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I have found there is a large difference in my classmates’ levels of confidence, meaning a few students dominate group work to the detriment of others. While I have belief in my own judgment, I do not seem to be able to convince others to listen and take my perspective as seriously. What can I do to get myself heard? Should I tackle the loudmouths?
I have some great news for you: the world doesn’t belong to the confident, as everyone tells you it does, it belongs to the competent. If you don’t believe me, read Confidence by Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, professor of business psychology at University College London. He argues that the unconfident outperform because they are driven by anxiety (which you display by writing to me). And unlike the loudmouths, people like you listen to criticism and try to adjust accordingly. Best of all, you are less likely to become arrogant monsters. The confident have only one true advantage: they get others to listen. So what you must work on is a veneer of confidence — learn how to do it by watching them — while at the time knowing that your lack of confidence is likely to make you succeed in the end.
Out of desperation — I have been unemployed for several months — I applied to a well-known European business school to study for a masters in management. I was delighted to be accepted and was looking forward to starting the course. Now, however, I have been offered a long internship at a big-name bank and have been told that if I do well there is the chance of a full-time job. What should I do?
This is the easiest problem I have ever seen. Take the internship. If you had been longing to do a masters ever since you were in short trousers (hard to believe, but let’s suppose), it might have been a tricky decision. But you only applied out of desperation, and now something else has fallen into your lap — hooray! Quite possibly the internship won’t lead to a job. But the masters wouldn’t necessarily lead to one either. If at the end of the internship you find yourself jobless again, you could always do an MBA later — this time with the knowledge that banking is something you want to do . . . or is something you have got out of your system.
Is it really worth paying yet more money to gain another qualification? The question is on my mind because my brother has only an undergraduate degree yet has landed a job with a multinational because it was impressed by his CV, which includes working as a diving instructor in Indonesia and a year teaching in Africa. With so many people having similar academic credentials, wouldn’t it be better to do something different so that I stand out?
An MBA in itself doesn’t get you the job of your dreams. But neither does doing something brave far away. To teach people to dive because you think it will land you a job at Google would be insane. To do it because you want to, and because you know how much you will learn from it, makes more sense. Ask your brother. I bet what impressed his employers was not what he had done but what he made of that experience. Can you do the same? Do you want to?
During my undergraduate studies we were repeatedly told of the importance of thinking globally and getting experience of living and working abroad. I plan to do a masters in management next year and am torn between a good programme in an overseas location I particularly like or a slightly more highly regarded course at home. Is it really as simple as “go for the best course”?
If the overseas course is only slightly less esteemed than the local one, I’d go for that. Then even if you find the masters itself on the dull side, you’ll have the fun of living somewhere new. Who knows, you could always teach kids or become a diving instructor on the side (see above) and have the best of all worlds.
Would I be better off preparing for a flying start to a career in business by taking a masters in management as soon as I finish my undergraduate degree, or by getting a good job and experience before going back to school for an MBA in a few year’s time, when I have a clearer idea of my direction?
I’d say get a job first. I do wonder about the wisdom of setting out to become a manager when you don’t have the first idea of how companies work or what it feels like to work in them. If you have some experience of the 9 to 5 before you start a course, you know what you are interested in and what you are good at. And you never know — if you get a job now, you might find you like it so much, and you progress so well that you don’t need an MBA at all.
I’d expected some sexual tension on a course with a lot of young, single students but there is so much in the air between some classmates that it interferes with the dynamics of the course. I enjoy an occasional flirt as much as anyone but people don’t seem to have grown up since undergraduate days. Am I being a prude — and is there anything to be done without appearing like one?
Yes, you are being a prude and, worse than that, you are failing to learn one of the most important things that your course has to teach you. Flirtation at business school is an intense preparation for the world of work. In most offices there are plenty of young, attractive people flitting around (as well as many older, less attractive ones) all of whom are passing the days in an atmosphere of boredom and competitiveness that can only lead one way. Sexual tension is as much a part of office life as cardboard coffee cups and photocopiers. You can ignore it. You can refuse to join in. But to work yourself up into a state of indignation over it is a waste of energy — and makes you look very silly indeed.
Lucy Kellaway is an FT associate editor and management columnist, and writes the weekly Dear Lucy advice column in the newspaper and online
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