Today’s guest post is from Iowa State sophomore Thomas Frank, a longtime HackCollege reader, and founder of Thomas has some great takeaways for students from The Personal MBA. Enjoy!

One of the most interesting books I’ve been reading lately is The Personal MBA by Josh Kauffman. The book is centered around the idea that you can save thousands of dollars by not pursuing an MBA, instead reading lots of books in your free time and educating yourself. The book is a very broad overview of business that is broken down into chunks based on each factor that goes into running a business, including value creation, marketing, selling, finance, value delivery, and more.

While the actual value of an MBA is beyond my perception at this point in my life, I’ve come to realize that this book is a great starting point for business self-education. It’s written in bite-size passages, each one based on a particular concept that falls under its chapter’s main idea. 

In the chapter on value creation, one of the concepts that stuck out to me was the concept of economic values. These are the values of a product or offering that will influence how much people will want to buy it. The economic values Josh lists are

Efficacy - how well it works
Speed - how fast it works
Reliability - whether or not you can depend on it
Ease of use – how much effort does it require you to expend
Flexibility - how many things it can do
Status - how it affects the way others perceive you
Aesthetic appeal – how attractive or aesthetically pleasing it is
Emotion - how it makes you feel
Cost - how much you have to pay to get it

Applying Economic Factors to Your Professional Life

Unless you’re planning on going straight into grad school when you graduate, getting a job right out of college is probably your top priority. When it comes to impressing recruiters, you can apply these economic factors to yourself in order to evaluate how employable you are. They will also come in handy after you’ve gotten the job; successfully identifying and fully exploiting each one will lead to more success in your career.


How well do you work? This is a pretty broad category to focus on, and it can encompass a number of different things. Think about your qualifications; how well do your education and past experiences prepare you for the work you’ll be doing? When you get the job, does the quality of your work meet or exceed the boss’ expectations? Efficacy can also be thought of in terms of communication. Evaluate how well you can work in a group, and focus on your communication skills.

Your efficacy can be improved through education; digging deeper in your field can give you the knowledge to do your job better. Practice is also key to improvement, both in your technical ability and your communication skills. Finally, your work ethic is a huge factor to your efficacy. If you’re just going to work for the money, you output may be lacking in quality. Find the motivation to truly care about what you’re doing.


This one is pretty simple. How fast do you work? How much time does it take for you to deliver results after being given a directive? Improving speed is a goal that can be achieved by working efficiently and minimizing distractions and interruptions. Work efficiently by being organized, setting up systems and processes (and then continually improving them), and communicating well with people whom you’re working with. Minimize distractions by creating barriers to media that you’ll be tempted to access, checking email and messages at predetermined times, and respectfully asking friends and coworkers to give you certain times to work without interruption. The 4-Hour Workweek is a great book to check out for more tips on this subject.


Reliability is a trait that will be judged and measured by your past actions. Being a reliable person means being punctual, getting assignments done on time, and stepping up to the plate when things need to be done. People’s perception of your reliability is directly tied to their expectations; this means that it takes time to be perceived as reliable, but it takes no time at all to be perceived as unreliable if you screw up. 

Remember that there are two ways people build their perception of how reliable you are. The first is through direct interaction, and the second is through communicating with other people that know you. The latter method is especially important while you’re still in college; your access to jobs, scholarships, and other opportunities might depend on recommendations from professors and past bosses. Be sure you’re developing good relationships with everyone you interact with, because you never know who will ask them about you in the future!

Ease of use

People might not like the idea that they’re being “used”, but the truth is that, when you’re looking for a job, you are selling yourself. You are trying to convince a company that they can use you to get things done. How easy will that be for them? In other words, how much will they have to manage you? Difficult people that require a lot of management aren’t attractive candidates. Companies want self-sufficient people who aren’t rebels or cowboys, and who don’t disrespect or resent authority. Make sure you listen intently to directives and remember them. Don’t be the guy who is always asking the boss what he’s supposed to do; you’re supposed to know that. At the same time, make sure you’re not the person who’s always running to the HR office every time she gets offended. Learn to deal with conflicts yourself; only bring in authority when you need to.


How many hats do you wear? The average employee learns his or her specific job well, but an outstanding employee is able to quickly adapt to a new function. Being able to jump into a new role is especially important when you’re looking to move up in a company. Many top executives get ahead by switching roles during their career; doing this gives them a broader perspective and helps them piece together how the business is run.

One of the best ways to increase your flexibility is to work on your communication skills. Giving presentations and writing memos are some of the most common assignments given to employees of all types. For that reason, written and oral communication skills are incredibly important no matter what field you’re going into.


Managers are often judged by the results their teams create. If you’re doing great work, you make your boss look good. On the other hand, your own failures can adversely affect how he or she is perceived as well. Make your boss feel good about having your on his team by delivering great results.

Aesthetic Appeal

It is an unfortunate truth that your success can be affected by your race, gender, height, weight, and looks. Even with Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action, stereotypes can sometimes play a deciding role in who gets ahead and who doesn’t. However, there are other aesthetic factors that you can actually influence, and they are even more important than those that are based on stereotypes.

How you dress can have a huge impact on the way you’re perceived. Make sure you’re familiar with the different types of dress (business formal, business casual, smart casual) and you have outfits for each. Keep clothes clean and ironed. When you’re scheduling an interview, pay attention to whether the interviewer specifies how you should dress. For on-campus jobs, I’ve found that business casual is usually the requested attire. I was even asked to wear completely casual attire for my web development interview. For interviews that are off campus, go with business formal if nothing is specified. It’s always better to be overdressed than underdressed.

Hygiene is also important. Sure, most of this is obvious (like showering and brushing your teeth), but make sure you’re considering things like your haircut, facial hair, and nail length.

Lastly, try to eat healthy, stay hydrated, and exercise. Apart from the aesthetic benefits these activities provide, you’ll also find yourself having more energy and being more engaging.


People’s emotions are influenced by how you treat them and how you conduct yourself when you’re around them. Make sure you respect your bosses and your coworkers. The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People is a great book to check out when evaluating this trait.


How much is it going to cost a company to hire you? The costs that matter here are your compensation and how much training you need. Truth be told, salary negotiations for newly minted graduates often boil down to the company extending an offer and the graduate saying, “Ok I’ll take it,” no matter what their feelings are about the offer itself. Still, there are some graduates with multiple job offers who feel they can negotiate a better salary. If you are one of these people, know that you can push your luck very easily. If you’re going to negotiate, use facts such as the industry average in your area so you can back up your reasoning for wanting a better offer. Also, consider negotiating on benefits rather than salary; employers are often more willing to accommodate benefit requests. 

Training is also a significant cost employers will incur when they hire you. Not only do they have to pay for training materials, but they also have to pay you for time spent learning! Try to learn as much as you can about the job you want while you’re still in college so companies will see that you won’t take as long to train. You can do this by obtaining certifications, reading trade publications and books, and working part-time in a similar position while you’re still in school.

Evaluating your personal economic values can help you identify your strengths and weaknesses that affect your job prospects. Start considering them now, and you’ll be more prepared for the future.