Sunday, April 27, 2008

Is A Full-Time Program Really What's Best For You?

Some of the frequent enquiries I get are from mid-career professionals in their 30s (and beyond) looking to make a career transition.

And the sentiment tends to be, “I’ve done all I want to do with [insert career here] and frankly looking to move on.”

I get it. Adcoms – many of whom are in their thirties and beyond – also get it. Careers these days have a much shorter lifespan than they did in our parents’ generation. We will likely switch careers every 10-15 years from now on.

However, is a full-time MBA program really the best way for you to make that career transition?

It’s a question that I believe is taken for granted across the board, but if you are a mid-career professional, it’s especially important that you have really answered this question for yourself in as informed a way as possible.

And I stress INFORMED – because it’s one thing to constantly think about the MBA as the “way out” in your own mind and another to form informed opinions based on comprehensive research and inquiry into what a full-time program can and can’t do for you.

That also goes for post-MBA careers, which is the real goal – not the full-time MBA.

Too often, it’s easy to make the full-time MBA the “end game” rather than just a transition point to get you from A to B (with many other equally valid ways to get you to Point B).

The best thing you can do as a mid-career professional is to invest most of your energy into researching the career goals you are aiming for first and foremost. Some questions you may want to ruminate on:

Why are you so interested in this new career path? What is it that attracts you to it? You can never be too specific (and 99% of the time, people answering this question are rarely as specific as they need to be – perhaps because they are afraid of their own insight and introspection).

What are you hoping to get out of this new career path that your current job/career isn’t giving you?

Conversely, what tradeoffs do you think you’ll need to make – in other words, what are the good things you take for granted now that you will miss in your future career?

Is your dissatisfaction with your current job limited to the specific circumstances of the job itself, or would you be equally unhappy at a comparable job at a competitor?

These are just some of the questions you should be really contemplating and answering for yourself. They are big and broad questions, and more often than not, it’s very easy to keep it at a very superficial level without a lot of thought.

The more specific you are about what it is you want, the better you can figure out for yourself what you need to do to get there.

And when you do, you’ll likely look at part-time programs, executive MBA programs, or simply forgoing the MBA altogether as equally valid alternatives to full-time programs that you may have irrationally (and perhaps naively) pinned too much of your hopes on.

This doesn’t mean that the full-time structure and curricula in theory isn't beneficial to people of all ages, but in reality they are structured for 20-something kids with a few years’ experience who are still very early in their careers.

Until business schools have full-time degree programs like what Harvard’s Kennedy School is doing with their Mid Career Master in Public Administration, you will be trying to stick a square peg in a round hole by focusing on full-time MBA programs as a mid-career professional.

Moreover, my guess is that 80-90% of mid-career professionals who had originally looked at investment banking or management consulting as entry points into a business career would not do so when they become truly informed about these career paths in the first place.

There are many ways to get from Point A to B. There is no template.


Sue said...

I am wondering if you have done an article on a one year mba vs a two year one... if not, it would be great to hear from you on this topic.

Katie said...

You bring up so many valid points in this article. I agree that a lot of people think a career change is the way to go, but I think just expanding your knowledge in what you already know is good too. I'm looking into the executive MBA programs through Thunderbird School of Global Management. This way I can still work, expand my knowledge for myself and my career. I really think it will give me a new outlook on my career and hopefully open up some doors for me as well. I definitely think people should consider your points when thinking a full time MBA program during the middle of a career for a change is a good idea, because it isn't. Not to mention full time MBA students usually don't have experience yet, so who could you network with?