By Gareth Flynn, MBA, Melbourne Business School (2003)
Learning new skills is a critical part of your career development and studying for a Master’s in Business Administration is a popular way to do it. But you need to be sure it’s the right course for you.
Don’t dive in without testing the water
I started my MBA at Melbourne Business School in 2000. I was bored of my job and looking to broaden my skill set, particularly in marketing and entrepreneurship, and develop contacts in the Melbourne business community.
The program more than met my needs and I enjoyed doing it, but there were challenges which might not make it the best fit for everyone, such as:
- Melbourne was the best business school for an MBA in Australia and also the most expensive (it probably still is). I arranged a 50% subsidy from my employer and a short-term personal loan to cover the costs. You need to make sure it’s worth the cost to you.
- A part-time MBA program really impacts your life. On top of your full time day job you’re at school two or three nights a week and often study all weekend. This saps your energy and puts a strain on your relationships. As for a social life, what social life?
- It won’t catapult you into a highly paid investment banking or consulting role. I was amazed how many people had committed to the MBA believing it would. Having had experience recruiting for these kinds of firms I know an MBA is seen as ‘nice to have’ and is often much less important than someone’s behavioural profile, work experience and, in some cases, personal networks.
So if you are thinking of studying an MBA ask yourself these questions:
- Do I understand why I want a MBA?
- Have I explored all my MBA study options, locally and overseas? Have I considered short online courses as well as traditional class-based programs?
- What is my budget and will my employer support me with study allowances and time off?
Don’t sign up to anything until you can fully answer all of these.
An MBA could kick start your career
I’m not trying to put you off taking an MBA. But it can be a costly mistake in terms of time and money if it’s not right for you. If it is you’ll benefit hugely. Here’s how I did:
- I learned new skills and studied areas of genuine interest such as: product management, international marketing, organisation design and change, entrepreneurial finance, entrepreneurship and corporate and business strategy.
- Every class involved reading real cases, digesting data and information and using this to understand the situation, identify problems and think about what to do next. The rigour of doing this every week provided me with an approach that I use nearly every day in my consulting work.
- Interacting with teachers and students from varied backgrounds simulated life in a business, when you are thrown into mixed teams and have to work together on common problems, often with competing priorities and different work styles.
- It inspired me to leave the industry I had worked in for ten years and join a technology start-up, I later returned to recruitment but in more senior positions and in a different capacity. And five years after finishing my MBA I set up my own venture, using all the skills I had developed, and now I’m using them at The Career Conversation.
- I met some great people, many of whom I am still in touch with.
But times are changing and so are your options
Would I choose to do things differently today? Possibly.
There’s more choice now. Online MBA programs allow you to access institutions anywhere in the world so you’re not limited by your location. The growth in Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC) such as Coursera, Ed.x and HarvardX also gives you access to high quality short form courses, often at very little, or no, cost. And micro-learning platforms, such as Skillshare, give you the opportunity to develop niche skills and learn about new concepts in bite-sized chunks.
The availability of these non-traditional programs and courses looks set to increase and challenge traditional MBA and Masters programs. Choosing the right one is now more complex than ever and requires you to think carefully about your career goals.
If I was starting on my journey now, I’d seriously look into the MOOC options, especially if I was on a limited budget, and weigh them up against the face-to-face time and networking opportunities a traditional course offers. When you do this it’s important to consider whether the sector you want to enter has a bias towards more traditional programs and institutions.
Either way, the dynamism of today’s labour markets, impact of new technology on the workplace and increased frequency of organisational change mean you can’t afford to stand still. This will drive the growth of MOOC and micro-learning programs, supported by concentrated bursts of traditional learning.
All of which points to one thing: the skill you really need is the ability to keep learning.
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