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Know the ‘why’ before you take the MBA leap

by Jane Roberts
Undertaking an MBA is a major commitment that requires time, money and dedication. Milpark Business School Alumna Sharon Beharrie, and Stephnie Atkinson agree that before embarking on this highly competitive programme, prospective students should examine why they want to pursue this route and what they hope to achieve. They say that having a clear idea of what they were working towards helped them stay on track during their studies.

Atkinson recalls her first taste of real on-the-job mentorship when she joined Caxton in a sales position after years in the workforce: “This inspired me to grow my career, but I did not know what the next step was or how to take it. I felt like I had hit a ceiling.”

Beharrie was also established in her career, but she left her job as a programme manager at a business school to start her own company. “I wanted a formal qualification to give me the necessary theory that I could apply practically in my new business,” she explains.

Motivation for academic success

Enrolling for an MBA was not a decision that Beharrie took lightly, having worked closely on the programme in her previous job: “I knew how tough it was, and also knew that personal motivation got people through it at the end of the day. You must know your why!”

Atkinson had never considered enrolling in a business programme. “Pursuing an MBA always seemed out of reach due to financial and time constraints,” she recalls. This changed in 2018 when, while researching a client in the education industry, she started getting targeted ads for MBAs. Despite initial reservations, she applied and was accepted into an online MBA programme in 2019. She even received a partial bursary to help finance her studies.

“The biggest ‘yes’ moment for me was the realisation that this was my chance to break through my own ceiling and finally get myself out of this job rut,” she says.

She knew that the programme was gruelling and the selection process highly competitive. The bursary was also a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, but the birth of her child and the arrival of Covid-19 meant she started her studies a year later than planned.

Reaping the rewards

Atkinson’s investment has already paid dividends. “My MBA opened doors and connected me to networks and opportunities, both while studying and since graduating.” She says her career no longer feels confining or stalled. “The programme was a fantastic experience and I gained knowledge and confidence in business strategy, leadership and management.”

Beharrie agrees that the qualification equipped her with critical skills and vital knowledge and boosted her confidence in her own abilities. “The MBA has given me the theoretical framework to support my personal instincts,” she says.

Both women acknowledge the journey is not easy and some self-doubt is natural when making a big career change. This is why they also advocate for fostering strong support systems when deciding to pursue a mid-career qualification.

External support is crucial, but Beharrie adds introspection and a commitment to self-improvement remain important: “Do the hard work. Know your boundaries. Work on yourself. Get a sponsor, a mentor, a coach … and a go-to person whom you can be completely honest with, who will call you out while still being in your corner.”

According to Atkinson, it was her most challenging undertaking to date, but “still one of the best decisions I have ever made for myself and my career”.

Both Atkinson and Baherrie view their investment in an MBA as an investment in themselves and their future. Atkinson is now a senior project manager at Jellyfish, a global advertising firm, while Baherrie is Senior Manager of Learning and Leadership Development at the MultiChoice Group. Having a clear understanding of the “why” enabled both women to take the risk … and reap the rewards.

Useful resources:
Milpark Education
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