What Can Make or Break Your MBA Experience?

An MBA is often recognised as the bridge that helps you either transition into a new career or gives you a boost to achieve your professional goal.

Yet, many of us would argue that the personal growth aspect is equally, if not, more beneficial from this learning experience. Yes, we will all get jobs when we walk out of business school. But probably a more important question is, how can the MBA help us discover who we are? With 1/3 of MBA in the pocket, I would like to share a few tips I have learnt along the way.

1: Think long-term. Benchmark against yourself, not your peers.

The beauty (or danger) of an INSEAD MBA is that it draws in the best and brightest from all walks of life. With many new and exciting options, you may quickly find yourself doing things that don’t actually interest you or support your goals. A personal example, I signed up for consulting case prep group to do cases despite having no intention to work in consulting. I found the experience not only exhausting (amid other academic and career options, I was certainly sacrificing my rest time), but also really bad for my group mates who expected my commitment.

In strategy class, we learnt to apply the MECE principle when making strategic recommendations. It is in fact the same for the MBA experience. Stay focused and leverage your strengths.

It could be easy to focus on improving your weaknesses, but it is doing what you enjoy through using your strengths that makes you unique and happy.

One can only do an MBA once, so stay true to yourself (it’s a life lesson) and you will be rewarded in ways you cannot imagine.

2: Understand the true benefit of differences and build relationships on trust.

I came to INSEAD placing academic learning as my top priority, followed by career exploration, and lastly by networking. After two months in the programme, I realised I was learning as much from my classmates as the professors in the classroom. My opinions are constantly challenged by thoughts from classmates that have different beliefs and it is a very stimulating experience. While learning from a diverse group can be an enriching experience, it also creates frustration when a diverse team has to work out differences to deliver assignments under pressure.

We were told that the INSEAD assigned study group was engineered to create conflict and stir up tension, but in the beginning, we thought we were doing fine as we were getting along really well with one another. However, we also realised that the work we delivered does not fully reflect the capability of our team. We constantly had time management issues and misalignment on agreements. In fact, we were too polite with each other and did not share our honest input. It was when we began to have trust within the group, we started to open up, gave straightforward feedback and learnt the most. So, do not be afraid to challenge yourself, your peer, your friends and build relationships with trust. Some may call this tough love as well. :) Be bold, be genuine, go out there with an open mind and a big heart.

3: Be prepared to face failure, reflect and never stop trying.

For the D class that starts in January, we have the opportunity to do an 8-week internship over the summer. In the past period (March & April), it was the recruiting season, where about nearly 40 well-established organisations (consulting, tech, pharmaceuticals, FMCG, etc.…) came to campus to give presentations and woo MBAs. While we know the number of opening positions are limited, most of us were still optimistic about finding an internship. But the reality is harsh, probably due to more stringent visa requirements and the economy’s mediocre outlook. Many of us had a few rounds of interviews but have not received an offer (yet). I remember feeling devastated when I did not get the internship offer from Google. I poured a lot of effort into preparing for the interviews and I really wanted to work for them. Luckily, I have my friends here who can relate to how I felt and gave me huge moral support. But those painful days are also extremely rich for me to reflect and ask myself, is this really what I want? What is the gap, what can I do to improve my profile? It is important not to forget that life is a journey and there is definitely more than one way to achieve your goal.

Lastly, I want to share something Sheryl Sandberg said –

The easy days ahead will be easy. It is the hard days, the days that challenge you to your very core that will determine who you are.

The seeds of resilience are planted in the way we process the negative events in our lives. At INSEAD, it prepares us exactly for those hard days ahead, and I know when I feel tired and disheartened, I can count on my fellow INSEADers to pick me up and give me the strength to continue pursuing my dream.