“Ideas are useless without execution.”
“Surround yourself with great people – and get out of their way.”
“Fail fast. Fail cheap. Fail forward.”
The business world is full of advice. That’s because business is about self-expression as much as mastering fundamentals. The best practices are a mix of universal truths, tempered by trial-and-error and refreshed by imagination and hustle. Advice may be cheap, but their lessons often stem from harrowing moments when companies fell behind, fell short, or simply fell apart.
Enter the Class of 2018. Armed with business degrees, they’re poised to join one of the most dynamic economies in history. The internet has razed barriers to enter markets and a juiced economy has driven unemployment to record lows. Such conditions don’t guarantee success, however. Between poring over discounted cash flows and the product life cycle, the graduating class also absorbed more nuanced lessons about business – the kind that separate those who make a living from those who leave a legacy.
This year, as part of Poets&Quants’ celebration of the “Best & Brightest” business majors, we asked the Class of 2018 to answer the following question: “What advice would you give to a student looking to major in a business-related field?” Not surprisingly, their advice revolved around four areas:
Eventually, every job is people-facing and every industry is customer-driven. When it comes time to fill a need, employers hire people they like best. Come promotion time, they give weight to self-aware, team-oriented candidates who possess support from all corners of the organization. In fact, an employee’s value is often measured by the size, quality, and zeal of their network. That’s one reason why Abigail Fielding, an auditor from the University of Florida’s Heavener School of Business, urges future business majors to start networking early and often in school.
“Start making connections early, be inquisitive, and put yourself out there,” she says. “It’s tough to do this early on but it really pays off. I have received the most invaluable guidance from my coworkers, classmates, faculty members of the college, and so many more people.”
This guidance goes beyond tipping students off to opportunities. Networks can also point them to roles where they are better suited. “Talk to everyone you can,” counsels Michelle Enkerlin, a New York University grad slated to join Google this summer. “Many times, you have no idea what you want to pursue. The moment you think you figured it out, you will talk to someone new doing something that is really interesting to you, so don’t write anything off right away.”
That includes classmates. In school, students often flock to peers who share their same backgrounds and abilities. Kayvon Asemani, a hip hop artist and Wharton grad who’ll be joining Enkerlin at Facebook, cautions that your circle is your destiny – and can limit your growth and success.
“It’s not about what you learn, it’s about how you learn and who you learn it with,” he counsels. “No matter where you go to school, the content is pretty much the same. You can find it all online too. The difference between schools and groups of people is how they approach the learning and how they process the information. I would advise students to focus more attention on the people they’re surrounding themselves with as they learn, because they’re so important to the learning experience.”
Stay Open to the Possibilities
Investing in their network isn’t the only way for business majors to boost your abilities and choices, say the Best & Brightest. Getting out of the classroom and gaining real world experience is an obvious way to speed up the learning curve. Sometimes, to become better at business, students need to step away from the discipline altogether. That was one of the secrets behind Zoe Yang’s success. A violinist who completed internships at firms ranging from PwC to Goodyear Tire, this Case Western Reserve grad credits “an open mind” and taking non-business courses with sharpening her accounting skills.
“My music theory classes help me build analytical skills and develop problem solving skills in a different way than my accounting classes,” she notes. “A variety of classes provides different perspectives and allows for different ways of expression.”
At the same time, the Class of 2018 recommends that future students become proactive go-getters. On one hand, that may be “creating your own opportunities” in the words of the College of New Jersey’s Kaelyn DiGiamarino. Her message: Don’t be afraid to ask for what you want. That said, she also advocates taking advantage of what’s already on tap. “Go hear every speaker and go to every event because you never know who you might meet there or what you might learn.”
The University of Illinois’ Rachel Jacoby champions a similar “no fear” message when it comes to choosing a career. “Don’t be afraid to open doors to new opportunities,” she pleads. “If there is not a door available, build one yourself. Just because you are studying business, you are not limited to traditional “business” career paths. Whether it was doing microfinance consulting in Latin America or working on the Global Trade team at Tesla, my degree in business has given me a wide variety of professional experiences.”