4 Things They Don’t Teach You in MBA Programs (But Really Should)

School of Business

I’m wrapping up my final term in an MBA program right now, with a concentration in Marketing.

So what exactly does the Master of Business Administration degree do? For some, it’s to help unlock higher earning potential as well as to open up possibilities for obtaining an executive-level position at a company. For others, it is to get advanced training in business management that will help them be able to start a business. I enrolled in graduate school because I wanted to be able to teach classes at the university level, as well as enhance my skill set.

As I’m finishing my final courses, I can look back at both my undergraduate program (Bachelor of Science in Business Management) as well as the MBA, and offer up this list of four things that they don’t teach you in business school but really should. I’ve also included some links for you to help develop each of these critical skills:

1. How to Write: While there is no shortage to research papers, essays, and reports that you’ll have to write in the program, universities always require MLA or APA formatting. This works for the academic world but it doesn’t always translate to the real business world. When was the last time you submitted a sales proposal in APA format? Or create a monthly department report requiring specific citation formatting?

It would be great if business management programs required a business writing class: how to communicate professionally. Many of the classes required presentations (especially the dreaded team presentation done in Powerpoint), but there weren’t any classes on delivering speeches effectively, drafting memos, or copywriting an ad.

Where You Can Learn It: Check out Writing That Works: How to Communicate Effectively in Business by Kenneth Roman.

2. How to Sell: One of the oldest truisms of business is “Nothing happens until somebody sells something.” Manufacturers can’t manufacture, accountants can’t count, HR can’t process paychecks unless there is money in the account. No matter what position a person has in the company, they should always be able to understand the point of view from those in sales and marketing.

Additionally, one should simply learn the art of selling. Whether it is selling a product or their own services/knowledge, anyone working in business needs to continually develop their skills of negotiation, cold calling, pitching ideas, reaching decision makers, and closing a sale. Knowing how to sell is often the quickest way to get noticed in a company.

Where You Can Learn It: Any book or program by Jeffrey Gitomer; I especially recommend The Sales Bible. Zig Ziglar’s See You at The Top is also a great book on sales, management, and motivation as well.

3. How to Start a Business: Whenever professors asked “What are you future goals?” in any of my classes, nearly half would always answer “to start my own business.” However, in MBA programs, the majority of classes focus on how to manage an existing multi-million dollar company (usually something in manufacturing). The reality is that very few people in the classroom will ever reach management in a company of that size – and if they do, it’s because they’ve worked their way up. What Fortune 500 company is going to hire a fresh MBA graduate with no experience to run their company? None.

MBA students are usually quite entrepreneurial; many work and attend school concurrently. Rather than focusing on level management skills that aren’t relevant, programs should include courses on starting a business: how to get financing from a bank or venture capitalists, how to network and partner up with other organizations, and lessons on managing the legal paperwork required from the state and the IRS.

Where You Can Learn It: Most community colleges have small business development programs where you can direct mentorship from local business leaders. Not only will you get the skills required (at a fraction of the cost of grad school), but you can network with others starting businesses too. This book, Start Your Own Business, has a great overview on the subject. My book, How to Get Sponsorships and Endorsements, has information on how to get financial and community support.

4. How to Create a Niche Market: In today’s business market, it’s more important than ever to separate yourself from the rest of the pack, to create your own niche. Not only does it help you tap into new markets (giving you first mover advantages), but it limits competition as well. However, MBA programs teach you how to run the average company in an average manner. You spend more time learning what others have done rather than investing time developing your own ideas or how to avoid generic markets.

In most business programs the basic, but generic approach to marketing: appealing to wide demographics, the four P’s, etc. However, they should teach students how to hone in on a target audience, how to develop a skill or product that can fulfill unmet needs in the marketplace, and how to test or measure potential, viable markets.

Where You Can Learn It: Stephanie Chandler’s Own Your Niche is a great place to start. Also look at the people who are leaders of their industry – any industry, including entertainment. See who dominates headlines and how they differentiate themselves from others. Anything You Want by Derek Sivers is another great book to get motivation in this area.

I often hear the same things from my MBA program instructors: MBA students are entrepreneurial, we’re the future leaders, we have great potential, etc. However, many of my classmates will need to learn some things that they never learned in school…basic skills that I wished came with a degree called “Master of Business Administration.”

3 thoughts on “4 Things They Don’t Teach You in MBA Programs (But Really Should)

  1. I don’t agree. All the information is there in an MBA, you just have to use your initiative, motivation and time to link it together to get what you want.
    Business writing, must be to set standards, granted not academic ones but there are business ones. Your customers might be reading your poorly formatted and written business documents and mentally be judging you for your lack of attention to detail.
    MBA isn’t really about teaching, its more about learning – there is a difference!

    1. Hi,

      The problem with that approach is that by the time you have even get into an MBA program, you would already have 16 years of education in standardized writing – all undergraduate programs teach APA or MLA style guidelines as part of the program. However, those same programs don’t teach you how to write effective business reports, emails, sales pitches, business contracts, etc. You’re correct – an MBA is about learning…but without someone to teach, there is nothing to learn!

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