There are many ways in which the business school culture and the culture fostered at your MBA programme leave a trace in your career and personal life. Just like corporate culture, your study environment ultimately tests your adaptability and ambition and determines the direction you take next as well as where you will thrive.
Still, learning whether and how you fit the culture of a school that you consider for your MBA studies is a process that requires a close look at your own personality on the one hand, and some insight into different business schools, on the other.
In a sea of rankings, accreditations, and other sources of information, “culture fit” may seem like a vague metric for your programme selection. So what distinguishes one type of school culture from another and how does it matter for your MBA and post-graduation experience?
Culture fit means that you belong
Business school fit is “feeling like you belong, [...] knowing this is the programme that is going to help you reach your career goals,” suggests MBA consultant Stacy Blackman. Although school cultures always feature a subjective element, there are some specific attributes which can be used to determine the environment nurtured at particular institutions. U.S. News & World Report lists competition and collaboration as two of the most common and relevant pointers used to assess school culture. MBA graduate Aubrey Chapnick found competitiveness important when selecting his best programme match, but also the way his personal values aligned with the school’s values, he recently told Canadian publication The Globe and Mail.
Feeling and measuring school culture
Needless to say, taking into account the format, the curriculum, the faculty, and the networking aspect while trying to determine the culture of the school can be overwhelming. To make sense of this flood of information, smart and personalised online tools can come in handy in digesting it to a more manageable size. A new platform to be launched in early 2019 promises to guide prospective MBA applicants in the right direction by providing a personalised yet compact list of programmes that match what they are looking for.
The platform, called Unimy, combines state-of-the-art AI technology and years of professional experience in guiding MBA applicants to the best-matching business schools, and it promises to transform the future of MBA selection and application for admission. A really unique and innovative tool, Unimy’s school culture fit test enables professionals to refine their programme search among 1,000 accredited MBA programmes. The test uses six dimensions to categorise the prospective applicant’s cultural traits and values and compares them to those of particular business schools. So, although culture is more about “feeling” where you belong, you can ground your research in a more scientific approach such as the one that Unimy provides.
As every professional has a nearly unique combination of values, the tool will be able to create a very relevant and personalised list of suggestions for each user. For example, your preference for a more collaborative study environment coupled with an informal code of conduct would differ entirely from another person’s inclination for a more empowering and competitive setting and a rather formal campus etiquette. You probably see now why your unique set of values is so important in determining the business school and programme where you will feel comfortable and, moreover, where you will be able to excel and fulfil your potential.
How culture and career come together
Inevitably, every young professional has been influenced by their career, whether they have only just taken their first steps or have already transformed into a successful executive. But the opposite is also true – your personality traits and cultural preferences have the power to change your career trajectory. The collective alignment or misalignment of employees’ values has the power to set up a company for success or demise. This is why it is so important to choose your place carefully as companies, employers, and peers will encourage a unique work and leadership style.
“Some nations or companies feel that open debate and lively disagreement are largely positive,” INSEAD Professor Erin Meyer explains. “Others believe that this type of behaviour is destructive. So if a company is confrontational in nature, they tend to hire people who likewise enjoy disagreement.”
Still, culture and values are shaped over time and in the process of your professional experience. They are not always explicit and you may not be able to identify them clearly by yourself. This is where Unimy’s matching algorithm is able to offer prospective MBA applicants a helping hand in their programme selection. By using scientifically established dimensions to study the cultural preferences of users and comparing their individual results to the cultural mapping of over a thousand MBA programmes worldwide, the Unimy cultural fit test gives applicants much more contextual insight.
Best fit or challenge?
A common goal in business school selection is for your programme of choice to match your beliefs and values, ensuring that you can thrive and make the most of your MBA experience. However, there is also room for challengers and those who dare get out of the comfort zone way beyond what an MBA will demand from them. Immersing yourself in an environment that contradicts your natural style and values can also be a transformational learning experience.
Most prospective MBA applicants dream of making a career leap into an entirely new industry or geographic location. But this approach goes together with self-awareness and cultural change. For example, if a professional who has mostly European business experience wants to relocate to the Asian market, they will encounter challenges in terms of culture and common practices. To get accustomed to the beliefs and values respected in a particular country or region, it could be a wise choice to dive into that culture early on through an MBA programme with a local focus.
“The truth is that culture isn’t all about national mentality,” further emphasises Andrey Shapenko, Assistant Professor at the Moscow School of Management SKOLKOVO. “Cultures can also be about a particular epoch or state, about a concrete company or a person. Finally, every person has deep-rooted attitudes that they themselves can be unaware of. All these aspects can only be surfaced by making a person live through a certain practical experience.”
It is an outstanding feature of most leading MBA programmes to expose participants to a culturally diverse setting in the classroom but school culture, just like corporate culture, adds a new layer to this context. Adaptability and agility are essential skills highly sought-after in the dynamic business world today, because everything is changing. People learn and grow, and so do organisations. It is not uncommon to strive for cultural change. But for aspiring business leaders, as MBA prospects are, self-awareness is where they should start their journey as this is what will keep them grounded for success in the long-term. So start by knowing where and how you fit.