The world revolves around businesses. They keep economies going and create opportunities for growth, both for outside stakeholders and employees. Creating a business is no easy feat though, which is why our government offers subsidies and grants to new and small businesses. It’s risky and requires skilled personnel. This is why much can be learned from the business world, even if you aren’t an aspiring entrepreneur. Being able to analyse evolving circumstances and build on new knowledge are integral to starting a successful, scaleable and competitive business. The ones that survive will have gained proficiency in many areas. In this article, we’ll look at some versatile and employable qualities we can learn from the world of business, why they’re attractive to employers and how you can develop them yourself, even if you aren’t in a business degree.
Every business will encounter frequent problems, some vastly more complex than others. Solving them requires a fairly intelligent approach common in fields like management consulting, but it’s useful in any industry and can be learned while still in university. This approach is known as the ‘MECE’ principle (sounds like fleece). It stands for ‘Mutually Exclusive; Collectively Exhaustive’. Basically, if you can break a problem down into mutually exclusive parts, which in turn make up the entire body of possibilities encompassing the problem, it’s way easier to do relevant, targeted research into why it’s happening and how it can be solved. If you’re an aspiring management consultant, learning this is absolutely mandatory, but for everyone else, it’s still very useful.
Grasping the MECE principle is quite difficult; you’ll need to do plenty of research online to fully understand, internalise and apply it. For now, we’ll break down the basics. If you’re already a whizz at this, skip to the next section!
For elements of the problem to be mutually exclusive, they can’t overlap. Let’s say you’re trying to figure out which age groups are coming to your theme park and which are shying away. You decide to break the problem up into three groups: young people, middle-aged people and older people. The way you do this will determine whether or not your system is MECE or non-MECE.
If you came up with three age categories, let’s say 1 - 35, 36 - 50 and 51 - 70, that would be mutually exclusive, because there’s no overlap between any of these categories. If you had 1 - 36, 25 - 50 and 40 - 65, this would be non-MECE, as some people fit into multiple categories. Of course, it’s not always this clear when groups are mutually exclusive. It can take great care to determine if they are.
Once you have your mutually exclusive groups, they need to be collectively exhaustive. That first group, 1 - 35, 36 - 50 and 51 - 70, feature mutually exclusive options, but they aren’t collectively exhaustive. What about people 71 or older? What about infants under a year old? They aren’t considered. We amend this by changing the categories to: 0 - 35, 36 - 50 and 51+. We now have MECE categories. From here, we can build a branching chart out from underneath these categories exploring the dimensions of each category. For example, the number of sales for each age group, the results of customer satisfaction surveys or qualities harder to define stemming from these.
You can apply this approach to many aspects of university life. Essays, research papers, group assignments and more can all be broken down into MECE components. We’d recommend learning the intricacies of the method and then attempting to apply them where problems have no straightforward answer, or if there’s simply no clear place to start. This skill is exceptionally useful if you’re ever asked a hypothetical problem in an interview and will make you an attractive candidate. Even if you can’t answer the problem in the moment, knowing how to ask the right questions is just as if not more important.
Every process and requirement of a business needs to be planned out and executed. Project management is the ability to make that happen. It’s about making constant adjustments to a defined schedule in order to adapt to changing circumstances and meet project goals.
You’ll likely be managing plenty of projects when you graduate and probably will before as well! If you stay and become a researcher, you can use project management skills to make regular adjustments and hold yourself accountable to targets. If you enter government or the private sector, you’ll have KPIs (key performance indicators) to meet; doing this is much easier when you know how to manage yourself, your work and any projects you’ve been assigned. However, this is all individual-centric. The key value of project management is its application to managing teams.
Project management is essentially a melting pot of different business processes. It’s about defining the scope of a task, what standard of quality you’re looking for, resources you wish to allocate to it (the most important of these being time while you’re still at uni) and how to optimise the use of resources. Just like with delegating, the wider function of project management can be practised in group assignments. If you’re defining the scope, quality and time allocation of your project, you’re already practicing project management. This will put you in good stead when it comes to later job interviews.
Delegation doesn’t just mean passing all the work to other members in your group assignment! The point of delegation is making sure each person is doing work best suited to them. The goal is to extract as much value as possible from everyone so the whole group benefits. For companies, this means hiring people who can meet the requirements for a role, which frees up someone whose time would be better spent elsewhere.
Knowing how to delegate is attractive to graduate employers because it’s a hallmark of effective leadership. Even if you aren’t gunning for a leadership role, having these skills shows your potential for growth and can even help in low-level collaborative tasks. If everyone’s working on the thing they’re best at, everyone benefits.
You can learn to become a better delegator in three main ways at university.
Joining a sports team. Just about every team sport has roles built into it. In footy for instance, there are full-forwards, half-forwards, half-backs, half-forwards etc. There are different nuances to each position and therefore people who suit some roles better than others. Seeing how your coach and captains assign which roles to whom is a great way to learn what delegation looks like. With experience, you may even get the chance to do some yourself.
Taking advantage of your group assignments. If you can figure out what needs to be done, break the task up and determine who’s best at what, you can make gentle suggestions at what you’d recommend everyone should do. Factor yourself into the equation too of course!
There are other ways to do this, but these are some fairly apparent opportunities for improving your delegation skills. If you can find other ways to learn, more power to you! You’re building up a suppository of moments you can blurt out in a job interview as a time you delegated to the benefit of a group. To aid in delegation, you’ll need to set goals and timeframes, which are the functions of project management.
Business students are encouraged to seek networking opportunities, which is fitting, as businesses in general thrive on networking. Whether it’s finding new clients, solid hires or opportunities to collaborate, business owners create and seize opportunities by creating them through networking.
Networking can take many forms, from attending formal dinners to a quick coffee and chat. If you’re exchanging contact information with someone for some purpose, chances are you’re networking. As a university student, it doesn’t matter what you’re studying. You can benefit by learning from this essential part of the business world.
Employers, particularly big ones, are always seeking new and enthusiastic talent, but their reach can only extend so far. To become a better networker, actively seek out the obvious career events and faires, but also have a look into other events too. A discipline-specific ball at you uni, or special lecture from an interstate or international guest, can be excellent opportunities to learn more and meet professionals in your field who may have a job for you. Even if you don’t land a job out of it, you earn the opportunity to reach out and perhaps learn from them. Asking questions is free after all. If you’ve got the initiative to get out of your comfort zone and meet with people inside and outside your field, you’ll get a lot more out of uni as a whole and become a more attractive candidate for graduate jobs.
Now you’ve got a better idea of what can be done to sharpen those business skills while at uni, why not give it a try? It can be daunting jumping head-first into a new experience, like showing up to a fancy networking event, a club meeting full of people you’ve never met, a job interview or otherwise, but it’s all worth it. These are ultimately all opportunities to grow, which in turn make you more resilient and employable. Good luck!
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