Over the holiday, I had the chance to talk with several prospective students interested in applying to Johnson. They came from a variety of backgrounds and, like most prospective students; all were curious how the first Johnson Cornell Tech MBA class was shaping up. After several phone calls, a few themes emerged as I noticed that many people were potentially applying for business school for what I think is the wrong reason. I’d like to explore a few of the more common reasons and talk about why I think they are troubling.
Reason 1: “I don’t like my current job therefore I’m hoping business school will help me get a better job.”
This is probably the number one reason I hear from people interested in applying to business school. It’s entirely possible that after Cornell, you’ll be able to get a job at a more “prestigious” company, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll like the job more. The trouble is that most people don’t know what type of job/role/activity they would really like to do for eight hours a day. They know what they don’t like (e.g., certain aspects of their current job) and they have some inclination of what they might like (e.g., typically industry/sectors that are hot), but they’re not really sure. When I push applicants on what they want to do after graduation, most provided high-level answers such as, “I want to work in XYZ industry or in ABC function.” Why? Most of the answers were vague, at best.
It’s okay not to know why business school interests you. The concern I have is, are you taking steps before applying to business school to learn what you want to do and what you’re good at? You can definitely find time in business school to explore specific industries, but I recommend exploring coffee chats and researching industries and functions before applying to business school. Especially if this is the primary reason you want to go back to school. Not only will you get more bang for your buck prepping yourself beforehand, you’ll also have a leg-up when recruiting begins. Avoid being scattered, applying for every “hot company” under the sun. Remember, when conducting a career search; don’t just think about what you want to do, also consider what you are actually good at.
Reason 2: “I am dissatisfied with my career growth and think business school can help me grow my career faster.”
This is an issue frequently expressed by younger applicants, but also by others. There are different ways to express this concern including, “I’ll be able to get a faster promotion with a MBA degree” or “I might not be promoted in the future if I don’t have a degree.” Another variation is, “My current career growth isn’t as fast as I’d like and I believe an MBA degree will help.” Again, nothing wrong with this line of thinking, but the more important question is if this line of thinking is actually reasonable in your situation. For some industries, it’s almost becoming a pre-requisite to possess an MBA, but that’s not true for all. For those who haven’t figured out what they really want to do (see first point above), this thought process becomes even more dangerous.
In our society, a society that values progression, promotion, and progress, we often feel that we must constantly be in an upward progression. Recognize that what made you successful in your current role doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be successful in your next endeavor. Furthermore, what you enjoy doing now doesn’t mean you’ll have to chance to do those things when you are promoted. Seeking growth for growth sake can be deadly for a company, just as it can be deadly for your career.
Reason 3: “I don’t have time to do my startup, work-on my passion, or do what I really love because of my current employment. Business school is a breeze so I’ll have time to do while enrolled.”
Business school isn’t medical school so yes; it is “easier.” However, you can’t sleep through classes. Even if you don’t care about academics, being in an environment where incredibly intelligent people are doing thousands of wonderful, innovative activities, you’ll quickly start running out of time just having fun. If you feel that business school is going to give you free time, I’d like to correct that misperception. Instead, view business school as providing options and it’s your quest to effectively manage that time, no different than your current situation today. I recommend for people feeling burned out at work and seeking to attend business school as an escape, ask your employer about taking a leave of absence. Take some time off, even without pay. If you’re a great employee, most employers would be more than willing to consider the request. While experiencing a hiatus, use that time as a sabbatical. Two months later, you’ll know if it really was a poorly suited job or just the excuse you’re giving yourself for not pursuing your passion.