Clayton Bell, MBA alumnus from SMU Cox School of Business, gives advice about working hard during the MBA experience to pursue a new career path.
Name: Clayton Bell
School: MBA, Cox School of Business, Southern Methodist University
Profession: Leadership Development Program at AT&T, Dallas, Texas
What are some activities you were involved with outside of class? How did you balance your time?
I loved SMU’s MBA program because it provided an opportunity to not only participate in but also to radically impact the student experience. I had the fortune of serving as President of SMU’s Student Advisory Board, the student government function of the MBA program. Most of my time outside of class was spent coordinating various social and professional events for the student body and working with administrators to implement new programs to help improve opportunities available to all students. Outside SMU, I spent a lot of time volunteering with my church and in my community. I think it’s important for students to give back to the programs they are benefitting from and to look for ways to make a difference in the communities in which they live. Like anything else, time management during the MBA is about setting priorities, working hard to meet those priorities, and being honest about how much you can handle. If you treat the MBA program like a full-time job, you’ll be surprised how much you’ll be able to accomplish.
How has your cohort/classmates influenced your MBA experience?
My relationship with my classmates was the most important and most meaningful aspect of the MBA program. SMU’s greatest asset is its community, best highlighted by the relationships shared amongst the current students. These individuals were some of my best friends, but they also challenged me in the classroom, encouraged me in difficult times, and were a blast to be around socially. When considering an MBA, it’s important to recognize that the people you will be going through the program with will make or break your experience. Get to know them well and they’ll be some of your best friends for life.
Why an MBA?
How did you decide that an MBA was the next step for you? Do you have advice for students considering an MBA on how to make that decision?
In my pre-MBA career, I recognized that I was missing some key knowledge about how to operate in the business world. My managers had a vastly superior understanding of how industries work, how our company fit into that spectrum, and how these factors affected our day-to-day responsibilities. Additionally, even though I was a Dallas, TX native, I had a very limited professional network in the city. Finally, pre-MBA I had begun to question the career path I was on, but I wasn’t sure what the next steps could or should be. The 2-year Full-Time MBA program was an opportunity for me to better understand the fundamentals of business, grow my personal and professional network in the city, and to have some time to reassess my career interests before deciding on a new route to pursue. I think it’s important that anyone considering an MBA understand very clearly what they are looking for and what the various programs they are looking at offers in each of those areas. Every school is unique and every student’s needs are also unique, so it’s important to spend the time researching these differences before making a choice on a program.
Did you come from a non-business background? If so, how did you highlight your achievements and tell your story when applying?
I studied engineering in undergrad and then worked as an IT consultant prior to doing my MBA. In consulting, I learned some foundational business principles, but most of the things I learned were soft skills around working with people, communicating clearly, time management, etc. I used my expertise in these skills as a differentiator that people in certain business roles may not have had. When applying to business school, you have to be competitive, but that doesn’t mean you have to have been an investment banker, consultant, or have any business experience. Look for areas in which you succeed, highlight how those make you who you are, and explain how an MBA will help provide you with a platform to use those skills in a new environment to make the world a better place. MBA classes are expected to be diverse so use any differences or gaps you have in your resume to highlight why that sets you apart or creates a better opportunity for you. Most importantly, be true to who are.
Did you pursue your MBA to switch careers?
Pre-MBA, I was an IT consultant for Accenture. I was interested in staying in a technology-related field but wanted to change my day-to-day role from software development and deployment to more strategic and financial work in a technology industry. Transitioning directly from my job to a new job in this field would have been difficult, so the MBA provided an avenue through which to make this adjustment. In addition, being at SMU provided me with opportunities to learn more about which exact industry or company I wanted to pursue before beginning the interview cycle. The time and resources a Full-Time MBA program provide are very helpful when considering how to change or improve your career if that is what you are interested in.
Advice for future applicants
What is it like to transition back to school after being out for a few years? What advice can you offer students returning for their MBA?
A Full-Time MBA program needs to be treated like a full-time job. The schedules are different, but the amount of work it takes to be successful is the same, if not greater in school, depending on your prior career path. Expect to spend 50-60 hours a week working on academics and career pursuits if you want to excel in your program. While the workload is significant, going back to school is one of the most fun things you can do. You set 90% of your own schedule, you get to meet a lot of smart, fun people, and you get to learn about something that interests you. It’s one of the greatest opportunities you can pursue, but don’t expect it to be like your undergrad experience or to be an easy alternative to continuing in your current job. Expect to work hard and you’ll have a great experience.
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