To Specialise or Not?

Which MBA Graduates are Most in Demand

June 6th, 2014
Specialised MBAs came on the business education scene years after general MBAs emerged. That’s the reason why general MBAs make up some 90% of the total MBA market. The specialised programmes, as the name suggests, offer specific knowledge in one particular area, enabling attendees to deepen their expertise in a particular business sphere or a branch of science. In contrast, non-specialised MBAs offer a broader range of knowledge that can be applied across diverse business fields.

The specialised MBA programme is an MBA which focuses on a particular business area such as property, marketing, supply chain management, healthcare, aerospace, investment management, etc. Many business schools claim that their specialised MBA programmes prepare competent, ready-for-the-job professionals with knowledge and skills tailored to the needs of a particular industry. They prepare professionals who will be able to fulfill the needs of a corporation immediately after graduation. In contrast, the general or non-specialised MBAs are general master’s degrees in business management theory and practice.

The curriculum comprises courses in finance, general management, operations, strategy, marketing, leadership and negotiations. The elective curriculum during the second year builds on the fundamentals, with students given the option to choose from courses in 10 subject areas. In the second year, students take the initiative in the learning process according to their preferences, selecting those electives that best fit their career plans and interests.

Specialised MBAs, and general MBAs that are strong in certain areas, should not be confused. An MBA specialisation is a general MBA that offers special electives, placing an emphasis on a particular discipline. HEC Paris and IE Business School, for example, have MBAs specialisations in entrepreneurship but they are not specialised MBAs. Specialised MBAs are usually one-year programmes, while MBA specialisations are delivered in either format – one-year or two-year. Neither of the programmes is more expensive than the other.

A specialised MBA programme is probably the best choice for those who are completely clear about their prospective professional goals and career path. For instance, if a candidate has decided to develop his/her career in the tourist industry, it is better to go for a specialised programme in hospitality management. Other specialised niche MBAs are those in Health Care and Aerospace. Each specialised MBA is unique, as it focuses on a specific area. The standard specialisations are finance and entrepreneurship. In addition, the market demand has incentivised schools to introduce other specialised subjects, such as supply chain management, corporate social responsibility, wine management, luxury brand management, hospitality management, etc. For instance, an MBA in Supply Chain Management has become a very attractive opportunity in the field of business management as it includes inventory management, warehousing and transportation of various materials, as required by a client or a company.

Another specialised MBA that has gained popularity in recent years is the MBA in Luxury Brand Management. This kind of specialised MBA is provided by The International University of Monaco, SDA Bocconi School of Management and the Essec Business School. Essec’s programme is 11 months long and is delivered in partnership with top-level brands. Within it, there are several specialisations: fashion and accessories; fragrances and cosmetics; watches technology; hotels and property. All in all, defining one’s career goals is a crucial first step when future MBA holders start the selection process. Whether to choose a general MBA or a specialised MBA is a dilemma that should not be overlooked or taken lightly.

For those who have clear career goals and see themselves being involved in one particular industry, a specialised MBA programme would be the right choice. In contrast, MBA aspirants who are uncertain about their career direction post graduation, or are keen on experimenting and trying new areas, the non-specialised MBA would be a better fit. Instead of specialising in one particular area, MBA students with a general MBA background will have a greater understanding of various functions and departments in a company, which will place them in a much better position to assume various roles in any prospective career development scenarios. “Personally, I am opting for a specialised MBA. But this is due to thefact that I have already decided the direction of my career after 20+ years of experience. When I show up for any potential interview, the company does not want to see a “Jack of alltrades, master of none”. With this much experience, they need to see focus and expertise. Iam assuming that it was my profile that attracted them. So, I’d better be able to back it upwith a specialisation. On the other hand, if you are at the beginning of your career (first 5 or10 years) and you want to keep your options open, I can see that you would not wish to belimited to one area and [it would make sense to] try to keep your skills diversified. In thiscase, the general MBA may be a better option”, says Farzad Mazaheripour, project manager and data warehouse specialist, who has an MBA with specialisation in IT Management from the University of Leicester. Because of the uniqueness of each specialised MBA, many see this feature as an added bonus to the MBA degree. This is a serious argument against the general opinion that specialised programmes lock the candidates into one particular domain.

The argument in support of the general MBAs is that they provide really broad knowledge and a skill set that enables graduates to be flexible and adaptive to changing economic and labour markets realities. The programme will make you more marketable in periods of tough economic times and you will find it easier to find a good job even in difficult times. Both specialised and non-specialised MBAs have their pros and cons. Both degrees make you marketable but actually finding a job with the degree – whether general or a specialised – is the main challenge and an uncertainty every degree holder faces, particularly in tough economic periods. The main risk of a specialised MBA programme is that in markets facing volatility, this very targeted and relatively narrow degree may make it harder to find a job, especially if the degree is oriented to an industry going through hard times. Since the specialisation locks you into one business area or market sector, it is important to undertake thorough research on the employment outlook of the business area or the market sector. This includes thorough research of the popularity of the industry, the market demand and the recruiting firms’ policies. Thorough research will help you determine whether the specialisation you are interested in is worth the time and financial investment.



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