How do I make a decision on where to apply?

Portrait of a man
Strategies for making a decision

For most people, deciding to MBA or not to MBA typically takes around two years. Yes, decisions are hard to make, especially when they involve large financial investments. However, with a bit of structured thinking, this time can easily be reduced to about half a year. First, let’s address some of the key questions. An MBA, unlike other Master programmes, is a post-experience degree designed to accelerate your career. The assumption is that you already have a career and now wish to (perhaps) change its direction and (most certainly) accelerate its progression.

The decision to invest in such a degree must be based on some hard evidence that the return on investment is a more than likely probability. It does not take much time to look up the Financial Times ranking, check out the pre- and post-MBA salaries achieved, discount the cost of MBA plus opportunity cost of taking time out of work, so the pay-back time should become clear. The value added, at least in pure financial terms, is a relatively simple mathematical calculation. However, there are many other benefits of doing an MBA which are perhaps less "quantifiable", and it is really worthwhile to look at the idea of value a bit deeper.

When thinking about “value”, it is easier to think about “problems”. There are many reasons to consider an MBA, but those reasons are really based on problems you may be trying to solve. For example: you are doing quite well in your career and you have been promoted roughly every two years, but you simply do not enjoy what you do anymore. Your problem is not that you need to change your career, as much as you need to know “how” to do it. Another example might be that you are pretty happy with where you are working, but you are not rising through the ranks fast enough; perhaps you have been told that you are missing some skills. Your problem then may be not that you are missing something, but that you do not know exactly how to develop these skills. This is where the value of an MBA comes in: it is designed to help you solve your career problems. How?

Good MBA programmes are designed to be less subject-based and more competencies-based curricula. Such programmes focus less on feeding people knowledge and more on teaching them what to do with it and, as a consequence, how to become more competent as business and people managers. Needless to say, making a turn-around on your competencies may not be easy. It can be hard work, so do not be fooled by promises of exclusive networks. Post-MBA jobs are not laid out for you on a silver platter – you will still need to earn that job. To do that you will need to do a lot of learning, which in most cases will start with a lot of “unlearning”.

So here is the crux of the matter: the real value of a good MBA is the learning that it will put you through. How is it different from what you might have experienced before, in your Bachelor degrees? Well, this learning is one that you cannot escape, as it forces you to re-evaluate your strengths and weaknesses and, most importantly, it is learning that happens through receiving a lot of feedback; after all, what you think of yourself is not as important here as what others think of you – that is a much harder truth to deal with!

Let’s unpack this a bit more – so what exactly will you get from an MBA? Key benefits of the programme should include:

  1. thorough check-up of your foundational skills, because it is no use teaching people finance if they lack the fundamentals of statistical analysis, for example;
  2. complete MBA management tool-box, because to be influential you need to get out of your own specialist box and start to speak the language of general management;
  3. 360-degree personal competencies review, because it is important to acknowledge the impact you have on others and what you can do to manage yourself better;
  4. sharpened thinking skills, because after 5 years or so in any one industry or function, we tend to become used to the "accepted" ways of looking at problems;
  5. “go-getting” MBA mindset, that will propel you forward to take on higher-level business challenges and career leaps.

To conclude, is an MBA programme right for everyone? No, it is not. How do you know it is right for you? To help answer that question, think around these four critical questions:

  1. What is my problem, and do I actually have a career problem? (consider the scale of the problem, is it just the wrong company, or is it bigger than that?)
  2. Do I really need to worry about it, or could I do something to solve it myself? (have you had some career counselling, or personal coaching? have you looked in the mirror?)
  3. Should I worry about it now, is it a good time, or have I passed that time? (consider your personal situation, your financial means, are you ready to invest in yourself now?)
  4. Am I really prepared to re-learn again, have my deficiencies exposed, and bear the pain of feedback? (consider how flexible and agile you really are, will you like or hate the pain?)

If your answer to all is a resounding “yes”, then don’t mull it over for two years, instead get in touch with one of our Talent Acquisition professionals – start your research and take it from there. 

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