Changing places

To what extent can having an MBA facilitate a change of career direction, in search of more money or better prospects?

Reports indicate that this can be very difficult, except in the case of those who want to move into consultancy or some of the more analytical areas of financial services, and that is confirmed by the sharp rise in the numbers employed in consultancy and corporate planning, following graduation. “The MBA gives a sound grounding in strategic thinking, aside from providing a theoretical framework from which to operate, and provides exposure to ideas and situations which would not be confronted by someone other than those working at senior management/CEO level,” is a characteristic comment from a recent MBA. In other words, it adds value to experience by giving it an intellectual framework, a strategic view of the business you are in. But it is of limited, immediately bankable, value if you move out of that sector into a line-management role elsewhere and find yourself competing for jobs against others who can point to practical experience in it – although the schools claim that the answer to the problem lies in the skilful choice of electives and, above all, of the final dissertation.

In addition, you have to be able to analyse job advertisements and show exactly how what you learned relates to the job specification. More and more schools have become aware of the need to make job-hunting techniques part of the MBA programme. However, one disadvantage of a cross-sector move is that this may, at least initially, limit the extent of the salary increase you would expect on completing an MBA. Where moves across sector do occur, research confirms that they are mostly into finance, strategy and consultancy and mainly out of construction, the public sector and some branches of engineering. There is a continued trend for MBAs to move from larger to smaller organisations when they change employers. “In many respects MBA graduates are becoming big fish in smaller ponds,” notes a previous survey and the same is now true. “This could reflect a desire to be able to use the full breadth of managerial skills gained through the MBA.” It also indicates perhaps that new and more dynamic companies value them more highly than established ones. But there are hopeful signs among the latter too. There has been much criticism of the way MBAs were used by large employers – often subjected to trial by some kind of management ordeal rather than being put into roles where they could best apply what they had learned. The suggestion was that this might be best in internal consultancy-related roles. The growing number of MBAs going into the corporate strategy and planning function indicates that this might actually be happening.

In spite of disclaimers about a financial motive for doing an MBA, the conflict many face on graduating is between short-term financial gains, driven possibly by the need to repay a loan, and long-term career development. The former can push you in the direction of the highest bidder, rather than the best career move. Schools are increasingly devoting attention to career strategies, as well as “how to get a job” basics, as significant adjuncts in MBA programmes.

Students are warned against the dangers of making a false first move for financial reasons. Executive search and selection consultants say that an MBA who has suffered a career crash in his or her first postgraduate job is in a worse position than someone without an MBA. Employers will think they should have known better!

It depends, however, on how and where the crash occurred. Reportedly, employers and especially consultancies look kindly on refugees from the sector who have been there, done that, but failed to come away with the T-shirt. “Many have returned to the traditional or dot.corp world where opportunities abound for the best talent,” says a recent survey carried out by LBS and the headhunters Korn/Ferry International.

Source: Adapted with permission from The Official MBA Handbook,
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