Stefanie Miller is a research analyst at a Washington D.C. financial services consulting firm. She has a B.A. in Political Science from University of Nebraska Lincoln, has worked with consulting for 5 years in the Washington D.C. area and has recently earned her MBA from McDonough School of Business, Georgetown University, among the top business schools in the United States.
Why did you choose to do an MBA?
After studying economics and political science as an undergrad, I had been in the workforce for about five years before deciding to return to graduate school. At that time I was working at a small consulting firm in Washington, DC. Many of my clients were large institutional investors who needed help understanding how the machinations of the U.S. policymaking process could impact the companies in which they had financial positions (oftentimes in finance referred to as “regulatory risk”). I felt at the time that I had a fairly firm grasp of the policy-side of that equation, but I knew there was still a lot I wanted to learn about finance, corporate strategy and all the other inputs that go into the successes (or failures) of the companies I was looking at.
Why did you choose Georgetown University over other business schools? Was Washington D.C. a factor in this decision?
I wanted to continue working and remain in DC as I pursued my MBA. The McDonough School of Business has a top rated part-time MBA program, and I was extremely pleased to have the opportunity to attend. In addition to the caliber of the education, the quality of my classmates was beyond what I could have hoped for. Because everyone was currently working, we all brought fresh examples and insight to our coursework (from a huge variety of vantage points) that I don’t expect would have been the case in a full-time program.
Has working throughout your MBA program impacted your experience? How so?
Having a full-time job while going to school part-time was extraordinarily hard (goodbye social life!). However, I think that it ended up enabling me to get more out of the program than I otherwise would have. Officially, there are many different core disciplines in business (finance, accounting, marketing, etc.). Unofficially, I would categorize the coursework into two general buckets: 1) the hard subjects; and 2) the soft subjects. The “hard” subjects refer to those that I listed above plus operations, economics, statistics and general modeling capabilities. It is fairly straightforward to think through how these lessons would apply in a professional setting. The “soft” subjects include areas like leadership styles and social intelligence. These felt a little fluffier and therefore were more difficult to think about as particularly fundamental to the coursework. However, I found that working during my MBA meant that I was able to apply what I learned under both the hard and soft buckets immediately at the office, many times the very next day after a class covering the subject. And I think that the disciplines learned under both subject areas require a lot of practice to get right – especially the “soft” disciplines in which the practice can sometimes be more art than science. I believe, therefore, that not only did I leave business school with a better analytical mind, but I believe I also left as a better teammate, leader, problem-solver, negotiator, persuader and strategist than I otherwise would have been.
Are there any skills that you learned in your MBA that surprised you?
Before I entered business school, I knew almost nothing about accounting. But learning how to strategically read financial statements ended up being the most surprisingly-transformative new tool in my kit. Individuals who are talented at breaking down accounting data can learn things about a company that paint an exceptionally comprehensive picture of its core capabilities and the market in which it operates. These are some extremely complex puzzles, and the ability to solve them is truly remarkable.
I also did not go into business school expecting to love marketing as much as I do. Prior to my MBA, I had not fully appreciated the degree to which marketing is rooted in both strategy and statistics (both of which I really enjoy). For a portion of the time that I was in school I was also working in strategic communications, and the ability to immediately marry the skills I learned in marketing to those public relations campaigns was incredibly fun (and valuable!).
How has you MBA impacted your career and your long-term goals?
I am the type of person who does not enjoy being too comfortable. I do not crave a routine where I can auto-pilot through my day. I truly prefer my work to be a challenge.
My MBA has helped me to be a much more analytical thinker. I learned in business school to question everything. I learned that in every situation there are always going to be multiple stakeholders who are all driven by different wants and needs. And I learned that I am pretty much capable of learning anything!
Combining my personality with what I learned in business school, it basically means that I feel ready to tackle anything, and really prefer to be more of a generalist on the job – whether that be in a formal leadership position where I’m dealing with multiple business units all at once, or in a job that deals with multiple types of personalities, clients, subject areas or disciplines, etc. I think that being comfortable “knowing what you know” and “knowing what you don’t know,” and then knowing which questions to ask to move subjects from the latter into the former category, means that I will likely seek jobs that fit this type of “generalist” classification from here on out.
What is your best advice for someone considering an MBA?
As a follow-up to the previous question; for others who may lean to be more “generalist” like me – my advice is that it’s okay to resist being bucketed into an interest category at school. It is the function of an MBA career department to help you find a job – and the most efficient way for them to do that is to have you pick a discipline (finance, consulting, marketing, operations, hospitality, etc.). If you know “what you want to be when you grow up” – that is awesome, pick a category and pursue it aggressively. But if you don’t, that is okay, too. There is a path forward for you. It’s not going to be as straightforward as some of your classmates, but know that there will be a way to work with your career department to carve out a path that will indeed work well for you. And on the other side of that path will be a job that utilizes many of the skills you’ve begun to hone in business school.
Finally, whether a full- or part-time program, an MBA is a big commitment of both time and money. So my best advice is to think through whether you truly want to commit yourself to the degree necessary to get the most out of your education. However, if you go into a program willing to learn, it will reshape how you go to work every day. It will reshape how you think about problems – both at work and in your personal life! And it will give you the utmost confidence to find a job you love.