to Business School

This time of year I often get asked by people for advice on whether they should apply to business school for an MBA. Over the years and many coffees with folks, I’ve settled on the following key questions…

MBA - Haas School of Business Diploma

  1. Why do I want an MBA? 
    I’ve heard of a number of reasons but they mostly seem to boil down to these three that draw people to consider one:
    Business Concepts — In your core curriculum you’ll learn the fundamentals of what makes companies succeed and fail mostly by studying case studies on past leaders and companies. You then may then focus during the second half of the program on on entrepreneurship, finance, strategy, or marketing concepts.
    Network – Connect with others in your program and the (potentially vast) alumni that preceded you. Thru the case-study method you’re going to learn as much from your classmates as you will from the lecturer. And after you graduate they people will be tremendous assets in business. 
    Brand – If you join a “top-tier” program it can give your resume additional strength that can help give you an edge and at least get you in the door for an interview. If it’s currently missing a top brand (a company or your undergrad) this can be one way to add one.
  2. Do people in your “dream job” have an MBA?
    A great technique is to have coffee with 4-5 people in the type of role you’d love to have in 5-10 years. Learn about their career path and what got them to where they are today. For me at the time, a number of the people shaping product at successfully scaled Silicon Valley companies had MBAs and in talking with them they recommended that I do the same—those that didn’t, as you might expect thought it wasn’t necessary. I also saw the design, product management, and business functions converging and thought an MBA would enable me to span those disciplines. 
  3. Full-time or Part-time?
    If you’re in your 20s, looking for a career change, or looking to launch a company in business school then a “normal” 2 year full-time program is probably best for you. It gives you the chance to close out what you were doing prior and really focus. However if you have a good job that’s teaching/paying you a lot or are looking to accellerate a career path you’re already on, you should also consider a “part-time” program (evening, weekend, executive programs). I found the advantage of “part-time” programs is that during class discussions instead of just “students” in the room, you’ll have engineers, doctors, marketers, and entrepreneurs all with a bit more “experience”. 
  4. What’s the Opportunity Cost?
    Earning an MBA will cost you a large amount of time and money. To effectively evaluate the benefits of an MBA think about what else you could do with that same investment. Start a company? Invest in stocks or real estate? Continue in a great role? For me, the MBA cost me 20 hours a week and about $80K (then)— which meant no TV, fewer social events, and I would stay with my Honda Civic for years to come. Because I was able to continue full-time in my role at eBay I was able to continue to drive my career and benefit from stock options, all while learning how to round out my capabilities on Saturdays in school.
  5. Okay, now how do I get in?
    Put yourself in the role of the MBA admissions office. They want to select people that will be able to complete the degree and then go onto become wildly successful in business—bringing prestige and alumni donations back to the school. As you write your essays, think about why the school should “invest” in you—what will make you successful and how will you be an interesting addition to a cohort. 

As a graduate of UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business (2008), I’m a huge fan of their program and in particular think their evening-weekend program is exceptionally well designed for people like me working in Silicon Valley on Product. 

Finally, if you’re looking for more advice, I also recently found venture capitalist Mark Suster’s 5 C’s on whether MBAs are Necessary for Startups to be helpful on what you gain and what you lose in seeking an MBA. 

A new lens on Myers-Briggs

FIRO-BAs part of my leadership course at UC Berkeley I recently took a hybrid self-assessment, facilitated by CPP, which combines the power of Myers-Briggs’ MBTI with a less well known assessment called FIRO-B.

First introduced by William Schutz in 1958, the Fundamental Interpersonal Relations Orientation (FIRO), analyzes the dimensions of Inclusion, Control and Affection. It also probes on behaviors you tend to express as well as those that you wish others to demonstrate. Recently repositioned by CPP this tool is now rising in popularity.

The assessment and analysis uses the three FIRO dimensions to further color the factors used in the MBTI. The tool really helped me better understand my leadership style. It outlines areas of strengths as well as potential challenges I may face. Finally it provided a detailed action plan that I could utilize in developing my career plan.

Whether you are trying to better understand yourself or are looking for a tool to use in developing a career plan for someone you manage, this assessment is worth a look.

Take Assessment [Cost = $120 for 3 reports Leadership, MBTI, and FIRO-B]

Vital Friends

I have to admit I’m a junkie for the Gallup Press line of business books and Tom Rath’s latest Vital Friends is no exception. Rath asserts that we all are motivated and deeply affected by the friends that we keep. They play a key role in how happy we are, whether we stay at our current job, and even the success of our careers.

Vital Friend: noun 1. someone who measurably improves your life. 2. a person at work or in your personal life whom you can’t afford to live without.

Buy Vital Friends on eBayRath goes on to define eight types of vital friends:

  • Builder – Motivator and Coach
  • Champion – Stand up for you and show loyalty
  • Collaborator – Shares a passion with you
  • Companion – Always there for you
  • Connector – Helps introduce you to others
  • Energizer – Help motivate you and make you smile
  • Mind Opener – Expand your horizons and introduce new ideas
  • Navigator – Advice you on future direction

I’ve found it incredibly useful to reflect on the friends in my life and understand the role they are playing. For example, my wife is my companion, collaborator, and champion. It is important that I appreciate this fact as it has a tremendous influence on my outlook at work.

People with a least three close friends at work were 96% more likely to be extremely satisfied with their life.

Also for people managers out there, understanding the importance of your team members forming vital friends at work is critical. Having them contributes to job satisfaction while the absence can often lead to attrition.

Employees who have a close friendship with their manager are more than 2.5 times as likely to be satisfied with their job.

So stop what you’re doing right now and go make a friend. 🙂

Emotional Intelligence (EQ)

In reading What Makes a Leader? (Goleman) I learned that while technical skills and IQ are important for senior managers to succeed it is emotional intelligence that is actually the most critical. As a long-time believer in soft skills I did not have any difficulty believing this assertion.

Emotional Intelligence’s Five Components:

  1. Self-Awareness: The ability to identify and name one’s emotional states and to understand the link between emotions, thought and action.
  2. Self-Regulation: The capacity to manage one’s emotional states — to control emotionsor to shift undesirable emotional states to more adequate ones.
  3. Motivation: The ability to enter into emotional states (at will) associated with a drive to achieve and be successful.
  4. Empathy: The capacity to read, be sensitive to, and influence other people’s emotions.
  5. Social Skill: The ability to enter and sustain satisfactory interpersonal relationships.
    Above as defined by Daniel Goleman & Peter Salovey.

Personal Reflection

In thinking of some of the most effective leaders that I’ve worked with over the years, I definitely see that they have shown strengths in emotional intelligence. And conversely as I think of hot-head or sell-absorbed leaders who were less effective—they obviously would score low on this assessment. Fortunately for all aspiring leaders most of the leading thinkers on this topic believe that while some EI is innate, much can be improved or learned with time.

For example, I am not always a great listener which hurts my ability to emphasize. Thru conscious effort I hope to improve in this area. If you know me personally, let me know how I’m doing. 🙂

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