How To Maximize The Value You Get Out Of Your MBA
Like most situations and opportunities, what you get out of it depends on what you put into it. In my case, getting an MBA changed my life. This is what I always say when telling my own MBA story. It helped me to transition from an R&D engineer to a business person, bring me to China, and build my confidence to pursue something I feel passionate about. You could say that I really got my money’s worth out of my MBA.
Why I decided to get an MBA
Actually, when I decided to get an MBA, I was doing pretty well in my career. I was getting regular promotions. I worked in a great industry (the toy industry) and great company (Mattel, the world’s #1 toy company), had a great boss and great colleagues, and did something challenging and interesting for a living (designing toys for kids).
Unfortunately, engineering work just didn’t fit my personality or idea of what I wanted to be. I felt uninspired in my career. I’d go to work every day and wasn’t excited about what I did. That didn’t seem right. So an MBA was my big move to pursue something completely different.
What I did to fully leverage my MBA
Even before starting my MBA program at UCLA’s Anderson School of Management, I knew this was my chance to redefine myself and my future. However, as an R&D engineer, I felt inadequate to be a successful at anything else. I lacked confidence. I was afraid to face new situations where I could fail or embarrass myself.
But even more, I was afraid of settling for a career that I had no real desire to become very good at. So I felt almost desperate to get the most out of my MBA. While business school would offer me great resources and opportunities, I knew there were no guarantees. So to make sure I got everything I could out of my MBA, I always tried to do four things, both during and after my MBA program. I shared these with MBA Club members last Friday evening.
1) Confirm your alignment – Like many people who want to make a career change, I knew what I no longer wanted to do, but not what I should be doing instead. Still, I needed to make choices that could help me head in the overall, right direction. To do this, I identified three elements that are most important to me. After doing this, I would assess every situation and opportunity I faced relative to these elements.
The three elements I came up with were 1) business, 2) helping people, and 3) China. I know they sound very general, but they helped me make important choices that got me closer to what I wanted to be. So if you look at my career since business school, these elements run through everything I’ve done and every situation I’ve been in.
How much of what you’re currently doing aligns with what is most important to you? If your MBA isn’t benefiting your career as you expected, this is the first thing you need to assess.
2) Confirm your gaps – Although I often felt lost and uncertain during my MBA, I was at least clear on what I was, and what I wasn’t. I had good analytical and project management skills, but very weak soft skills. These included my communication skills, initiative and accountability when facing new situations, leadership skills, and big picture view of many things.
After business school, I wanted to do marketing. From talking to other marketing professionals, I also got a clear sense of the capabilities I needed to become one. These included developing my consumer and market sense, strategic thinking, and ability to communicate with impact.
Simply put, you always need to have a clear idea of what you need to develop. Otherwise, you’re not going to achieve your career objective.
3) 确定平台——我一直认为，加入Wang Computers是我做过最明智的职业决策。然而，这一决定并不容易。那时，已经有两家国际顶尖快消公司给了我市场经理的offer。老实说，任何想要做市场营销的人都会选择进入快消公司，而不是IT公司。
3) Confirm your platform – I always describe joining Wang Computers as the best career decision I ever made. At the time, however, it wasn’t an easy or obvious one. I had marketing manager offers with two leading FMCG companies. Frankly, anyone pursuing a marketing career would have chosen one of them over an IT company.
Wang Computers给我的职位（管培生）不如快消公司，薪水也少30%，还得接受四个半月的销售培训。但他们给的是亚太分部的offer。因此，考虑到之前我提到的三点，我选择了它，因为它能使我最快地来到亚洲。进公司十五个月后，我被派到台北。如果我没有选择Wang Computers，不知道要到哪年哪月才能来到亚洲。
By going to Wang Computers, I also took a lower title (management trainee), 30% less money, and had to go through 4 ½ months of sales training. But their offer came from their Asia Pacific division. So based on my three elements, it was the fastest way for me to get to Asia. Fifteen months after joining the company, I was sent to Taipei. If I hadn’t chosen Wang Computers, I’m not sure how long this would have taken.
Choosing the right job situations is huge. Because if your platform has limitations providing you what you want, they’ll be your limitations for achieving what you want as well.
4) Confirm your approach – My approach to getting the most out of my MBA wasn’t complex or strategic. It was simply to be more proactive and courageous to do things beyond my comfort zone. No matter what happened, I wasn’t going to let opportunities pass by easily.
So in business school, I led an organization for the first time (AMSA, or Asian Management Students Association). I flew to Taipei to find a summer internship (although I’d never been there before) and pursued two independent study, marketing projects. After b-school, I became president of Wang Computers’ new class of sales trainees. I founded a professional organization (CAPT, Chinese-American Professionals In Taiwan), started my own company, and made moves to Hong Kong, Shanghai and Beijing.
What about your approach and what you’re doing to build the capabilities and experience you need to get you closer to what you seek?
Whatever your career goals, becoming a lot different or better than what you are now isn’t easy. To make that happen, you can’t be passive or conservative. You have to overcome your doubts and fears. You need to be proactive, stretch yourself, and make good job choices and moves.