Career advice, insights & tips for HR professionals
Which is the right MBA course for you and the right time? 06/08/2012
In this roundtable discussion, Natalie Cooper asks leading experts from global business schools to find out the long term benefits of investing in an MBA, which course to choose and why this is the right time to study. This is part three of the four-part series ‘Your global MBA guide’.
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- What’s the return on investment and which course?
- Q. How would I choose the best course for me?
- Leading the way – when's the right time?
What’s the return on investment and which course?
Q. What are the long-term benefits of investing in an MBA?
Samantha Bown, London Business School [SB]: Many of our participants have reported that the range of international students on their course gave them the opportunity to expand their network and global scope.
Sarah Juliet, Cass Business School [SJ]: At Cass Careers, we work with MBA students, guiding them on how to prepare and implement strategies to achieve their career objectives. Developing these invaluable skills will form the tool kit required for any long-term career strategy.
Dr Kerry Sullivan, Surrey Business School, University of Surrey [KS]: The MBA offers an internationally recognised badge. For some graduates, the growth in confidence and knowledge has given them the impetus to switch career or to start on their own.
Professor Vivien Hodgson, Lancaster University Management School [VH]: Our MA in HR and Consulting teaches you to research, analyse and use information effectively to support business activity. It enables you to think differently, and opens many doors through networking. Graduates develop more ‘guts’ when it comes to putting a point across to their organisation, and it improves their prospects of finding work at a higher level.
Christie St-John, Tuck School of Business [CS]: An MBA allows you to do almost anything. You can change companies, job functions or industries because it prepares you to understand how a company works holistically and how one area is integrated with another. For example, if you have spent all your career or studies within HR, you will develop a clearer idea of how marketing works and why it is relevant to making the company work well.
Q. How would I choose the best course for me?
SB: We’d work with you and your organisation on an individual basis to choose a programme that would meet your personal and professional objectives. Our programme associates help throughout the decision making process, and can provide statistics and case studies. They can also arrange for you to speak to a past participant in your country or industry sector, giving you access to a range of resources before you commit.
Dr Lydia Price, CEIBS [LP]: The course that works best is the one that matches your development needs, interests and personal style. It really helps if you research student and faculty profiles, as well as extra-curricular activities and career placement results.
Steven Cousins, Cass Business School [SC]: Think about what you want to get out of the MBA and what will fit with your circumstances. Our Executive MBA students generally don’t want, or are not able, to give up work. In deciding between a weekly evening or monthly weekend course, you would take into account how much you travel with your job – if you do this a lot, the long weekend is a better option. Also, consider your style of learning. The weekly programme provides constant momentum, while the long weekend is an intense period once a month. If you can study full-time, you’ll be able to step away from work and immerse yourself in the MBA experience, although this will be very demanding as it’s done within a year. If you’re looking to change career, studying full-time gives you a break in your CV and a strong platform for reinventing yourself.
KS: I’d strongly advise talking to current and former students about how the programme matched their expectations and experience. Note the diversity of the group – you’ll learn from the experiences of your cohort as well as from the academics. A good programme will have a mix of students from private and public environments. It will also represent a range of industrial sectors. If everyone sitting in the room has the same experiences as you, what you learn from them will be limited.
VH: Look for research-based professional programmes with a set learning approach. As these allow you to work with other participants on organisational and personal research issues, you’ll learn from each other. You’ll also benefit from a good theoretical basis for future study.
Daniel Celino, London School of Business and Finance [DC]: If you want to increase your management or leadership experience, consider an MBA or MSc in management. For more professional qualifications, there is the Chartered Management Institute or the Institute of Leadership & Management. But what I’d highly recommend is mentoring – find one or two people within the senior management to follow and learn from. Not only is this free, it’s also a great networking opportunity.
Keith Porter, Westminster Business School [KP]: It depends what level you’re at. If you are an HR assistant, for example, who is fairly new to the role, a skills-based qualification such as the CIPD's Certificate in HR will best suit your needs. If, however, you are on a graduate programme or are an experienced HR manager, consider a masters or a postgraduate diploma in HRM.
CS: Ask yourself what you want to do and how much you already know. A true MBA programme gives you the fundamentals in every core functional area of a business, and adds specialties such as real estate, healthcare, entrepreneurial ventures and private equity.
Ian Henderson, Edinburgh Business School [IH]: Many employees now have undergraduate degrees that don’t link directly with the specialism they’re working in. This means you will get highly numerate employees in jobs that don’t require their level of knowledge but equip them to excel in subjects like accounting, economics and finance. Equally, employees engaged in people management might find a subject such as organisational behaviour is where they excel.
Leading the way – when's the right time?
Q. Is this the right time, in light of the economy, or should I hold off?
SB: Our participants and partnering organisations tell us now is a key time to develop internally, since the current climate forces them to operate more with less while continuing to drive growth. It can benefit organisations to offer training to employees instead of financial reward. This can be a time to differentiate yourself through training to give yourself a competitive advantage within your firm.
LP: In times of economic upheaval, we tend to see an increase in the number of people who wish to shore up their business understanding and skills. It's an opportune time to ensure you are more capable and marketable when the upswing occurs. In recent years, the global economy has experienced risks and challenges unlike any we’ve seen before. Now, more than ever, executives need market understanding and critical soft skills to see their firms through adversity. The MBA is a great way to refresh your views and prepare for the new future ahead.
SK: Base your decision on where you are in your career and personal development rather than on the economy. The best time to do an MBA programme is when you need that extra business knowledge and confidence, you’re at a stage where you can contribute your experience to the classroom, and you’re looking to make some kind of change or progress in your career that is not going to happen just by working longer in your current position.
The state of the economy would only really affect how you finance your studies. For instance, if you were made redundant you could use the money to pay tuition fees, and more seriously consider a full-time MBA. If the economy is doing well, your organisation might financially support your studies, which would make an Executive (part-time) MBA a more favourable option.
Koen Dewettinck, Vlerick Leuven Management School [KD]: This is the best time to embark on an MBA journey. It will enable you to strengthen your competencies and broaden your scope – by the time the economy catches up again, you’ll be ready for the competitive labour market.
SJ: There is never a bad time to invest in yourself and the skills you’ll learn on an MBA. It will be relevant no matter what happens in the economy.
KS: Ask yourself this: Will spending time and money improving your human capital during a downturn position you for the growth that comes when the business cycle improves, or should you focus on retaining your job and not distract yourself with added commitments? You will have your own unique set of circumstances and need to consider all potential aspects. Talk to people who have done the course – they will have been through the same angst irrespective of the economy.
VH: Our graduates agree that there’s no time like the present. One recently said: ‘Now is an excellent time to invest in your education – the work market is changing and new job roles are being created. It's a good time to think differently and to differentiate yourself from others’. Others comment on the motivational value of undertaking a professional education programme and how it can offer new focus and challenge with positive impacts for business outcomes, important in gaining an edge in today’s challenging markets.
AS: I would recommend understanding and having clear knowledge of your company’s outlook in terms of support for training and development. Don’t hold off completely, but consider keeping any training and development plans ready to hand for when the economy approves.
KP: If you study for a professional qualification now, you will be able to take advantage of new opportunities as the economy recovers. It’s really about making yourself more marketable, whatever the economic conditions.
TS: An MBA is one of the best qualifications you can have to enhance your career at management level in the longer term. Basing one’s decision purely on the perceived ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ time is becoming riskier, as financial cycles are becoming shorter and less predictable.
JG: A downturn in the economy is a good time to study because it allows you to be out of the workforce at a time when career advancement is difficult, and to re-enter as employers are looking to expand their staff. By studying in Australia – which still has a buoyant economy – you can put yourself in an advantageous position if you want to look for work in the country when you finish.
CS: If you are considering leaving your job now for a full time MBA, look carefully at the school's statistics on job placement and its reputation. These are the key deciders for the economic downturn.
Désirée van Gorp, Nyenrode Business Universiteit [DVG]: Our participants are grasping the opportunity to focus on growing their professional and personal skills while ‘weathering the storm’. Once they start to see a turnaround in the economy, they’ll be ready to re-launch themselves into the market, equipped with the finely honed mix of theory and practical leadership skills the recovering economy is looking for.
IH: The right time for any individual is when they see the need and can get the money to invest in their own future.
CP: In this climate, you might feel you won’t have time to study and should dedicate 100% to your job, team and organisation. Or perhaps you fear your team members will perceive it as unfair if you spend time on training instead of being present to deal with emergencies in the daily business. These attitudes are common, but you need to think differently and change their way of thinking. Innovation is definitely crucial in a crisis context. Being able to think out of the box and design new managerial models and business frameworks is largely favoured – executive training provides you with these skills.
Natalie Cooper, editor, Changeboard
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