Two soft skills? Only two?
Yes, there are countless skills, both hard and soft, that you need for business school. Areas like mathematics, data analysis, spreadsheet construction, and statistics interpretation fall on the hard side. The soft side includes stress management, self-awareness, communication, and collaboration. But which soft skills are most important?
In addition to actually listening to the people around you, the two soft skill areas you must develop for any MBA program fall under two main categories: being a strong colleague and being a strong leader. Learning to master this pair of skills will help you immensely as you navigate the competitive world of business school—and business!
Being a strong colleague
First, you need to develop friendships with your fellow classmates, particularly those in your study groups, assigned or otherwise. In the long term, you are building connections for the future; but for the short term, making new friends can make school more fun, especially when your group is spending hours together performing research, studying for an exam, or completing a project. Working with people who share an accord and solidarity can help create a more enjoyable MBA experience for all those involved.
Second, it is also wise to cultivate positive relationships with members of your business school’s faculty and administration. These individuals often have years of real world management experience, so you can learn from their perspectives as people who have truly been there. Furthermore, not everyone makes the effort to talk with their professors outside class, so you may stand out in your instructor’s mind if they have to make a tough administrative decision. For instance, it’s harder for someone to keep you out of a full class or give you a failing grade if they have had multiple endearing conversations with you.
Finally, convert recruiters and alumni at your target companies from acquaintances to buddies. Don’t merely learn a recruiter’s name, rank, and serial number—find out about their company culture, what they like about their job, what they don’t like about their job, and what they are looking for in a future team member. Ask what they like to do outside of work; discover what you have in common. Knowing you have advocates at the places you would like to work helps you feel more confident as you submit your applications to those companies.
Being a strong leader
When trying to persuade other individuals to share your point of view, it helps if these people already view you as a strong colleague. Let’s start with your fellow classmates, particularly those in your study groups. MBA programs abound with students who have strong personalities. Therefore, it is crucial to master the art of leading others and managing conflict. As in your future career, influencing team dynamics involves working across cultures—different departments, ages, companies, viewpoints, and countries. You will need to exert great patience to effectively regulate these situations, and business school provides a valuable setting in which to practice these skills.
Onto your business school’s faculty and administration. As mentioned above, issues like getting into the classes you want and petitioning for a higher grade are easier to steer in your favor when you have a positive rapport with the people in charge. Additionally, when you want to connect with certain mentors in your field, asking professors who have personal links to these people may be the way to go. Those who can influence others with aplomb will likely have more success in these endeavors.
Finally, in your career, you must be able to convince recruiters and alumni at target companies to hire you for positions, sometimes over your equally qualified peers. You are selling yourself both as a potential asset to the company and as a harmonious team member. If an alum or a recruiter selects you, then they may be interacting with you every day. To swing these professionals your way, present yourself as the only solution to their problems, stated or implied. After all, this is one of the main reasons you are attending business school, so make your influence count.
As you can see, being both a good colleague and a good leader are inextricably linked. These are not just two of the most important soft skills you need for business school, but they are also two imperative talents to develop as you move from the classroom into your future career. In addition to learning how to gather, analyze, and present facts and figures as an MBA graduate and colleague, you will also need to know how to persuade your peers on how to act on that information, as you later hopefully move into management. Let your time in business school serve as an environment for you to expand both your emotional intelligence and management expertise.