Learning From MSB’s Mistakes
Published: Friday, November 15, 2013
Updated: Friday, November 15, 2013 02:11
Nearly a year ago, I sat at my computer typing my first cover letter at the start of what turned out to be a very short job search. As I looked over my CV, I distinctly remember wondering if I was really ready for the world beyond the front gates. My concerns did not come from a lack of confidence in my prior work experience; rather, I wasn’t sure what exactly it was that the business school itself had given me.
My time as a student in the McDonough School of Business could be considered fairly typical. I survived my freshman accounting classes, made it through the introductory finance and marketing courses and eventually settled on becoming an operations and information management major. Some of my professors were incredibly gifted in their fields and would do anything to help their students. Others could only be considered exceptional in their laziness with their work and their disinterest in other human beings. Like any student, I had my fair share of both.
Roughly a month into the spring semester, I was offered a position to set up a support desk for a school out in Fairfax, Va., that was providing a laptop program for its students. The laptops arrived toward the end of the season in batches of 50 computers at a time. They each required approximately 10 minutes of extra work before they were ready for a student. For me, this was a cruel twist. I was once shown an instructional video that contained a 1980s Hugh Jackman look-alike packing Styrofoam using various production line methods. It was predictably hilarious, and now I was being asked to do the same thing. Fortunately, I correctly remembered to use batch processing in units of four per person to maximize efficiency while reducing bottlenecks and avoiding errors. A good friend of mine found herself in a similar situation: After being hired by a company here in D.C., she was soon asked to teach her fellow employees an entire course on Excel. She joked that she would be fine as long as she didn’t have to create a decision tree for any of them.
While I suspect that both of our experiences are typical, given the circumstances, I don’t believe that they represent what the business school provides its students. Instead, I believe that for all of the great things the MSB offers (including networking sessions, internship and alumni networks, an exclusive working environment and, of course, Fridays off), it is the MSB’s shortcomings that prepare students for what to expect in the real world. The situations that I find myself most prepared for now are the ones that were the hardest in college. People often have requests for my department that are nonsensical or are given with no context and a bare minimum of information. Often, I deal with parents and teachers who are downright mean: One person remarked that they felt sorry for me because I went to Georgetown. They elaborated by stating that it “wasn’t a proper Catholic experience.”
I imagine comparing that to the business school seems rather harsh. Make no mistake; the MSB has a wide variety of wonderful students, staff members and faculty. The unfortunate reality is that it also has no shortage of people with an impressively large sense of self-importance. Embrace that fact. Learning how to handle that is the real lesson the business school has to offer, and it’s a lesson that can take four years to learn.
Kevin Perlow graduated from the McDonough School of Business in 2013. He manages a laptop help desk at Paul VI Catholic High School in Fairfax, Va.