Alum’s book and blog offer tips on navigating the MBA experience

Al Dea '10

Al Dea ’10, author of a new book about navigating the MBA experience

Al Dea ’10 decided to get an MBA at age five. In the introduction to his new book, MBA Insider: How to Make the Most of Your MBA Experience, the Carroll School graduate recounts dinner table discussions with his father, who is the son of immigrants, and his mother, who came to the US to attend college. Both earned MBAs, and they talked about how education opens doors. “Like many young kids,” Dea writes, “I was influenced by my parents’ words, even if I didn’t understand them.”

Dea thrived on the Heights, serving as the first Asian-American president of the Undergraduate Government of Boston College. Even still, he remembers arriving at Kenan-Flagler Business School in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, without a handle on “the nitty-gritty details of the [MBA] program, the classes, the highs and the lows, and what students were like outside of brochures, campus tours, and admissions panels.” 

To light the way for students who would walk on that path after him, Dea launched the popular blog Having earned the MBA and climbed higher up the corporate ladder (he is a senior manager for Salesforce) Dea made it his mission as a blogger to provide insights, rooted in real-world experiences, into what business school was really like. Out of that blog, his book was born. Both offer tips on searching for, applying to, and succeeding in graduate business programs, internships, and subsequent professional roles.

The blog and even the book manage to weather the COVID-19 crisis, which hasn’t diminished the value of an MBA. If anything, a downturn often provides an opportunity for business professionals to burnish their credentials with continued education. Many MBA programs—including the Carroll School’s—have pushed back admissions deadlines to adapt to changing conditions.

“While we don’t know what the next six to 18 months are going to look like, we do know that over the course of a career an MBA is a worthwhile investment,” Dea said in an interview. “First, if you are going full-time, by the time you graduate there is a chance the labor market and general economy will be better . . . . Second, MBA programs are supportive and collaborative communities, and given the uncertainty and challenge that exists in the world, that’s not a bad thing to have right now.”

Moreover, Dea pointed out that, as companies have adapted to working remotely, workers may require a new set of skills to keep pace and continue to be effective. “The existing trends in the workplace and in society are still credible and important, in terms of the role of digitization, the impact of technology, and the importance of up-skilling or re-skilling,” Dea said. For students already in the middle of their MBA programs, he added, “This actually is an opportunity to focus on building the skills and experiences they need to be employable.”

The cover of MBA Insider, a blue cover with white text and a stylized compass in the center

Dea designed MBA Insider as a field guide that students can turn to throughout their MBA program. The book covers the entire life cycle of the MBA experience, from application to post-graduation, providing advice grounded in real-life anecdotes from current and former MBA students at nationally ranked programs. Each chapter concludes with high-level takeaways as well as “key questions to answer.” These questions prompt the reader to step back and reflect throughout the MBA journey—something Dea says he found valuable in his own MBA studies and in his career. 

“At the core of lifelong career development are skills of self-reflection and self-awareness,” explained Dea. “Self-reflection to help you pause, take a deep breath, and assess the experiences you’ve gone through, what you’ve learned, and where you want to go next; and self-awareness to truly understand who you are as a human being, what strengths you have, and how you can make a positive impact.” 

The following are tips from Dea and some of the more than 60 students—many of them Carroll School grads—who shared their advice for navigating the various stages of the MBA experience.

—Carroll School News