Driving Your Career with an MBA

How an MBA Takes Careers Planning to a New Level

Career growth will always be a priority for executives whether they stay in their current job, change industry or function, or move to a different region of the world. With an MBA, you can better focus on your personal and professional goals by learning the one elusive skill that is most in demand: career management.

At an early stage, you may need to decide the MBA format that's best for you. A fulltime MBA format is typically designed for those who want to change job functions or sectors or even start new careers in a new country. The part-time MBA formats are mainly designed for candidates who want advancement in their careers but without having to leave their current situations.

Furthermore, if you wish to change sector or function, you will develop a different strategy than if you stay within your existing area of expertise. In this case, you should probably apply to general management MBA programs, where the core management skills you acquire are applicable across the board.

Start Your Exploration Process Early

Whatever format is better for you, career officers will tell you that that it is better to start early when it comes to thinking about career development. Many business schools actually encourage students, before their MBA starts, to begin their professional development by conducting a series of self-exploration exercises. In fact, the essay questions on most MBA applications are designed to get participants thinking about their careers.

This process will enable you to assess the transferable skills that you have acquired from your background and experience. Although you might know what you are interested in or good at, you might not know how your strengths map out against the world of work and what you could do with your career. After completing this self-assessment you should draft a career plan while determining how your skills stand up to the career plan you have in mind.

Match the Job Against the Skills

Let's say you want to land a position in a big investment bank in the City of London or on Wall Street within five years of your MBA. First, you have to ask yourself if you currently have the skills required for such a job. If you have accounting skills but lack experience in structuring corporate finance deals then you know what area you need training in to be qualified for this job. To supplement your knowledge, you could take elective courses in finance, which in any event forms part of the core education of most MBA general management programs. You could also consider doing an MBA internship in a corporate development role where you would get exposure to this type of work. If you follow these steps towards fulfilling your career plan, you will be able to apply for your chosen position with a much higher chance of success.

Test the Waters with MBAs and Alumni

Now that you have arrived at business school, you are ready to discuss your career plan with your peers and alumni. Career presentations are usually organised by MBA career services departments in the form of discussions between MBA students and alumni. In structured sessions, you will share your experience and get feedback on it, while also giving moral support to others.

Furthermore, group work will be coordinated around the art of resume writing and cover letters and you will also do mock job interviews. The latter are important as you need to know how to communicate your objectives effectively when the big job interviews start. In addition to your peers, outside consultants or experts in career development are often invited to the career workshops; they will provide guidance in job hunting and will introduce you to specific tools and proven techniques on landing the job of your dreams.

Recruiters arrive on Campus

No matter when your MBA starts, professional job recruiters will descend on the campus soon after you arrive. They are looking to cull the best and the brightest of your class. By now, you should have turned in a structured career plan with the help of career advisors and peers. This latest version should be submitted to alumni for comments and validation.

By this time, career services officers are keen for you to have honed your career management skills as they have gone to great lengths to attract corporate recruiters to the MBA career fairs. They have invited top companies to recruit from their talent pool while enabling you to have privileged access to these recruiters. Campus fairs are often followed up with on-campus interviews, where selected participants are invited to elaborate more fully on the merits of their career plan before a panel of interested recruiters.

Internship Opportunities

Not all students meet the right people at MBA career fairs and business schools provide other means for students to find success on the job market. Many full-time MBA programs and even some part-time ones offer internships or consulting projects to enable students to connect with the corporate world. Typically lasting four to six months, these corporate experiences enable students to complete a supervised project while gaining valuable experience in their chosen sector or activity. Companies also benefit from the exchange, particularly those looking for candidates with specific skills and experience.

Because these internships are supervised, students can draw many valuable lessons as to whether their interests, abilities and motivation match the targeted corporate sector or function. If you were not happy with your choice, your dedicated supervisor will recommend different career strategies and organizational cultures where you will be successful. Trial and error is the way to resolve this common dilemma.

Post-MBA Career Services and Networking

Once you have finished your MBA, the career services department will provide huge support. Most departments have developed an extensive corporate database, which is always available to alumni and updated constantly. They also keep track of the sectors in the global economy that are recruiting.

In addition, you can find out detailed information about salary expectations in certain sectors, and even the remuneration policy in a particular company. A quick search through the careers database or a telephone call to a careers officer can help put you on the right track to new opportunities. In addition, you can gather information from the careers department about the local alumni network in your city or region.

Getting the Job and the Right Salary

Once you have a job offer, the salary and signing-on bonus are likely to come up as points of negotiation. This is the time to keep some humility and remember that your new employer is providing you with the opportunity to move up the corporate ladder, not go straight to the top. An MBA is a lifelong passport for career growth and in due course will pay for itself many times over. According to the 2010 Financial Times rankings of Global MBA programmes, alumni from the top 10 programmes reported that their salaries had increased by an average of 120 percent in the three years from starting the programme to $150,200,

IE Business School, for example, reported salary increases of more than 159 percent over the period to $134,392. Once you're in a job, you can be sure of one thing, an MBA is all about creating a foundation upon which you can build a solid career. According to the Financial Times, most MBA alumni were satisfied with their career development following the MBA: 87 percent of those who responded reported that they had obtained both career progression and higher earnings.

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