Many MBA applicants list entrepreneurship as their long-term goal and see graduate school as the next step in that direction. These applicants often work in the corporate space and they see entrepreneurship as the antithesis of their corporate job. Do a quick word association exercise and you’ll realize that millennials interested in entrepreneurship associate corporate jobs with things like ‘bureaucracy’, ‘stability’, and ‘dull’. In other words, the opposite of entrepreneurship, which is thought of as being ‘exciting’, ‘fast-paced’, and ‘impactful’.
While there is some truth to these descriptions, there is still a lot an aspiring entrepreneur can learn about starting a business through their job. There are tangible skills and experiences that you can pick up before starting your MBA program so that by the time you graduate you will be ready with the knowledge and ability to start something of your own.
Here are a few of the things you should prioritize mastering while at your current job:
Try to assume as much responsibility as you can at your job even if you are relatively early on in your career. If this is something that you struggle with, start off by owning small parts of a project. This can include things like building the final presentation for a client or becoming the go-person on your team for UX design skills.
These experiences help build confidence. Start assuming more responsibility as you gain confidence. Colleagues and clients will look up to you when you are an entrepreneur. There are always challenging times when you run a business but knowing they are in the presence of a confident owner can give comfort to teammates.
Imagine that you run a small business. You are under pressure to close the next deal. Funds are drying out. In the midst of all this, you need to learn how to create a balance sheet since tax season is coming up and you have to report finances correctly. Sounds stressful, doesn’t it? Make sure you pick up every single skill that you can at your current job. If you don’t know financial analysis, go out of your way to get on a project that will help you learn how it is done.
The same applies to soft skills such as trying to sell a product or service to prospective clients. Marc Benioff, the Founder of Salesforce spent 12 years at Oracle understanding how the best constituent relationship management systems back then worked before starting his own firm. Think of it this way – you are being paid to learn all these amazing skills. Don’t waste the opportunity, just go for it!
The art of scaling a business will be tied very closely with your ability to codify existing ways of doing something. This could include things like how market research is conducted or how knowledge and information are shared between different departments. No organization in the world has perfect processes. But understanding how your workplace does it can be hugely helpful as you build and scale your own enterprise.
By understanding how and why things like reporting structures or IT infrastructure are set up, you save yourself a lot of time and pain of making mistakes that could have been avoided.
No matter how talented and capable you are, you will be reliant on others as an entrepreneur. You will be reliant for advice, funding, clients, talent, and everything in between. Make sure you develop good networks through your current job. Enduring relationships that can help you launch or scale your business. You might reach out to a former client for sales leads or a senior executive for fundraising support. These can often be the difference between success and failure in the fragile nascent years of a company. Be excited, genuine, and curious whenever you meet someone new. Try to help them without expecting anything in return. Keep in touch – wish them well during the holidays or share an interesting article that you think they’ll like. Remember, who you know is often more powerful than what you know!
There are numerous other helpful resources and experiences that your job might afford. But hopefully, these tips give you a good idea about how you can start shaping your experience to prepare for life as an entrepreneur after business school. Go in with a positive attitude and make every experience count.