What MBA Programs Don’t Teach You

This is a guest post written by Katherine Manning on a topic I’ve been thinking and writing about for a while; the inability and unwillingness of graduate schools to prepare students to lead in a networked world. Here’s how Kate describes herself, “Kate didn’t expect to find herself at the intersection of business, marketing, and the Internet, but with sound writing and editing skills she’s trying to make the most of her interests by writing on her favorite topics. She is an editor for an online educational resource for prospective students.”


MBA graduates hope to enter the business world equipped with myriad skills that will steer them towards success in a fast-paced industry. Truthfully speaking, however, business administration degrees are quite chameleonic and require adaptability in an ever-shifting socio-political landscape. Corporate social responsibility is a rapidly proliferating phenomenon today (especially in academia)—and one online MBA resource goes as far as to suggest that sustainability, social responsibility, and the “triple bottom line” could very well begin to replace the traditional bottom line in the coming decades.

Unfortunately, MBA programs don’t necessarily focus on the networking skills required for success in such a tangled industry as sustainability. In 2011 the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics listed the 30 fastest growing jobs, many of which were environmentally focused. What a lot the curricula behind these job titles lack, of course, is emphasis on effective communication skills, innovation, and global awareness—these things are as critical as knowing how to manipulate numbers. With more and more MBA graduates moving on to work for some of the most admired socially responsible companies like Statoil, ENI, NextEra Energy, and Weyerhaeuser, networking skills and the ability to communicate as a member of the “sustainability” community are crucial to an MBA’s success—especially if one expects to elevate their status in the niche of social responsibility.

Grads with a keen understanding of social responsibility ultimately fare much better in the business world than those who overlook its nuances. The following are a few ideas that MBA graduates can focus on to improve their networking skills.

Having A Conversation

People spend much of their lives talking, especially those who make their living in the corporate niche. From inter-regional seminars to one-on-one sit-downs, MBA grads learn quickly that interaction with others is ubiquitous in business—and conversational skills go a long way. Talking slowly, making eye contact and choosing words carefully inspires trust and confidence in the person being addressed. Listening is also crucial—what the other person is saying and how they are saying it. Conversing with poise and confidence is critical during the interview phase, and those who can clearly and effectively articulate their points are likely to enjoy a long, productive career.

In a world of text messages and Twitter feeds, the shortest way to say something is often the best way. “The ability to speak, write and present succinctly, powerfully and in a timely fashion are critical,” says Huff Post College columnist Stacie Nevadomski Berdan, “whether you’re leading a team in the office or virtually, working with fellow nationals or across borders and cultures.”

One field that stresses concision is journalism. Reporters are instructed how to compose a thoughtful, succinct piece of writing, and editors are trained to trim down the draft even more. The terse, traditional newswriting style is quite useful in modern business, where interaction often does not exceed 140 characters. Business schools that offer dual graduate degrees in business administration and journalism include Columbia and the University of Texas in Austin, and many others incorporate journalistic writing standards into their MBA curricula.

Communicating Ideas With Humility

Idea generation is a fundamental business principle. The creative process one undergoes to generate, develop, and effectively communicate a new idea directly speaks to his or her ability level and potential for growth. Most MBA programs discuss elements of idea generation, but understanding the concept is only the first step to successfully presenting an idea in public.

Will Burns, a contributor for Forbes, stresses that ideas must be nurtured in their early stages—otherwise, they lose some of their luster. “It’s critical to somehow, in some way, preserve the idea’s energy,” Burns writes. He encourages creative minds to remain enthusiastic about their idea—even if that means posting a list of the idea’s positive attributes on a cubicle wall. This will cultivate the idea itself, as well as sharpen the individual’s presentation skills. Once the idea is properly generated, he concludes, “Then, of course, continue to improve the idea. Because you’ve preserved and protected that first impression.”

Naturally, some ideas are never fully accepted. Rather than treat a failed creative venture as a roadblock, businesspeople should draw inspiration from such an instance. “Personal humility is not inconsistent with professional ambition and professional drive,” said Derrick Bolton, Assistant Dean of MBA Admissions at Stanford Graduate School of Business, during a November 2011 interview with Forbes. An unpopular idea is forgivable; an unfavorable reaction to disapproval often is not.

Diplomacy In A Foreign Land

The number of American MBA grads who find work internationally is currently smaller than expected—but as Bloomberg Weekly reported recently, plenty of jobs are available overseas. This is true of markets in Europe and Asia, as well as emerging entities like India, China and Brazil. Marilyn Eckerman, Director of Graduate Management Career Strategies at Boston College’s Carroll School of Management, encourages graduates to have an open mind when choosing work. “The economy and job market over the last couple of years has persuaded students to be more open to geographic flexibility and mobility,” she said.

If a graduate opts for employment abroad, they must understand the implications of living outside the United States. Businesspeople in a foreign country may behave differently than their American counterparts, both with clients and one another. Many cultures place a great deal of importance on the way one dresses, conducts a meeting or even eats a meal. Adherence to these cultural details makes a strong first impression. Knowledge of that country’s economic inner-workings and familiarity with the local language also benefit expatriate businesspeople.

Business students are also traveling internationally these days. According to the 2010 Global Management Education Graduate Survey, 28 percent of current students study outside their country of citizenship. In particular, Americans are leaving the U.S. to earn an MBA abroad in unprecedented numbers. This experience introduces the student to a new culture—and offers a unique glimpse into a foreign market.

In these uncertain economic times, MBA grads must fully prepare themselves to enter the work force. It is not enough to be well educated. These men and women must also master the finer points of business administration that are not taught in a classroom.


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Allison Fine

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