Six Years Post-MBA Reflections
I love school. There is something about the bright energy of a college campus that makes me happy. I can’t believe it’s been six years since the last time I was on one as a student.
My primary reason for attending business school was for upping my earning potential, both immediately and in the future, and to metaphorically “hit the reset button” on my career during the Great Recession.
I’m one of those people who studied fiercely and took the GMAT once and only once, going with whatever result I got. Let’s just say my quantitative score was not “up to par,” which prevented me from getting into a top-10 program. But since I didn’t have aims of working for McKinsey or a similar company, it ultimately worked out fine for me.
I went full-time to the UC Irvine Paul Merage School of Business, adjacent to sunny Newport Beach, CA (Claim to fame: Paul Merage invented Hot Pockets, apparently. Also, the school mascot is an Anteater. Just sayin’).
The thing I liked about the school was that it was somewhat small. This was a world of difference away from my Big Ten undergrad years, size-wise. I wanted something a bit different for my grad school experience. While the school itself was small, the impact it had on my life was anything but.
While enrolled in business school, I met incredible people from all over the world. My summer internship allowed me to learn and make extra money as it continued part-time into my second year. I got the opportunity to interview for a full-time role at a different large company, and was ecstatic about signing an offer letter the December before graduation.
This full-time role started me down a path where I began in marketing, but evolved into wanting to learn more about the business overall. I branched out to various roles in the field, and hit the road to understand the full scope of why we did what we did as a company. I had around 6 roles in 6 years, and I was never bored for a minute.
If there’s anything I’ve learned in the six years after my MBA, it’s that diversity of experience makes you a more well-rounded person, both inside and outside of work.
There seems to be two basic schools of thought on this topic. One is that you can specialize in one role or function, and act as a subject matter expert for it, progressing in title over the years. I have found more career and personal fulfillment taking on more of a generalist role; one that capitalizes on my strengths, but gives me the opportunity to develop my unknowns and weaknesses.
Being a generalist is great for those with endless curiosity about a variety of topics. Both of my parents were newspaper journalists, whose job it was to keep asking “why” about a new topic every day. For the same reasons I enjoy school, learning, reading, and writing on Medium, I also like being a generalist.
It may be more challenging as a generalist to craft your story for a targeted role, but that means it also doesn’t limit you from opportunities.
Subject matter experts, on the other hand, can be more obviously marketable in their niche. There are many new breakthroughs in technology that contribute to that niche evolving over time, meaning there is always more to learn. By understanding more about a narrower field, it is easier to position yourself for a role — but one could argue that you’re also narrowing the roles you are eligible for in the first place.
I’ve since moved on to a startup from my large company, where the breakneck pace has become a brand new challenge. For my career, I plan on staying within the general realm of mobility and innovative transportation, but I know that my roles within that will grow and change.
There are a lot of thinkpieces out there about “should you get your MBA?” Every person’s particular situation is different, so it’s tough to tell you yes or no. When I went back to school, it helped me to learn how to think strategically, globally, and methodically to execute on a plan or project. I believe that it was the right thing to do at the time, and hopefully it will continue to pay off in the long run.
But whether you have an MBA, PhD or GED, all that matters is that you’re working towards something interesting and fun, that can better your life and the lives of those around you.