To All Incoming Undergraduates

Every year since I graduated, I have been given the wonderful opportunity to chat with Grade 12 students and answer any questions they may have about Ivey Business School or Western University. A few weeks ago, I attended my fourth event of this sort as an alumna. When you’ve talked to several Grade 12 students in the same environment and about the same topic, you come to realize the questions that concern them are the exact same year after year. However, I didn’t expect my answers to be the same as well. So I figured it wouldn’t hurt to share some of those answers and questions here.

Note: The questions you’ll see may be specific to business/Ivey but my answers generally apply to anyone.

Q1: Should I be doing any particular type of extra-curricular to do better in Ivey/business? 

Comfort-zoneDo what you enjoy doing – so long you’re taking on a leadership role instead of simply being a member of every club on campus, you’ll be fine. I usually recommend spending your first year learning about the different opportunities to get involved on campus and in your community. But from your second year onward, take on an executive role. When I was at Western and even now during law school, every year, I get involved in something new. The more you step outside of your comfort zone, the better!

PS: This is going to sound crazy to some of you but take on a leadership role where you actually do some work – this way, you get to learn and grow, and you’ll have tons of stories to share for job interviews. You never want to be in a position where you have to fabricate stories and responsibilities.

Q2: How hard is it to maintain the desired average or get high marks?

This obviously depends from person to person and course to course. You’ll hear this a lot – take courses you’ll like instead of what you may expect to be a ‘bird course’. It’s just easier to do well in things you genuinely enjoy doing. But more important than that is your focus and time-management skills. Most people lose their balance early on. Starting undergrad is exciting – you’re in an exciting new environment, new people, newly acquired freedom, amazing parties, new extra-curriculars and just that desire to get to know everyone around you.

All of that is just as important but the last thing you want is to be struggling to keep up your academic standing. So here’s my advice: learn to manage your time and maintain that balance from the second you step into school. Time flies and the next thing you know, mid-terms are here! If you do that, you won’t have a problem maintaining your average.

Q3: What if I don’t have the highest marks? Will I not get a good job?

Trust me when I say this – marks are not everything. We’re brought up to think that and I’m not saying they’re not important; but they’re not everything. The sooner you realize and accept that, the happier and more successful you’ll be. Marks may get you an interview but it’s your soft skills, personality, maturity etc. that will get you the job. In all the interviews I’ve had, they have not once asked once about my marks – instead, we’ve spent hours talking about my experiences and extra-curriculars. (PS if it makes a difference, my marks have always been very average). In summary, give equal (if not more) importance to gaining soft skills – they’ll stick with you for life.

Q4: Will there be enough finance courses so I can be prepared to be an investment banker?

Leadership-AspirantSGThis was one type of question that always made me smile because I knew my answer would disappoint the students. However, I’ve received countless messages from parents who really resonated with this answer. So here goes: don’t focus too much on becoming an investment banker, a lawyer, an accountant, a marketing professional, a doctor etc. Focus instead on becoming a leader. You’ll learn all the theory and gain all the hard skills no matter what school you go to and what courses you take – eventually, you will learn it. However, if you don’t start learning how to be a leader now, it will become harder to acquire those skills as you grow up. It is the leadership qualities that differentiate one person from another – your ability to delegate, communicate, manage your time, work in a team, and make things happen.

You may think you want to be an accountant or investment banker right now but that might change as you grow up. In fact, it is quite likely that you will change career paths. But the leadership qualities you work towards acquiring will be applicable no matter the field you chose to go into.

Q5: What advice do you have for me? 

Here are a few (in no particular order):

  1. Your reputation is everything – this is even more applicable to graduate students.
  2. Your network is your biggest asset – learn how to build and maintain relationships. Every person you connect with, ask them for introductions to three other people they’d recommend you speak to.
  3. If you’re not confident about your writing skills, work on it. Trust me, it will change your life.
  4. Learn to fail and move on quickly – read this.
  5. Don’t be afraid to ask for help and advice. I’m still hesitant to do this but then I remind myself, what’s the worst that can happen – they’ll say no.

Good luck!