Archive for June, 2012

Why Do I Need An MBA Mentor?

I’m back from a week’s vacation, not much tanner but definitely rested and ready to work through the summer.  This summer’s topics will still be MBA-related, but probably less directly to CSUF.  I’ll be covering a variety of general MBA topics and advice, and posts about CSUF’s MBA program will be back in full swing this fall.

Everyone needs a mentor.  That may seem self-explanatory at first, but it can be challenging to find the right mentor to help one’s MBA (or career) journey.  When I talk about a mentor, I’m not referring to a parent or an older sibling – those relationships don’t always make the best mentoring relationships.  I’m referring to a mentor who provides guidance, advice, networking opportunities, and acts as a sounding board for ideas as you earn your MBA or advance through your career.

My MBA journey has greatly benefitted from a great mentor relationship.  The office I work at has over 500 employees, and it instituted a formal mentoring program a couple of years ago.  Interested employees submitted applications identifying what they hoped to get out of the program and whether they wished to be a mentor or mentee.  Being new to the office at the time I wanted to be a mentee (and honestly, I felt like I wouldn’t have much to offer as a mentor).  I was eventually paired with my current mentor, and we’ve been meeting every other week for over 2 years now.  Over that time I’ve learned valuable insights regarding the elements of an effective mentor relationship, and I believe they’re important to share with people considering a mentoring relationship.

Set goals.  One year into the mentoring program, my office sent a survey to the participants and asked questions about their experiences.  A common thread throughout the surveys was that a lot of mentor/mentee pairing had stopped meeting.  They felt that they didn’t have any reasons to meet anymore, and mentors in particular were struggling to find ways to help their mentees.  One way to avoid this – develop goals.  And when you complete that goal, develop a new one.  I knew I wanted to enroll in an MBA program soon after getting paired with my mentor.  He had actually earned his own MBA, and was extremely generous helping me to prepare my application and essays.  Once I was accepted at CSUF, we shifted gears and I asked for help with networking and we discussed major changes occurring at the office.  I learned that mentors can offer help in a variety of ways.  Once one goal is achieved, move onto another one.  That is the best way for both participants to sustain and grow the valuable relationship.

Find a mentor outside your career path.  This doesn’t need to be a hard and fast rule, but I’ve found that working with a mentor outside my office department is a tremendous benefit for me.  When I initially applied for the mentor program, I was interested in finance so I was surprised to be paired with a mentor who worked in information systems.  But the pairing of different backgrounds has been a tremendous benefit.  Not only am I exposed to a totally new side of the business I probably never would have explored on my own, but I get a better overall picture of how that department fits into the organization’s overall mission.  Also, I can meet and network with a greater number of people through my mentor.  The pairing (which I was slightly surprised by initially) has been a great success for me and I found it to be a great benefit.  And it all came about because I was paired with a mentor outside my limited career focus.

Be open, honest, and ask lots of questions.  I’ve found that my mentor and I spend our meetings together discussing a variety of organization policies, events going on in our lives, or simply discussing each other’s careers.  My mentor was extremely open with me right off the bat – he shared insights into executive meetings he’d attended and offered management advice based on his personal experiences.  This in turn made me feel more comfortable sharing my questions, concerns and goals with him.  I allowed myself to ask lots of questions, and felt totally comfortable sharing my opinions with him, too.  I personally feel this openness has made our partnership extremely effective, and should serve as the foundation for any successful mentoring relationship.

Realize that as a mentor, you have something to offer.  Remember when I mentioned I wanted to be a mentee, particularly because I felt I wouldn’t be an effective mentor?  At that time, I didn’t feel like I had any skills, experiences or advice to offer to a mentee.  However, I’ve learned through this program that I have plenty to offer, despite not realizing that initially.  Case in point, I speak with my mentor a lot about the personal networking I do – I try and meet people at the office, outside the office, through family and friends, etc.  I like increasing my sphere of influence and getting to know people from a variety of careers and experiences.  My mentor has told me that my stories and experiences have inspired him to pursue his own networking at work events, despite the fact that it’s not his favorite activity.  I never expected I’d have anything to offer him.  But I’ve learned that everyone has something to offer in a mentoring relationship, and like all good relationships these require a give-and-take from each participant.

Here’s an article I read this week that I found interesting:

“The Invisible B-School Curriculum” – This Businessweek article speaks directly to my mentoring post above, and the importance of finding a mentor while earning your MBA.

Choosing an MBA Concentration

This week’s post can be found on the CSUF Business School blog.  This is my second post I’ve written for the school, and I’m think it’s informative and helpful.  It discusses my decision-making process while I’ve been weighing a concentration for my MBA degree.  I won’t be writing for CSUF again until the Fall – I’d imagine the next one will be timed with the start of next semester.

I won’t be posting anything next week, as I’ll be on vacation for several days.  My posts will resume the week of June 24 – looking forward to getting back to work at that time!

Failing Your Way into a Top-Tier MBA Program

What if you failed at something, and yet that failure opened doors you had previously only dreamed of walking through?  Seems counterintuitive, right?  However, some top-tier MBA programs admit these “failures” in growing numbers.  And what exactly are these students failing at?  They fail at starting their own businesses.

Fortune reported last week that an increasing number of top-tier MBA programs are admitting entrepreneurs, and often it’s not important whether the business they created succeeded or failed.  Changing attitudes and trends towards entrepreneurship have opened more universities to the idea of accepting these students.  Greater numbers of universities are adding entrepreneurship degrees and concentrations to their program offerings.  Additionally, studies have shown Generation Y is extremely entrepreneurial.  A May USA Today article cited a 2012 report by the Kauffman Foundation which said 29.4% of entrepreneurs are 20-34 years old.  These trends highlight why greater numbers of entrepreneurs are likely applying to MBA programs, but the skills they bring demonstrate why programs are eager to accept them.

Universities view entrepreneurs positively for a variety of reasons, whether they succeeded in their endeavor or not.  There are a few key qualities entrepreneurs tend to exhibit that MBA programs find especially valuable:

  • Long-term, strategic view.  Successful entrepreneurs must develop a business plan and execute it. Often, this means they need to view things from strategic perspectives other people might not consider.  Entrepreneurs are often either ahead of curve when it comes to developing a new product, or they find ways to fill market needs others have overlooked.  This strategic view is heavily emphasized in MBA programs – students are being taught to become future managers and executives, and universities find this skill set translates extremely well from start-ups to corporate leadership.
  • Ability to sell.  Entrepreneurs, in order to be successful, need to successfully sell their product or service.  And all corporations are in the business of selling – Google sells ads, Wal-Mart sells consumer goods, and Amazon sells everything.  So selling skills are important both for individuals creating a start-up and those working corporate jobs.  Entrepreneurs who already possess selling skills would be more well-developed business school candidates, and thus more attractive to top-tier MBA programs.
  • Soft skills.  Communicating effectively, solving disputes, managing and motivating employees – these are all important soft skills for any business leader.  And sadly, these skills are not often explicitly taught and practiced in MBA programs.  Entrepreneurs often have (successfully or unsuccessfully) put these skills to work in their businesses, and have a leg-up on their fellow classmates who may not yet have been exposed to these vital skills.
  • Network.  Businesses are run through relationships.  Owners need excellent relationships with their suppliers, employees, financial backers, and even their customers.  Thus, entrepreneurs tend to develop valuable networking skills while running their businesses and schools find this skill valuable.  These entrepreneurs can develop relationships with their fellow classmates which could potentially lead to even greater endeavors and business successes in the future.

There are several prominent business schools working to attract entrepreneurs to their programs, most notably Harvard and Stanford.  Other MBA programs across the country are getting in on the act, too.  UC Davis just invested $5 million in an innovation and entrepreneurship institute, and CSUF just completed the school’s first annual business plan competition.  Start-ups are obviously an important element of the economy, and business schools are realizing how attractive entrepreneurs can be as MBA candidates.   So if you’ve wanted to earn your degree but were concerned about that start-up you founded after graduation that didn’t succeed, don’t worry – you could potentially be a very attractive candidate for today’s business schools.

Have you ever started your own business?  How did it go?  Was it a success?  If not, what lessons did you learn from the experience?  Share your story in the comments section below.

Here’s an article I read this week that I found interesting:

“Foxconn Working Conditions Slammed by Workers Rights Group”I wrote a post several months ago about Apple’s Foxconn factory in China, highlighting potential conflicts between shareholders’ interests and employees’ well-being.  This article showed that the issues at Apple’s Foxconn factory still haven’t been resolved and why it’s important to consider employees’ well-being when running a business.