More and more in Silicon Valley, we’re seeing less and less of an interest in pursuing MBA programs. It seems every week a new story highlights the opportunity costs of these programs, the unemployment rates for its graduates (though less than 5 percent of Harvard’s class of 2012 was unemployed three months after graduating) and the celebrated entrepreneurs who didn’t finish college let alone a graduate program (Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Richard Branson, Mark Zuckerberg).
Combine that with the fact that startups — where everyone seems to want to work — don’t care at all about graduate business degrees. They want to see real-life experience and that you have the grit to make it in the startup trenches where it’s much more visceral when your job, not your grade, is on the line.
Yet applications still deluge many elite schools and some admission consultants are predicting a greater number of applicants at the top schools.
So what’s the right call? First of all, if you are accepted or enrolled in an MBA program, understand that your degree will never hurt you. There is much to be gained from the coursework as well as a lot you can do to make the most out of your time in school. The right attitude and the right degree provide a formula for long-term sustainable success.
While a business school will give you a pedigree, the real world is about results. As soon as the job interview process ends, no one cares which degree you received from Harvard, Stanford or Florida Atlantic (my alma mater). All they care about is that you get the job done. So here are some lessons from the real world of work:
1. The way to keep a job is to understand what success looks like. Commit to aggressive and achievable goals. Then deliver more than others.
2. Get voted onto the team every day. In football and the real world, when you try to solve today’s problems no one gives you credit for past accomplishments. People care about how well you get today’s hard stuff done.
3. Operate with a mind-set that reflects a meritocracy. That’s opposed to displaying a sense of entitlement — no matter how proud you are of your education. Having a pedigree doesn’t mean you can look down on others. People sense that — and won’t like it. And while Harvard or Stanford may open the door to opportunities, capitalizing on those opportunities is all about how well you do the job.
4. Be ready to demonstrate how you handle adversity. When I hire, I often look at educational achievements as a basis for assessing someone’s raw intellectual prowess. But I spend way more time looking at the challenges they’ve tackled, what they’ve achieved and how sought after they are.
5. Be open to seeing excellence wherever it is. You’ll find it often comes in the most unlikely of places.
6. Leverage your network. That’s one of the most valuable assets of any degree. Work it.
7. Understand that it’s not all about you. MBA programs spur a lot of competition; there’s an intense race to be the top of the class. But that individualistic focus isn’t always welcome at the workplace, where a “company first” not a “me first” attitude is desired.
8. Learn a new culture. Don’t adhere to what you learned in school. Do extra-credit projects that provide exposure to executive management and hopefully the board. Watch how people handle themselves at these meetings and modify your behavior accordingly.
9. Give back and continue to enhance and help others on their path. If you have an MBA, use it for good.