You are in your late 30s; you have 10+ years of work experience, including some five years of managerial experience; you have family responsibilities; you have reached a mid or senior level management post but aim to further advance on the career ladder, targeting a C-level post; you want to broaden your knowledge in a different area or develop a brand new business idea. If some of the above relate to you, then you are ready to go back to school and pursue an Executive MBA (EMBA).

The EMBA programme is essentially a Part-time MBA targeting a particular group of students. The programme is designed for medium-level or senior-level corporate professionals who want to further advance in their career or develop a new business. The EMBA programmes were designed to meet the market needs of top professionals, senior managers and those working in higher management and assuming higher-level strategic roles. EMBA course participants are usually aged between 30 and 45, with average professional experience of around 8-15 years, of which about 5-10 years is  managerial. Whereas, in the typical part-time format, participants are younger and have about five years of work experience, and it is not necessary to have any managerial experience at all.

But there is one essential difference in particular between the EMBA and the Part-time MBA and that is money. Inarguably, the return on investment (ROI) in absolute terms of an EMBA programme is incomparably higher than that of a Part-time MBA. As the EMBA teaches global management style, cultivating high-calibre leaders defining global business processes and decision makers at a global level, ROI is what really shows the worth of the programme.

Clear career goals

Thus, if you really aim to reach the very top, you should choose an EMBA. The Part-time MBA will be more helpful if you aim to just climb the career ladder at your current company or maybe make a career change. However, if you really want to switch career direction, then a Full-time MBA programme is the best option.

So, you need to clarify your desired career path in order to be able to select the adequate MBA programme format.

"I realised that I needed to boost my managerial and leadership skills. I had 1,000 employees, 40 nursing schools and a good 10,000 volunteers in my charge at that point. I knew there was much more I could, and needed to do,” says Ariel Kestens, a 2009 graduate of the Global Executive MBA programme of IESE Business School, who is the Global Head of Learning and Development at the International Federation of the Red Cross and the Red Crescent Societies. "I have a target of teaching our 1.7 million volunteers 7 key competencies by 2020 to help them discharge their tasks efficiently […] in the end, it’s all about management," he adds, explaining why he had decided to undergo the programme even though humanitarian organisations have traditionally been hesitant to embrace business concepts.

Once you have made up your mind that an EMBA is the next step to take, then a load of questions burst into your mind. “Where to do the EMBA?”, “Which EMBA?”, “How much will it cost me?”, “Will my employer support me?”, “What shall I sacrifice?” These are just a few of the questions that will need an answer. The answers will guide you to the best EMBA for you.

With hundreds of EMBA programmes on the market, it is not an easy choice to make. There are a number of factors to be mulled over.

Global school location

With economies becoming more global than ever, business schools have followed the “becoming global” trend and now you can choose to study your EMBA on other continents, making the most of the invaluable experience of living and studying abroad and at the same time becoming one of the future business leaders. For example, the INSEAD Business School offers a modular Executive MBA programme across three fully integrated campuses in Europe (France), in Asia (Singapore) and in the Middle East (Abu Dhabi). With three routes, depending on the starting campus, the Global Executive MBA offers experienced executives an intensive fast track to the top over 14-17 months.

Time commitment and programme format

Although the EMBA programme is not a full-time programme demanding 100% of your time, it is still a time-consuming endeavour. The programme is delivered in various formats, requiring students to attend class for long weekends or in modules that could sometimes be week-long. Apart from that, the programme requires 15-20 hours per week of study at home. Considering that, an EMBA could be even more challenging regarding time commitment, as attendees of the programme need to balance their time between study, a full-time job and family responsibilities. 

Hence, the time you would need to commit to the programme, and the format in which the programme of your interest is delivered, should be carefully considered before enrolling in a particular programme.

Skills and Electives

The focus of EMBA programmes vary. It could be either soft skills such as management and leadership, or hard skills such as accounting and finance, or a mixture of both. The need to collate the programme curriculum with your personal needs and career goals comes naturally. As your employer may contribute to your programme and cover some of your tuition fees, it is good to discuss with him/her the programme curriculum and how it will contribute to the daily business of the organisation.

The electives offered in the EMBA programme must be also considered as they can play a key role in achieving your career goals. The number of electives and the ability to focus on a particular area of study differs from school to school. If the coursework you prefer is not offered within your school choices, you should consider other alternatives allowing you to achieve your career goals.

Networking opportunities

Class diversity and interaction is a key feature of every EMBA class. The typical EMBA class brings together different types of students – economists, venture capitalists, lawyers, engineers, bankers, physicians. It is of key importance that all attendees contribute to the diversification of the class – with their experience, real-life examples of achievements and failures, and expertise in their areas. Building a network of contacts and keeping that network playing a key role in your post-study life is a key asset of every EMBA programme. That’s why, prior to enrolling into a particular programme, it is good to check out the networking opportunities the programme can offer.

“The programme is like a big dish of Spanish paella, where the cherrypicked high achievers and leaders from a wide spectrum of professions and cultural backgrounds from around the globe gather under one roof, to learn from each other, crack brains and exchange ideas as a team in order to complete countless challenging assignments,” says Shannon Sun Sun Tan, an IE Business School EMBA graduate and deputy director of financial planning with Nanyang Technological University.

“I am sure that most of us will stay connected long after we finish. Once we have started this brotherhood and friendship relationship, we will look after each other as long as needed and beyond,” adds Stephen Ketcha Yanga, also an EMBA student at IE and regional ICT coordinator at UNAIDS.

“By gaining skills and perspectives that make participants better leaders and managers, the EMBA experience results in many positive outcomes,” says Michael Desiderio, executive director of the EMBA Council. “These outcomes include tangible ones such as salary, and intangible ones such as greater knowledge, improved leadership abilities and a broader network, which stay with graduates throughout their career.”