How Does a Top Business School Help Shape an MBA Career?

Find out how SMU Cox School of Business help MBA students shape their careers

This article is sponsored by SMU Cox School of Business. Learn more about its full-time MBA program here.

A full-time MBA at a top business school can cost anywhere between US$30,000 and north of US$200,000 – an investment that deserves the guarantee of some very healthy returns. Career acceleration is one of the primary reasons candidates opt for an MBA, with as many as 58% of MBA applicants citing management or leadership positions as their immediate post-MBA career goal.

Investment not only happens on a monetary level (bearing in mind the average payback in North America is four and a half years) – it also happens on a personal level, where 100% engagement is strongly encouraged, and indeed expected, by the business school and industry elite.

"Treat an MBA program as if you're training for a triathlon," explains Lisa Tran, executive director of the Career Management Center at SMU Cox School of Business in Dallas, Texas. "There are three parts to your MBA; your academic experience, your job search and that all important social piece. All three have to be integrated," she explains.   

To understand the full extent of what this means in practice, and to ascertain how best to make the most of the support and job training a top MBA offers, Lisa and two SMU Cox alumni unpack the three-part race. 

 The MBA academic experience

What's it like being an MBA student at SMU Cox School of Business?"When I entered the Cox MBA program I was all but financially illiterate," says Chad Schweinzger," formerly a senior analyst at American Airlines, now a consultant advising companies on strategy for A.T. Kearney. "Professors provided plenty of opportunity to collect, analyze and collaboratively solve complex business problems. Working in a group setting to answer problems within a condensed timeframe and clearly articulate solutions in a persuasive manner translates daily in my role as a consultant," says Chad.

The Cox School of Business Full-Time MBA program may be two years long, but the scope for new knowledge is vast – doorstop volumes worth of the latest in business know-how, and you have to be fully on board and keen to digest it with gusto.

Akshay Lazarus, a 2014 graduate, expands on some of the skills his two years at SMU Cox delivered. Echoing Chad, he says, "I learned the framework to think strategically in order to formulate and define a game plan." He also discusses building his proficiency in analyzing business metrics, deep diving into complex data and using this dissection to build robust financial models and business cases. "You develop an appetite for looking at intrapreneurial opportunities; redesigning a company's internal operating models, for example," Akshay enthuses.

Then there are the soft skills; leadership and teamwork, for example. "I became confident in interacting with people from diverse backgrounds and functions, and skillful at managing different personalities. I learned to take projects from concept to completion with my team, managing risk along the way," says Akshay.

After graduating from the MBA program, Akshay was promptly hired, first by PwC as a consultant and then, through his SMU Cox network connections, by Amazon as a senior project manager.


 The job search

Cox School of Business students liaise with the school’s Career Management Center two months before they have even begun their first MBA semester. An SMU Cox sample resume is sent out, and students sign up for live webinar coaching appointments through the summer; one on resume writing, one on networking and one on informational interviewing. "We help you develop your elevator pitch and your career success story before you even set foot on campus," says Lisa.

Almost all of SMU Cox students choose a single or a double concentration. Pairings might include marketing and finance for example, or operations and strategy. Real estate is a concentration currently in hot demand by SMU Cox students as property prices in Dallas-Fort Worth, home to the university, and the largest inland metropolitan area in the U.S., ride on an economic boom.

"After our MBA candidates have one module under their belt they generally have a good idea of what concentration they want to go for," explains Lisa. Students get the support of specialist industry coaches throughout their MBA. In addition, alumni and company representatives make frequent campus visits to discuss career paths and to offer insider knowledge on available opportunities, both in-state and out.

 "The Career Management Center provided me with a wide variety of benefits - obviously they served as career coaches, helping guide me down a path toward consulting, an area I had little knowledge of prior to business school, but they also actively supported my job search through industry connections and introductions, resume interviews and multiple mock case and behavioral interviews," says Chad. "But most of all," he explains, "they were an avid supporter of student organizations, partnering to host and facilitate opportunities on campus to further skills development at industry or functional level."

 The social experience (networking)

"There are two major things I would advise newly enrolled students to do: first, enjoy your time – it certainly goes very quickly at SMU Cox; and second, do everything you can to expand your network while pursuing your MBA,” says Chad.

Networking is one of the key reasons many students sign up for an MBA, and seeing the value in a business school network is a very astute way of thinking – it’s estimated that an astounding 85% of positions globally are filled through reaching out to individual contacts. 

Lisa also underlines the value of seeing the full potential of what she calls your 'social capital'. "During the MBA, there's the 'social piece' with the academics, because a lot of courses involve team-based learning. Your network here begins with the professors and your cohort of 125 students, and then beyond. You also have to build your network for the 'job piece', and develop social skills around this." 

Touching on social skills, Lisa discusses the 'likeability factor' and enforces the importance of crafting, rehearsing and drilling the telling of your story. "You have to practice that small talk, you have to practice selling yourself, you have to practice linking why you think your MBA experience, your previous experience and where you want to go really align, and that's where the integration between the social, the academic and the job search really mesh well." She adds, "We help you from start to finish."


This article is sponsored by SMU Cox School of Business.

Karen Turtle
Written by Karen Turtle

A content writer with a background in higher education, Karen holds an MA in modern languages from the University of St Andrews. Her interests include languages and literature, current affairs and film. ​

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