Coffee / Beer / Sleep

I’ve been on the road for work all week, which almost always leaves me drained. As an introvert, this can be especially tough since it often involves long days surrounded by coworkers and clients. They are great people, but as any introvert can relate to, I need my down time in order to recharge.

It has reminded me of the three things I use to recharge. The first is coffee. I love coffee. I drink it several times every day. I spend a lot of time searching out great new coffees. When I was studying for the GMAT or applying to business school, I would get home from work every day drained, but knew I had to march to Starbucks to load up on caffeine and study/write. Coffee is how I power through when I need to.

Grabbing a drink with friends is another way I recharge. When I was younger, it seemed like the natural course of action. I needed to make sure I wasn’t burning myself out from too much fun. In my 30s, and as an introvert, I actually need to make sure I make time for this kind of thing, especially with coworkers. It’s important, and a night spending quality time with people, especially those I haven’t seen in a long time, can do far more to recharge my batteries than anything.

Finally, sometimes you just need to go home and rest. It’s obvious that this will need to take priority over social outings, but there are times when it is critical that it takes priority over the coffee. Pulling an all nighter might seem like the right thing to do, but it’s important to consider the quality of your work. If faced with the option of working from midnight until 2am or shutting down and working from 5-7am, I will always do better work after getting some sleep.

Re-entering the Real World post-MBA

There are plenty of complications when entering the real world after taking a few years off to get your MBA. One thing I realized quickly is that I was no longer analyzing things from the perspective of a CEO. Most of the thinking you do in MBA coursework is through the eyes of an executive, which makes sense. It also makes sense that I should return to my place as a cog in the wheel immediately following my MBA. Nevertheless, it can be jarring.

I never expected my clients to hand over the reins of their companies and ask me to make key strategic decisions for them. The issue that I had, was the realization that my work was not directly related to what I had learned in school. It further compounded the already complicated question of “am I using my MBA?”.

I remember early on in my first year, hearing a second-year student say, “this isn’t trade school”. He advised that we seek to learn as much as possible and not focus on building skills for a job. I still think that this is valuable advice. But it doesn’t counteract the steep learning curve waiting for you post-MBA. It also requires that you find ways to bring out the value of your MBA for your employer. I like to think of the equation as this: the experience everyone else has + MBA = more valuable employee. The key to the equation is “the experience everyone else has”. This assumes you can acquire all this experience. This is where networking, rolling up your sleeves, volunteering and internships all come into play.

No road out of business school is an easy one. MBAs are expected to tackle difficult tasks, work long hours, and be prepared for anything. This road might not be easy, but it is rewarding. It offers flexibility and plenty of career options.

Do You Use Your MBA?

I am often asked if I feel that I use my MBA a lot in my career as a consultant. It’s a difficult question to answer, because MBAs aren’t lawyers or doctors who practice a very specific skill. And there is certainly no license that accompanies our degree. As an MBA, you develop some quantitative skills, which you are likely to use daily if you go into finance.

For those in Marketing or Consulting you are more likely to find value in the frameworks you develop with which to approach problems. These are often developed through the case method, and they are meant to give you a toolset for when you face complex problems. The complicating factor is that when you recall these frameworks, you don’t consciously reach into a toolbox, select a specific tool, and thank one of your professors. You attack each problem in a unique way, and in the end, you really don’t know if your MBA benefited you or not.

This can be a little tough to live with. After all, most of us pay handsomely for our MBAs. I don’t have a great answer for MBAs to help them feel good about their investment. I take solace in the fact that people will seek me out for their difficult problems. I don’t think I could have done this without my MBA. The coursework, interactions with fellow students, and extracurriculars made available to me all contributed to my reputation as a problem solver.

It also really helps to be quantitatively sound. While I am not crunching numbers every day like my financial counterparts might be, I frequently work with “quants” and encounter all kinds of data. The ability to dive into data has proved very beneficial to me.

So yes, I believe that I use my MBA. I think that it is worth it. I will KNOW that it is worth it once I have my loans paid off.

Specialize

Digital marketing is often talked about in general terms. I hear young people describe their career goals as wanting to become a “digital marketer”. They have identified a growing field to join, which is good, but this is far too general. What do you see yourself doing, I will ask? On a given day, in a given moment? Are you pushing out an email? Are you sending a tweet? Analyzing web traffic? Designing a mobile app?

The thing about digital marketing is, everyone gets it at about 10,000 feet. However, when you start to zoom in, it can be difficult to get everything at 1,000 feet. It is nearly impossible to get everything, or even more than two or three things at 100 feet. An optimization expert probably can’t design an effective email campaign. A social media strategist would probably struggle to build actionable segments in a database. Each of these things requires a different skill set, and requires that successful individuals spend a lot of time developing their expertise. It simply isn’t reasonable for someone to be an expert in all areas of digital marketing.

Depending on your level of experience, you may not need to have a specialized skill set just yet. However, I have found that it is beneficial to have a specialized area of interest that you can speak to intelligently. There are plenty of areas worth specializing in that don’t require many extra years of advanced education. You can specialize in a function (email or analytics) or specialize in a specific tool (Google Analytics or Adobe Campaign). The specialization doesn’t necessarily require a certification (but those help). It is important that you quickly acquire relevant experience that you can speak to. What’s the best way to get this experience? See above comment about certifications.

I fall into the category of a generalist. If I’m trying to sound important, I’ll call myself a Digital Strategist.  If I could do it all over again, I’d probably have at least one specialty that I could fall back on. While I have managed to succeed as a generalist, certain doors within the consulting world have remained closed to me.  Being a generalist requires you to be develop a reputation for having “softer” skills, such as problem solving, industry expertise, quantitative skills, business acumen…and it helps if you can bundle more than one of these. It does offer some flexibility – I don’t have to worry about a tool or technology falling out of favor. But I can’t even count the number of times I’ve been asked if I have experience with email, asset management, analytics, or lead tracking tools. This specialized experience would have opened doors for me, leading to even more valuable experience.