How to Make the Most of Your MBA Experience

JF: We first met at UNC’s Kenan-Flagler Business Communication Center during your MBA program. I was always impressed by how much time you dedicated to becoming the most effective communicator you could be. Why was this important to you?

Al Dea: I think that communicating effectively to your audience is one of the most important skills both in work and in life. I’m always trying to reflect on and improve how I communicate, whether in writing emails, leading group meetings, or presenting in large keynotes. Today, there are so many distractions that you need to think deeply about how you engage your audience and connect with whomever you're speaking with.

JF: You graduated with your MBA in 2015 and the same year you launched MBASchooled, a blog dedicated to sharing insights and best practices about the MBA Experience. What inspired you to create this platform?

AD: I started MBASchooled because I wanted to highlight what it was like to go to business school and provide guidance and advice on how to make the most of your MBA experience. When I was in business school, I felt there were many times when I needed guidance on how to make decisions or navigate specific challenges. While I was fortunate to have good mentors, I felt like there was an opportunity to create a one-stop-shop to share this information, and that was how MBASchooled was born. I’ve always been passionate about learning, sharing, and teaching others, and I felt that MBASchooled was a great avenue to do that.

JF: At Fink Development, we define an Authentic Career as one that taps into your strengths, values, and interests. Which of your strengths, values, and interests align with your current work at MBASchooled?

AD: As someone who is a believer in education, learning, and mentorship, I’m passionate about helping others learn. Furthermore, one of my most important values is using my talents and skills to benefit not just myself, but others. Having a blog to share thought leadership, and writing about the topic that I know a lot about are two of the many ways MBASchooled enables me to live an authentic career. 

JF: Over the past five years, you’ve had hundreds of conversations with MBAs (prospectives, current, and alums). What keeps these conversations interesting for you after five years?

AD: It’s exciting to talk to people who are on a unique journey to achieve their desired career goals. As the world of work continues to evolve and change, so do people’s goals and desires. Furthermore, many of the people I meet are intelligent, hard-working and driven individuals, so speaking with them is a crash course in learning for myself. Last but not least, these are top-notch students, with incredible goals and aspirations, and hearing their hopes, challenges, fears, and successes is inspiring to me. Combining these insights with my blog or other platforms enriches my ability to contribute meaningful thought leadership on the MBA experience. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, I’ve built some great friendships and relationships with the people that I’ve talked to over the years (including the CEO of Fink Development), which not only enriches me personally but professionally as well.

"at some point you need to make the call about what works best for you, even if you don’t feel like the expert."

JF: Last year you set a goal of writing a book to showcase the true experience of an MBA and how to make the most of your program. Congrats that your book, MBA Insider, is launching this week! Tell us, what was the hardest part of achieving this goal?

AD: This was my first time writing a book! Thus, I made sure to do my research, study the best practices, and look for guidance, all of which I think are smart things to do in general. That said, at various points, I would often read or get conflicting advice, or because of my familiarity with the topic (or lack thereof), I would be confused about how to do a specific thing. What I had to realize and own, was that 1) “best practices” can only take you so far, at some point you need to make the call about what works best for you, even if you don’t feel like the expert, and 2) most decisions, even if they don’t work out, can be fixed. Instead of trying to get everything “right,” I had to use more of an agile process where I could test and learn.

JF: In the spirit of your book, I can honestly share that in the first month of my MBA program, I was wondering, “what in the world have you done?!”. How would you describe the hardest part of your MBA journey?

AD: I don’t think you're alone with that thought! I think for me, the hardest part was owning my decision to come to business school in the first place. While I knew that I always wanted to go, I got off to a rocky start. I didn’t know I would attend a program until a little bit later in the admissions cycle, because all five schools I applied to waitlisted me. This created a lot of questions for me about whether I should reapply to schools I really wanted, being so close to the finish line, or accept any offer if it came in. Additionally, as someone who has always been a little bit more insecure than I would like to be, being surrounded by intelligent people, made me, well, insecure! These two things combined made the first few months very challenging, as I doubted my worthiness to be at school, and second-guessed whether I made the right decision. This doubt hindered my ability, at least at first, to contribute in class, go out to build relationships with others, and take advantage of the great opportunities in front of me. Fortunately, I talked with a now mentor of mine, who helped me realize that I had the chance to own my experience if I wanted to, and it made a difference. After that, I still had challenges, but much more confidence to work through them, and a greater sense of purpose in trying to make the most of my MBA experience.

"This doubt hindered my ability, at least at first, to contribute in class, go out to build relationships with others, and take advantage of the great opportunities in front of me."

JF: As you launch and take your book on the road this year. Who would you most love to meet, connect with, or be introduced to?

With the launch of MBA Insider, which is a how-to guide for navigating business school, I’d love to chat with MBA Career Development and Admissions Administrators and I'm always game for connecting with prospective and current MBA students. If you'd like to connect, please reach out!

Contributor Bio

Al Dea is a career and leadership coach, author, and speaker. He is also the Founder of MBASchooled, and the author of MBA Insider: How to Make the Most of Your MBA Experience. 

Al is an expert in career development, graduate education, and career transitions, and his thinking and insights have been published in outlets such as 

Business Insider, The World Economic Forum, and Time Magazine. Al previously worked as a management consultant at Deloitte Consulting LLP, where he advised Fortune 500 companies on developing and executing digital transformation. Al received his bachelor’s degree in Business and Theology from Boston College, and his Master’s in Business Administration from the University of North Carolina Chapel-Hill.