I’ve worked at CEB for 10 years and the company is growing quickly into a far more complex organization. I wanted to be competitive within that new framework and expand my knowledge base. I also was looking for the next challenge and going to Wharton while working full-time is certainly a big challenge. I’m fortunate in that my company has a scholarship program so I applied for and received financial sponsorship to come to Wharton.
Whether your company has a formal sponsorship program or not, there are a few steps you should take. First, be honest with yourself as to why you are doing the program. Ask yourself why this is the appropriate next step for you in furthering your career. After that, talk to family and friends to make sure you have their support. Also, talk to your manager because he or she is the person inside your organization who will be impacted the most. Clearly articulate your thought process as to why you should attend this program and how it will add value to the organization. Make sure it isn’t an off-the-cuff “I want an MBA” conversation. After you get their support, try to get senior level support. The heads of human resources departments tend to be good candidates, as they are usually excited by growth opportunities for talent in the organization.
Wharton Myths vs. Culture
When I applied to the program, the biggest misperception I had was that this was a cut-throat finance program. I come from a sales, account management, and consulting background so I wasn’t sure how I would fit in. That perception started to change at the interview when everyone, including current students, were very warm and welcoming. When I arrived for the program, I discovered my classmates really were from a wide diversity of backgrounds. They also are incredibly supportive. The myth was totally dispelled.
In the Bay Area, what drives business is the idea of building the next big thing. To do that, you often have to work within an ecosystem of other companies. There is a competitive spirit, but people know that you succeed by leveraging your network. At Wharton, we see each other as people who will help us achieve our goals and that creates a really tight knit bond. Also, we realize that we’re not here for the grades or to compete for jobs. We don’t need to prove ourselves with the highest GPAs. We are here to learn from the professors and each other in class and build bonds that will last beyond graduation.
This is a demanding program. In the first year, I would spend two to three hours a day on school work. The work load tends to be a bit lighter in the second year because you are taking electives and because you have figured out how to better manage your time.
As for finding balance, life goes on during the program. I got engaged, and took on the position of vice president for business development at a friend’s startup in addition to my full-time job. The key is having support. I’m fortunate in that my fiancée is super supportive, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t countless late nights to balance it all. And while I try to take off the Sundays after school weekends, I’m back to work and studying on Monday. There isn’t a ton of extra time leftover.
Wharton makes it easy to build bonds early in the program with your learning team. We’re also a very collaborative class and we intentionally try to work with everyone at some point during the program. If you’re in a class with someone new to you, it’s common practice to ask to work together on a project. That is how we try to build bonds across the class. We also enjoy lots of social activities in larger groups from renting a house in Tahoe to dinners during our Global Business Week.
On Career Impact
Since I’ve been at Wharton, my career aspirations have changed a little bit. I now want to run sales or business development for a small to medium size company. I’ve been open with my company about those goals and am looking for ways inside my company to achieve them. Another interesting development has been my ability to join a startup while continuing in my role for my employer. A friend from college started a mobile messaging application. He knew I was at Wharton and taking a lot of entrepreneurial management courses so he came to me for business insights. After a few months of informal consulting, he asked me to join as their head of business development. It has been a fantastic opportunity to scratch my entrepreneurial itch and apply what I’m learning in school to further the company. I even used the startup in a class project in which my team created a pitch deck. We then presented that pitch deck to three venture capitalists brought into the class by the professor.
All of the admissions effort and the balancing of work and school are absolutely worth it. And it’s worth it in ways that I never even imagined. For example, I never thought that I’d be working at a startup or have made so many close friends in school. And then there are all of the doors that the Wharton name opens. Wharton’s EMBA program has exceeded all of my expectations.
Posted: April 4, 2016