Tuesday, March 22, 2016 at 8am

Veteran Reflections on Harvard Business School: 7 MBA Myths Busted

HBS lessons

Graduation day is fast approaching for business school students, which means most are asking: What’s next? What is my life going to look like after school? Or should I go back for more schooling? These were questions I was asking myself two years ago as my own graduation from HBS approached. 

Now, two years out of the program, I have some perspective, which allows me to bust some common MBA myths! If you are considering an MBA or other graduate level education, keep reading. 

1. Every Harvard MBA is raking in the dough 

Not really. While some do command incredible salaries at certain points in their careers, none that we are aware of made millions their first year after school. One thing worth considering is the variance between MBAs of different job functions by gender. While women do make less than men in some MBA jobs like venture capital, they command larger wages in functional areas like HR. While counterintuitive to much of our popular culture, in many anecdotal cases, those making less money than peers are often the happiest and find their jobs most rewarding. For many with a military background, MBA jobs that are disconnected from real world impact tend to be challenging places to stay over the long term. 

2. No one changes MBA job for several years 

I changed jobs less than two years after my Harvard MBA. I was not alone. Many of my peers have made a job change during the two years after business school for a variety of reasons. Three main deciding factors for doing so are: a desire for geographic location change based on relationship or family factors; a desire to start in one type of company for training and experience, then finding something else that allows full leverage of your increased range of skills; and finally finding something interesting or amazing that was completely unplanned, but that you’re confident enough to take a risk on, partially by virtue of graduating from HBS. While few attend business school with the intent of changing MBA jobs regularly, the ability to do so when amazing opportunities come along is a perk the degree can offer. 

3. You have already proven yourself: A Harvard MBA is the stamp of approval 

Some people believe that with a Harvard MBA you can start slacking and still succeed. The truth is the opposite. More than ever, work ethic becomes the deciding factor. Someone else who is equally bright and accomplished may not have the same academic background, and they have something to prove as a result. Putting in the hard work that is required remains crucial to success and making a lasting impact on your current organization, as well as gaining the trust of others for increased responsibility and authority. While the Harvard MBA sends a powerful positive signal, it does not show up in the morning and work; only you can. In my own experience, the first job I took after business school required a lot of work. Only after pushing hard and learning a lot was I able to fully apply the skills from business school. 

4. Your network from business school is worthless 

Not at all. The combination of proven ability and access to respected people in their fields matters. Regardless of the field you enter there is a strong chance that at some point early in your career another member of the alumni network will be able to help you out in a meaningful manner. In my own case a friend of a friend from HBS helped me secure a call with a potential client. Without their support this prospective client might have never spoken to me (as they had turned down calls with other sales representatives for months). With this kind introduction a relationship was formed, and eventually a deal was closed, and later on this client was one of the largest revenue drivers for my entire business unit. 

5. You are viewed as an elitist 

If you want this to happen, perhaps it can. In my own business school and military experience I have found that staying humble and learning from all is a wise course of action. If handled properly, and used to help others, the Harvard MBA is a powerful tool to make a difference in many lives other than your own. I am constantly encouraged by the impact my own actions have already had in altering the careers of others.

6. Core habits built in business school are fleeting 

Time management, wellness, healthy living, and a lifelong pursuit of learning and growth are all traits you can develop and/or refine while at business school. For many (myself included), basic habits that I honed daily at HBS continue to be invaluable today in terms of maintaining balance and health. I found the two years invaluable to establishing many of the building blocks in my career. While some of these were initially borne out of requirements in my military experience, after business school I find they are now an integral part of my life. 

7. Your friendships from business school are transient 

Saving the best for last, the authentic relationships are priceless. No one will be able to convince you that the roughly US$200,000 in direct costs (not to mention opportunity cost, which you hopefully learn about in business school) is cheap. Business school is a huge investment. However, amazing friendships that enrich your life are perhaps not an item you can put a price tag on. The unquantified items from business school: time spent reflecting, time with wonderful friends, and the forging of new relationships, may be more valuable than anything else. 

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Ben Faw is cofounder and COO of BestReviews, focused on arming consumers with confidence and clarity to make their purchasing decisions. Prior to Harvard Business School Ben attended West Point, and is also a graduate of Ranger, Airborne, and a variety of other military schools.