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How Experiential Learning Can Improve Your Business Skillset (And Career Prospects)

How Experiential Learning Can Improve Your Business Skillset (And Career Prospects) main image

Sponsored by Baruch College - Zicklin School of Business

The case for experiential learning in the MBA goes beyond simply supplementing theoretical teaching.

Where the traditional classroom experience may fall short in being able to fabricate the complexities of the professional workplace, the effective integration of experiential learning opportunities, such as the MBA Business Consulting Program at the Zicklin School of Business in New York City, helps MBAs cultivate a business skillset and experience that will serve them throughout their careers.

Work smarter – not harder

It’s not about experiential learning versus classroom learning, but about knowing how to get the best of both worlds in order to stimulate the academic learning experience.

The MBA Business Consulting Program at Zicklin was designed to allow students to put theory into practice as they offer their consulting services to real clients and real problems in New York’s business community.

Bridging the gap

When it comes to working in business, there are a number of skills that are needed to succeed. Here are some examples as to how experiential learning can help build such skills.

Communication

No matter what sector, industry, company or job role, it’s considered that both verbal and written communication skills are the most important.

“We train students in professional communication techniques—both written and oral—and in the art of managing client relations, both skills essential to success in any people-intensive organization,” said Professor Arthur Chivvis, a consulting practitioner and one of the leading advisors of the MBA Business Consulting Program.

In class, communication skills can be developed through public speaking, presentations and writing assignments. But when it comes to building communication skills in a professional work setting, you’re going to be negotiating, persuading and liaising with clients, potential investors, stakeholders, suppliers and employees. Actually engaging in conversation and actively listening to others is a sure-fire way of enhancing your communication skills.

“This is a program where communication is vital,” said Michael Bonetti, a Zicklin MBA graduate, who now works as a data analyst in the city. “I learned to better delegate work, manage people effectively, and establish a professional relationship with our constituents.

“These are not skills that can be taught, to a certain extent; they must be experienced,” he added.

Teamwork

After communication skills, being able to work well in a team is another vital skill in any professional workplace setting.

In class, teamwork is more commonly seen in group projects and group presentations. When it comes to experiential learning, there’s even greater scope in recognizing the importance of strong teamwork skills.

“I learned how to enhance my boardroom presentation skills, negotiate, and address problems, with short notice and quick return, and rally my team to push through our difficulties towards our goal,” said Michael.

Taking greater responsibility and ownership of yourself and your own workload, embracing constructive criticism and adapting to and accommodating other perspectives are all key.

Project management

“In the case of students who are Team Leaders, they receive valuable training in managing a team, under rigorous conditions, and delivering a high quality end product to a real client,” added Professor Chivvis.

The MBA Business Consulting Program sees candidates managing a project from start to finish with regular update meetings to check in and see how things are progressing.

“Because of my role as lead, I was able to hone my project management skills. Having to define the scope of the project with timelines attached and assigning the work to my peers in the team gave me a deeper understanding of what it means to successfully manage a project from start to finish, navigate barriers that come up, and provide leadership support where it was needed,” said Jeso O’Neill, another Zicklin MBA graduate, who is now the Chief Marketing Officer at an investment firm in the city.

Leadership

For anyone who aspires to work in a management role, strong leadership skills are critical.

“For those students that are selected as a Team Leader, they learn how to manage a team and how to manage a client relationship,” said Professor Anthony Farina, who also runs the MBA Business Consulting Program at Zicklin.

“To be in a leadership position can be a little nerve-wracking, but having both Professor Farina and Professor Chivvis, a McKinsey & Co. alum with years of consulting expertise, as our advisors, and drawing from my own work experience, my team and I were able to provide high-quality results to our client,” said Michael.

When working on a real project for a real client, it’s important to recognize the need to take responsibility and lead by example, while inspiring and empowering your team. If you want your team to meet targets and objectives, it will be almost impossible without good leadership.

“Working in a leadership capacity now, I manage multiple people across departments on several projects at once. This project gave me the framework and, most importantly, the confidence to pursue a role like this,” said Jeso.

Networking

Knowing how to communicate professionally with peers, colleagues, and senior level members of staff as you build your own professional identity is an invaluable skill that can lead to a wide range of opportunities and people. Having a good network is likely to serve you well throughout your professional life.

Through the MBA Consulting Business Program, MBA graduate Maria Traversa told us how she was “able to develop my interpersonal skills, not only dealing with business professionals outside the academic world, but dealing with executives of top NYC companies that really believed in our potential and skillset. This gave us a lot of confidence,” she said.

Problem-solving

Mistakes are inevitable and are part of any learning process, so it’s important to recognize them and be proactive in collective reflection. The MBA Business Consulting program has a large focus on developing solutions in the classroom and then being able to apply such theories to solving real client problems – something which Maria also appreciated. “It really gives you the opportunity of approaching a real life challenge and dealing with real people and real companies,” she said. “This is real life and you’re dealing with real problems in the real world.”

Observation and reflection

Experiential learning offers a safe space to make mistakes, develop a capacity to adapt and assess skillsets.

It’s also an opportunity to draw conclusions and evaluate what it is that you do want (or don’t) want when it comes to your career, including the type of company and sector – something which Professor Chivvis considered.

“For students with little business experience, the course gives them some­ real world complexities in a low risk environment,” said Professor Chivvis.

“For more seasoned students, the course gives them additional insights into how and why companies operate the way they do, which should provide them with a distinctive competitive advantage.”

The transition to an online format because of the pandemic has been “seamless,” Professor Farina noted. “Students work remotely with their teams and advisors, and final client presentations are done remotely,” he added. “Feedback has been quite positive.”

Written by Stephanie Lukins

As the Head of Sponsored Content for TopMBA.com and TopUniversities.com, Stephanie creates and publishes a wide range of articles for universities and business schools across the world. She attended the University of Portsmouth where she earned a BA in English Language and an MA in Communication and Applied Linguistics.

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