Starting a new job can be nerve-wracking for anyone, but when you are a new MBA grad with years of study and thousands of dollars on the line—the average debt is almost $90,000, according to Earnest data—the stakes feel very high.
Anyone who has completed the often grueling process of earning their degree often has high hopes for success right out of the gate—money, promotions, maybe a corner office. And often that does come—the good news is that MBAs tend to have low debt relative to the incomes they make after graduating.
But material markers of success don’t matter nearly as much in that first year out of school as skills that aren’t as tangible, according to several executive career coaches who list strong relationships, leadership, and emotional intelligence as goals every recent MBA grad should focus on right out of school.
Read more: The ROI of Grad School is More Than a Number
Put Work Relationships First
“I think one of the classic mistakes that really earnest, high-achieving people make when they start a new job is they have no problem with time and energy, applying it to the job,” said Ed Hunter, principal and head coach at the Philadelphia-based executive coaching firm Life in Progress. “But they want to focus on the material aspects of the job—learning things, getting work done, plowing themselves into it. And sometimes what they neglect is relationship forming.”
Getting an in with your hiring manager, meeting people on your team, learning who does what in which department should all start within the first week of hire, if not before that first day of work.
“When I talk to the MBAs that are starting their jobs, they should make sure that they don’t walk in and not know anybody their first day,” said Beverley Caen, an executive coach with CareerCoach.com.
That means reaching out to people you met during the hiring process, hopefully finding a mentor along the way. New hires, she said, can also request to go in early and meet some of the people that will be in their group.
“The most important thing is to know what the hiring manager expects from you.”
“The most important thing is to know what the hiring manager expects from you,” Caen said, “so any kind of face time with anybody in your group or that person either that first week or prior to starting is really critical.”
Build Your Executive-Track Foundation
The coaches agreed that setting a foundation through networking and team building is often the difference between a successful first year and one that leaves you behind the curve. After all, MBAs are often hired with an executive track in mind.
“They are junior management roles very often, but people hire an MBA because they’re looking for their future C-suite,” said Maureen Carpenter, assistant dean of MBA career services at Georgetown University’s McDonough Career Center.
That means showing signs of what she calls “executive presence”—being a team player, appearing poised and confident in front of the current C-suite and nailing presentations.
Caen’s advice was similar.
“It is not about being competitive to get ahead by stepping on the heads of the people that are on your team,” Caen said. “It only makes you look good to help other people look good.”
“It’s a leadership skill to mentor and to show and to bring along with you,” she said, “and upper management watches those sorts of things.”
Hone Your EQ
There’s also immense value in emotional intelligence or EQ.
“It’s the soft skills. It’s the ability to communicate with people, it’s the ability to build relationships with people, to be empathetic,” Carpenter said. “People that have good EQ or emotional intelligence are much more successful, even if they don’t have the technical skills. Ninety percent of the population can learn the technical skills.”
Hunter said new employees should spend as much time as they can getting face time with colleagues, management, even the boss whenever possible.
“Quite simply, be nice to everybody. And also be open to social opportunities. When your colleagues stop by and say, ‘We’re going to out lunch,’ don’t say, ‘Nah, I got work to do.’ Go,” he said.
“Take a few moments. Make small talk with people. Look for those opportunities,” Hunter said. “ If people are doing something after work, if they’re heading to a pub or there’s a softball game or whatever the thing may be, don’t be too busy.”
People Skills Get You Ahead
Recent MBA grads themselves report they are finding emotional intelligence to be critical in their new roles. Nearly 15,000 business school alumni surveyed by the Graduate Management Admission Council said that of the top five skills important to their job, the “people skills” are the most important.
Within the “people skills” category the most important ones included active listening, persuasion, negotiation, and time management.
It seems MBA programs are preparing their students to excel in this new world order with 86% of GMAC graduates surveyed saying their programs prepared them for a leadership position.
And more good news—the career coaches agreed that the job market is doing very well for those recent MBA grads. McDonough is on track to match or exceed 2016’s stellar placement numbers, Carpenter said.
Hunter said his phone has been ringing off the hook, which is always a sure sign of a healthy job market.
“People consider career shifts and taking risks in their career during good times and this is clearly a vibrant time for that,” he said. “It’s a good time to be an MBA grad.”