It’s funny, in a way, that business schools should seek such well-rounded students to fill their ranks. You come in as someone who’s excelled in academics, in work, and in any other avenue you’ve chosen, but at times, it feels like the singular focus of your two years in school is getting the right job. I was as guilty of this as anyone.

The Mystique of Employment

For the entirety of my business school experience, I envisioned what this ideal career would be like. How would I get there? Would my definition of ‘ideal’ change at some point? Who were these people that were coming to recruit me, and what did they know that I didn’t?

At some point, these questions all converged to create a mystique around the world of the gainfully employed. I didn’t get it. It made sense when I was an undergrad, and my work experience consisted of a summer making coffee and playing fantasy baseball and a few years of caddying. Then I spent several years in fraud consulting and auditing in Washington, DC, before coming to business school. I had done work that some of my classmates were aspiring to do, and in turn, my ambitions overlapped with the past work experience of some of my classmates.

So why on earth was I so nervous heading into interviews? These people were like me, but with better business cards and less free time. I thought about this long and hard. If you’re stopped at a red light, and a guy pulls up next to you in a car that you’ve always wanted, it’s pretty easy to convince yourself, rather quickly, that the driver of that car somehow has a better life than you do. It’s a bold leap to take, but it’s an extrapolation we make as humans. That’s what makes these interviews more than just a conversation: they have, you want.

The Veil is Lifted

Now that I’m out in the workforce, I’m starting to understand what these much ballyhooed interviewers, those guys and girls we walked on eggshells in front of, really have.

  • Woody Allen once said that “90% of life is showing up.” While I find his films irritating, I’m starting to realize he may have a point. There’s a lot of work that I do on a daily basis that just needs to get done. I think the level of active engagement might have been higher in business school, though, admittedly, that may have been voluntary.
  • The stakes are higher. The work I do now gets published for the financially literate world. In business school, if I mixed up “they’re” and “their” in a paper, only my professor knew about it.
  • The people are a little bit grouchier. I didn’t really find anyone in business school, whether professors, classmates, or administrators, to be too irritable. It was peaceful, almost. In my current job, people get angry. Sometimes very angry. I think it has something to do with money being on the line.
  • The deadlines are different. I know things got hectic in business school. But I had only myself to blame then. We had syllabi, we knew about networking events in advance, and we could do as much or as little extra-curricular work as desired. None of that’s optional now. I’m much more dependent on others doing their work. I’m always at the whim of a client, one who may not realize that I have a life outside this job.

Some Job Advice

Recently, someone looking for information on my job asked me what to do to be successful. Part of what I like about my job is that I don’t have the answer. There are hundreds of different ways to be successful, and each person has their own criteria for gauging success. But the question prompted me to think of an answer. It dawned on me that telling an MBA student what he had to do to be successful here would almost be insulting; in a way, being an MBA student is actually the greater challenge.

As an MBA, you must be resourceful, hard-working, and at times, willing to weather adverse situations. The actual hard knowledge that you need for the job can all be taught or punched into a spreadsheet; the real skills that occupy the bulk of the day, that separate a good analyst from a mediocre one, those are the skills that you probably had before coming to business school. So my advice to the person who asked me that question was simple: Relax.