Jenny talks about the importance of building your network while at school, and holding onto that network after graduation.
WHY DID YOU CHOOSE YOUR SCHOOL?
I actually made the decision to go back to grad school about 2-3 months before applications were due. So, this was a quick turnaround for me. I knew that I wanted to stay in the South. I had gotten my undergraduate degree from Georgia Tech here in Atlanta. So, I knew if I were to stay in the South, the top programs would be Emory, Georgia Tech and Georgia. Emory, financially, was not in the realm for what I wanted to spend. I really had a goal when I set out to apply to not pay for grad school. I know that is a lofty goal but I think that there are so many opportunities out there today to get scholarships or financial aid or fellowships/assistantships. That was the goal I had. So, I applied to two schools: Georgia Tech and Georgia. Then, I had to make a decision between those two and there were a couple of things that swayed me towards Georgia Terry. One- they gave me an assistantship. So, it met my goal of not paying for business school. Two- it was a different network. Because I had gotten my undergraduate degree from Georgia Tech, I had decided I wanted new scenery, a new network, and a new group of people to broaden my world view and perspective. I felt if I went back to Tech I would have gotten more of the same. I think it was a great decision and I’m glad that I did it and I know a whole new group of people in Atlanta that have helped me so far.
HOW DID YOU BUILD YOUR NETWORK AT YOUR SCHOOL?
The school did different leadership programs or certifications or executive coaching and I would use and leverage those things to begin to build my network. I know that there may be some questions about how to truly do that. But, for instance, if you have the opportunity to be assigned an executive coach, have that coach help you create a plan for networking. Have them connect you to people. Bottom line, they know a lot of people who can really help you. Learn to get really good at telling your story. People don’t won’t to meet with you and just hear bullets. They want to hear your story. They want to sense some passion and excitement about what you want to do and where you came from. So, as you continue to meet people, whether it is professors or people in these other programs, use those opportunities to practice and get better at telling your story. Another thing that the school does is that they have information sessions where organizations will come to hire for internships or postgraduate employment. It’s really a must to go to those sessions if you want to interview with a company. But, also use those opportunities to build your network and meet more people. If it’s a company that you might not be interested in, still go and listen to what they have to say, introduce yourself and let them know what you want to do and see if they know anyone who they could connect you with. What you’ll find is that many of them might have a friend from their business school experience who works for a different company and they can help make that connection. Another thing is that on your own, I would start to work with your own personal network that you come into business school with. Whether it’s family or friends, church or community, begin to meet with those people and tell them why you chose to go to business school and what it is that you want to do afterwards and ask them to help connect you with people who might be able to get you there. It’s really just about meeting people, telling them your story and hoping that there’s a connection or hoping that they know someone with whom they could connect you.
HOW WAS YOUR INTERNSHIP EXPERIENCE?
So, I set off to interview for internships and I tried to get a little bit more focused. I knew that I wanted to do consulting when I got out of school so I tried to stay focused and interviewed with consulting firms. But, I also knew that internships were an opportunity to get some experience so I went after everything. I ended up getting an internship working for Bank of America. The school that I went to, Terry College of Business, had a great relationship with the corporate workplace department of Bank of America. Because of that relationship, they did an excellent job of coming in and recruiting students for their internship program. What I loved about the program is that I was a part of a select group of students from other schools. So I got to meet and talk to other students about their own experiences in their programs. We spent 2 months at Bank of America and we were each given a project that made a significant contribution to the organization and we were given the freedom to go out and use that project as an opportunity to meet people. I felt like I needed to take advantage of that. So, when I got there, I had a great project and a great boss who was a wonderful mentor to me throughout the program. I also got to meet people across all of Bank of America in different departments and ask all sorts of questions. For me, this was just a part of extending my network which I was trying to develop while I was in business school. Several of those people I still stay in touch with today. I wouldn’t say that the internship was a direct link back to what I wanted to do after graduation, but I was able to make that link work and that’s another piece of advice about the internship: use the opportunity to get experience and try to figure out how to link it back to what it is that you truly want to do. For me, I wanted to do consulting. Even though it was for Bank of America, it was a financial services industry and a project that I did for a summer, but technically, I was consulting for them. I was able to take that and translate it into what I wanted to do long-term. Then, again, I just added to that network and got some experience. Take in what you learn during that first year of business school, apply it to your prior experience and go “try out” in a safe environment. You knew that you needed to do well in the internship, but you also knew that at the end of the summer you were going to be gone anyways. So, it’s sort of a safe environment to go “try it”. When you do that, it gives you a big boost to your confidence and it helps you go into that second year of business school and helps you to apply for positions outside of business school.
WHAT SHOULD MBA STUDENTS TAKE ADVANTAGE OF WHILE AT SCHOOL?
Number one, at the very, very top is to use the network that you’re going to gain through business school. That network will prove to be valuable to you not just to land your first job, but for the rest of your life. I have found that people are much more willing to help you when you are a student. That becomes much harder 2-3 years out in the workforce. Then, people are willing to help out, but for some reason when you are a student, it seems more philanthropic to help students. So, they are much more willing to help connect you and help you. So, take advantage of that. Also, you won’t have the time like you have in business school. Granted you have a lot of work in business school, but there’s a lot of extra time that you just won’t have when you get back in the workforce. So, I would plan to meet, if possible, with 3-4 people a week through the whole time you’re in business school. And as you continue to meet with those people, ask them to connect you with other people who they think would be valuable to meet and meet with those people. As you build this network, make decisions about who you want to stay connected with once you start working. I still meet with and talk to people today who I met in business school. They have been valuable to me when I want to help friends get jobs, when I need resources or advice. Actually, I just landed an amazing opportunity to go work for a start-up company. I’ve been in business consulting and have loved it. But, because of the network that I had from business school, someone called me up and asked “Do you want to come work for me?” I just don’t think that many people get this opportunity and I felt like I needed to take advantage of that and I think that it came from the network I built. So, that is the #1 thing you need to do while you are in school- build a network.
#2- Have fun! Use the opportunity to take a break from real life. It’s a safe place to go on a discovery. Figure out what you like and don’t like. Take some classes that interest you. Don’t get so bogged down on what you have to take to make your resume look good. Honestly, after school, nobody looks at what classes you took. Take what you have to take and what the school suggests. But after that, have some fun and take some classes that might further your interests.
#3- The school offers you lots of opportunities that you will find are very valuable in the workforce. For instance, if your school offers Six Sigma Certification or Leadership Development or Executive Coaching, I have found that after business school there are plenty of people in the workforce who are begging for those things. So, I would encourage you to participate in any of those things that your school offers because you are really getting a bonus for free.
WHAT MADE YOU DECIDE TO GET A MBA?
Prior to going to business school, I worked for a local ministry/non-profit who did church consulting. We would work with churches all over the world who had found out about our model and had called us up and asked us to help them. So, we would go and help them figure out what their culture looked like and matched that up to the methodology/model that we had created. After graduation from business school, I am working for a company called North Highland and doing general business consulting and I have been doing that for 1 ½ years now. The reason that I decided to go back to business school was interesting. It had been 11 years since I graduated from undergrad. And honestly, through those years, I did not think that I would go back to get my MBA. I had a few friends who did, but I also had a lot of friends who did not have their MBA and they were doing okay so I decided that it probably wasn’t for me. However, as always in life, things change. As I was working for this ministry, about half-way through I had learned a lot about myself (my skills, abilities and talents) and I decided that I really wanted to use those more fully. Prior to being in ministry, I also worked in business but I was never really using my skill set. Once I got into ministry and got a better understanding of my skill set, I realized that I wanted to go back into business. So, having taken that jump from business to ministry and then back into business, I realized that business school would give me the most opportunities to do that and give me an opportunity to take what I learned about myself in the non-profit world and “polish” that and bring it together to give me the boost of confidence I needed to go back into the business world. As a side note, I was just at a very large conference last week that had an executive panel. On that panel, somebody asked “When do you need to decide to go get a MBA?” The speaker said that in today’s world, it is really a must. The speaker went on to say that we are competing on such a global scale now and the competition is very fierce and having a MBA just gets us in the game. So, it made me very proud that I had done that -even if it was later in my career. Honestly for me, it worked out best that I had taken that time. That time was very valuable. It helped make my MBA more effective and took me to the next level.
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