Get The Most Out of Your MBA

So here we are, half way through our Duke Cross Continent journey, and at this point we know what to expect when The Box comes or what Finals week looks like during a busy work week.  We know how much we enjoy Residencies and team meetings during Distance.  So we have been posed with a question from other MBA hopefuls to find out what are some ways to get the most out of your program.  Here are a few tips that our Duke CC-MBA 2012 class has compiled and my best attempt to give some advice on how to put them into practice.

Tip #1 – Always say YES when faced with a new opportunity. – from Debbie Barabe – Throughout the MBA process and in your career you’ll often be presented with the chance to do something different and out of your comfort zone.  When you signed up for an MBA you more than likely signed up to add a skill set to your résumé.  So when opportunities come along to do something that is out of the norm for you, take them.  If you’re a CPA volunteer to do a Marketing case.  If you’re a Marketer, volunteer to do an Accounting assignment.  It’s only by saying “Yes” to a new opportunity that the new skill sets you’re aiming for with an MBA will be obtained.

Tip #2 – Gain perspective. Be open to new and different ideas. – from Kevin Wakefield – The Duke CCMBA program takes us to new and exciting locations, but if you go into each place looking to embrace the similarities you still only walk away with one angle.  By being open to new and different ideas you get to look at the same place with a new slant.  That same philosophy can apply to an organization.  If you only look at an organization from your team’s point of view or are only interested in following your processes you will not be able to approach the issues in the bigger picture.  Instead, try to put yourself into a “foreign land” and look at each issue from the perspective of another team or even from your customers point of view.  By learning to think like this in your MBA program you can grow leaps and bounds in the work place.

Tip #3 - Make the most of the time spent with your classmates! – from Tyler Roehm – When we wrote our entrance essay we were asked to share what about our backgrounds would benefit other students.  One hundred fifty of us wrote an essay on that and Duke thought the answer was pretty good.  So when meeting your classmates and talking to them, make the most of that time and find out what some of those reasons are.  A conversation you have today about someone else’s work may be something that becomes a door to another possibility later on.  If nothing else you’ve gained another great friend in your MBA program.

Tip #4 – Interact with as many students in your program as possible….lasting friendships. And make sure to have cocktails with your Stats professor on the last day of class…that’s nerdy stuff!! Lol –  from Ayisha Jeter - It’s very easy to get caught up in the work and assignments.  It’s also easy to find “your group”, but when you have a class full of wonderful, interesting, fun, successful, and talented people why not get to meet all of them.  You don’t have to be in someone’s section or team to make that happen.  Take some time on a coffee break to have a chat with someone new.  Sit at a different dinner table.  And you know what, if you have the chance to sit with Katherine Schipper at dinner, you should darned well take it.  Our Duke faculty is ranked number one in the class room and they’re interesting, fun, successful, and talented people too.  Get to know them outside the classroom as well as inside it.  There may be a few lessons they can teach you that go further in life than a linear regression model.

Tip #5 – Take the pre-reading seriously. Learning lessons before class begins to pay big dividends once it starts. – from Malcom Riley – You could look at this tip as only something that is applicable to school, it certainly pertains to our Duke CCMBA when The Box arrives each term.  More importantly though, think of this from the position of a leader.  Would you rather do some due diligence and go into your business decisions with some knowledge, or would you rather walk in cold and wing it?  Maybe that bet will pay off big, but will you be the leader you want others to perceive you to be?  Learning some lessons up front can not only save you from yourself later on, it can also make a statement about how you approach management and problem solving.  So if you want to get more out of your MBA program, use that pre-reading as an opportunity to fine tune this leadership skill, and also get yourself prepared to soak up all the knowledge you’re investing in.

Tip #6 – P=MBA – from Tan Chek Tee - The first time I heard this statement the Type A overachiever in me cringed.  “At no point am I ever going to accept a P.” I thought to myself.  What I have realized however is that in life, this program, or any other type of executive MBA program, we are faced with a balancing act that is much bigger than just one class grade.  We’re balancing work, family, friends, travel, and then add in our MBA classes which…oh yeah…did I mention travel.  Sometimes you have to allow yourself to succeed in one of these other areas.  Maybe you need a Superior Pass at work this week because your project is going live.  Maybe your kid’s birthday party is the same day as classes, but your family will give you a Superior Pass as a father/mother that will far outweigh being live on a Centra session lecture.  That’s when P=MBA comes in handy.  Sometimes it’s okay to just take a P and sometimes you need to go above and beyond.  Learning to distinguish that in your MBA program is a skill that can pay off later when you are finding that fine balance in other areas.

Tip #6 – Get mentors in each country. – from Ravi Bansal – The Duke CCMBA format is unique in that it takes us to 6 international locations, but when you leave there will you leave with someone who can help you continue to learn about that region or a topic of interest.  Maybe you’re not looking for business mentorship in a region, but maybe there is one person who you find is a great mentor for you in something you hope to grow in.  Foster that relationship and try to learn from that person.  It may be an informal mentorship but you’re growing with each term and that growth will expand as far and as wide as you allow it.  If you’re not a Duke CCMBA (first off you should be), then find those people in your program.  It’s not enough to get all SPs if you don’t find people that will help shape you into a star performer for much longer than the two years you’re in school.

Tip #7 – Look for one thing that you can apply to your job now or your ideal job later that you’re learning in class. – from Jordan Lofton – It’s often hard to see the forest for the trees while you’re going through the program.  “I’m taking finance, what the heck does this have to do with me?  I don’t want to be a banker or a stock broker.  I want to be the owner of a successful tech startup.”  You can go through the motions to just pass the class just to get it out of the way, but try to take a step back and say, “How can I use this at work?  Who at work would use this?  Why do businesses use this?  Why would a Top 10 MBA program think this is important for me to know?”  The truth is even if you’re not the accountant you will need to know accounting.  Even if you’re not the person creating the models, you’ll need to know how to use them.  Even if you’re not a financial analyst you’ll have to make financial decisions.  So take some time to think about how you will use your newly acquired skills.  If you just have one take away from each class that may make the biggest difference for you later on.

Tip #8 – Learn to love March Madness!!! – from Jordan Lofton – If you are in Fuqua and have the Duke brand plastered all over your résumé and bragging to all your buds, and the question is asked of you, “So what do you think of Coach K?”, then it’s time to start showing some school pride.  We all come from different undergraduate schools (some even rivals of Duke….we won’t name names), but we’re all Duke students now.  So be sure to show some support for your school.  It’s not enough to rave about just the MBA program, but really embrace the culture and brand of your school.  Your school alums are passionate and proud of that brand, so try to show some enthusiasm yourself.  With that being said…GO DUKE!!!

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