Thursday, February 15, 2007

Student Perspective: Being an early bird at Chicago GSB

by Eva Karagianni, Class of 2007

For those of you thinking of applying to Chicago GSB without having completed the typical 4-5 years average of work experience, I would like to share my story of coming to the GSB straight after I completed my undergraduate degree in my home country, Greece.

To put things into perspective, “straight from undergrad” in my case didn’t mean “zero work experience”. I was actually working while studying for my degree for a maritime company in their operations department and I had therefore gained exposure to the “real business world” before I arrived in Chicago. Of course, this is not to say that people with even less work experience should be discouraged from applying if they believe that this is the right time for them. In fact, if I wanted to summarize my experience, it’s simply been amazing, highly rewarding, and despite some initial worries about the timing, I never looked back.

I am currently in the second year of the program and after spending my summer in consulting with McKinsey, I accepted an offer in marketing from D&B, which I am joining after my graduation in June 2007. But enough about me. I would now like to attempt to answer some questions that may be in your mind if you are in the same shoes I was in a couple of years ago.
How will less work experience affect me during my GSB MBA program?
In academics: Depending on your academic background, namely whether you have studied in a business related or quantitative academic field before, you may find it easier to adjust and perform in business school classes. Of course, this applies to other students as well, but traditionally early applicants have done exceptionally well in academics.
+ You still remember what it is like to be a student so getting used to it won’t be as much of an issue to you.
- Your contribution in the class may be initially limited since discussions often revolve around “real world” issues and people draw examples from their experience. However, keeping up with your newspaper readings and a good business sense can compensate for that in most cases.

In recruiting: This, at least for me, was a major concern. Will companies treat you like any other MBA student? Will you be able to go after MBA level jobs? The answer highly depends on how you present yourself, how convincing you are in conveying a mature image and eventually how successfully you manage your expectations and target list. Apparently, someone with less work experience will target positions that highly accentuate learning. On the other hand, someone who is well above the average will target positions where extended work experience can be leveraged.
+ You will belong in a minority which is generally perceived to be comprised of exceptional people. Others, including recruiters, will always admire and respect the fact that you had the determination and ability to come to Business School earlier.
- Some recruiters may simply reject you on the premises of less work experience. Yes, it did happen to me. No, it doesn’t feel nice. However, it is absolutely expected. In fact, it’s fine. It simply means that this is not the right working environment for you. So move on.

In social life: Come on now… of course you can hang out with everybody. Don’t be a baby ☺
+ You will probably get a lot of “wow” reactions for your age
- Your classmates will insist asking you if you are allowed to drink every time there is an event involving alcohol. Get ready to be teased a lot.
How do I know if I am ready?
That’s a hard one. It’s different for everyone but here are my basic statements:
  • I am excited about going back to school. Self explanatory. If you feel you’ve had enough with school for the time being, then no career justification can do it for you.
  • I feel comfortable in my current position; I feel I’ve completed my cycle here (for those working). I have a strong business sense that is gratified by my academic achievements; I’ve done a lot of volunteer or extracurricular work that can compensate (at least partly) for lack of work experience (for those studying).
  • I have a plan. I know, I know. We are all told we need a plan for applying to business school. But I cannot stress enough how significant this is for the early birds. If you find yourselves struggling with putting it into words then maybe you should consider delaying this application for a couple of years or more.
How will my application to Chicago GSB be perceived?
It will be evaluated like any other application: spherically. My case, as well as others, proves that there is no prejudice against “early bird” applications on behalf of the school.
+ This is a school where academic achievement is highly appreciated. Therefore don’t underestimate its power on your resume.
- You will certainly have to work hard to show maturity and to compensate for the “gaps” in your resume. Go back to the points made above to see how this can be achieved.

That’s it from me. And please feel free to contact me with any questions at ekaragia at chicagogsb dot edu

Want to discuss this topic some more? Head on over to the Chicago GSB Discussion Forums