Tips & Advice: Making the most out of your MBA program

(I originally wrote this post on my Facebook wall on June 20, 2014. I’m reposting it here on WordPress July 21, 2014 for those who don’t have Facebook.)

Today, I officially become Calvin K. Lee, MBA.

Schulich is surely Canada’s global school, with lots of wonderful opportunities. But being able to “unlock” and benefit from those opportunities is a challenge to many people. Today, let me share some of my success strategies. Many of my peers and professors tell me I have amazing networking skills. I was not born with amazing networking skills; I developed them. Let me share with you all today some of the ways to benefit the most out of your MBA program (this is especially useful for students going into their 2nd year MBA, and people thinking about doing a MBA at Schulich). For people who just graduated with your MBA, you can adapt the strategies to your workplace. 

1. Participate in as many extracurricular activities as you can
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It is difficult to participate in extracurricular activities if you work during the day. If financially possible, do your MBA full time, and make the most out of your MBA experience by joining MBA clubs, workshops, networking events, career development seminars, case competitions, etc. There is something for every student’s interests. After getting your first job or two, nobody really cares about your GPA anymore. However, your experiences you’ve accumulated no one can take away and will escalate your career rapidly!

Before I came to Schulich, many of my friends who already have finished their MBA told me in the MBA program it’s the network and friendships that really matters, the courses and grades are relatively not as important. I came into Schulich with the goal of meeting as many people as I can. That includes Schulich staff, faculty, and students. I attended Schulympics (a weekend getaway for MBA students) and I met everybody there (Thanks Jeff Hwee for the recommendation!).

2. Try new things that gets you out of your comfort zone (and do it often!!)
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I did so many things that scared me. I was afraid of failure. For example, when I volunteered to be the Finance Case Manager for MBA Games 2014 and to author/create the finance case, I was intimidated at first. I have never written a finance case before. Fortunately, I found that if I ask people for help, they are very happy to provide me with advice and resources. I had a great team surrounding me and supporting me throughout the process.

Many times, I find that my imagination creates worst-case scenarios that never happen. I often doubted my own abilities. Many people are held back from doing great things because of fear, but they could actually do it if they try. I’ve learned to gradually trust in my own skills and past experience to create new skills and expand my comfort zone. This is what true living is all about. My finance case turned out to be a great success, and many participants came to me after the case competition to thank me for writing the case and saying I did a great job.

Even CEO’s and great leaders have fears. The difference between great leaders and ordinary people is great leaders have learned to cope with fear and keep forging forward despite of fear and put on a confident attitude even if they feel fear inside. Fear is “False Evidence Appearing Real”. 

3. Know how to promote your previous achievements (and do it often!!)
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Achieving things are great, but they are limited in usefulness if you can’t communicate them effectively to people you meet outside your usual circle. Achievements are only truly useful if you can communicate them to people who don’t know you and these people are important people who can help you reach your goals. I’ve learned to be very good at communicating my past successes to people I meet, and tailor each response to the specific person and situation.

For example, in order to teach in the Schulich Master of Accounting program and BBA program, I had to effectively communicate and be convincing about my previous experiences working for the CA School of Business to the Accounting Program Director. In order to persuade Schulich to recommend me to Peking University for the Double MBA Degree program, I had to tell them about my previous experiences as Chair of the Young CA Forum at the CA Institute and my various involvements with Schulich as a GBC Council Member and Schulich Ambassador. In order to get scholarships and bursaries, I’ve written numerous letters highlighting various past achievements. And I’ve been pretty successful.

Some people are afraid to tell others about their accomplishments because it may seem showy to them, but in Canada it’s important to stand out from the crowd. Learn to communicate effectively. Practice it often. The more you practice, the better you get.

I have so many tips I can share, stay tuned for more later!

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