Matthew Wilson, 27, is taking his MBA at the Peter B. Gustavson School of Business at the University of Victoria. He plans to specialize in International Business with a minor specialization in Entrepreneurship. Matthew's interest in International Business comes from years working in Japan and experiences abroad in Asia and Europe.
While getting an MBA is great for your professional development and will help you throughout your career, most employers still focus more on your real-world experience.
It is a large investment to go back to school for one to three or more years, full-time or part-time. Personally, I was worried about the one- to two-year void on my résumé, as are many others. After the program is over, you fear employers may say, "It's great you have your master's, but what have you done for me lately?"
But for those looking to gain experience in a certain area outside the classroom, there are a number of things you can do while in school to enrich your work experience.
Most programs offer co-op or internship programs, but you also should look at what point in the program the co-op term takes place. One of the features that attracted me to my program was that it has a co-op term in the middle of the program, which gives you the chance to pursue various different options right in the middle of your studies so you get a chance to try out different things earlier on.
For someone like myself, looking to explore a new industry, it is a great chance to secure internships or opportunities with companies you are interested in. Quite often, if students are able to impress over the work term, it can lead to full-time employment once you graduate.
Co-op terms can also be a good way to scout new companies that you might be interested in and use the four months to size THEM up. If it is a good experience, than you gain expertise in a field you are looking to pursue after graduation. If you don't end up enjoying the experience, it's no skin off your back, as you are able to return to school and pursue other avenues for the future.
You can also build your résumé by getting involved in various volunteer or student liaison roles. There are many student societies, initiatives, organizations or volunteer opportunities to be had, with different roles, depending on what you are looking to do. For instance, a group of students in my program interested in writing, marketing and IT, launched a UVic MBA blog.
One good place to look at is student council. Ours has elected positions, including president, treasurer, international rep and communications director, to mention a few. So far this year, the council's conference committee has planned a number of events and professional development activities, including an upcoming conference on leadership, where the council had to recruit speakers, secure sponsorship and designate venues for the events. For those interested in event planning, project management, politics and various other career paths, this exposure says a lot about an individual's character upon graduation.
Others take it upon themselves to start their own ventures while still in school. What better an environment to launch a startup then at business school, where you are surrounded by knowledgeable professors ready to give feedback, eager classmates who could be future business partners and support from business professionals in the community to advise you. Some classmates of mine are already developing their own business plans while handling a full course load.
An option I had not given much thought to before entering business school was academic competitions. They are an excellent way to get exposure to a subject area of interest and to build knowledge in an area of expertise outside of the classroom. Recently, a classmate and I entered a national marketing competition. And a group of my classmates are in the midst of a preparing for a finance competition, which has exposed them to the area of venture capital. There are a plethora of competitions in various fields, from case competitions to finance to marketing and advertising competitions offered within Canada, North America and worldwide. Many of these are a great test of your skills against competitors from all over. They are also another good résumé builder, as your future employer will see your drive and motivation to go out and get experience on your own time.
The bottom line is: Your real-world experience doesn't stop when returning to school.