A member of the class of 2000, Karl Schade came to HBS from the private equity field. His working lifestyle was stressful: “I worked non-stop. I never saw my wife. I was destroying myself physically and emotionally from work.” For him, school has presented a unique opportunity to diversify his talents, make friends, and rediscover the balance between working and living.
Build a Social Network
I was very surprised by the diversity of the HBS student body. I personally thought that it would be a room full of ex-consultants and ex-investment bankers, but that hasn’t been the case at all. It’s fantastic to meet students with experience in a wide range of industries — what a great learning experience.
Every person presents an opportunity to network later down the road. Let’s say I’m doing a deal in the telecommunications industry. I can call Martha, who knows about the industry, because I sat next to her in my HBS class. If I’m looking for a CEO for a company I’m going to buy, I could ask her if she knows of any good people.
You really need to arrive with confidence in your own abilities. Keep in mind: You’ve gotten to that point for a reason, and you’ll likely get beyond that point for the same reasons.
Grow Comfortable With Public Speaking
One of the idiosyncrasies of Harvard Business School is the so-called “cold call.” That’s a situation in which the professor starts class by randomly selecting one student and asking him or her to present the case. Some people were completely anxiety-ridden about cold calls and about class participation in general [which can comprise half of a student’s grade]. I think that the more confident you are in your ability to speak in public, the better off you will be. If you worry about that, try to do more speaking in your job before leaving for B-school, or even consider joining a public speaking program like “Toastmasters.”
Twenty hours a week is roughly the time, you will have to study. Prior to exams that time commitment may increase, of course. But don’t exaggerate! In B-school you get the chance to meet many different people. It’s an opportunity to appreciate other aspects of your life that you may not have explored in the professional world. You will miss a large part of this experience if you study day-in and day-out. Besides, I think people who over-study tend to panic on finals.
Define Your Academic Goal
At Harvard Business School there is a forced curve [about 15 percent will get the top grade, about 70 percent will be issued average grades, and about 15 percent will be issued ‘under-average’ grades]. You should define your ultimate goal early.
Do you want to be among the top five percent of the class? If so, you have to get the top grade in almost all your classes. And that means you have to show very strong class participation. You also need to write a fantastic final, which means you must have a good grasp of the material and be very good at communicating in the written form.
Or do you want to just do fine? I personally didn’t come to school to be the top academic performer. I had done that all my life and didn’t want to do it any longer. Making this mental commitment is integral to the B-school experience.
Beat the Onslaught
There’s a lot of value in researching companies prior to teh onslaught of on-campus recruiting season. During my undergraduate years, I started very early and had already met with a lot of companies prior to the on-campus interviewing. That proved very helpful because I had a lot more focus by that time and therefore was able to push forward faster.
Research. Contact. Interview
When you start researching employment opportunities, narrow down your job search. I did this first in terms of the industry, which in my case is the private equity and venture capital industry; second, in terms of the geography. I then compiled a list of companies that I was interested in and did some thorough research. I read a lot of articles on those two industries. I knew many of the people to whom I sent a cover letter and resume. But I also sent out resumes to people in the HBS alumni database or at companies with which I had no prior contact.
In these two latter cases, I sent my material blindly. A few weeks later, I followed up with phone calls. This process requires a lot of persistence, because often people are too busy to call back. But if you persist, they will eventually respond.
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