After working for about 10 years in business, I’m now finishing my tenth year in higher education, teaching business. This vantage point gives me a somewhat unique perspective on what it takes to perform well in business school. I’ve collected the insights from my experience in the following “10 Tips for Succeeding in Business School and Beyond.”
1. Make academics your top priority.
Some students seem to live by the mantra “study only when convenient.” Such students inevitably struggle as rec sports, movie nights, and any number of other diversions eat up most of their best time and energy. A strong business school education is not something that can be positioned as an add-on. Academics must be the main entrée; other involvements are side dishes.
2. Develop strong work habits.
Like it or not, some people are blessed with more intellectual capacity than others. Strong work habits, however, are the great equalizer. Just like an athlete can overcome a lack of physical size or speed through high energy and aggressive play, students can leverage their intellectual gifts by working harder and more diligently.
3. Do things excellently.
Life is full of mediocrity—people doing just enough to satisfy the minimum requirements. As a result, it’s remarkable when someone does something really well. Even if the task itself is not that significant in the overall scheme of things, it’s impressive to see it done excellently, for instance, a very well-written homework assignment, or an extremely thorough set of meeting minutes. More importantly, those favorable impressions tend to stick with people, like professors and supervisors, who often remember the excellent work when thinking of people to recommend for scholarships, promotions, etc.
4. Build your network.
The old adage “It’s not what you know, but who you know” is misleading in that the business world does reward expertise and competence, and penalize a lack thereof. Still, there’s much to be said about building and maintaining strong business relationships. All things equal, people prefer to do business with others they know, like, and trust. Consequently, business students should take advantage of the opportunity to start building their own network while surrounded by dozens, if not hundreds or thousands, of future businesspeople. There’s no telling what mutual benefits these relationships might produce in years to come, as well as during business school.
5. Stay on top of current events.
Successful businesses are aware of what’s happening in the world around them, socially, politically, economically, etc. Furthermore, they make strategic and tactical decisions based on those influences. Business students should develop the same habit of staying informed, not just because they’ll need that discipline later in life, but also because a firm grasp of key issues and players will enhance and expedite their understanding of business concepts.
6. Embrace technology.
It’s no secret that technological advances continue to occur at a blistering pace. Given that few disciplines are impacted more by these advances than business, it’s important that business students keep pace with such changes. Doing so means more than using PS3 or having a Facebook account. Business students should be familiar with technological tools and trends related to business strategy and productivity, for instance, LinkedIn, interactive marketing, and cloud computing.
7. Gain experience.
Like much of academia, business school learning often takes place in the classroom, be it a traditional bricks-and-mortar classroom or a virtual one. Business students should look to supplement classroom pedagogy through experiential learning opportunities. Internships are one great source of applied learning. Also, some professors integrate experiential learning within their classes; for instance, through a service-learning course project students might develop marketing plans for local nonprofit organizations. Not only do such opportunities bring business concepts to life, these experiences also look good on resumes to prospective employers.
8. Take care of yourself physically.
Sometimes it’s tempting to believe that maintenance of the “physical realm” (i.e., care for one’s body) is independent from performance in the professional realm. Of course, the reality is that you can’t accomplish much in business or business school if you’re not healthy and well. Furthermore, many people find that a strong body feeds a strong mind. So, good eating, exercise, and sleep habits will enhance your academic and professional performance.
9. Act ethically.
This recommendation may seem cliché, but when one considers how the moral lapses of a few people in business have affected so many, it’s clear that the value of ethical conduct cannot be overestimated. What’s important to emphasize here is that a predisposition to behave morally is something that develops over time. Don’t expect, for instance, a CEO who couldn’t resist the temptation to take answers from a classmate’s exam, to resist the urge to borrow a competitor’s proprietary technology. Ethical behavior must be practiced in business school if it’s going to be exercised in the business world.
10. Serve others.
In many ways moral action represents not doing the wrong thing. Increasingly, businesses are challenging themselves to go beyond ethical behavior to undertake community-building activities that are not expected of them. This type of behavior is often called corporate social responsibility (CSR). Business students should prepare themselves to take part in this growing economic trend by seeking opportunities to serve others, either through their personal contacts or through a wide array of society-minded organizations. Although the promise of service here is for long-term, career-related benefits, the most gratifying rewards will likely come from the more immediate satisfaction of helping others.
A good business school education is a challenging one. Based on my experience in business and academia, the preceding Ten Tips will help students meet that challenge and get the most out of their business school experience while also preparing them to excel in their business careers.
Dr. David Hagenbuch holds a B.S. in marketing from Messiah College, an M.B.A. from Temple University, and a D.B.A. from Anderson University. Before teaching, he worked in business for nearly ten years, first as a corporate sales analyst for a national Christian radio network and then as a partner in his family’s specialty advertising agency where he managed daily operations, handled several major accounts, and performed graphic design. Dr. Hagenbuch is an Associate Professor of Marketing at Messiah College in Grantham, PA.