Written by Joanna Hughes

If you want to hit the ground running when you graduate from your MBA program, having a strong CV can make all the difference. The good news? There are many things you can do while studying business that will help you get ahead when you graduate. While these five things should never come before your studies, they’ll pay off in the long run if you can squeeze them in without compromising your commitment to your coursework. 

1. Start a business

In a recent Entrepreneur piece, curated dropship program RevCascade co-founder and president, Samantha Henderson, writes that deciding to launch a startup while pursuing her MBA was the best decision she could have made -- especially as a woman. “Contrary to common belief, this degree can be incredibly useful in entrepreneurship, and it seems that women are at least starting to crack this code, though they still have a way to go,” she asserts. 

In Henderson’s case, today’s flexible MBA programs were particularly beneficial to getting her startup off the ground while in school. Plus, with so many people aspiring to launch and run their own startups, Henderson takes a “why wait?” attitude. Aside from the fact that you may never find the perfect “right time,” Henderson continues, “In fact, launching your startup during your MBA program could be the very best time because you'll be surrounded by classmates you can collaborate with; you'll have exposure to VCs you can pitch to; and you'll participate in pitch competitions and school-sponsored incubators.”

All in all, getting an MBA and starting a business are symbiotic: They complement each other a myriad of beneficial ways, including when it comes to networking. “And with those connections, I’ve been able to grow my network in New York, which has given me way more support and advice for my startup than I would have had otherwise. I was even given the opportunity to pitch my startup at an alumni gathering in Manhattan, where I had access to seasoned venture capitalists and fellow students,” Henderson adds. Which brings us to our next point...

2. Network

MBA programs one of the best -- if not THE best -- environments for building personal and professional networks. According to Investopedia, “Networking is the exchange of information and ideas among people with a common profession or special interest, usually in an informal social setting. [...] Networking is used by professionals to expand their circles of acquaintances, to find out about job opportunities in their fields, and to increase their awareness of news and trends in their fields or in the greater world.”

Investopedia focuses on the use of networking among professionals, but the same advantages apply to students. As a business student, you’ll have the opportunity to interact with classmates, professors and staff, speakers, and alumni. Working to develop these interactions into connections can lead to many benefits, such as including career opportunities, gaining and exchanging knowledge and increased visibility. Don’t think of networking as something you’re doing for the far-off future. Think of it for its potential payoffs in the present, including its potential to enhance your resume.

3. Seek a mentor

A recent Financial Times opinion piece by MBA program assistant dean Maura Herson highlights the value of mentorship relationships for women across everything from higher salaries to better career satisfaction. But the benefits of mentorship aren’t limited to women. Every MBA student can benefit from being part of a mentor/mentee relationships. 

But all mentor/mentee relationships aren’t created equal. Herson recommends cultivating three different types of mentors: “coaches” to help with skills development and provide constructive feedback that helps prepare you for advancement; “sounding boards” to guide you on important decisions related to school, jobs, and work-life balance; and “champions,”  who will advocate for you to take on higher-level jobs, promotions and board positions.

While Herson mentions three different types of mentor, it’s important to note that you can have as many mentors as is appropriate for your interests and goals. O2E Brands founder and CEO Brian Scudamore writes in Forbes, “Many people think of mentorship as an intensive one-on-one experience: a master-apprentice relationship straight out of Karate Kid. But the mentor-mentee dynamic doesn’t have to be monogamous. Instead of exclusively consulting one industry insider, borrow bits of expertise from lots of different people to compile a comprehensive, well-rounded cache of knowledge.” 

One famous example of a mentor-mentee relationship formed in business school is that of Warren Buffet and “father of value investing” Benjamin Graham. After reading Graham’s book, The Intelligent Investor, at age 19, Buffet enrolled in business school with the purpose of studying under him. Buffett went on to work for his company, and the two became lifelong friends -- even when their investment strategies diverged. 

4. Participate in leadership training

It’s a question for the ages: Are leaders born or made? The answer, at least according to Psychology Today, is “mostly made.” More specifically, leadership can be developed, which translates to great opportunities for business students looking to come off as candidates with leadership potential. 

Many different entities -- from business schools themselves to executive education firms to the American Management Association -- have created leadership training classes, certificate programs, boot camps, and other activities aimed at helping participants hone sought-after leadership skills. 

Jon Hanson, who participated in a week-long innovation and entrepreneurship boot camp abroad, told the New York Times of the experience, “I told myself, ‘If I don’t do it now, it’s not going to happen. It was exciting. I love traveling and going to new countries, and I had never been to Australia before, but the intensity of the course is something that surprised me. They don’t call it a boot camp for no reason. I think the most sleep I got any night that week was four hours.” These programs are growing in popularity, with many different foci. Signing on for one during a break or holiday not only demonstrates leadership capabilities, but also initiative -- another quality businesses prioritize. 

5. Read, read, read

The next thing you can do to get ahead is simple and free thanks courtesy of your business school library and the internet: Read. The Guardian recently took a closer look at books that examine authority, while the Benzinga staff rounded up their picks for best books on leadership.

And then there’s Business Insider’s list of the 25 most influential books ever written about business. Its assertion? “If you want exposure to new ideas, modes of thinking, and a compounded aggregate of diverse knowledge, then reading is important. And it's going to help you in business, be it by a mixture of accounts on other corporate successes or failures and lessons on lean startups, or a 2,500-year-old military tome that works just as well in boardrooms as war.”

This brings us back to Warren Buffet, who said that reading 500 pages a day was instrumental to success. Why? Because “That how knowledge works. It builds up, like compound interest.” Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg are also known to be big readers. And while your resume won’t list all the books you have read, your being well-read will demonstrate an insightful perspective everywhere from your cover letter to interviews. 

Proactivity is another invaluable trait in a business leader. Taking one or more of these five steps while in business school can help you develop a stronger CV and position yourself for success on the job market -- long before you have your degree in hand. 

ArticleEducationStudent Tips
Joanna worked in higher education administration for many years at a leading research institution before becoming a full-time freelance writer. She lives in the beautiful White Mountains region of New Hampshire with her family.
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