Alumni Offer Advice For B-School Students

Summer is winding down, which means there’s an influx of students ready to descend upon dormitories, dining halls, and campus bookstores everywhere. For freshmen entering the brave new world of business school, the first few weeks of fall semester can be daunting. For rising seniors on the brink of obtaining their hard-earned degrees, it can be an exhilarating yet still nerve-wracking time.

To help ease the stress and calm the fears, where better to get advice than from the young men and women who have already been there — and who are now reaping the rewards, starting careers or moving on to grad school?

Poets&Quants sought out members of the Class of 2017 and asked them to offer their best advice to undergraduate business students just starting out and for seniors who are soon to graduate and enter the “real world.” Here’s what they told us.

FRESHMEN: BE AMBITIOUS, BUT WITH CAUTION

Welcome, Class of 2021! Setting foot on campus for the first time as a freshman comes with loads of pressure. Class of 2017 alumni don’t deny it, but they do offer up practical tips to help manage the pressure and advice on how channel it into effective, long-term habits.

According to alumni we spoke to, a major misstep that many freshmen make is to frantically join every club and organization imaginable.

“Right away when you get to business school, you’re flooded with pitches from all the different clubs and organizations to join,” says Tom Vosbeek, a May 2017 graduate of the Carlson School of Management now working in investment banking with Bank of America Merrill Lynch. “They all sound great and it’s so easy to find yourself overly involved.”

Brendan Barbato, 2017 graduate of Babson College

Brendan Barbato, a Babson College alum, confesses that he fell victim to it. “I made this mistake,” the 2017 graduate says. “You join maybe 10-plus clubs to get active when you really should only join five to seven you’re interested in. Then, in second semester, narrow it down to one or two and try to secure a leadership role within them. You’ll then have influence and power in how they work and your involvement becomes a resume booster.”

Vosbeek agrees with Barbato’s approach. “Building a foundation for a good career in business starts with being selective about the experiences you choose for yourself. Be strategic about the opportunities right away. It’s important to first start cultivating interests, then picking what you’re involved in based on those interests.”

EMBRACE PROFESSORS’ OFFICE HOURS 

As if being new to campus isn’t intimidating enough, if you’re attending a top business school, your professors may very well be world-renowned experts in their fields. We’re talking about professors who have written bestselling books, worked with some of the biggest companies in the world, even advised national and international governments on economic policy.

Freshmen should be careful not to allow the limelight surrounding these academic luminaries to intimidate them. Instead, a common recommendation for the incoming class is to take advantage of professors’ office hours. Get to know your teachers!

Janelle Tong, 2017 graduate of The Wharton School

“Not just for questions about a lecture or an assignment,” says Wharton graduate Janelle Tong, who is headed to San Francisco’s Bay Area this September to join the Associate Product Marketing Management Program at Facebook. “Get to know them on a one-to-one basis. I was hesitant and shy to reach out to them individually, but I watched my peers who’d done it and saw them build a closer relationship in the classroom. I didn’t see the value until sophomore year, but forging relationships goes beyond academics; it also helps for networking purposes as well.”

Barbato knows first-hand that Tong’s advice rings true. “The best thing you can do is go to office hours. It helps you in the class and with future recommendations,” he says. “I’ve found that it’s crucial to build these relationships because professors have introduced me to Fortune 500 companies and venture capitalists that I never would’ve had the opportunity to meet on my own.”

Barbato is now the founder and CEO of Shelfie, which creates multimedia fundraising campaigns for nonprofits. “Even if you don’t need help, talk to your professors and build relationships. They’re not there just to grade papers,” he says. “These people are here for you and to help you. Also, undergrad professors genuinely enjoy what they’re doing, but they know undergrads are there because they have to be. When they see your enthusiasm, they’re much more willing to help you.”

THE MORE YOU TALK, THE BETTER OFF YOU’LL BE

Conversing with professors isn’t the only style of talking that freshmen need to get used to. Alumni say that, on the whole, the art of speaking tops the list of things to conquer early on.

Angad Singh Padda, 2017 graduate of Berkeley Haas

Angad Singh Padda, a graduate of UC-Berkeley’s Haas School of Business and one of Poets&Quants’ Best & Brightest Business Majors for 2017, says, “If you can somehow get comfortable with public speaking in your freshmen year, I strongly encourage it. It’s not just on stage. Every time you do a class presentation, what are you doing? Public speaking! Every single time you’re in a group interview for Goldman Sachs or some other company, what are you doing? Public speaking!”

The 2017 grad, who now works as an investment banking analyst with JPMorgan Chase, adds, “Nervousness will cease to exist the more you do it and, before you know it, you’ll be able to do it comfortably and eloquently.”

Morgan Weber, another member of the Carlson School’s 2017 graduating class, recommends freshmen practice their speaking at their career center. It may be only the beginning of their business school experience, the category specialist for Jet.com acknowledges, but, “Get to know the staff and use them to increase your comfort level in telling your story. Even if you’re just talking about summer jobs you had in high school, or babysitting, get comfortable talking about yourself.”

Lastly, Padda tells freshmen to raise their hands in class. “There’s a stigma associated with those who do it,” he says. “They’re viewed as the nerds and the ‘try-hards.’ But it enables you to get comfortable projecting and speaking up while all eyes are on you. You’ll also cultivate an important habit of adding perspective and value to conversations you engage in.”