Dear Lucy

January 28, 2013 12:00 am

Can I get a spouse with my MBA?

Q: How do you focus on the lecture, when all you can do is focus on the person giving it?

This is a rather less difficult problem than focusing on a lecture when the person giving it bores you to sobs. I suggest you watch their mouth. If you stare at someone’s mouth it is hard not to take in what they are saying.

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Q: My fellow students and I are chasing the same jobs. There is tension at networking events, with battles to get facetime with the visiting company. How should I manage this without walking over my classmates while hunting for business cards?

Don’t worry – smart employers can spot sharp elbows and don’t like them any more than you do. No one ever got a job by elbowing their classmates out of the way at networking events. If these companies come to see you, they will be interviewing half the class anyway. Your interview will be your chance to shine – without the “help” of your fellow classmates.

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Q: Most of my study group are men and when we are trying to reach an agreement on a project or strategy, my views are completely ignored. The other female student in the group just accepts this but I find it very difficult. What can I do to make sure my views count?

You are quite right to find it difficult. You have to continue speaking up. You may need to speak a bit louder or lower. Play the role of iron lady: you may need to be harder and tougher than you generally feel like, but you must steamroller until they listen. It is what they would do, after all.

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Q: Some seemingly trivial decisions have become so hard to make since starting business school – for example, buying a pair of shoes based on the overall colour scheme in my wardrobe, the brand of shoe, its depreciation value and the comfort versus style factor … Help, what should I do?

In this apparently trivial question lies the most savage indictment of business schools that I have ever seen. It teaches you how to systemise and overcomplicate all decisions, overriding instinct and common sense. I admire your honestly in owning up, but I fear for you. Not only will you soon start wearing some very odd shoes, but I am not at all confident that your decisions in the business world are getting any better either. Leave at once!

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Q: I chose my business school on the grounds of its academic reputation, but I find many of the classes are taught by people from outside the school who have few academic qualifications but have “real-world experience”. Am I right to complain?

Shouldn’t you be pleased to have some real-world experience? Business and management should never be seen as pure academic subjects, but as a way of understanding better what happens in the real world. So I think you should welcome these outside speakers – but only if they are good. If they are not, then by all means, complain away! After all, you are paying enough for the privilege.

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Q: I have thrown myself head-first into the MBA experience and love the wealth of options and activities. Checking my calendar recently, I realised that I seem to have committed myself to 28 hours of classes, sports, clubs, activities and social events per day for the next six weeks. How do I decide what is important and what is not?

I am exhausted just thinking about it. If I were you, I would stick with the classes (you need to learn) and the social events (you need to have fun, and to network). Sport is fine too, though not to excess. But as for clubs and activities, I am not so sure. The point of going to business school is not to join film appreciation societies.

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Q: I joined business school after working for many years as an accountant. Now, I have to sit through basic accountancy classes and effectively teach those in my group who have no accountancy knowledge. I feel this is a complete waste of my time, and will jeopardise my chances of getting a good degree. What should I do?

If I was feeling wet I might say that helping others teaches you to be a great coach. But actually I agree it is a waste of your time and you ought to be tough. You could say you will take the exam, but do not need the classes and would rather sit in on another module instead.

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Q: Is business school a good place to recruit a spouse – and could you suggest any business principles I might apply when considering candidates for the position?

Yes! It is an absolutely terrific place to recruit a spouse. You are about the right age; you are interested in the same things but don’t have the complications of meeting someone at work. I suggest you conduct many interviews in formal and less formal settings before deciding. Seeking references may be difficult, depending on the candidate’s previous histories. You also get the chance to see them in class, which provides valuable information on how they relate to others and how smart they are. In addition to the usual criteria – attractiveness, humour, wit, kindness – I suggest you give some thought to ambition. Marriages between two super alpha types tend not to last. If you are ruthlessly ambitious yourself, pick someone a bit less so. If you are a bit more laid-back, go for the biggest alpha partner you can find. The income may come in handy later on.

Lucy Kellaway is an FT associate editor and management columnist and writes the Dear Lucy feature

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