5 things everyone should know before starting an MBA

22nd November 2019
Young girl reading a book while working through university grounds
Young girl reading a book while working through university grounds
Young girl reading a book while working through university grounds

The decision to begin studying for a Master of Business Administration (MBA) is an important choice—a commitment to invest valuable time and money in order to gain even more valuable skills. ​

More hands-on than an academic master and more holistic than a technical degree, MBA programs offer students a unique education that can lead to equally unique career opportunities. ​

To help maximise your learning, we’ve prepared a few essential tips on how to get the most out of your MBA journey. 

1. Prepare in advance 

The MBA is an intensive learning experience; if you’ve been out of school for a while, or have little business experience, the amount of new information you’ll be expected to learn can be daunting. To smooth out your learning curve, take advantage of pre-study resources to refresh your skills and fill-in potential gaps. ​

Optimal pre-study learning prioritises the topics emphasised by your particular MBA curriculum. To do this effectively, reach out to alumni and current students - they’re as eager to build relationships as you and can offer invaluable “on the ground” advice.​

Don’t just ask them what you need to know, ask what caught them-off guard—for instance, if several people mention being surprised at the amount of Excel they needed to know, you should probably brush up on your Excel skills. Learning from others’ challenges will make your own road easier. ​

Pre-study is an effective way to avoid surprises and familiarise yourself with new topics; however, don’t study so much that you don’t start the program well-rested. The point of pre-study is to make the learning experience smoother, which it won’t be if you show up to the program tired.

older man studying at his desk

2. Don’t be afraid to ask for help 

MBA classrooms can be intimidating. Your classmates come from a variety of backgrounds, and the chances are high that you’ll experience a situation where you find yourself listening to a fellow student speak knowledgeably about something you know nothing about. ​

Don’t fret about what you don’t know or worry about looking “ignorant” about something. You weren’t accepted to the program by accident. You were accepted because you already have the tools you need to succeed. Your classmates’ knowledge is a valuable asset, and most people will be glad to share their knowledge with you—if you ask.​

Even if you enjoy figuring things out for yourself instead of asking for help, during your MBA you should prioritise taking advantage of the expertise around you. Your program will offer more opportunities than you can possibly take advantage of—leveraging the insights of your colleagues and teachers will maximise what you’ll be able to do in a year. Moreover, learning to take advantage of others’ abilities is a crucial leadership soft skill.​

Each of your instructors and classmates has had a unique career journey and offers a unique perspective—their insights on subjects such as career planning and work-life balance should be thought of as an invaluable resource for you to take advantage of during your MBA training.

3. Remember, your MBA is a holistic learning program

It can be easy to dismiss soft skills in favour of “hard” knowledge, but soft skill learning should be one of the main priorities of the modern MBA student. A strong MBA program doesn’t prepare you for a single discipline; it empowers you to adapt to any challenge you’ll face during your career. ​

The rapid pace of technology-driven disruption has made it impossible to predict what industry standards will be the next to become obsolete. But it’s a situation which has elevated the importance of business leaders with holistic, adaptable skill sets. ​

In this environment, soft skills, such as the ability to deal with uncertainty and work in an agile manner, are more important than ever. ​

Students that cultivate well-rounded skill sets are taking the approach that employers value most. Possessing a wide range of technical and soft competencies means that employers can rely on you to handle anything that comes your way. Having just technical skills is a baseline—the candidates who stand out are those who know how to make difficult choices, build high-quality relationships and have strong self-awareness. ​

The growing importance of holistic learning reflects the business world’s growing need for entrepreneurial-minded employees. Entrepreneurship is the product of initiative and creativity—a beneficial mix, no matter what your career is. When others become intimidated by roadblocks, you’ll be confident in your ability to plan, execute, and overcome. 

Woman studying on her computer while in the library

4. Say “no”

Unlike the technical aspects of an MBA, soft-skills can’t be learned through rote drills or study. They need to be practised. And as with all practice-based learning, the more in shape you are during your practice, the more you’ll get out of it. ​

The key to being able to give your all to your development is to focus on what matters, and say “no” to everything else. Business titans such as Warren Buffet and the late Steve Jobs have repeatedly spoken about the importance of “no”.​

“I’m [as] proud of the many things we haven’t done as the things we have done. Innovation is saying no to 1,000 things.” –Steve Jobs​

Even if burning the candle at both ends has served you well until now, take a different approach during your MBA. Learning to say “no” to opportunities that don’t align with your values will help you to avoid decision paralysis and improve your ability to find an employer that’s a good culture fit. Moreover, by rejecting opportunities that don’t match your values, you’ll have more time to focus on those that do.​

Saying “no” isn’t about leaving opportunities behind, but about maximising your ability to take advantage of the opportunities that are most important to your values and goals. 

5. Your values are the ultimate long-term plan 

Graduating from an MBA program is a huge achievement—an achievement that comes with expectations, from both yourself and others. It can be easy to feel as though you should know what to do with your life, especially if your colleagues seem to, but the truth is that many MBAs switch jobs within their first two years post-graduation. ​

You don’t need to have your future perfectly planned out by the time you get your MBA. Part of the reason you’re undertaking an MBA, to begin with, is to develop the skills necessary to make informed decisions and cut your own path in the world.​

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t plan. You have limited time as an MBA student, and countless opportunities. Even if you don’t know precisely what you want to do with your degree, you can still set general goals based on your values. What goals will bring you closer in-line with your values? Which ones will take you further away? Setting a general goal can help you decide what activities are worth pursuing and provide the motivation you need to pursue them relentlessly. ​

The question “what do I want?” doesn’t need an immediate answer. It’s a problem to be solved, and you’ll be able to use your hard-won MBA skills to solve it. 

Empower yourself with James Cook University’s customisable MBA

An MBA is a worthwhile pursuit for anyone looking to overcome difficult challenges and manage complex projects to completion. By prioritising your values and embracing the advantages of learning alongside world-class students and faculty, you’ll ensure your time in the program is spent forging the skills you need to achieve your goals.​

The JCU MBA Global program is designed from the ground-up to empower students to set their own priorities. The program’s customisable curriculum allows students to tailor their learning to their specific interests and includes courses such as Sustainability, Responsible Management Practices, and Individual Identity and Career Development. No matter your focus, the MBA provides instruction in the core technical competencies that today’s business leaders need to know. 

The customisable nature of JCU’s MBA reflects our emphasis on providing a cutting-edge experience built on best practices, as well as the growing importance of soft skills and strong corporate values. To learn more about the opportunities that a JCU MBA provides, get in touch with your enrolment team at 1300 535 919.​

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