Is the MBA right for me?

Over the past few years, there have been major changes in many aspects of the world of work, and globalisation as well as e-commerce are rewriting the rules of how all of us do business. As organisations move into the 21st century, the challenge of successfully merging physical distribution, information technology and financial services into one streamlined enterprise, is becoming increasingly challenging.

Ten years ago, a person could expect to go through three to five career switches, but today it’s more like four to six, which for most individuals also involves full and part-time stints at diverse entrepreneurial ventures. The traditional belief that building a career in the same field, company or industry - and climbing the corporate ladder from one promotion to the next - no longer applies. While organisations are becoming smaller due to corporate mergers, reorganisations, or downsizing, MBA graduates are instrumental in discovering and inventing the new organisational forms that will inhabit the 21st Century. However, to be responsible inventors and discoverers, we need the courage to let go of the old world, to relinquish most of what we have cherished, to abandon our interpretations about what does and doesn’t work.

The new business arena is dependent on individuals who are interested in developing their entrepreneurial potential, focusing on innovative value-based solutions, developing their creative problem-solving skills and perceiving change as an opportunity - so that they can contribute to new and interactive organisational structures - less as employees, but more as future employers of ordinary people or operating as consultants to individuals creating new ventures.

Careers are affected by changes in the business environment and the economy, which means that people are compelled to diversify their skills by exploring flexible career paths; developing complementary skills by investing in innovative training opportunities to ensure personal growth and continuous improvement; and meeting relevant challenges that contribute to and add value to the organisations that employ them - yet remain flexible in the midst of shifting conditions.

MBA programmes - which are a combination of academic (learning the theories) and applied (learning by doing) education - are continuously modified and enhanced to ensure that the latest in management thinking and practice are incorporated in teaching. However, a major part of the MBA is the personal development that occurs almost imperceptibly in the background - both during the period of study at business school and also relentlessly in practice to remain in the loop of evolving management trends. Albeit, much of today’s business techniques will be obsolete in less than a decade, which means you’ll have to constantly re-educate yourself.

Am I suited to do an MBA?
It is important to know from the outset what you want the MBA to do for you - having clear goals and objectives help create an overall personal perspective of your career path. Decide which functional areas within business are most appealing to you; even if you don’t have a concrete conviction about MBA vocations, you must identify a business direction before starting an MBA programme. Perhaps you have a natural aptitude in a particular area that you should develop? Also, take into consideration that you may need additional resources such as job-related experience and task-specific training to achieve your long-term plans, and if there are any gaps in your background (other than the lack of an MBA) that could hinder you from achieving your goals.

While some MBA graduates may decide to move from a corporate environment into a smaller company, others are motivated toward setting up their own business. But if you are looking to gain credibility, grow your career or aim to use an MBA as a ticket to move into a new job or industry, you’ve got to look at the big picture. Thoroughly explore the management field, industry or job function that interests you and scrutinise the natural strengths and weaknesses of your chosen field, and see if you can outline the reasons why you believe an MBA will help achieve your goals.

Do you have enough business know-how to embark on an MBA now or would you be better prepared in a year or two? Perhaps an MBA is no longer essential to your advancement. While evaluation to enter a business school is based on academic background and work experience, you will also be appraised on your interpersonal skills such as cross-cultural and teamwork skills, negotiating skills, time management skills, presentation skills, developing and using emotional intelligence skills, coaching skills; and decision-making and analytical skills.

Looking back on your career so far, can you articulate the strengths - academic, personal and professional - that contributed to your achievements and the weaknesses that hindered your performance? Also, are you clear about how your decision to obtain an MBA will affect your personal life and do you know how to organise your financial resources to go to school on a full or part-time basis? Weigh the pros and cons when choosing an MBA programme, such as whether you are required to relocate, and if you are able to work either full or part-time, or pursue an MBA work-internship. The MBA will be demanding no matter how you choose to study. What if you don’t obtain the desired MBA - how would you modify your career goals?

Expect the learning environment to be competitive and the workload to be excessive, but by adopting a proactive mind-set right from the beginning, you will cope with the demands to ensure your success in management.
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