Sunday, August 28, 2011

Turning off my cell phone

I had an interesting conversation with a 2008 HBS graduate this past Friday. This particular individual, let’s call him Jake, and I were talking about how to make management consulting work with a family. He gave me what turned out to be some great advice which got me thinking more broadly about work life balance.

Like me, Jake is married with two children. Unlike me, he never served in the military. Instead, he went and worked in the oil and gas industry for a few years after college and before deciding that a formal business education was the best next step in his career. We met during recruiting last summer and have been pretty close since then.

Jake is also a project team leader at the consulting firm for which we both work and has been a ‘top block’ guy from a performance standpoint since he started with the firm. What I like most about Jake isn’t that he’s been successful from a company point of view (though he’s achieved a level of success that I too would like to achieve), but that he’s been just as successful on the home front as well (our wives are also friends). And if you talk to Jake, he’d tell you that his priorities fall out in the exact opposite order in which I just listed them.

Although I’ve been back at the firm full-time for over a month now, we hadn’t had the opportunity to catch up in person until this past Friday. He asked me how things were going, and I explained to him that I had been immediately staffed on a project which has me going primarily to Chicago, but also to Houston on occasion. (That means that I’m taking the 7:25am flight out every Monday morning to either Chicago or Houston, and arriving back at home around 9 or 10pm every Thursday night. Friday, of course, is also a work day, though I spend it in the local office). Overall, I tell him, I’m working hard but that things are going well. We start talking about our families, and I explain to him that I haven’t quite settled into a routine yet in terms of balancing work demands with those of an engaged husband and father. I wasn’t looking for any sympathy, or advice for that matter, and fully expected Jake to say something to the effect of, “…yeah, it just takes time.” So I was a bit surprised when he actually offered some guidance. “Turn off your (work issued) cell phone and don’t look at it until Sunday night.” I commented that I’d have to give it a try, but more or less filed it away alongside all of the other John Maxwell-esque type guidance I’ve come across in my day.

On my drive home that day, however, I started thinking more about Jake’s advice. Having been on my current team for four weeks now, I can count on one hand (maybe two) the number of emails that have been sent out on a Saturday or Sunday. So my immediate thought was that maybe Jake’s advice was more relevant for people who were on “burner projects” that required round-the-clock work hours. Not to mention, it struck me as a fairly irresponsible thing for an early tenured consultant to do. I learned very early on in my plebe year at West Point that the key to success when you’re just starting out is to swim with, not against, the current. If something came up that required my attention, I should make sure that I was prepared to react, not get to it when I decided to get to it.

As I pulled up to my house, I saw my son and his friend playing basketball in our driveway. I grabbed my work cell phone from its location in my car’s cup holder, checked my email one last time, and pressed the power button until it powered off. I thought to myself, what the hell. I would give it a try this weekend and see how it goes.

So here we are on Sunday night. The world is still standing and I still have a job. More importantly, unplugging enabled me to focus 100% on being present with my family. I’m pretty sure that it also contributed to my decreased stress levels. Not surprisingly, we had a great weekend. And although I’m flying out yet again tomorrow morning, I feel less guilty about it.

My phone is now powered on and while there are a few emails in my work account, none of them are critical. Oddly, it was a subtle reminder that while my responsibility set as a consultant is still very real, it is nowhere near as vital as the one I had as an Army officer. Maybe it was that realization that I had hitherto failed to make. Or perhaps it was that work-life balance is simply a series of tradeoffs. Nevertheless, plugging back in on Sunday night, as opposed to every 10-15 minutes throughout the weekend when I would normally check my phone, feels like a much better and more sustainable way to do things. I’m pretty sure my wife and kids would agree.

- Rob C., guest blogger

Saturday, August 27, 2011

MBA Military Applicant Guidebooks

I'm pleased to announce a series of guidebooks specifically geared for military MBA applicants. After collecting successful applications from military applicants at the top business schools (Harvard, Stanford, Wharton, MIT, Dartmouth, Columbia, Booth, Kellogg, UVA, and Duke), I hand picked best-in-class essays which effectively communicated the wide range of experience that military applicants typically struggle with in their application process. For each essay, I included a one page analysis highlighting why that essay was selected, what its strengths were, and what areas could be improved to make an even more perfect essay. The "Ultimate" guide has over 100 pages of essays, resumes, analysis, and advice.

The essay topics are broken down by category, such as leadership, accomplishments, setbacks, and community engagements. Military stories range from picking up one's first platoon, to passing a navy performance test, to commanding an aircraft, to life at a service academy, to going above and beyond on collateral duties typically assigned to a young officer. There are also many essays that are not directly military related, ranging from playing sports in college or organizing high school events. It's important to recognize the value of these essays as well, as it is sometimes difficult for military applicants to know where to balance military and personal stories. Reading through these essays will bring a tremendous amount of clarity to all these questions.

Additionally, I created a resume book of successful pre-MBA resumes, to give new applicants an idea of the kind of language that successful applicants used in their resumes to effectively communicate accomplishments and job descriptions. The resume book covers applicants who went to USMA, USNA, and USAFA, as well as private and public universities.

Overall, I believe these guides will serve tremendously to level the playing field for military applicants versus traditional (banking, consulting, etc) applicants, who can more easily gain access to successful examples of applications for people of their backgrounds.

The guidebooks are a great companion for somebody in the process of applications, as well as for anyone several years out who wants to get a glimpse into the kinds of activities, engagements, and valuable lessons that applicants were able to tap into as part of a successful application.

For more information on the guidebooks, click here.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

MBA Joint Degrees - Are Two Degrees Better Than One?

Grad school is an investment – you spend time and money early in your career with the expectation that it will lead to better opportunities and higher salaries down the road. But would two stellar degrees set you up for even greater success and earning potential? Maybe, but maybe not.
Completion of a joint degree program entails a significant additional investment of resources, and you should closely analyze the opportunity costs in order to figure out whether a joint degree program is right for you. For many prospective students the chance to earn two degrees at a top tier university will be an opportunity too good to pass up. For many others though a joint degree may not make sense. Here is a framework for thinking through this difficult decision, based both on things I considered prior to matriculating to Harvard for a J.D./MBA and things I didn’t think about but probably should have.
The analysis below considers whether to obtain a second (joint) degree, assuming that you are already committed to getting one degree at a top school. Although I will attempt to present a general breakdown, I will use numbers and thoughts specific to a Harvard J.D./MBA on occasion, simply because this is the joint program with which I am most familiar.

Is a joint degree worth it financially?
Most joint degrees allow you to save a year versus completing the two degrees sequentially. However, the additional costs are still significant. From a purely financial perspective the question is whether over the course of your career you will be able to recoup the extra year(s) of tuition and the opportunity costs of not working while completing your additional degree. I think the best way to analyze the purely financial aspect of this decision is through a discounted cash flow analysis. In other words, the outcome will hinge on how much more you think you can earn over your career with the additional degree.
Because this is primarily a b-school oriented blog, I assume you, as a prospective student, are already committed to going to Harvard b-school and are trying to decide whether to also pursue a law degree (two extra years) or an Masters in Public Policy (one additional year). I used the following assumptions:
- Career remaining right now: 35 years
- Additional cost of J.D. – two years at Harvard Law School, including tuition and cost of living
- Additional cost of MPP – one year at Harvard Kennedy School of Government, including tuition and cost of living
- Average starting salary for MBA only = 2010 average starting salary for HBS grads
- Average annual raise = 3.6% (this is quite variable based on industry, personal performance, etc., but I based this number on a Wall Street Journal article from 2006 – before the current recession)
- Cost of Capital = risk free investment rate of 30-year T-bonds (4.12%)
Using these assumptions, your starting salary would need to be 9.2% higher with an MBA/MPP or 19.5% higher with a J.D./MBA in order to make up for the additional investment. If you expect to receive higher than average (3.6%) raises over your career, the amount of additional starting salary needed to catch up over 35 years increases.
From a financial perspective then, one way to look at the question is to ask whether the additional degree will enable you to coax 9%-20% more from your post grad school employer or to get into an industry that pays 9%-20% more on average.

Will a second degree open up additional job opportunities?
The obvious answer is yes – BUT… this is most true in fields for which the second degree is a requirement (e.g., law), or where you have a very clear idea of what you want to do after grad school and how both degrees support that direction. Although a second degree is unlikely to be a serious detriment to your future ability to get a job, it is not true that “it can’t hurt.” All else equal, employers would prefer to hire b-school graduates who are likely to remain with the company for a significant time. A second degree in an unrelated field opens applicants up to additional (although not insurmountable) scrutiny regarding commitment and career direction.

Is there anything else I should consider?
The one factor that I wish I had put more thought into prior to going back to school for four years is the importance of doing something productive and meaningful with one’s life. After having spent time in the workforce (as most MBA students have), going back to school can feel somewhat unproductive after awhile. Reading cases and going to class just isn’t doing a whole lot to make the world a better place. Hopefully grad school sets you up to make bigger differences in the future, but you will not be doing a whole lot to make anyone’s life better while you are at school. For me personally, a two year “break” to go back to school felt about right – during my final two years I was very ready to be doing something more productive than going to class.
Another factor that will play into many people’s decision making is prestige. Here, having two degrees is certainly superior to one. This point is likely to serve as the X-factor for many prospective students. After thinking through the financial and job opportunities that may arise from an additional degree, you may find that a second degree does not objectively make sense – but you still want to do it. That decision is not irrational or wrong as long as the prestige value of having two degrees outweighs the additional financial and time investments you will be making.
Whether or not to pursue a second graduate degree is a tough decision that will play out differently for every person. This article provides a framework for analyzing the financial and non-financial implications of that decision in an attempt to help you make the choice that is best for you.
- Kurt W., Guest Blogger, HLS/HBS 2011 (Bio)