A Master of Business Administration (MBA) qualification is usually a guarantee of significant career rewards. Although an MBA is expensive and requires a big time commitment, graduates have historically enjoyed a solid return on investment in a number of areas.
The main ones are career advancement, salary rises, building a network of influential people and an increase in knowledge and skills for future professional success. Although an MBA is not a one-size-fits-all solution, for many it remains a vital building block to a successful career.
It’s worth thinking long and hard about whether an MBA is the right choice for you. According to the Wall Street Journal, universities are churning out 74 percent more business degrees than before the GFC – and a lot of the growth has come from MBA programs. Over the same period, pay for MBA grads has dropped 4.6% but tuition costs have risen 24 percent.
Where you choose to study will depend on which of the reasons above are your main drivers for getting an MBA. Personally, I believe if you are not 70-80 percent focused on the knowledge component, you’re probably wasting your time. Here are some key considerations in deciding whether an MBA is right for you.
Figure out why you want an MBA
Studying for an MBA is expensive and it takes a LOT of time, so be sure you know why you want it. Consider the following:
If you are doing it because you think it will give you a raise or promotion:
- Initally, it probably won’t.
- The day after you qualify, you’re still the same employee.
- Statistically, a huge proportion of graduates have to leave their current role to realise the value of an MBA. Even then, the benefits aren't guaranteed.
- What makes you sure it will result in any tangible benefits?
- What faster or cheaper ways are there to develop your professional network?
- Are you really prepared to fork out the cash? Top business schools will charge anywhere from $60-100k+ for an MBA qualification.
Do you believe it will enhance your business credibility?
- Do three letters really make a significant difference?
Are you doing it for the knowledge, or out of interest?
- In my opinion, this is the best reason to get an MBA.
- It will help you in all areas of your career, or your own future business.
- The benefits are fool proof – no one can take the knowledge you’ve learned away from you.
Decide if it’s the right time to study for an MBA
I can’t understate the importance of this. Be prepared to lose almost every spare moment outside of your full-time job. The time commitment is not for the faint-hearted. Also, I would NOT recommend leaving your job. Everything you learn should be applicable to what you are doing currently. Getting an MBA makes little sense if you’re not in a position to apply what you’re learning.
Look at everything – including your job and career, personal and family life – and anticipate what might change in the 18-36 months while you’re studying for an MBA. Travelling for work purposes becomes difficult, spending time with friends and family takes a lower priority and your own projects go on the back burner, to name a few important cons.
On the career front, you should have some experience behind you to be able to understand the principles and concepts you will learn while studying for your MBA. If you haven’t reached a senior position in your career yet, I would advise against it. At a minimum, make sure you are managing a small team.
Are you in the right job? Being part of a global, mid-sized tech firm that specialised in bulk SMS was a perfect fit for my MBA studies. I had the scope to be involved and contribute at all levels and departments of the business, including HR, Finance, Strategy, Corporate Governance and, of course, Marketing. I think it would be difficult to get that perspective if you are working for a large blue chip corporate and pigeonholed in a small corner of the organisation or managing no one and rarely getting access to the broader business.
Pick the right institution
If you’ve decided the time is right and you are confident in why you want an MBA, there are many options on where to get one, so be sure to pick an institution that best fits your rationale and your schedule.
Large expensive MBA programs are very time-consuming and require a lot of contact time. However, learning is certainly more in-depth and it can be good to share ideas with your peers. I see this as the number one advantage of a strictly on-campus (usually expensive) MBA. On the opposite end of the scale is a fully distance learning MBA, where you are simply given the content and told to go and learn it and apply it to your current position.
I have experience with two programs. I started my MBA at the University of Auckland, in New Zealand, and then finished it at the Australian Institute of Business. Ultimately, I chose the AIB course because it offered flexibility and it was condensed. Interestingly, there were plenty of opportunities to meet other students and it was also possible to build your own study groups if you wanted to. In my opinion, the dividend when doing a distance MBA is in proportion to what you make of the opportunity.
A point to note: I have interviewed many MBA graduates, and not once has the university or institution really come into play. As long as the institution is internationally accredited, the content is much the same. This has also been the same view of several of my previous employers.
Decide on the content of the course
This is important, as your degree will be accredited with your specialisation. I elected to do a ‘generic MBA’ as it meant that I would get exposure to many different areas. It might be tempting to choose a marketing specialisation if you are a marketer. However, remember that your career can change direction.
Also, remember that you will end up working 18+ hour days on the same topic. Marketing ended up being my most hated subject – I spent nine hours at the office waist-deep in marketing, only to go home and spend another 5 hours reading and writing about marketing. I then got up and had to do it all over again the next day. Because of this, it became hard to put in the same effort into my marketing subjects.
Tips to survive your MBA
The start will most likely be a shock to your systems, so here some key tips that will keep you sane, motivated and most importantly - smashing goals.
- Routine, routine, routine… Find one that works for you and stick to it.
- Exercise at least every second day. I really can’t emphasise this enough. Do whatever it is you’re in to, but exercise will keep your mind clear and alert. You will learn things faster and you will be less stressed (there is another article to be written on this subject this alone). Exercise is your friend, don’t forget that. Even if you feel like you are running on empty, keep exercising.
- You will probably suck at your first subject. I messed up my first exam by being nervous and reading the instructions wrong. In answering 4/6 questions I failed to realise that each question had a part A and part B!
- Make time for your friends, family and hobbies. It will keep you sane. Also, prepare them for what you are about to do as it will be tough on them as well as you. For the next two plus years, you are going to be more stressed out, less available and probably fairly absent.
- Get an iPad or something similar and install an app where you can create digital handwritten notes all over PDFs. You’re going to read more than you ever thought possible and highlighting things digitally is your friend. I shaved countless hours off my study time, simply by utilising all the digital tools I could.
- Get a digital e-Reader app – I used an app called Voice
Dream. It was fantastic and worth every cent of the $10 I spent. You can catch the train, be stuck in traffic, running, cooking dinner… pretty much anything, and still be getting all your required reading in.
- Use Microsoft Word’s reference features and make sure you download the right style sheet for your references. This makes referencing simple.
Key takeaways from my study
Firstly, you will not be an expert at everything, an MBA simply allows you to get a full understanding of every facet of business and understand the pain points of people in each department. This allows you to manage better and it allows you to communicate with them in a way they understand.
You will learn a ridiculous number of concepts. It is impossible to remember them all in detail, but you should be able to at least retain a general understanding. I encourage you to keep all the textbooks, readings and assignments that you complete. These will help you as you develop in your career.
One of the biggest takeaways I had from an academic standpoint came from the HR and leadership components of my study. In particular, it was shocking to see how many businesses do not incorporate HR into the early days of their strategic planning.
I feel it's obvious that people are the most important asset a business possesses. However, when it comes to creating a company-wide strategy, their inputs are rarely considered. HR is regarded as merely a paperwork department that has strategy delivered to it and is told what to do. I firmly believe the most successful organisations of the future will see the Chief HR Officer take a more prominant role that will be as important as the CFO and CMO.
Much of what you learn is common sense. It really is. Every unit highlights the clear long-term benefits of building a business that is good to its people, customers, communities and planet. I find it astounding how much literature was really (in a round-about way) just saying: Be a good person, do what you say and make sure everything is in alignment across the business.
Overall, I learned a lot in my MBA. I have absolutely no regrets about doing it and I feel the sacrifices I made
have been worth it. However, under different circumstances, this could quite easily have been different. As part of the executive team, I had unique access to every part of our business – a luxury that many do not have.
These are, again, my opinions… your MBA experience could be vastly different. Please feel free to ask questions in the comments, or perhaps share stories of your own MBA experience!