Business School Adventures, Part 1: What Do My Classmates Want?

[GET MY WRITING IN YOUR MAILBOX HERE]

Greetings!

In my last piece of writing, I asked for your vote on topics to write about next.

Excited to announce that the winner is—

**drum roll**

Business school!

Specifically, how enrolling in an Executive MBA program has allowed me to grow in unexpected ways.

It won’t be possible to write about the entirety of my experience in one long blog post. Instead, this will be a series of posts relating to different b-school subjects.

I hope that this series will be:

  1. Relevant to your business school endeavors, either in deciding: “do I want to do this?” Or: “I’m in the program—how do I get the most out of it?”
  2. Generally applicable regardless of what exact business school or business degree you are considering.
  3. A forum for me to express myself, vent, and share random musings that I find hilarious.

To get a peek at my background and what b-school I’m in, here’s my LinkedIn profile.

If you have feedback or want to request future b-school topics, drop me a line.

The profile of a b-school classmate

Today, I want to focus on one aspect of my b-school journey—the profiles of my classmates.

If you know why your classmates are in the program, then your interactions with them will be more meaningful. You’ll better appeal to their wants.

It helps, too, to look in the mirror and figure out why you’re doing this. A lot of time (and money) is going into this, if we’re being totally honest.

All b-school classmates fall into one or more of the following profiles:

  1. The learner
  2. The degree-getter
  3. The explorer
  4. The socializer
  5. The ego-booster
  6. The businessperson
  7. The dater
  8. The unknown

As humans, we are complicated creatures. And we are not always honest with ourselves.

It is highly unusual that we do things for one reason only—even if we tell ourselves this.

I might buy a nice watch because I like the utility of the watch. But if a girl stops me on the street to admire my watch, it feels flattering. Besides, I might just be going through a midlife crisis—I simply want to spend a chunk of money on a timepiece. I can afford it, so why not?

Just as there are several reasons to buy a watch, there are multiple reasons to pursue b-school.

A person in b-school will fall into varied weightings of the above profiles. Later, I’ll explain how that works.

Profile 1: the learner

The learner is a classmate who actually (gasp!) joined business school for learning purposes.

Signs they might be a learner:

  • 4.0 GPA (grade point average).
  • Earliest to show up to class in the morning.
  • Asks questions in class; not the “statement disguised as question” fluff to stroke their ego, or to appear smart.

Profile 2: the degree-getter

The degree-getter joined business school to move up the career ladder. They care about getting that coveted piece of paper—hence, graduating as soon as possible.

Degree-getters have typically been promised a promotion after the degree, or have been “persuaded” by their boss to seek higher learning.

Some degree-getters, on the other hand, are stuck in dead-end roles. They believe that business school will be their ticket out. On to greener pastures…in the form of a new employer.

There’s something practical and admirable about the degree-getter’s naked ambition. Don’t hate the player; hate the game.

Signs they might be a degree-getter:

  • Barely remember their classmates’ names and industries after a year of school.
  • Participate in minimal social activities. “I need to take care of my kids” and “I am too old for this” are common sentiments.
  • Discussions with them tend to be short and devolve to the transactional. In their minds, they’re trying to figure out how you can be “of value” to them.

Profile 3: the explorer

The explorer is on the lookout for new things. They do not know exactly what they want out of b-school, but they’re intrigued and want to try it.

The explorer hopes that in b-school, they will learn things AND discover a career-changing opportunity.

Like the degree-getter, the explorer could be caught in a career rut. They’re looking for exposure to new ideas; moving away from the insular thinking that occurs in their own organization.

The key distinction: while the degree-getter wants to complete the program ASAP, the explorer will take their time to absorb everything the program has to offer.

Signs they might be an explorer:

  • Naturally curious about the world and how things work.
  • More interested in learning about others, rather than talking about themselves.
  • Cares minimally about how “bad” or ignorant their questions might sound in class.

Profile 4: the socializer

The socializer is a fun-seeking person. They show up to the parties and are great at connecting people. They are typically adept at organizing events, too.

The socializer is fun to talk to and keeps awkward conversations to a minimum. You might not remember them after b-school is over. But we had fun, right?

Socializing is an important skill and tied to other profiles such as explorer and businessperson. If you want to be a better socializer, use b-school to learn from the best.

Signs they might be a socializer:

  • All of the qualities listed above.
  • Offers helpful references, left and right: “You’re looking for a consultant for X? Good timing. I was just talking to a friend, and she knows somebody. Let me connect you two.”

Profile 5: the ego-booster

The ego-booster attends business school to stroke their own ego. They want people to know that they can be counted on for fine wine and glorious culture.

They will also remind you that they are the Senior Vice President of Big Gigantic Important Corporation (BGIC).

Some ego-boosters are solidly ingrained in their own confidence. Others put up a front as a mask for their own insecurity. Either way, they are born for b-school.

After b-school, there will be other “boosters”—yet another exclusive membership to Club X; yet another conference in which they are the keynote speaker; yet another prestigious degree. The ego-boosting never stops.

Lest you think I am being uncharitable with this description, I’d argue that all of us have the ego-booster within.

The question is to what level of intensity, and what level we project to the outside world.

Signs they might be an ego-booster:

  • Suggests a lot of initiatives without following through or completing them.
  • Posts a lot on social media. Twice a day, even (gasp!).
  • Writes unbearably long articles about b-school in their spare time.

Profile 6: the businessperson

“I’m not a businessman, I’m a business, man.”

—Jay Z

The businessperson attends business school to build connections to help their bottom line, or their career, which is indirectly tied to a personal bottom line.

Savvy folks play the long game—the degree has Lifetime Value (LTV) to them. For the wise businessperson, attending b-school makes sense.

Just like the degree-getter, it is a Good Thing to commit time and resources for an actual return on investment.

Business people in executive programs are generally more polished than the folks you see at networking events: “here’s my business card. What can you do for me today, and what can I do for you?” Get that junior-level stuff out of here.

Naked ambition is good. Everyone in b-school should have some element of businessperson to them.

Signs they might be a businessperson:

  • Not overly pushy with outcomes, i.e. knows how to play the strategic long game.
  • Quiet in class; appears to not care about academic results or appearing smart.
  • Usually (not always) overlaps with the socializer profile. Pure socializers just want to have fun, and will never talk business, ever. “Don’t spoil the party, man!”

Profile 7: the dater

The dater is interested in hooking up, or looking for a life partner, at b-school. Finding a partner is a fantastic “two birds, one stone” value proposition for single people.

Dating can come opportunistically. The dater might not have intended to enter b-school to find a life partner. Sometimes, they’re just exploring.

For the “life partner” category, b-school is a good place to slow-date, i.e. get to know classmates over several years.

Dating can backfire in b-school due to social and reputational repercussions. But hey, we’re human after all.

Signs they might be a dater:

  • Spends a lot of time on their appearance, relative to the class normal. (Or perhaps they just have a hot date after class.)
  • NO. BOUNDARIES. Steers the conversation into personal or intimate topics.

Profile 8: the unknown

The unknown is a catch-all general category I’ve created to account for all the random reasons one has for attending b-school.

Maybe their parents want them to take over the family business, and a business degree seems like The Right Thing To Do.

Perhaps their friend bet them $100K that they won’t graduate from b-school.

Maybe they’re a secret agent working for the government—either keeping tabs on another classmate, or auditing the quality of the school.

Signs they might be the unknown:

  • No signs, if they’re doing their job right. That’s the whole point.
  • To mitigate the unknown, get every classmate drunk to uncover key hidden insights. (JOKING! CONSENSUAL DRINKING ONLY.)

The overarching “need”: peer pressure and conformity

Humans are social creatures, and peer pressure is the universal force that masks or amplifies  our needs in front of others.

An individual might be a 10/10 on the ego-booster scale, but they will choose to present themselves differently in public. A 10/10 rating turns into an 8/10, and so forth.

One might argue that this doesn’t matter if peer pressure is normalized and we’re all equally affected.

In practice, however, ratings are calibrated differently based on the individual. People will choose to disguise their real intentions differently, based on what’s socially acceptable.

Some profiles—like “the socializer”—can be pushed up, or played up, due to peer pressure. Obviously, we want to be more social, or seen as more social, in group situations.

We all have these eight profiles inside of us. Not everyone, however, is an open book. And we have different methods of presenting. Recognize this.

Putting it into practice: my own example

I am:

  • The learner: 35%
  • The degree-getter: 5%
  • The explorer: 10%
  • The socializer: 25%
  • The ego-booster: 10%
  • The businessperson: 15%
  • The dater: 0%
  • The unknown: 0%

I am mostly in the program to learn and network. I want to build new connections. I don’t care about grades, but I do care about absorbing key learnings from my classmates.

Networking to me is a combination of building connections with people and helping my career in some respects; it is not an exclusive either/or relationship. Hence, I would quantify my “socializer” and “businessperson” scores in different amounts.

One aspect of me is the explorer—keeping an eye out for new experiences and beliefs. Furthermore, I want to prove to myself that I can successfully re-enter the classroom; I completed my undergraduate degree fifteen years ago.

I am absolutely not a party person—my usual bedtime is 11:00 PM—but I enjoy high-quality conversations with people on interesting topics. I’m introverted but not socially awkward. You might say I’m an opportunistic and picky socializer.

My businessperson orientation has grown after a half-year of classes. As I grow more disillusioned accepting of what I can learn under the constraints of a part-time Executive MBA program, I try and justify my investment in other ways.

I am an entrepreneur; I work for myself. I don’t need the Executive MBA as some sort of stepping stone to a promotion.

As a nominal degree-getter, though, I don’t mind the EMBA credential. I am enrolled in a prestigious, highly-ranked business school. I’m in the company of some amazing people. Getting this degree will stroke my ego, and I love it.

As for my 0% categories…I’m happily married and not a secret Canadian spy, so it seems logical.

Going forward…

What’s neat about this proposed framework is that one’s profile composition evolves before, during and after b-school.

I plan to share my b-school profile evolution, and that of my classmates, in future articles to come. (With their permission, of course.)

Thanks for reading, and I look forward to hearing back from you.

Peace,

James

[GET MY WRITING IN YOUR MAILBOX HERE]

A heartfelt thanks to my wonderful b-school classmates and friends for reading drafts of this article and providing feedback.

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