The dean of Harvard Business School isn’t impressed by flashy, high-paying first jobs after graduation — to see who’s successful, he looks at another measure entirely

Just because it pays a lot doesn't necessarily mean you're good at it, says Nitin Nohria, pictured.

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Just because it pays a lot doesn’t necessarily mean you’re good at it, says Nitin Nohria, pictured.
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Susan Young for Harvard Business School

  • Harvard Business School dean Nitin Nohria said a high-paying job right out of business school isn’t the ultimate sign of success.
  • Instead, he wants to know what people are doing five to 10 years after graduation.
  • At that point, a successful graduate will be taking on increasing responsibility and may be ready to ascend to a top leadership position.

When Nitin Nohria, the dean of Harvard Business School, wants to know whether HBS graduates have been successful, he takes a look at where they’re working between five and 10 years after graduation.

“What we want is to have students, 10 years later, be at an arc in their lives where they really feel that they’re gaining increasing responsibility,” Nohria told Business Insider. “They feel ready to run a company; they have progressed a lot in terms of their own aspirations, how they want to build their career.”

Yet Nohria has seen too many HBS grads view success – their own and others’ – as the job they land right out of business school.

“It’s easy to get caught up in a very competitive environment,” Nohria said. “One easy metric in the near term ends up being that the best jobs are the jobs that pay the most.”

To be sure, business school is expensive – annual tuition at HBS is $73,440 – and grads want to know it was a good investment. But Nohria cited a few reasons why this still isn’t necessarily the best measure of success.

From a practical perspective, he said, “jobs that pay the most in the near term don’t always pay the most in the long run.” And graduates may only stay at their first job for a few years.

What’s more, “just because they pay a lot doesn’t mean that you’re going to be the best at them or you’re going to find the most fulfillment in them.”

According to Harvard Business School’s website, the median base salary for graduates three months out is $135,000. The most popular industries for graduates are financial services and consulting.

Nohria likes to look beyond these statistics: “Ten years out is when you start to see the breadth of leadership that the class represents. So that’s exciting.”