Getting an MBA is a unique period in life where you have access to hundreds of bright and interesting people, and it is true that the MBA experience can be grueling and intense and involves a lot of new friends, a lot of new learning, and a lot of pressure as well, because obviously everyone is going to transition into a new job, and there must be a lot of things that you have to sacrifice while going through all of these.
In this episode of Business Casual, our hosts John, especially Maria, and Caroline, who are both alumni from different b-schools, are going to talk about some of their regrets; they wish they would have prioritized more.
Listen in because you will surely learn something valuable from their experience that you probably haven’t even thought of.
[00:00:07.510] – John
Welcome to Business Casual Poets and Quants weekly podcast. Today we’re going to talk about regrets. This is John Byrne with Poets and Quants with my co host Maria Wich Vila and Caroline Diarte Edwards. You know, Frank Sinatra said, at best, regrets. I’ve had a few, but then again, too few to mention. We’re going to mention them. We’re not shy about mentioning them. Every year, one of the things that we do is survey for the most recent graduating class of every highly selective elite business school in the world. And one of the questions we asked them are their regrets. And we’re going to get to that in a moment. But first, let me just thank our sponsor, Gies College of Business. Are you thinking about earning your MBA? With the fully online IMBA from the University of Illinois, Gies College of Business, you can earn your degree on your schedule without ever leaving your home. You’ll learn from Gies’ top faculty in building global network of experienced peers. At a cost of just $23,000, it’s no wonder the IMBA comes with a 96% student satisfaction rate. Apply by October 6 to start the program in January. Learn more at onlinembaillinois.edu.
[00:01:29.990] – John
No regrets. When you ask people who’ve been through an MBA experience, which can be grueling and intense and involves a lot of new friends, a lot of new learning, a lot of pressure as well, because obviously everyone is going in to transition into a new job. So it requires a job search and lots of interviews, and you’re seeing your classmates get jobs that maybe you wish you had, it’s very easy for this to go by very quickly, and before you know it, you’re in cap and gown and you’re walking across the stage and you’re receiving your diploma, and there are things that you wish you had accomplished that you hadn’t. Look on our site, the Poetic site for 20 biggest regrets of MBA graduates, and you’ll find, I think, fairly honest, even intimate answers to the regrets that graduates have. I wonder if Maria, who graduated from Harvard Business School, graduated with any regrets and in retrospect, over the course of the years of her work experience, whether her regrets or regret has changed in any meaningful fashion.
[00:02:43.910] – Maria
Wow. So let me see. I think the question about the changing of regrets is an interesting one. I hadn’t really stopped to think about if that regret had changed over time. I think my biggest regret is that at first I focused too much on academics. I was actually taking class a lot more seriously than I should have. Yeah, I’m sure none of the professors would like to hear me say this, but I really think that I was too focused on the school aspect of it and I should have prioritized socializing a little bit more. And yeah, I think if I could do it over again, I think I would have socialized more, not in a blitzkrieg way of like 10 seconds with each of the 900 people in my class. But I certainly would have refocused my efforts on the social aspect of business school.
[00:03:35.290] – John
Right. Is that a regret that you have today, or is that a regret that you have immediately after graduating with your MBA?
[00:03:42.230] – Maria
Yeah, I think it’s one that I have on both levels. It ended up working out for me in my very, very, very specific situation. I met my now husband, like, my third week of school, and so I ended up putting a lot of emphasis into that one relationship, which worked out well for me. But in retrospect, I’m like, oh, if I would have been a little more sort of calculating and cold hearted and strategic about it, I would have said, well, if we’re going to end up together, we’re going to have the next sort of 50 years to hang out. And so maybe I should meet other people too, and hang on. It’s not a plane of the field, John. I didn’t need to play the field after I met after I met my husband, I was like, yes, no, we’re done. But no, it’s just in terms of spending time on other friendships and maybe with my study group, I could have been more social and done things like, hey, maybe we should all meet up for coffee or maybe we should go to dinners or stuff like that. So I think I would have just reallocated a little bit of those priorities.
[00:04:51.510] – John
Yeah, I think that would make total sense. One of the interesting things about this question is that just about everybody says, yes, they do have regrets, and generally the regrets are many. The first year or first quarter in particular, people felt lost or alone. Some pictures themselves as imposters who didn’t belong. Others were terrified of missing out on any chance to learn or to network, and so they signed up for too many things. Others invested their time in the wrong activities, are stubbornly clung to the plan. Others say they overcame their fears and found their calling. But the process took its toll on the actual learning experience. Caroline, I wonder if you had a regret when you left INSEAD with your MBA.
[00:05:40.530] – Caroline
Yeah, I think you have a very good article there, John. It was a very good summary of some of the regrets or anxieties that people do express. And I think a lot of them relate to sort of striking a balance. Right. And that’s very difficult because there’s just so much to do and you can’t do everything. There’s so many amazing opportunities at business school, so many fascinating classes, so many wonderful people, so many exciting clubs, so many trips. So you do have to be incredibly selective and I think people do struggle with that. And it’s funny hearing Maria’s story because actually I started dating my now husband in my first week at business school, though he actually wasn’t on the program with me. He was an old friend who I reconnected with in Singapore, who I hadn’t seen for ten years. And as I didn’t know anyone in Singapore when I rocked up at INSEAD, I met up with him the first weekend and that was it. And so, like Maria, I think that I obviously spent a lot of time with him and that was wonderful. But maybe I don’t have as many deep relationships with classmates as some of my classmates ended up with because I was investing a lot of time in that relationship is one year.
[00:06:56.610] – Caroline
I think all MBA programs typically go past very quickly, and if it’s a twelve month program, it flies past much faster than you anticipate. And so I have great friends and wonderful friendships, but perhaps I don’t know as many people as well as I might tell if I haven’t started dating my husband. But hey, we’re happily married and we have four kids, so I don’t regret it too much.
[00:07:26.710] – John
Having met him, I have to say he’s a wonderful guy and he makes a hell of a margarita as well.
[00:07:34.970] – Caroline
He does. He hosted a Latin party for INSEAD, so he was involved. And it’s fun to be remembered by many of my classmates, but yes, it probably distracted me a little bit along.
[00:07:46.730] – John
The way and I think that you’re regretting to many others. In fact, in the story we quote a recent graduate from UC Berkeley School of Business who talks about the notion of friendships. He describes them as a situation where two people always talk about hanging out more but never actually did. His point of view is the MBA is a unique period in life where you have access to hundreds of bright and interesting people. While I’m in no way regretting the friendships that I have made, in hindsight I’d have liked to leave business school with even more close friendships as opposed to surface level friendships. But that does take a significant investment in time and thought in picking people who you want to develop those deep bonds with. And you’re doing this in the face of lots of stuff happening all around you. I mean, the distractions and the things that you have to focus on are immense. In an MBA program in Caroline, as you point out, in a one year program that all gets accelerated at a pace really unbelievable.
[00:08:59.570] – Caroline
Yes. When I finished INSEAD, I sort of had this feeling that I jumped off a speeding train. I felt sort of somewhat dazed and confused as I adjusted back to normal life afterwards because it’s an incredibly intense experience and people talk about it as drinking from a fire hose and it was an incredible experience. But you do have to be very selective and I think something that helps. And what I’ve seen since then. The BA program have worked at it and then working with people. Heading off to business school is that having a clear view ahead of time of what you want to get out of it and what your goals are. I think that does help a lot in giving some students sort of sense of purpose and confidence about what they’re focusing on and can reduce some of the anxiety that they should be doing everything. Because you can’t do everything. And I have seen people get swept up in the momentum. Sometimes they go into business school thinking they want to do something, and often that changes, right. Because it is a transformational experience and it is important to remain open to that.
[00:10:14.300] – Maria
[00:10:14.600] – Caroline
You don’t want to be completely sort of stubborn and fixated on something if there is something that genuinely appeals to you. So that, again, it’s about striking a balance between having a plan and also being flexible. But I have also seen students suddenly abandon their plans and their ambitions because they see everyone is applying to McKinsey or everyone wants to move into private equity. Right? That’s the next big thing. And so they get swept up because they see their classmates heading in a certain direction and excited about something, and they think they should be doing the same thing. Right. And it’s not necessarily where the heart is. And so they can end up spending a lot of time on something that ultimately they may not be successful in because it’s not really the right path for them. So I think avoiding sort of peer pressure and sticking to what is true to you is also important.
[00:11:11.330] – John
Yeah. Another. I think. Common pitfall that happens to a lot of people who do not come from mainstream business call backgrounds like consulting or investment banking or even a tech company where you’re an engineer and you want to broaden your skills and enter general management is this notion that. Okay. If you study the subject that isn’t necessarily applicable to the business world. That you have very little to contribute in the classroom. We had one graduate from Brigham Young University, married school who studied psychology and worked in optometry. And lacking a business ground, he questioned whether he brought anything of value to his MBA classmates. So during his first semester, he admitted that he continually downplayed his experience, and this choice ultimately sapped his confidence and robbed his classmates of a formidable perspective. As he told us, there’s nothing wrong with my experience. It is just a bit different for most. Over time, I’ve learned to have a greater appreciation for both my life experience and my work experience. If I were to do it again from the first day, I would spend less time comparing myself to others and focus more on my personal journey and development. Eventually I got to that place, but it took me a little longer than I would have liked. A really honest admission about how one could make the MBA experience better. Maria, I wonder if there are any other stories of people who are quoted in this particular article that resonated with you.
[00:12:51.050] – Maria
Yeah, I think some of the things that really jumped out at me, as Caroline was saying, I think the two key words that we’re probably going to mention a lot throughout the remainder of this discussion is the word balance, and then also this sort of word of authenticity or staying true to yourself. I did see some people talk about, as Caroline mentioned, getting swept up in, wow, I wasn’t really interested in something like banking, but everyone else seems to want to do it, and so now I want to do it. I can think of situations where people were not interested let’s just say banking, to pick banking. We’re not interested in banking. Getting into business school, got to business school, everyone else was into it, so then they decided they were into it. They applied for the job, and then they didn’t get it. And then they’re devastated that they didn’t get something they didn’t want in the first place, or they then get the job. And Caroline also alluded to this as well. They get at the job and they realize like, oh my God, I don’t care about this. I actually had breakfast a couple of weeks ago with a former client who just did an investment banking internship and was like, hey, it was great, it was challenging, I learned a lot, but wow, not for me, not what I thought it was going to be, not as close to the business.
[00:14:05.940] – Maria
I think this is a person who really wants to be more hands on in how a business is run, and investment banking is not really necessarily the way to do that. So I just think that the shame or the sort of the pity from a situation like that is just when, like, wow, you only get one internship, maybe two internships during your business school career. And to be, to be really just deliberate, like, about what exactly am I looking to get? How am I looking to grow? What am I looking to learn? Understanding that all of those things on that list are not going to happen. So at some point you’re going to have to say, well, okay, if I have seven things I want to get out of business school and I can only get three, what should those three be? But really just staying true to yourself and realizing that, yes, being open, of course, but going with the flow isn’t necessarily the best outcome for you, for the employer, and then you end up at square one. Right, because then you’re back and you’re like, oh, wait, I thought I wanted to do this, and now I don’t want to do it, and now I’m back where I started, kind of confused and not really sure where to go next.
[00:15:12.470] – John
Yeah, I mean, I find this in my own personal life at my age, where you have two or three different things you can do. You’re conflicted about which one to do. And I always try to remind myself, oh my God, how lucky am I that there are two to three things to do and I guess which one I want to do. And rather than feel overwhelmed by that, and rather than feel frustrated by that, I want to feel gratitude for the fact that I have choices today that many people don’t have. And I think that’s a really great attitude to have when you’re entering business school. And there are so many different things you can do. Clubs and organizations you can join. Friendships you can make deep one. Shore surface one sure getting a mentorship with a couple of professors who you can call at any time during your career and they’ll answer the phone and they’ll guide you and give you some advice and confidence at times during your career when you may need it. Doing which internships. Going to which wine and cheese events. When the recruiters come to campus. And then ultimately choosing an internship and a full time job opportunity.
[00:16:23.270] – John
The beauty of all this is all the options that you’re going to get, and the difficulty is making the right choice among those options. Any advice about that? How do you know with any kind of certainty that I want X, Y and Z out of my MBA program when I enter it? And then I can be so focused on that that I get it and I’m not distracted by everything else that’s going around me?
[00:16:47.760] – Caroline
Well, I think in the article people point out that reflection is important and I think investing some time in that before you start the program is time very well spent. And sometimes that happens during the admissions process, right? Because the essays and the application process and the interviews require some introspection. And sometimes people actually find that process useful for figuring out their priorities and what it is they want to get out of the MBA and how they see their career evolving post MBA. So hopefully that is a useful process as well to help you hit the ground running. But I think that there’s a lot that you can do beforehand as well, especially if you are entering a program like INSEAD. It’s a one year program and it is super intensive. You can start preparing your job search. You could do some of the reading ahead of time. It actually has a language requirement as well, and some people need to take language classes during the program or before the program to fulfill that requirement. And I always encourage people to do that beforehand if they can. So I think that preparation time can be super useful and then perhaps making a note, writing down what your goals are so you can refer back to that.
[00:18:11.530] – Caroline
So that when all of this craziness is going on, on the MBA program, and there’s a million things that are potential distractions that you can review that and sort of resent it yourself.
[00:18:24.110] – John
Yeah. Really good advice there. Maria, your thoughts?
[00:18:28.410] – Maria
Yeah, I think for the folks who may lack confidence coming into the program because they are not coming from a traditional business program, I agree with Caroline. Try to get some of that initial work done out of the way. There are so many YouTube videos and free online classes with basics of accounting and finance and Excel modeling. Just start introducing yourself to that stuff early before you jump into the fire hose or you jump in front of that fire hose. So that way once you get in front of the fire hose, you’re not feeling quite so drowned by it because you’re at least a little bit more familiar with the lay of the land. Another regret that wasn’t really talked about in the article, that what got me thinking about this was with people saying, well, I’m insecure because I don’t have a business background. I think some people also that I have worked with going into a program. Maybe they didn’t get into their first choice school and they were sort of feeling a little. Like bummed out about it a little or wow. I regret. I wish I would have gotten into a better school or going into that summer internship.
[00:19:30.610] – Maria
Especially with the large employers where you’re going to be working alongside MBA students from 5, 10, 20, other business schools. I do think that sometimes some of the people that I’ve worked with are like.
[00:19:41.320] – John
[00:19:41.550] – Maria
You know. Going into my summer internship. I was a little bit worried that because I wasn’t going to a top five or an M7 or whatever. That I wasn’t going to be able to compete on the job. But in fact. I was able to contribute just as much and I got the return offer and the kid from the higher ranked school didn’t get the return offer. Or situations like that where I think sometimes people either just like how sometimes I think certain students sell themselves short. I think sometimes students might sell their programs short. And I just want to encourage people to have confidence in yourself. The admissions office let you in for a reason. They go through the incredibly rigorous admissions process, not because they find it fun or they have no other hobbies, but because they are really trying to pick people who will succeed in the program, both academically and professionally. So if you get accepted, trust that they did their jobs right and then just focus mostly on being the best version of yourself that you can be and don’t second guess their ability to do their job.
[00:20:40.520] – John
That’s super advice. And if you didn’t give it to Harvard, Stanford, Wharton or INSEAD, big deal. They made an admissions mistake on you. That’s the way to think about it.
[00:20:54.170] – Maria
Not Caroline, everyone else.
[00:20:56.170] – John
Not Caroline, of course.
[00:20:58.130] – Caroline
If I may add something, what maria said just prompted the thought. That something I’ve also seen is that sometimes candidates who are waitlisted and then admitted are more likely to feel a sense of imposter syndrome or sort of uncertainty about whether they’re as good as everybody else. Right. Because that can knock your confidence if you’ve been waitlisted. And so, as Maria said, be confident that they’ve made the right decision. If you are waitlisted, it’s because they have seen a lot of potential in you, and they see that you would be a great addition to the class. So I would just encourage anyone who is heading off to business school and is in that situation, not at all to second guess how well qualified they are or whether they’re as good as everybody else who’s there. You absolutely earned your place. You absolutely deserve to be there and don’t feel that you are any less worthy than anyone else in the classroom and have anything less to bring to the experience.
[00:22:05.870] – John
Absolutely. I think this is great advice. So for any of you out there who just started your MBA program or for applicants who applied or are applying in round one or two or three, I would say take a read of the 20 biggest regrets of MBA graduates on the Poets and Quants site. You’ve already listened to the podcast and think about what do you really want to accomplish and what do you not want to regret? We want you to share Sinatra’s, sentiment, regrets. I’ve had a few, but then again, too few to mention. I think if you can come out of graduate school experience with that attitude, you’re ahead of the game. All right. I want to thank again, Maria and Caroline, for their incredible thoughts and insights. I also want to thank our sponsor, the Gies College of Business. Are you thinking about earning your MBA? With the fully online IMBA from the University of Illinois Gies College of Business, you can earn your degree on your schedule without ever leaving your home. You’ll learn from Gies’ top faculty and build a global network of experienced peers at a cost of just $23,000 is 23K, it’s no wonder the IMBA comes with a 96% student satisfaction rate.
[00:23:29.410] – John
Apply by October 6 to start in January and learn more at onlinembaillinois.edu. Thanks for listening. This is John Byrne of Poets and Quants.