6 Questions to Ask Your MBA Program

I recently read an article about the Executive MBA that outlined the career benefits of this type of program. As you look over these, think about the impact you would want the MBA to have on your career.   It included four things:

  • Studying part-time while working – this is great if you can’t go to college full time.
  • Experiential learning and reflection – put your skills to use at work while you’re learning them in class.
  • MBA partnerships – you get connected with professors and other students.
  • The MBA challenge – you’ve been selected to be part of a program and have the opportunity to show employers you can meet the difficult rigors of the MBA.

Are these benefits anywhere close to what you wanted the MBA to do for your career? Is there a misalignment? Most MBAs are career changers who are after more money and opportunities. Too often MBA graduates subscribe to the philosophy that “I don’t know what I want but I do know this isn’t it.” Too many professionals aren’t happy with their career progress and think the MBA is the answer to their problems. Well, the colleges and universities aren’t going to talk you out of this idea. In fact, the US has seen just the opposite. Colleges are popping up everywhere and some even allow you to design your own MBA (like that’s a good idea). This is why the MBA is so popular. It’s an instrument that is often sold as the answer to your career problems.   Don’t believe me? Here are some example statements from advertisements that support this claim.

“Accelerate: Take your career to the next level. Evening & Weekend MBA program” – Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley.

“Conquer the corporate world” – The University of Wolverhampton

“Be an ambassador of change.” – Edwards School of Business, University of Saskatchewan

“Great leaders don’t just solve complex issues, they seek them out.” — University of Notre Dame

“Stand out from the crowd.” – Saint Louis University

“Recession Protection.” – Chapman University College

On and on this could go. These types of ads are everywhere. What do they really mean? Nothing. It’s just an ad. The things you need to focus on before enrolling in a program is how the MBA will impact your career.

Think about it…you’re about to embark on a journey that will eat up all your free time for the next two years, as well as a ton of your money. So what questions should you be asking? I’m not talking about the questions you should be asking yourself (okay, maybe just one). I’m talking about the questions you ask of the people you’re about to give your time and money to! Why? You’re purchasing a service for a lot of money and you need to make sure you will get value from it. I’ve worked with too many MBA graduates that have earned their MBA and are still in the same job as when they started their program, except now they have another $80k in debt. Is that where you want to be? No? Then, consider asking these questions before you begin any program.

  1. What are the benefits I need from this program? This question goes to the heart of why you are seeking the MBA. You should be able to define the things you want from the MBA. For example, I expect to get a job before graduation making $105,000 per year, with a sign on bonus of $10,000. Or maybe you’re focused on the specific skills you need to enter a new career field, such as private equity.   List all the benefits you think you need to make the change in your career that you want. Yes, you have to think about it. You’ll need this list to compare with the the next question you need to ask.
  2. What benefits does the program offer? Look back at the benefits listed at the beginning of this post (not from question #1). Would these be helpful? From my own experience with the MBA, I can tell you these benefits were NOT on my list. So I would have definitely encountered a misalignment of expectations. When you go speak to anyone about the MBA program, take your list of benefits and ask if they can support them. They should be able to answer the questions specifically. After all, you’re paying for the benefits so they should be the ones you need. If they don’t cover all of your needs, ask them how they can help you meet them? In the end, you own the discrepancies between what they offer and what you need. The sooner you know the differences, the better you can plan to fill the gaps. My advice here is to perform this analysis before you start and use the two years to cover all of your needs before you graduate.
  3. What services does the program provide for job search support? Many MBA programs have their own career services group. So what do they actually help you do? Most cover resumes, interview prep, company introductions, etc. But do they help you evaluate offers? Determine best career paths? Also, are they actually able to help you do the things they say they do? In a recent Wall Street Journal article, UCLA’s corporate relations director stated they were too busy helping recent graduates to help the incoming students. It’s critical to know how much and what kind of help you will get in your program.
  4. How active are the alumni groups? Here is your greatest source for future jobs, unless your university doesn’t really have an alumni group. If you’re in an online program, you probably won’t get this benefit. Here’s a list so you can where your program ranks. You’ll want to know what jobs they have and what companies they work for. If the alumni groups don’t exist or are not active, then you must realize that the career services department is probably not very strong either and will most likely be of little help in shaping your career and finding that dream job.
  5. Do you have MBA mentor programs? These programs connect graduate students to senior level leaders to build strategic relationships that support leadership development and career advancement. This is where you begin building a successful and powerful network, especially if you’re a career changer or an entrepreneurial aspirant.   Mentors give you personal one-on-one attention and can help you with specific issues such as salary negotiation, influencing stakeholders, and leadership resilience. If your MBA program doesn’t offer this, you should build your own. This is too valuable a tool to go without.
  6. Do you use external career consultants? I hate to say it but sometimes colleges and universities don’t really keep track of what’s going on in the corporate world. They get in a rut of dealing with the same companies for hiring and fail to branch out to other industries. So this means that some MBA programs are geared to certain industries, so make sure you’re aware of which one you’re attending. External consultants can bring a degree of objectivity to a situation which may be politically impossible within the university. Most importantly, they help you understand the current trends in hiring, career development, salaries and more. The corporate world typically moves at a faster pace than academia. Some universities have transitioned to using external consultants to help manage MBA student careers. If your program has them, use them. If not, call me (I know… shameless plug).

These questions are not all encompassing but are designed to get you thinking more about the end of the program than the beginning. Too often colleges quickly push you into discussions on the MBA experience, rather than the impact it will have on your career. Sure, the experience is important but that’s not what you’re getting the MBA for. You need the MBA to help you grow your career. So you need to do some real investigative research on why you’re doing this and how the program will help you achieve your goals. Without a plan, you’ll be left with the same job you had before and an additional monthly payment that’s as big as a mortgage payment.

Colleges try to make you feel special by admitting you to the program but, in reality, you’ve earned it. More importantly, you’re paying for it. You are a customer, not just a student. Of course, there’s a benefit to the college in admitting you as well. You’re a paying customer who will most likely complete the program. That’s job security for them.

So there you have it. Treat your investigation of MBA programs like a criminal trial. Put each college up on the witness stand and drill them with the hard questions. This is your future. You have to make sure you’re getting what you need because no one else will. Remember, academia is a business and if you aren’t pushing to get what you want, you won’t get it.

There are other questions to answer….check out our free “Career Launch” guide at http://www.blitzteamconsulting.com/.

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