Finding the Right MBA: Some Key Questions to Explore
Jan stopped by my office two days ago unannounced and wanted information on our MBA programme. I was more than happy to meet with him and tell him what I could.
Jan comes from a Northern European country and kept his cards carefully guarded. His message was clear. He didn’t want to be SOLD an MBA program. He wanted to gain information about not only our MBA program, but about MBA programs in general as well as the value of an MBA for him and his career. He was clearly serious about making some kind of change in his life to move up and away from where he is working today as an engineer for a major telecommunications company. He feels stuck in his job and knows there are more opportunities out there for him.
I fully respected his approach. Undertaking an MBA is not quick and easy decision and should definitely be made with eyes wide open. Like Jan, most MBA candidates, approach MBA programs with a hidden trepidation as well as the unmistakable desire to jump into something truly life-altering and challenging. Here is what we discussed:
Jan: What can your MBA program do for me?
Kirt: Though not the only way to rise in business and management, an MBA is perhaps the fastest and most effective way to prove you are capable in complex business situations and thus, open up opportunities for yourself at many different corporate levels. Many companies, but not all, put a premium on this degree and the quality of skills that should come with it in a future employee.
An MBA, generalist by nature, is designed to give you tools, perspectives and experiences within a diversity of key business areas under intense and high-performance-oriented conditions. A good MBA leverages the professional experience of those in the program against real-world business challenges and guides, trains and supports you while gaining genuine acumen and confidence.
MBA programs take the educational offer a key step further. Learning and experiences in the MBA are intricately linked with career services geared to making you an effective “self-brander” and “job-hunter”.
Jan: Should I do a full-time MBA?
Kirt: We offer three different types of MBA programs. Most top business schools do the same; in our case, a 1 year full-time program, a 2 year part-time Executive program and a modular global Executive MBA program. Each program is designed to train and advance clients with different levels of age, experience and expectations. In short, an MBA program chooses you to a large extent depending on the place you are professionally and experience-wise. If you are not yet an “Executive,” an MBA of this variety will give you less benefit than a full-time program.
Full-time MBA programs, for the most part, are geared to helping you make a significant and relatively-rapid rise in your career as well as reposition you with respect to a new sector and/or function (unless, of course, you prefer to specialize somewhat in a specific business area – which is also possible within an MBA program). Full-time MBA’s in Europe carry approximately 5-6 years of solid professional experience and find themselves somewhere around 30 years old.
Executive programs work with those who have experience beyond this point and are not seeking a change in sector and function. Executives do their MBA’s while employed and often wish to rise substantially within their current companies taking on major strategic projects.
Your CV and a clear understanding of your career objectives will often very quickly tell me which MBA would best benefit you most.
Jan: Are you willing to help me every step of the way?
Kirt: The MBA admission process is highly involved and a candidate needs to know that a school is available to guide and coach a candidate through the process. A great MBA program will make a huge effort in this area knowing that availability prior to admissions means that the school will be there once you join the program. This is certainly the case at the IAE Aix. We are here to speak with you, discuss in great detail your personal and professional objectives and be sure that our program will meet your expectations in the short, medium and long-term. Communication is key throughout the entire MBA experience. At the IAE Aix, we believe that speaking directly with MBA participants and alumni will provide you with the most credible understanding of our MBA and how it can benefit you.
Jan: When should I do my MBA?
Kirt: You need to consider your window of opportunity very carefully. This window is so uniquely different for everyone. Once you have secured a few years of solid professional experience and feel that you have a genuine understanding of how the corporate ladder will affect you….it’s time to look at an MBA and whether this is truly the next professional step for you. However, this window will not be open forever. Companies that value MBAs, tend to seek younger candidates that are still “trainable” and highly-adaptable. Additionally, your ability to be mobile and work across international boundaries are some of your key features as well. As life progresses, we all begin to settle down. When nearing your late 30’s or early 40’s, it would be time to consider an Executive-level MBA and undertake it on a part-time basis. The ease of changing sector and function decreases radically.
Jan: Do I have what it takes to get admitted?
Kirt: There should be no mystery here. Many MBA’s, however, make admissions both stressful and vague. At IAE Aix, we attempt to demystify and simplify the admissions process. We offer to thoroughly evaluate your candidature.
We seek candidates that have clear objectives, a definite understanding of our MBA program and a strong desire to achieve. We establish your qualifications for admission based on the candidate file and from our various conversations which will include a live interview. GMAT or TAGE/MAGE serve merely to assure acceptable analytical skills. Although we have an official admissions committee, we try to keep you informed at every step of the process so that you feel more confident about your admissions status. We will quickly let you know if we do not think the IAE Aix MBA is right for you. If you communicate with us regularly and implicate yourself in your own admissions process, you will know exactly where things stand and whether or not you have what it takes.
Jan: Is this programme worth the money?
Kirt: Not an easy question to answer for any MBA program…and much, of course, will depend on you! However, a lot depends on what you expect from your MBA and what you hope to accomplish post-MBA. For some, MBA brand is an essential element in choosing an MBA and they are convinced that only a top 10 school will work. However, the vast majority of MBA graduates worldwide have not done a top 10 school and have made their way well up the corporate ladder very successfully.
I suggest that you consider a program that will genuinely invest in YOU because - you are the key resource to success post-MBA: building your skills, knowledge and confidence along the way. Paying more or less for your program will not make you a stronger candidate...nor will the brand on your diploma. Companies have wised up and are no longer willing to pay exorbitant sums of money for merely a logo on a diploma. Getting and keeping a good job will boil down to your ability perform.
It is my belief that lesser known MBA’s that are fully-accredited, offer a diverse international faculty and curriculum and have demonstrated a definite dedication to their MBA participants represent a good value. Is your MBA program also going to invest in YOU? At the IAE Aix, as a public university, there is much to be said for our affordable MBA with relation to the quality of projects and faculty, career services offer, international network and the strength of alumni successes. The IAE Aix MBA value-for-money proposition may very well be one of the best currently available.
Jan: Can you assure me a job?
Kirt: No credible MBA program guarantees a job to a candidate. However, a good measure can often be found in key rankings (IAE Aix ranks 23rd worldwide in the Financial Times for career satisfaction) and from alumni testimonials. Another measure resides in the corporate umbrella surrounding the business school. Each MBA has its own unique regional and international network of corporate partners. The IAE Aix is a definite Mediterranean leader, working closely with key industries around Marseille and throughout France.
It is the goal of any MBA to see that graduates move upwards and outwards within the corporate world. At IAE Aix, we put a heavy emphasis in assisting young entrepreneurs and those seeking unique careers in new technologies and innovation and change management. Additionally, a large part of the program integrates career coaching, guidance and job skills workshops.
Check out the Career Services offer of the MBA you’re exploring. It should clearly outline what will be offered to help you (the list should be quite extensive) and what will be expected of you. The Alumni network of the MBA program must also be active and available to you as a job search resource. Verify with these alumni that their career was significantly boosted by efforts on the part of the MBA program.
Jan: How important is the MBA environment?
Kirt: This is assuredly one of the most important elements to explore when choosing an MBA. You should be seeking the right “fit & feel”…in other words, the place where you can truly flourish and excel. You should examine every inch of the program: the collegial environment, access to faculty, flexibility for you to “grow in your own direction”, campus life, access to culture and language, opportunity to build new networks and much more.
Learning about these many aspects will take much time and energy on your part. However, the unique combination of these factors determine the true nature of any MBA and represents the MBA’s unique difference from other programs. If you can visit the MBA, sit in on courses, interact with participants, attend MBA events…you will be sure, when the time comes, that you’ve made the right decision. At IAE Aix, we welcome you at every level of participation to better get to know who we are.
Integrally related to these numerous “fit and feel” aspects is the location of the program. An MBA is going to ask a lot of you and you will give at least a year of your life to it. Your downtime as well as your work time should offer the chance to escape and grow personally. The location of your MBA is, therefore, paramount. Here, hands down, the IAE Aix sets itself apart. Located in the beautiful South of France accessibly near its second largest economic hub, Aix en Provence offers a world-class cultural life, the shores of the Mediterranean Sea as well as quick access to some of the best ski destinations in the Alps! Transport is affordable and regular and the “Provençale” lifestyle is cool, calm and inviting. In short, a GREAT place to undertake an MBA.
My meeting with Jan probably raised more questions than it answered. However, this is the nature of a complete MBA search. I do think, however, my advice to Jan gave him a clear idea that an MBA was right for him and that he still had a ways to go in satisfying all his concerns.
I strongly suspect, however, that we will see Jan on our MBA program this coming Fall.