Thursday, May 17, 2012

Consortium OP 2012: Getting Psyched!

Hundreds of new Consortium MBA students--beaming with glee and pride after having been accepted by top business schools and, in many cases, after having received full-tuition fellowships--will converge on Minneapolis for the Consortium's annual Orientation Program. They don't go alone.  Hundreds of others, including Consortium alumni, business-school staffers and professors, industry speakers, and corporate recruiters will touch down in Minneapolis, too, and participate in panels, discussions, networks, and career fairs and welcome over 300 new Consortium MBA students to the b-school experience.

The OP, as it has evolved over the past four decades, is more than a celebration of admission.  Programs exist for alumni of all years and experiences.  This year even includes a day-long examination of the consulting industry for those interested in a career in consulting.

The panels, events, and presentations help students gear up for b-school, recruiting, coursework, specific subjects, casework and career decision-making. September looms and all that comes with it (new campuses, new environment, new classmates, challenging courses and swamping workloads) follows behind. The transition from workplace to campus starts now, and the Consortium OP makes sure students are ready. (This year marks the Consortium's 46th annual OP.)

Students and alumni who attend should maximize what they get from the OP.  What a waste it would be if they shrug it off as a short respite away from current work, a brief chance to take a breather before preparing for the move to Darden, Tuck, Marshall or Haas.  This is the time to leap at a gift given--an extraordinary networking event with opportunities to outline what you want most from business school and learn a little something in the process. 

How can MBA students and alumni optimize the week? Many come with an agenda; many come with hopes, while some come crossing their fingers wishing for luck to meet the right corporate representative with arms full of folders and booklets describing real job opportunities.

Consortium students and alumni can make the best of the week, and in years past, many have done so dutifully. They attend the sessions, luncheons, panels and corporate events, even resisting the temptation to sneak away to tour the town or loiter about in local bars.  What can this year's batch do?

1.  Pace yourself, organize your time, and acknowledge that with an onslaught of events, programs and panels, you can't do it all. But if you have a plan, stick to it, and allow for free time, you can do, see, and meet what you design on your agenda.

2. Absorb the knowledge; listen out for and welcome the wisdom shared by experienced alumni, corporate representatives, business professionals, professors and business-school deans.  The talent, wealthy experiences, corporate skills, and intellectual breadth concentrated at the OP are enormous.  Allow as much of that to rub off as possible.

At OP, there are flurries of information, knowledge, and insight that are passed around and shuffled about--during panels, during coffee breaks and dinners, even on elevator rides or during idle chats around the hotel fountain.  Gatherings as big as a hundred or as small as a couple discuss companies, business trends, schools, cities, hot opportunities, financial innovation, marketing ideas, and the prospects of start-ups. They discuss favorite cities, attractive regions and countries (hot spots), and desirable entry-level positions in marketing at a Fortune 500 company.  They discuss how they plan to start their own businesses or non-profits. 

3. Be open-minded: explore other industries.  Go beyond your comfort zone and sample something new. If you approach school stubbornly focused on private banking, step beyond familiar waters and learn something about micro-finance, private equity, community banking or municipal finance.  If you are preparing to concentrate in finance, do something daring and attend a panel on entrepreneurship, industrial management or international business.

Allow yourself a moment of serendipity--being lucky to have been in the right place in the right time because you dared to try something new.

 4. Get to know the companies that swarm the OP, that send dozens of representatives ready to discuss all aspects of their businesses, strategies, expansion and even recruiting. Get a sense of the companies' cultures, people, and management style. Decide whether these are places where you wish to start out (or perhaps invest in or do business with in the future).

At OP, there are many chances to confer with companies, banks, institutions, and other organizations--during receptions, at lunch, during dinner, in the lobby, or at panels. At OP, corporate representatives come yearning to start a relationship or have dialogue with a Consortium student or alumnus.

5.  Make connections beyond your school. Very quickly you will get to know all other Consortium students from your school. The meaningful, rich relationships with classmates will ignite and spark at the start.  Nonetheless, find time to connect with and meet other students and alumni from other schools.  If you are from Olin, Tepper, Darden or Johnson, steal away to meet those from McCombs, Ross, Tuck, Goizueta, or Stern.

Discuss shared experiences and backgrounds; talk about business-related dreams, and devise strategies for how you all will pursue ambitions.  You will have extended your network from the confines of your school to a national tie-in.  When you return to school, you should have campus connections and ongoing communications with students from campuses coast to coast.

6.  Don't ignore professors and staffers who take the time to attend OP. Sometimes they are overlooked, as students and alumni rush to make connections with corporate representatives or stumble to get to corporate-fair presentations from favorite institutions. 

Professors and staffers in attendance from all schools provide advice on how to approach required courses, how to plan a concentration, how to plan a semester abroad, and how to juggle academics while looking for a summer internship. And you get their attention and thoughtful commentary when they are not preoccupied with other campus chores.  There, too, is no rule that says a student or alumnus from Anderson or Stern cannot speak to an official from Yale, Tuck, Kelley, or Wisconsin.

7.  Take a moment to discover the city. Time won't permit you to do this in chunks, but force yourself to allot an hour or two here and there. Minneapolis will put on a happy, welcoming face and will be eager to share with you its cultural offerings and geographic wonders.  It wants you (and the Consortium) to return for business and personal purposes.

8.  Most of all, enjoy the moment. The OP has a celebratory air with many pats on the back,  inspiration from speakers, and encouragement from schools, older alumni, and corporate representatives. There is good reason for all participants to applaud each other. The new students, with their MBA acceptances at top schools and lucrative fellowships, have wrapped up a successful chapter one of the MBA experience and can't wait for the rest of the book to evolve.

Tracy Williams

See also

CFN: OP, 2011 and Consortium Alumni

CFN:  OP Through the Years (June 2010)

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