MBA Graduate Stefan Kirilov shares his thoughts about the MBA experience.
About the author: Stefan Kirilov is a young professional with 6 years of working experience. Currently, he works as change manager at a multinational enterprise after making a break from working life for a little over a year when he went to study an MBA degree in Sweden. While studying at Jönköping International Business School, Stefan was awarded a creativity award. He is enthusiastic about professional development and is usually involved in a variety of extra activities besides his main job. Stefan is interested in environmental protection and human rights.
For quite some time now, the modern workplace has been in a state characterized by a very dynamic interpersonal setting. It is a world where the abilities to listen, come up with good ideas, resolve interpersonal conflict, be open to novelty and stay ethical are among the absolute must-haves if you strive to become a successful professional. Furthermore, it is not very surprising that an MBA is so desired by many, as statistics are very clear on the steady increase in income acquired by individuals holding this type of degree.
What you will experience by attending an MBA programme will let you learn through challenging your views with the perspectives of others, while growing personally to achieve a higher, more complex and deeper self-awareness.
Understanding the MBA premise
What someone might see as a truly wise choice of postgraduate education depends greatly, of course, on the person’s expectations, wishes and ambitions regarding their life ahead. Still, for quite some time now, the majority of individuals who are highly motivated to get an opportunity that will allow them to be exceptionally good at their professional development, have been consistently making a somewhat similar choice for a postgraduate programme – they have chosen to become a Master in Business Administration.
Having said that, some questions immediately and quite naturally come to mind. “Why?”, “Is it really worth it?”, “Isn’t this yet another craze?”, “What is it about those three letters after your name that makes them so incredibly valued?” etc. And while there has been a lot of debate on what the intangible values of an MBA truly are and what really distinguishes it from any other postgraduate study, there is yet to be a universally accepted standpoint regarding these questions. Therefore, in order to understand it, it is necessary to analyse what an MBA programme has to offer, which distinguishes it and qualifies it as being ‘better’ than any non-MBA postgraduate programme.
An MBA programme is aimed at equipping you with the skills needed to become a successful leader today by going beyond the provision of specific skills on topics like strategy, finance, marketing, human resources, operations, management, etc. – it is designed to give a broader perspective on leadership, which undoubtedly includes building the necessary social skills to properly maintain interaction with others.
Recognizing the importance of soft skills is vital for the decision to choose an MBA over a non-MBA postgraduate programme – this will become the first step towards not only learning how to develop yourself, but also how to encourage others and their development. Even though the name on its own does not quite make the proper first impression, in terms of relevance to the harsh world of business, there are now a rising number of research papers showing relatively similar results. To be more specific, while the hard skills taught extensively during any Master’s programme are the ones that provide a good opportunity to get to a dream job, it is exactly the development of soft skills that allow professionals to excel at their jobs, reach new peaks and continuously develop their careers. In other words, it is the soft skills acquisition domain where MBA programmes outperform non-MBA programmes when it comes to the total, true, long-term value of education.
Within an MBA programme, soft skills acquisition is made easier by giving you the chance to be directly exposed to a very diverse international environment. This allows continuous interaction with the highly motivated and competitive people who have typically chosen an MBA, because it promises to give a boost to their careers. Such an intense, yet motivating setting exposes you to situations where you will have to deal with complexities introduced by factors similar to the ones real-life companies are facing. This competition-based interaction boosts your abilities to properly communicate with other people and better understand their perspectives, needs and ideas. In any case, the returns on human capital are very high when it comes to the Master in Business Administration, as it allows a prospective professional to develop personal accountability, a collaborative mindset, interpersonal and negotiation skills, adaptability and flexibility, creative thinking, clarity of communication, the ability to handle conflicts, mentor and coach others.
Knowledge nowadays is obviously not the privilege of the chosen few, but rather widely available to those who want to learn. It is not, of course, of equal quality, but the point here is that isolated knowledge can no longer be self-sufficient unless the proper ways of application are associated with it. Proper skill development is precisely what easily relates to knowledge gathering and, expectedly, both accumulate with time to complement each other. While both are (up to a certain point) efforts aimed at developing yourself, the power of developing your network of contacts (either successful or striving for success) should not be underestimated. However, proper networking requires skills which are fundamentally different from the ones taught knowledge can develop, since networking requires an ability to successfully interact with other social players – people around you.
Beauty in complexity
Usually, the out-of-the-box thinker who solves the big issues of a business is someone knowledgeable (yes!) but, at the same time, someone who truly understands that leading is about people and being able to properly interact. The combination of these factors supports you in developing the emotional intelligence which will allow you to gently manage the people side of business while staying focused on strategic goals.
Clearly, then, if you are one of those motivated people who are looking forward to a prospective career in big business, you should be in pursuit of a postgraduate education programme. Even though, in general terms, postgraduate programmes are seen as a very vocational piece of education, dedicated to becoming an expert in a certain field of knowledge and/or practice, it is important to highlight that not all Master’s programmes are created equally and therefore should not be classified under the same label.
Undoubtedly, like any other Master’s degree, the MBA delivers in three main aspects of your development: it provides you with knowledge, develops the right skills and allows you to build a powerful network, while putting you in an environment where encountering the right employers should be easier to achieve. When speaking about the MBA in particular, some people might be tempted to also include a fourth aspect – namely ‘prestige’. However, whether or not this is a true benefit purely depends on perceptions of the world around you and, furthermore, the ‘prestigious’ part of education can only contribute to success up to a certain point. More specifically, it is the skills developed in education that matter most – and again, not all sets of skills are equal.
The combination of acquired knowledge, soft and hard skills, expertise, a professional network and exposure to good real life practices is what builds the Master in Business Administration and what opens doors to experience knowledge and opportunity that cannot be easily quantified. However, the opportunity to build and develop your soft skills to a completely new level is what makes an MBA the lifetime investment that truly makes a difference.