18 February 2015 16:50:23 IST

Gauging an MBA’s Worth

Students of the Class of 2005 of the Indian School of Business during their graduation ceremony in Hyderabad on April 02, 2005. Photo: Mohammed Yousuf

When you proudly proclaim that you are an MBA graduate, the expectations from the corporate world are very different

Having worked a few years before I went on to do my MBA, I thought that work after a post-graduate degree in management would be a breeze. I thought I knew how to make my post-grad experience really count. Alas, life has this funny way of showing you otherwise.

When you proudly proclaim that you are an MBA graduate, the expectations from the corporate world are very different (and border-line unreasonable). While you might have had excellent grades from your various courses, those grades mean nothing if you can't start making a difference immediately to your organization. So, did my MBA teach me how to make that difference? It didn't. But what it did give me was an experience that helped make it a lot easier to find my way.

The experience of having professors who presented you with impossible deadlines that ensured you were lucky if you got any sleep at all made working under tough bosses a piece of cake. Top quality work under stress was easier to manage.

Working in teams that you did not necessarily gel with helped me evaluate how much everyone in the team would bring to the table. And it included learning on how I would react to similar situations at the workplace.

Having to show up for classes nearly sleep deprived and sit through a subject that I was not really interested in trained me to sit through long workshops and still contribute, no matter how tedious it got. This was the true learning I got from my course - a taste of a world where your knowledge of the text-book was not a long-term differentiator.

A lot of students I meet through the alumni circuit are extremely focused on what classes they take and what grades they achieve. Many of us come out with the strong belief that just because we sit through hours of lessons on retail management or investment analysis, we can run large retail chains or become investment bankers. This cannot be further from the truth.

Considering I specialized in marketing, in hindsight, most of the courses to me were like a history lesson. They would mainly quote examples of what worked, what did not work, how to approach a problem and so on. In the office, your marketing strategy will not exactly fit into a typical Porter's 5-forces model. I remember only one course that focused on digital marketing as a concept.

Learning from history to make a difference in the present is not something you learn in a classroom. That does not mean these models are irrelevant. The courses one takes in an MBA provide one with guidelines on how to approach work. It gives one a starting point to prioritise variables and make a better judgment. At the start of one’s career, more experienced colleagues would find gaping holes in the direct text-book approach that fresh MBA grads bring. But learning to modify and change those models is something only experience can bring.

So, did my MBA come in handy? I would say, yes. It gave me an environment that helped me prepare for a world where outcomes and not subject-knowledge matters. A post-graduate degree does give you the opportunity to speak to and meet people in higher management who are focused on the bigger picture. It gives you a chance to work on bigger projects.

Also, head-hunters tend to treat you with a little more respect.