It’s tempting to try to move as fast as possible to earn that next degree. However, if you move too early, you might not be ready for the programs available from the world’s top business schools. And if you go too late, you may have wasted years that could have been spent moving up the career ladder. So, what’s the right answer? When exactly is the best time to get an MBA?
Can’t I just go right after my undergraduate degree?
With a few exceptions, your best time to get an MBA is not directly after college. These days, an MBA does not come with quite the same employment guarantee it once did – even when you receive one from one of the top business schools. Hiring managers say they are only interested in MBA candidates with extensive professional experience. It makes no sense to get an MBA if you can’t get a job afterward.
It’s also very difficult to get into the top business schools right out of college. Therefore, common wisdom puts forth the idea that it is important to wait a few years before applying for your MBA. There are several reasons for this:
- If you want to get into an elite program you need some experience first: For most top business schools, the average age of MBA students demonstrates that they are about five years out of an undergraduate degree. At Harvard Business School, the average MBA student is 27, and at The Wharton School, the average applicant has that sweet spot of five years professional experience behind them prior to enrolling. This is a trend that has been growing. The average age of the incoming class of 2018 in top US business schools was 28 years and the average work experience was five years.
- It’s all about leadership potential: The most important qualification MBA programs want to see is experience in leadership – something that can be difficult for students to have in their portfolio until they’ve been in the workforce for a few years. Some undergrads spend their extracurricular hours starting their own business, but if you haven’t created a startup in your spare time, do yourself a favor and get some professional experience.
- Make sure you actually need an MBA for your chosen career path: Another reason to wait a few years before deciding you want to get an MBA is that the qualification isn’t always necessary – so don’t waste your time if you don’t need to. A friend of mine is an actuary and, after talking the qualifying exams, it turned out he didn’t require an MBA to continue having an extremely viable career.
Along with this, when you do enter the workforce, you will get a better idea of what you are looking for professionally; only by really experiencing it will you see if a particular path is right for you.
Learn a little more about the people already working in the world you are planning to inhabit and you might be inspired, or you might change your mind and decide that you don’t need to get an MBA, or maybe your interests will shift to a different program from the one you originally had your eye on. As Alexander Hamilton (one of the US’s Founding Fathers) teaches us, life is long, so don’t have an itchy trigger finger. Find the program that is right for you at the right time in your career.
Many executives and young managers find it difficult to commit to a traditional full-time MBA course. There is, therefore, growing interest in the executive MBA format, with the strong return on investment (ROI) a key draw. Executive MBA Council studies show graduates enjoy an average pay increase of around 17% within two years of graduation.
Learning new skills and networking are the other perks of an EMBA. But it is not always a walk in the park; many claim their profile remains unchanged after completing the degree. Many of these graduates were not prepared for what would come after; this has proved to be a hurdle in moving forward in their career. You must always know your objectives before applying. For instance, entrepreneurs might target EMBA programs to get a better all round idea of business, or a manager to aim to develop their leadership skills.
Here are some of the ways you can get an advantage in the job market with an executive MBA:
Make the most out of the program’s networking opportunities
One of the best things about enrolling on an EMBA program is that it gives you a great opportunity to strengthen your professional network. You will meet a lot of working professionals from various industries, which is going to help you a lot in the future – especially in terms of ROI. Networking provides you with opportunities to make professional contact with business managers in your field, opening up avenues for getting a job. Even if you feel that networking is not going to help you immediately it is always going to help you in the future when you need to change jobs or make a shift to a different profile.
Use the skills that you learned to own your career
The skills you strengthen throughout your EMBA program are going to prove very useful in terms of advancement and salary. Utilize these skills to take ownership of your career and move towards success. One advantage of part-time study is that you will be able to put what you learn into practice straightaway.
Make most of the career support services provided along with the program
Institutions that provide EMBA programs will offer career support and other similar services. You should make good use of these kinds of services to increase your ability to land your preferred executive MBA job opportunity. Most top business schools will continuously support your executive MBA job search even after you have graduated. Thus, it is of utmost importance that you maintain a good relationship with career support staff as they are going to help you a lot by providing you with any news related to your expected profile. But you should also make an effort on your own and keep looking for the profile that suits you on executive MBA job portals, professional networking sites, etc.
Understand where you fit in the job market
Just getting an EMBA degree is not enough to transform your dreams into reality. If you wanted to make a shift in your profile you have to first of all check if you are qualified (and not overqualified) for the job. EMBA graduates tend to have around 10 years of experience; to change profile can difficult at this stage. It is important to understand where you fit in the executive MBA job market. You can always take a pay cut and a step back to the job you want, but sometimes it is not the best option especially when you are concerned about EMBA ROI.
Take more responsibilities even if you do not get the expected promotion
If you have been sponsored by your company for the EMBA program, you may expect to get a promotion or a salary rise, but don’t expect it on a plate. You may get more responsibilities and you should not shirk away from them. Remember it is always great to have these skills and switch your job in the future to get a better position along with a good pay package.
It should be noted that EMBA programs are specifically designed to meet the objectives of working executives and it should not be considered the same as regular full-time MBA courses. Keep the above tips in mind and work towards building a profile that will push your career ahead.