Friday, June 04, 2010

How to pick where to do your MBA...

Job hunting is continuing to prove unrewarding. Despite a number of leads and conversations with ex-colleagues, friends and various recruiters; I am still unable to secure a decent face-to-face interview. It seems that the few jobs on offer are going to those ideally qualified. If you don’t already have significant experience in a role identical to the one on offer, then keep looking. Not an ideal situation for someone looking to advance their career with a ‘stretch’ opportunity, or something that is a step-up (or even sideways) from their previous role.

Still it does leave me plenty of time to post further entries to this blog. Following on from the previous comments, I figured it worth mentioning how I selected my MBA course, a common question from others considering a similar career break.

Despite the enormous amount of information and marketing literature provided by MBA schools, various MBA websites and the general media; my choice came down to two things: the location and the cohort. The location because I didn’t want to move home or face a long commute. The cohort because I was looking for a group of peers with similar length of work experience, i.e. not recent graduates but experienced professionals with a number of years management under their belt.

Content of course is very important, but in my research I found that core subjects were generally similar; the only differences were to reflect ‘specialisations’ from some schools. How this content is taught does vary considerably; with a big range between classroom teaching, group case studies and self-taught. Most schools have their own style so it is worth checking this matches your preferred option. I chose a general management MBA with a focus on personal development. Content was taught with a combination of techniques, including real-world case studies and study trips to Eastern Europe, China and South Africa.

Some MBA schools (usually those that score highly) make a big deal of the various rankings. Whilst these shouldn’t be overlooked, it is worth remembering that rankings are statistics. They are very subjective (often based on questioning current or recent past students with a vested interest in rating ‘their’ school highly) and can be manipulated to reflect whatever is important to the message being relayed. Be careful placing too much emphasis on rankings and treat them in the context they are presented. For example a higher than average increase in salary on graduation could simply reflect a lower than average pre-MBA salary (and thus possibly a lower than average standard of student at the start of the course).

The reputation of the course and/or school is very important, but there is a need to ensure this matches your potential career path. There is no point spending a large amount of time and money completing a course at an international ‘prestige’ school, only to find that your industry doesn’t value the qualification higher than a more local/in-country school. Some companies also have their preferred list. Probably the best method to gauge quality of school is to ask people you trust. In particular ask people in your company, current industry or target industry. This maybe a requirement if you are looking for an employer to help fund your course (I was self-funded so had no restrictions other than mentioned above).

The final criteria I will mention is cost. Most colleges/universities now offer some sort of management degree. Prices for MBAs range widely, in the UK between £5K and £50K depending on the school. A high priced course will typically indicate one in-demand, but this may not mean it’s the best MBA for you. Similarly the lower cost options may lack the academic content and rigour of the more expensive courses and thus a reduced ‘kudos’ for their alumni. Again this may or may not matter to you, depending on what you are hoping to get out of the MBA, or where you intend to use it.

Finally, I completed my MBA at Henley Business School (previously Henley Management College), now part of the University of Reading. It was close enough to my current home to enable a reasonable daily commute and I was very impressed with the quality of my fellow cohort (in terms of ability and experience). Based on my main criteria, I was very pleased with the choice. In addition I was also really happy with the very high quality of the faculty and the overall teamwork demonstrated by everyone involved from cohort, through faculty to the admin staff. It really did feel as if everyone was there to help me succeed.

Overall a good choice of MBA. Now if only I could use it to get a job...

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