New York University’s Jessica Guo managed to slip three don’ts into one sentence. “Don’t blindly follow others down tracks that don’t resonate with you, and don’t measure yourself by others’ success,” she counsels. “There are many paths to success. Make sure you have a definition of success which serves you.” Among all the don’ts, Emory University’s Casey Rhode managed to produce a do: Do the right things in the right way for the right reasons. “Some of your peers may be focused on attaining status and getting ahead. If you work hard and genuinely try to build relationships, you will be recognized and rewarded.”
TECHNICAL SKILLS VERSUS PEOPLE SKILLS
In fact, building relationships may be the most underrated part of the major. Most business students will tell you that the biggest surprise, early on, is that you can’t do it alone. That’s Business 101, which is why students work in teams, harnessing their different backgrounds and the exchange of ideas so that they become a force multiplier. The ongoing interaction also reinforces people skills, as students learn how to charm, disarm, engage, and assuage, stroking the egos of their amigos.
“Many misperceive technical skills as the most important attribute to success within the business field,” says Lehigh University’s Kelly Mayid. “However, I’ve found that being personable as a business student goes much further. I’ve seen some people do well at calculating the value of a mortgage bond, but lack at being a conversationalist. For that reason, it’s much harder for them to nail an interview and land a full-time position. Companies truly value looking for someone they enjoy working with. Showing your personality will go much further than just showing your resume.”
How do you develop people skills outside the classroom? For the University of California-Berkeley’s Angad Singh Padda, it was a conscious and self-taught effort that required some heavy lifting outside the classroom. “Getting comfortable with introducing yourself, public speaking, and building genuine relationships are quintessential skills in the business world,” he notes. “Reading books by Dale Carnegie and Olivia Fox Cabane is a great starting point. Also, develop a hobby that entails a lot of social interaction — for me that was golf.”
YOU’RE ONLY AS GOOD AS YOUR NETWORK
Want to know something else that’s just as valuable as your diploma? It’s your network. A common mistake made by business undergrads is not leveraging their network to the fullest, whether that’s classmates, faculty, or even nearby business leaders. Building this network at every turn was the big takeaway for the University of Illinois’ Olivia Bounadere. “I have been told countless times that first impressions mean everything, so it is important to conduct yourself professionally, take your interactions with others seriously, and begin developing a professional network early on. Not every network has to be created in a professional setting; it can be as simple as meeting new friends and continuing to foster those relationships long-term.”
Hand-in-hand with networking is finding a mentor, someone who can counsel and champion you. From open and honest coaching to encouragement in bad times, a mentor can help you explore options, set goals, and identify viable opportunities. Even more, as Michigan State’s James Carlstedt points out, they can plug you into their network. “Work with him or her to structure a preparation and networking strategy that will allow you to take control of your own career path, both before and after graduation,” he implores.
YOU’LL ONLY GET THIS CHANCE ONCE
Some closing advice from the Class of 2017: Fordham’s Samantha Foulston urges business majors to start strong during their freshman year. “The more focused you are the first year,” she argues, “the easier it is to develop habits that will set you up for future success.” The University of California-Berkeley’s Grace Lee’s pithy advice could fit on a bumper sticker: Stay humble … and hungry. (Cue Rocky theme). Then again, Benjamin Fouch’s summation would be worthy of any Notre Dame commencement address.
“Be very tactical about your major,” he says. “Many students study business because they want the security of likely being able to find a job when they graduate. So, when considering which major to study, make sure you look at what firms hire the most of those majors at your school. Talk to people who work in the industry to see if you would like it. In my personal experience, you are rewarded for taking more quantitatively rigorous business course-loads both in terms of breadth of postgrad opportunities as well as quality of offers.
“And most importantly, really think about whether pursuing business will make you happy. Taking the ‘safe’ option sounds great as an eighteen year-old, but a career is a terrible thing to waste on something that doesn’t interest you.”
Before you get to your career, you need to make the most of your time in business school, taking advantage of every potential opportunity and connection. As you’ll soon learn, graduation comes swiftly enough. “Be insatiably curious,” says the University of Washington’s Ishani Ummat. “Opportunities will come to those who ask questions first and do their homework. Be a sponge and soak it all in. This is the only time in your life that you have to focus exclusively on learning. It won’t come again.”