24/09/2022

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20 Biggest Regrets Of MBA Graduates

Who hasn’t wanted to turn back the clock? Sure, you eventually reached your destination. Wouldn’t you prefer the path had been less tortuous?

Most MBAs answer that question with a resounding “Yes”. They may marvel at their growth in business school, but they’ll also shake their heads at the missed opportunities and wasted energy. During that first quarter – or even that first year – many felt lost and alone sometimes. Some pictured themselves as imposters who didn’t belong.  Others were terrified of missing out on any chance to learn or network. Too often, they invested their time in the wrong activities or stubbornly clung to “The Plan”. While they eventually overcame their fears and found their calling, the process took its toll on MBAs.

Ironically, their regrets sometimes seem counterintuitive. Take Olivia Koziol, a ’22 MBA graduate of the University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler Business School. Looking back over her two years as an MBA, she wishes that she had said “No” to more activities – a decision that would’ve conserved her energy and revealed her true interests sooner.

Takeya Green, Rice University (Jones)

“Like with many MBAs, I felt the pressure to sign up for everything in order to achieve my goals,” she admits. “If I could go back, I would better evaluate which opportunities I said yes to, and only choose the ones that I enjoyed most or which I could learn the most from. This is twice as true for social engagements – there’s nothing wrong with skipping a networking event to spend a night in, especially if it helps refresh you!”

In contrast, Takeya Green, who graduated this spring from Rice University’s Jones Graduate School of Business, urges MBAs to step up and take ownership – no matter how uncomfortable they might feel. “In my student fund class, I did not apply for a leadership role because I felt I had too little finance experience to be successful. This is one of the biggest mistakes I made during my time at Rice. Business school is a place to learn, fail, and grow. Removing yourself from an applicant pool simply because you do not feel equipped is a disservice to yourself and your personal growth.”

MAXIMIZING RELATIONSHIPS

Many MBAs would also change how they networked with classmates. Again, these regrets are plotted across a spectrum. For many MBAs, business school is a platform to build a wide rolodex filled with students from different industries, regions, and functions. That’s what Folasade Owoeye thought.

After graduating from HEC Paris, Owoeye wishes that she’d devoted more time to pursuing quality relationships over sheer quantity.

“If I could re-do the MBA, I would be less anxious about not connecting with or making friends with a lot of people, Owoeye admits. I felt immense pressure to socialise a lot and build a wide network with other candidates. Eventually, it is not the number of people you connect with that counts, but the strength and genuineness of the friendships you make.”

Taking networking a step further, Torrey Mayes talks about “fringe friendships” – that spot “where two people always talked about hanging out more but never actually did.” For him, this fringe represented missed opportunities to deepen connections with people who might one day became true friends, if not champions and partners.

Carla Venter, IMD Business School

“The MBA is a unique period in life where you have access to hundreds of bright and interesting people,” explains Mayes, a spring graduate from the University of California’s Berkeley School of Business. “While I am in no way regretting the friendships that I have made, in hindsight I’d have liked to leave business school with even more close friendships as opposed to surface level friendships.”

And those friendships can extend beyond classmates to faculty and staff too. In the case of IMD Business School’s Carla Venter, alumni may be the most untapped source for networking brawn. For her, the missed opportunity was waiting until two months before graduation to reach out to alumni. “Once I stepped out of my comfort zone and started reaching out to people, meeting them for coffee, and asking for referrals it was almost like I signalled my intentions to the universe and things just started falling into place.”

MBAs may disagree on whether to be a “Yes Man” or a “Clock Watcher” – let alone choosing depth or diameter for their network. However, you’ll find consensus on one pitfall to avoid. Gabriel San Martin came to Brigham Young University’s Marriott School after studying psychology and working in optometry. Lacking a business background, he questioned whether he brought anything of value to his MBA classmates. During his first semester, he “continually downplayed” his experience. And this choice sapped his confidence – and robbed his classmates of a formidable perspective.

“There is nothing wrong with my experience,” he tells P&Q. “It is just a bit different from most. Over time, I have learned to have a greater appreciation for both my life experience and my work experience. If I were to do it again, from the first day, I would spend less time comparing myself to others and focus more on my personal journey and development. Eventually I got to that place, but it took me a little longer than I would have liked.”

I wish I done it sooner, done it differently – or just done it more or less often. These are some of the biggest regrets of the MBA Class of 2022. This spring, P&Q surveyed graduates from 75 top business schools – from Alliance Manchester to the Yale School of Management – on their biggest regrets as MBAs. In the process, we learned what they would’ve done differently to reduce their stress and ease their transition. Looking to start business school strong and avoid wasting time? From overemphasizing grades to undervaluing case competitions, here are 20 areas where MBAs wish they could turn back time and get a do-over.

1) Didn’t Focus On The Long-Term: “I’d try to not worry as much about short-term outcomes and just enjoy the journey more. Being in the thick of the MBA puts you in this bubble where you care about several short-term outcomes, such as joining the clubs you want, getting the internship you want, and doing well in classes. Of late, I’ve been feeling that the real value of the MBA is to make sure you’re taking advantage of opportunities at your disposal to set yourself up for long-term success. For me, that has meant getting to explore a new topic even if you’re initially terrible at it, meeting people you may not have much in common with, and even flexing skills that feel awkward initially like public speaking and mentoring someone. I’ve found that talking to my family and friends outside of business school has helped me gradually gain the long-term perspective and stop stressing out about things which won’t matter a few months down the line.”
Anindita Ravikumar, University of Michigan (Ross)

2) Should’ve Explored More Industries: “With my determination to join in healthcare, I deliberately prioritized my time on the very topic – industry insights, networking, and so on. While it is great to focus, I missed opportunities to learn new industries and maximize the gains from the INSEAD experience. As boundaries between sectors are getting blurred (technology and healthcare, healthcare with consumer products), understanding how sectors cross-interact would soon be necessary. In my remaining time at INSEAD, I would love to learn more about different industries and network with more classmates and alumni.”
Xi Kang, INSEAD

Andrew Hazel, Dartmouth College (Tuck)

3) Need To Be More Intentional: “I would be more intentional with setting aside time to forge relationships with classmates in business school. That’s because you are always juggling priorities and relationship-building typically happens by way of class work, extracurricular activities, or serendipitous moments. However, this can limit the number of classmates you may meet and the depth of the relationship you may form. To combat this issue, in my second year, I started being more intentional with creating connections. I would set up lunches and dinners with classmates I didn’t know or classmates that I wanted to get to know better. This was a great relationship-building opportunity and my deepest regret is that I did not do it sooner.”
Andrew Hazel, Dartmouth (Tuck)

4) Discounted My Experience: “Every day for the past 19 months, I have entered spaces fearful but courageous. This journey has required that I stand taller, reach higher, and think more critically than I have had to do in a very long time. I have been fearful because I have no formal background in business; it is not what I have studied my entire life for like I had biological sciences upon entering optometry school. With my current credentials, I felt that the expectations of my performance from my peers, school faculty, and staff were incredibly high; however, I wanted nothing more than to be invisible, to learn quietly. I soon realized that we grow the most when we are uncomfortable, and I have attained the critical skills and business acumen that I sought upon entering the doors of Terry. If I had to do it all over again, I would embrace the fear and trade the so-called “imposter syndrome” feeling for what I now know was my tremendous desire to be successful in learning new skills.”
Kayla Snipes Vickers, University of Georgia (Terry)

“When I started, I didn’t think of myself as a quantitative person. I had experienced enough confirmation of this that I didn’t challenge that notion at the start of the program. As I have progressed through the curriculum, I have realized that, while I didn’t have the natural aptitude that many of my classmates had, I could still keep up by relying on grit and hard work. Looking back, I’m surprised how much I’ve enjoyed my accounting and finance classes, and those skills will be some of the most useful tools I take away from B-School. Continuously challenging the notions of what I’m capable of is a lesson I hope to take forward, both professionally and personally.”
Ryan Hall, University of Chicago (Booth)

Adam Cochran, Indiana University (Kelley)

5) Dedicated Too Little Time To Reflection: “The common phrase about business school is that it is like drinking from a firehose. That often means you are taking in so much and you are constantly on the move, whether you are going to recruiting events, speaking engagements, club commitments, or social events. I wish I had taken more time to just celebrate moments of triumph and reflect on how things could have gone better. This time in business school goes so fast, and I think I spent so much time focused on achieving my goals and not enough and time just appreciating the privilege and blessing of being at Wharton on this incredible leadership journey.”
Andrea Madu, Wharton School

6) Wish I’d Said “No” More: “One thing I’d do differently is leave more margin for the spontaneous by saying no to a few more things. In the Spring of my 1st year, I took on a spring part-time internship amongst all the recruiting, my coursework, and a GA role. In the Fall of my 2nd year, I took seven courses in the first quarter and six in the second quarter. It was too much. I was able to complete everything successfully, but I left no margin. I didn’t feel present in some settings. There was not much time for reflection. It was all just execution. I guess I felt that my age and having forgone a salary for six years meant I had zero room for error or slack. This semester, I’ve tried to learn from those lessons. I realized that sometimes saying no to something enables you to say a bigger yes to something else. It’s better to have done a few things very well than a lot of things sufficiently. I look forward to continuing the habit post-MBA.”
Adam Cochran, Indiana University (Kelley)

“Candidly I wish I had taken on fewer leadership roles as a second year. While I have found each enriching in different ways and I like to think I have been able to give back to the Tuck community through these paths, I wonder if I could have created greater impact had I focused on just one or two roles.”
Lulu Carter, Dartmouth (Tuck)

“I hope I could learn how to deal with the Fear of Missing Out early on. In the first few weeks of the MBA program, I was overwhelmed by the course work, social events, projects, competitions, and seminars at the business school and my college. I simply didn’t want to miss any one of the events! However, I ended up being exhausted after the first few weeks. Luckily, after re-adjusting my pace, I learned how to make priorities and follow my own agenda.”
Luvina Weilu Yao, Cambridge Judge

Next Page: Internships, Time Management, Self-Assessments, and more. 

Luke Elder, Northwestern University (Kellogg)

7) Wish I’d Said “Yes” More: “Candidly, my MBA experience has been fantastic: academically, socially, and professionally. As a result, I would not necessarily do something differently, I would instead do more of the same. Specifically, I would say “yes” to even more classroom, extracurricular, and social opportunities. It is easy to opt out of certain experiences because you might be tired or feel overworked. In retrospect, everything at Kellogg is manageable so it is wise to take full advantage of the time you have in business school by saying “yes” whenever possible.”
Luke Elder, Northwestern University (Kellogg)

“Be the lead on assignments in subject matters that felt intimidating, sooner. Last year in the spring, I had a conversation with my COLE Fellow, Kirk Wilson, about my goal to grow in self-confidence. One of his recommendations was to challenge myself to take ownership of assignments in subject matters that felt challenging or scary, rather than shying away from them – that through overcoming those fears, I would grow in my assurance of my abilities. Going back, and if time were unlimited, I wish I had been more proactive with doing this from the beginning, even if I was a “supporting” owner/contributor to the assignment for the more quantitative classes. Coming into business school, I knew I had certain strengths and weaknesses, and hoped that they would be balanced out by my peers. However, I think another way to approach this would have been to take the lead more frequently in our non-dominant spaces and back each other up/help one another learn, rather than default to the person who was already a natural/experienced in a particular area.”
Helen Elizabeth Old, Duke University (Fuqua)

8) Didn’t Engage Enough With The Larger University: “I would interact a lot more with students of different programmes at IIMA. One of the biggest advantages of IIM Ahmedabad is the openness and accessibility it provides to its inhabitants in interacting with one another – across programmes, courses, geographies, and areas of expertise. I would have loved to have capitalized on that to further strengthen my professional network. The great thing is that there are several formal and informal channels IIMA students and alumni have formed over the years, and I am sure I’ll be able to make up for the above via these channels in the years to come.”
Kaumudi Tiwari, IIM Ahmedabad

9) Could’ve Improved My Time Management…No Matter How Good I Thought It Was: “I have learned the hard way that one can never be too good at time management. The systems and habits I leaned on in life prior to business school worked okay, but they were not quite up to snuff. I wish I had been a little faster at recognizing that and adjusting; my failure to do so definitely made for a few very stressful, overstuffed weeks here-and-there. I eventually developed a system that works great for me, featuring an extremely color-coded Google Calendar and handwritten daily to-do lists, but I definitely could have gotten there a little sooner. The MBA experience is just so jampacked with opportunities, the more organized you can be when you first arrive, the better.”
Khalil Zueh Romain, New York University (Stern)

10) Didn’t Build A Wide Enough Network: “Looking back at the start of the MBA program, I realize that the first semester was the perfect time to expand my network and connect with as many people as I could. I did meet some amazing individuals. In retrospect, I had the perfect excuse to send those introductory emails: “I’m new here!”. If I could change that first semester, I would have leveraged my position as a first-year MBA student in the Smith community to make even more connections across various industries and functions rather than simply the industries in which I was seeking employment. It may not have changed my career path, but I think it could have allowed me to glean insight on other career journeys and diverse experiences.”
Daylin Russo, University of Maryland (Smith)

Sodontuya Nerguidavaa, UC Davis

11) Didn’t Utilize Support Services Enough: “Battling with cultural shock under quarantine on top of Zoom fatigue was extremely challenging [in the early months]. Coming from a country where the mental health awareness and services are limited, I was not wired to seek counseling. If I enrolled in the School’s Mental Health and Wellness program, I would have overcome my cultural shock much quickly with less struggles.
Sodontuya Nerguidavaa, UC Davis

12) Should’ve Competed In More Case Competitions: “I was only fortunate enough to do a couple throughout my time here. While I will admit they can be a lot of work (especially when factoring in all of the other schoolwork that needed to be done), I believe the benefits gained from having the experience are really worth it. Using critical thinking to solve a real-world business problem, learning how to work with a team of individuals on a tight deadline, and having to professionally articulate a presentation in a high-pressure environment are all great experiences that will only help prepare you for a future in business. I think sprinkling in a couple more case competitions on my own time would certainly have added to my MBA experience.”
Andy Whitaker, Michigan State (Broad)

13) Could’ve Tried Interning Outside My Target Industry: “Retail has always been my passion and where I envision myself returning following business school. During the summer, I wanted to leverage my internship to experience another Fortune 500 retailer and learn how retail’s core business (merchandising) is managed, which led me to accepting a merchant internship with Lowe’s. However, in the course modules following that summer, I was introduced to new areas of finance through courses like Mergers and Acquisitions and Financial Decision Making. These courses sparked an interest in careers like private equity and investment banking, which would have been interesting areas to explore during a summer internship.”
Ryan Gilbert, University of Florida (Warrington)

14) Didn’t Conduct A Self-Assessment Early On: “Like many of my classmates, I was a career switcher, so I dedicated a significant amount of time in my first year connecting with employers within numerous industries. Prior to business school, I was an officer in the United States Army, so I felt that I had to quickly close the gap of my knowledge of business acumen and exposure to corporate roles. I found myself setting unrealistic expectations for the frequency of scheduled coffee chats and company presentations. All the while, I still had to perform in a rigorous academic environment, complete the requirements of my Graduate Assistant position, and execute the responsibilities of my leadership roles within several student organizations. Therefore, I would recommend to my first-year self a period of self-assessment where I would prioritize impact but also balance.”
Richard Williamson, Georgetown University (McDonough)

15) Needed To Connect With MBAs Outside My Business School: “Though most of my time as an MBA student was during COVID and thus traveling was limited, I wish I had participated in programs that brought together students from multiple business schools for projects and discussions. Some of my best memories and most insightful and thought-provoking conversations have been at conferences attended, case competitions traveled to, and off campus courses participated in with a mix of students from various universities. Although I’m graduating from Fisher knowing my incredible peers within these Fisher walls (virtual and real), I can’t help but imagine the breadth of other MBA students at various universities that I could have connected with over my time here. Therefore, my advice to current and future MBA students is to seek those non-traditional courses/programs that bring together students from different universities. It will allow for broader connection, thought provoking conversations, and you will meet some amazing people.”
Anna St. Clair Chopp, Ohio State (Fisher)

Emma Sussex, IESE Business School

16) Deviated From My Original Goals: “{I would’ve] stuck to my guns from the start. When I first got to school, there was a lot of buzz about career and extracurricular opportunities, and it was easy to get sucked into spending time on things that everyone else wanted. I felt nervous about openly admitting my aspirations because I didn’t know if my goals were actually possible. However, it was the people who had a specific sense of what they wanted from the start that I’ll really remember. If I were to do it again, I would go back to the first day and be unapologetic about my goals. The sooner you can say it, the more open the community is to helping you to get there.”
Emma Sussex, IESE Business School

17) Didn’t Take Enough Notes In Class: “There is so much to learn in the MBA program that it may seem daunting, and there have been many instances when I wish I could look back to something I studied in the previous semesters. I know that I can always rely on my amazing classmates for help – and I started taking good notes in my second year – but I wish I had taken these class notes earlier so that I could refer to them even ten years from now.”
Karan Modi, Wisconsin Business School

18) Enrolled During COVID-19: “The only thing that I would like to change is the timing of when I entered the program. Unfortunately, the Class of 2022 was the COVID class with our entire first year being virtual. Of course, I chose to still make the most of it since it was out of my control. However, I’m curious to know what the “normal” MBA experience would have been like in the pre-pandemic world. I would be interested in changing this particular detail mainly so I could capture those additional memories such as studying abroad and attending formals/galas, that I know were unavailable due to current circumstances.”
Bruce Lee, Emory University (Goizueta)

19) Stressed Too Much Over Grades: “As an Admissions Ambassador, I often tell potential or incoming students what I wish I had done differently. I wish I had understood that grades are not everything. The point of Rice Business’s exceptionally busy and challenging first semester is about finding balance, planning, and figuring out what matters most to you. That understanding would have alleviated the extra pressure and anxiety I was putting on myself (as a typical type A person). Everyone should try to do well in class, but learning is most important.”
Alex Williams, Rice University (Jones)

Naveen Kler, London Business School

20) Didn’t Live In The Moment: “Joining an MBA in the midst of a pandemic was overwhelming – especially given the ever-changing restrictions on socialising and the multiple lockdowns. This meant that I spent much of my first term and second term concerned that I wasn’t going to make the lifetime friends, which are often considered the most essential part of your MBA.

I wish I had told myself not to worry and enjoy the journey – I should have focused on being in the moment and appreciating all these incredible experiences I was having and the people I was meeting. Ultimately, I have made a life-changing friendship group who I know I will take with me far beyond LBS. Moreover, I am still making new friends now in my last term here – there is always time to find your friends and learn new things!”
Naveen Kler, London Business School

“Looking back over my MBA experience, if I could change one thing it would be not giving in to the illusion that I always need to fill the space on my calendar. I spent so many weeks pulling out my hair trying to make it to everything rather than bringing my full self to every event I choose to go to. One thing I wish I had done more of was enjoying the ride.”
Charles Baronette, University of Texas (McCombs)

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