How to Choose the Right MBA – 2.0

Seven Key Points to Keep in Mind

April 17th, 2014
Joining an MBA programme is an investment in your education and your prospective career progress. The MBA almost always requires a considerable financial investment for which every applicant should carefully and thoroughly plan. In this sense, making sure that you find your perfect MBA match in the myriad of programmes on offer today should be your top priority.

There are so many things to consider when choosing your MBA programme. Criteria vary in importance depending on where you are in your life: a corporate executive with a wealth of experience, an entrepreneur, a creative freelancer, a parent, 25 years old, 40 years old, where you live, your financial situation, to mention but a few variables. If your goal is to advance your career tangibly with an MBA, you are definitely on the right track. Demand for a business degree is greater than ever in top corporate circles and in an increasing number of industries. The source of your MBA is crucial, so aiming as high as you can afford is probably the best advice possible. To this end, you might wish to consult the well established rankings of the world’s top MBA programmes, compiled by the likes of The Economist, The Financial Times and Forbes. Your search should not stop with the rankings, though. To make the very best choice for you, you need to understand why you want to pursue an MBA degree and what you expect to happen afterwards. Here are seven of the most common considerations when taking an MBA:

1. Kick-start your career
Having an MBA degree in your 20s or early 30s, before you have carved too deep a career, is a great way to utilise your sharp and youthful brain, as well as your still lavish amount of free time. If you are targeting the corporate world to start and develop your career, business school is the right place for you. Just a quick scan of the wealth of statistics available can tell you a great deal. For instance, a survey of 935 corporate recruiters in 50 countries in 2013 found that an increasing number of companies were planning to hire MBAs (75%, up from 71% in 2012); they were planning to hire greater numbers (14.6 on average, up from 11.4 in 2012); and they were planning to pay them more (median salary of 95,000 USD, up from 90,000 USD in 2012).

Thorough consideration of your industry of interest is also important. There are sectors that are far less demanding of an MBA, such as the media communications industry. This is a field that does not necessarily require professionals with an MBA degree because the nature of the job allows for on-the-job training of quick-witted, self-starting and diligent individuals. A persistent, motivated and adaptable professional can develop the knacks to excel in a position in this industry on the go, without having to make an investment in an MBA. That is why it is an industry not traditionally known for hiring many MBA graduates. There are of course exceptions, but these apply to huge, multinational public relations and advertising conglomerates that need managers to top their international divisions and drive the global branches forward. Still, an increasing number of creative industries, NGOs and law firms are finding an MBA to be highly profitable for their businesses.

2. Change the course of your career
This is the most common reason why people choose to take on an MBA. It has indeed been shown to be an almost foolproof strategy, as more often than not a business degree provides a number of assets in that direction: it allows you to immerse yourself for one or two years in a totally new environment where you think, sleep, dream, and devise strategies for your new field of expertise, 24/7. You will have access to case studies to prepare for your new career, sometimes more useful than one or two years of actual experience in the field. You will be able to feed on the experience and acumen of some of the greatest minds in business. Your peers will offer inspiration in terms of exchanged knowledge, breadth of scope, diversity, experience and different business approaches. Such is the story of former IT developer Rajat Handa, who made a complete career switch thanks to his MBA from Lancaster University Management School. According to an article in Business Because, Handa landed a consulting job in PwC (PricewaterhouseCoopers) without any former work experience in the field. Handa’s complete career transformation, however, is not an exception. Finance and consulting are two of the top industries that hire a great deal of MBA graduates. In an interview for Business Because, former football player and current Goldman Sachs investment manager and part-time MBA student recruiter, Alex Figueroa, says that “financial experience is not a necessity to get hired at Goldman Sachs. You need zero professional finance experience to get hired”, he says. “The bottom line is that our recruitingstyle is finding people that are smart and hard-working, and teaching them what they needto know to do the job”, Figueroa adds. If you choose a top school, you will be visible to business scouts as soon as you have completed half of your studies. Surveys show that the top business school alumni manage to secure a job before the end of their studies. You may want to look at some career placement statistics available online as well as from the various schools, statistics that provide information on the salary prospects of MBA graduates, as well as the chances of finding a job within certain periods of time both before and after graduation. Such information is usually readily available either on the schools’ websites or from their admission offices. Among other valuable information, you will also be able to see how many graduates have found placements within your industry of interest.

3. Become business savvy
Being successful in business is dependent on many things, including good luck. Still, there are some very technical and hands-on techniques that are crucial and usually take years of experience and bitter trial-and-error to muster. An MBA programme really can spare you a load of headaches in that department. Learning from others’ successes and mistakes is valuable beyond calculation. Think of it as precious advice from very fancy lawyers, bankers and financial advisors. Programmes based on case studies offer just that: the opportunity to tap into the hard-earned success (or failure, for that matter) stories of hundreds before you who have left their mark on the world of business. Again, if you are currently practising in the humanitarian field, you are teacher, a lawyer, a creative type, or hold a less commercial position within a very commercial company, etc., it is only natural that you might be lacking purely business skills. Then an MBA is right for you. Make a practical choice: select a programme where you will be able to achieve just those skills. You need results more than you need student vibe and pretty campuses. Go and learn how business really is made, now.

4. Go international
Let’s assume that you are brilliant (of course you are, don’t let anyone trick you into believing otherwise) and successful in your career. You have reached the top of the chain in your field in your country. You need higher peaks to climb and grander goals to achieve. Or perhaps an MBA is your head office’s express prerequisite for an international appointment.

These are all very common situations for many people. In such cases it comes as a given that you are already known within your company and you are very aware of the exact needs to address. You do not need to go overseas and Ivy League to get an MBA then (although it would be fantastic if you could, of course). You may want to consider programmes that are close either to your current location or to your target one. The latter would be perfect as it would allow you time to get to know the environment and its peculiarities, familiarise yourself with the specific needs of the target branch and focus your studies on finding solutions for those needs while mustering specific skills to address them.

5. Expand your network
Joining an MBA programme, you will be spending your busy days with other ambitious and intense personalities who may end up being your business partners, competitors, employers, lawyers, accountants, suppliers, etc. They in turn may provide you with access to their own networks of valuable individuals. A Full-time MBA will be the best time in your life to build some of your most enduring and valuable contacts in business as well as some of your best friendships. In order to make the most of the programme then, you need to think of a good location and an appropriate size. If you are in the banking sector, then focusing on an MBA in a bank-intense region would be key, as ultimately it would attract similar types who could form a strong, consistent and prolific network. It would hardly be practical to join a school known for its successes in the pharmaceutical industry, for example. Equally, you may need to search out larger, more cosmopolitan schools, ideally internationally, especially if you come from a smaller country. But then again, not too far from home, as that could make your network unusable. Think of it as attending a networking event organised by the Chamber of Commerce of Argentina, when you live in a small Southeast European country. Fun, but after all the fun, you are left with a heap of very pretty business cards that you will never touch a second time.

6. Make the most of your money
According to the Financial Times’ 2013 business school rankings, graduates of the top 100 business schools see salary increases of no less than 68% after graduation, reaching 158% in some schools. If you are changing countries in your employment – from Eastern to Western Europe for example, or from Brazil to the US, that increase will be much higher. Having an MBA places you on the fast track to better employment. It will not keep you on that track unless you show some excellent accomplishments to justify your pay or corner office, but you will be given opportunities that you would probably not otherwise have had. An MBA degree has excellent value, far beyond money, but it is always a good idea to check the MBA rankings based on return on investment (ROI). ROI should not be your only criterion though, as the focus of those high-ROI schools could be a long way from meeting your needs. For example, in Forbes’ ROI-based MBA ranking, you will see that the top three ranked programmes are Stanford, Booth and Harvard in the US which are largely management programmes. If you need to focus on other skills such as entrepreneurship, for example, you need to look further.

7. Last but not least: “To thine ownself be true”. (Shakespeare)
You are talking of one or two years of your life and your youth. Make sure you use them well. Follow your instincts and choose a place that you feel will suit you. If you wish to challenge yourself and test your limits, that’s fantastic. Go for it. If not however, don’t go counter to yourself. If you are the quiet, focused type, maybe a smaller programme with a more intimate environment would be a better fit for you. If you are expansive and larger than life, make sure your school reflects that too. Be pro-active and study your options. May this be the most informed decision of your life. It is well worth the effort.

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