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I am a non-European at a European business school. In feedback I have been told I lack soft skills and need to be more appreciative of cultural nuances. However, I am top of my class in corporate finance, data analysis and models, and I am also considering two job offers. This lack of soft skills does not seem to have held me back so far and I’m not sure I see the point. Am I missing something?
Yes. You are missing something enormous. Even if you want to be a boffin who deals only with numbers, you still have to learn to get on with other people. You talk about “soft skills” in a dismissive way, as if they were self-evidently less important than the hard ones. That might be true when you are starting out, but in the long run the reverse is true.
Many people can master the numbers, but to be able to do that and know how to deal with the whims and mood swings of your clients and colleagues takes dedication and application – that is what sorts out those who make it to the top from those who don’t.
You say that lack of soft skills hasn’t held you back so far. Well, of course it hasn’t as you have not even started your new job. I suggest you learn everything you can about different cultural practices. Then you will reduce the chances of rubbing people up the wrong way. No one wants to work with such a person, no matter how good they are at data analysis.
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I have received offers of an MBA place at two European schools. One is ranked very highly and is very expensive. The other is much cheaper but is not so highly ranked. Since there is no guarantee that, whatever school I go to, I will get the consultancy job (and high salary) I am aiming for, would it be better to go for the cheaper MBA?
No. So long as you can scrabble the money together it is better to go for the school that everyone has heard of. You are right that there is no guarantee that you will land the consulting job of your dreams, but at least that firm is likely to come to the better school on a hiring drive.
An MBA is as much a calling card as a set of skills, so it is generally a wise investment to get the most prestigious calling card you can afford. And if this particular consultant turns you down, at the better school your money will have bought you a better network and a better springboard to find something else.
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My aim in life has always been to set up my own business, and I now have an idea that I think will be very successful. However, I have very limited knowledge about how to set up a business. Would a one-year European-style MBA help, or would it be better to just start now and study online when I need help in particular areas?
If I were you I’d just go for it. If you have a really great idea, what are you waiting for? I wouldn’t even do an online course – I would throw everything into the business, possibly finding someone as a partner who gets the more technical stuff. You will learn by seeking advice from everyone you know who might be even halfway useful. And you will learn from the mistakes that you will inevitably make.
The one thing most new businesses are short of is cash, so I can’t see that it makes any sense at all to saddle yourself with the debts that come with an MBA. There is time for that later, if things don’t go your way. If your company fails – as most small businesses do, with or without an MBA – then is the time to start thinking about spending a year at business school to help you decide what to do next.
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I am planning to study for an MBA and have narrowed my selection of schools down to one in France and one in Spain. I prefer the Spanish school, but my boyfriend is French and is very keen that I study in France. I value our relationship and don’t want to upset him, but I am beginning to feel emotionally blackmailed. What should I do?
Tell your boyfriend that we live in the age of the railway and the plane and the motor car, and that France and Spain are neighbours. Tell him that we live in a connected age. If he is in France and you in Spain he can talk to you as many times a day as he wants on FaceTime and Skype. Above all, tell him to get off your case.
This is your career and your education and it’s up to you to do what is best for you. If he can’t understand that, you might consider telling him that he isn’t the boyfriend for you.
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I am deciding between one-year MBA programmes. Will a multi-campus experience stand me in better stead than studying at only one campus, or will I just end up exhausted?
I feel exhausted just thinking about the multi-campus experience. If you can’t find a single campus where you want to study, maybe you shouldn’t be doing this at all. Also, if you spread yourself too thinly you never build up the networks that are half the point of getting an MBA. So no, I wouldn’t dream of it.
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My father is a management consultant and has helped me with ideas and solutions to some class assignments. My class has been told to form small teams to tackle a project. Everyone wants me on their team. I don’t mind people thinking I am a genius, but I am afraid that I may be rumbled. What should I do?
Don’t even think of letting on. There is no reason why you shouldn’t hold your head high – there is nothing to be ashamed of in recycling ideas from other people. Even geniuses do that up to a point. The only problem is if your father is so overbearing that you can’t think at all without him breathing down your neck. But I bet that’s not the case. You wouldn’t have got into the school if it were. In my darker hours I wonder what management consultants are really for. Now I know the answer: they help their offspring succeed at business school.