Senior Stress Has Its Rewards

This Georgetown B-schooler says second year is not 'much easier'it's just that students are better prepared and have far better time-management skills

A year and a half ago I was a sprightly young thing who hopped out of bed, read novels, didn't wear makeup, and owned one suit. Then I entered my first year of business school and got railroaded by DCFs, comps, Porter's Five Forces, the organizational behavior diamond, and valuations, to name a few things. It was a lot of work and as I walked through the halls, bleary-eyed and rundown after staying up until 3 trying to understand options pricing, I wondered if my entire two years would feel like this.

"No, no, no," people would tell me, "your second year is much easier." But second year is not "much easier," you are just better prepared, with far better time-management skills. The workload is the same, and the actual work might possibly be harder. More of it is done in teams, and scheduling meeting times becomes irksome with four different five-person teams. Nonetheless, while it may sound like a bad thing, it's actually a wonderful thing. You begin to realize what you are capable of, how much more you understand, how hard you can work, and that life, school, and vocation will force you to multitask, whether you are good at it or not. In business school, you have to get good at it.

So the job search is done. I got an offer from my internship employer and accepted almost immediately. Fortunately, the news was over the phone so no one saw me jumping up and down for joy. As the market plays with our finances and our emotions, the job search has become a little worrisome for anyone looking at positions in the financial sector. Many people took offers for that very reason. Others are still running around, interviewing and researching just as we all did last year, and I thank every lucky star that I am not one of them.

Skills You'll Never Lose

However, watching others go through the process can be pretty stressful if you have any empathy for them. These people deserve quite a bit of credit juggling school and the task of ensuring a smooth transition from business school to real life. Then again, when are transitions ever smooth?

One very strange characteristic of the second year is watching first-years begin to understand how much is required of them during the job search. You are reminded how difficult and how vital it was to learn the song and dance of recruiting. The learning curve is steep, but you gain the kind of interaction and networking skills you really won't forget. I sure haven't.

We sit, explaining the recruiting process to first-years, and they stare at us incredulously. Explaining it does provide a little perspective—sometimes I can't believe I went up to New York as often as I did and talked to as many people as I did. The 5 a.m. Friday train was a given, an automatic action, not a decision to mull over and rationalize.

Learning What Really Matters

A few second-years, including me, give a presentation on the recruiting process. A hand goes up. "You're saying we have to go to New York almost every Friday to meet with banks if we want to work there?" We look around at each other uncomfortably, and say, "Well, basically, yeah." So, first-years schedule initial informational interviews with us, asking us to describe our internships, how we got them, what we said, who we talked to, who they should talk to, what they should ask, what they should say. I want to answer, "I have no idea, just be yourself," but that's not what they want to hear, and when I heard that last year, I wanted to punch someone.

I must say, though, that, academically, business school has gotten far more interesting as we begin to narrow our focus and apply the basics we learned last year to understanding what we are learning this year. The complexity has increased, but so has the degree of application. Countless times I sit in class thinking, "Wow, if I had known this over the summer…." Other times I think to myself, "Every single person in business should take this class."

We have a mergers and acquisitions class here at Georgetown that is well known in the business school. It's taught by a professor who was an investment banker for over 20 years. His perspective and anecdotes are priceless and come from his experience; he has a sense of humor about the whole process of mergers and acquisitions. His wisdom about the field is remarkable. "The most important thing you have to remember about M&A," he begins, "is that they usually fail." Just a quick definition: To fail means to destroy value as opposed to create value. It is scary to think there are people who have not taken his class.

Professors Who Go Beyond the Call

I have a negotiations professor who, when he's not teaching, seizes massive ships at ports for not paying their bills. My Real Options professor holds office hours on Saturdays for students too busy to come to his regular office hours during the week. There's no question—and as a second year it becomes clear as classes shrink in size and become more focused—the professors at Georgetown are here because they really want to teach. By now we have had some of these professors once or even twice before, and we are really starting to get to know them and they us. It's a comforting thought that when I'm out in the professional world, I can probably e-mail my M&A professor with a question and he'll remember me and write back.

Of course, no semester would be complete without the stress of planning a formal. But by the time this came around, I had learned to ask for help and, of course, to delegate.

Back to Unemployment

It is a weird sensation to feel senioritis when you were a freshman just the year before. It's probably more of a sophomoric reaction, meaning we are still fools but we just know a lot more and have some experience. Not to wax philosophic or anything, but I really have begun to realize how important business school is, not just to "advance your career" but to help you grow up a little.

I mentioned it before, but I am seeing it all over again. Going back to school is deeply humbling. Your salary is gone, your title is gone, you have no job, and it really can mess with your sense of identity, particularly if you're as insecure as I am. But I feel a little less bizarre when I see first-years start school, still confident from their leftover sense of being employed, and then I see them begin to lose that sense when they realize they are back in school—with no job.

You're a kid again, you have to raise your hand and wear a backpack. And so begins the cycle. Humbling realizations, and then building yourself back up with a better job and a sense of accomplishment, asking for and getting help from people who have just finished doing exactly that. Granted, I speak for myself and everyone's experience is different, but I think overall, it's an accurate description.

So, what's the walk-away? This may be a cliché, but it takes a village.