Tag Archives: MBA

Entrepreneurs Beware The MBA

The big trend in the MBA today is NOT to follow the flocks of graduates rushing to the corner office in the traditional corporate jobs in finance and management.  Today, newly minted MBAs seek to become their own boss by becoming an entrepreneur or joining a startup.  In a study by the Wharton School of Business, 7% of their MBA graduates were bitten by the entrepreneurial bug at graduation, while historically about 25% of their graduates had dabbled in entrepreneurship since 1990.  The first thing these go-getters learn after graduation is that business school taught them a few things that aren’t really true when you own your own business.

  1. Plan. Plan. Plan.  Business schools like to focus on building plans for everything. That’s great if you don’t have any time pressure, like when you’re in a classroom.  However, when you’re in the thick of running a business and dealing with rapid change, planning is a task that requires significant resources and time.  These are luxuries that new entrepreneurs and startups don’t have.  Business is messy, unpredictable, amorphous and always changing.  Even the big companies use the most common method of business planning; that is, trial and error.
  2. Hard work is the key to success. This was echoed to me so many times in grad school.  I know I’ll have to work hard and in the corporate world, this exacerbated by competition for bonuses, promotions and fun work.  However, the new MBAs coming directly from business school aren’t seeing the benefits being hailed by professors.  Organizations aren’t giving away those perqs like in years past.  So, if you’re going to work your butt off, you might as well do it for yourself, rather than some organizational leaders who won’t appreciate what you have to offer.  There is a small caution to this tale.  Entrepreneurs will be pushed and pulled from all angles, so rest and release are critical to maintaining sufficient motivation.
  3. Learn what others do first. “Play it safe” sentiments are echoed through the hallways of business schools.  “Get a corporate job and learn how companies are running their business before tackling your own company” a professor always told.  Isn’t that what business school is for?    Besides, if there is ever a time for taking risk, it’s when you are young and full of energy.  Young MBAs have to chase their dreams while they can afford failures.  Diving into the corporate job can quickly lead to domestication, which comes with a family, mortgage and lots of activities that eat up time you don’t have.  There’s nothing wrong with these things, as I have them all.  But you can always fall back on your MBA to get you a decent job if the entrepreneurial thing doesn’t pan out.
  4. You need to acquire funding. The big MBA programs give out badges for raising a lot of capital to start a business.  Money is important but not necessarily when you’re starting out.  The biggest focus for you as a new entrepreneur is to figure out what the heck you’re doing.  Learning business in school is not the same as putting it into practice.  You aren’t solving problems that are easily defined and have easy solutions.  Learn the business first.  If you’ve seen the hit TV show, Shark Tank, you already know that investors don’t like investing in an unproven concept.  They want to see that you can make money with the idea, not risk their money trying to figure it out.

One of the big criticisms of business schools is that they don’t employ professors who’ve actually started and run businesses.  Of course, you will also find that the corporate world is full of those types too.  As an entrepreneur, learning is critical and has real value in all you do.  It’s psychotic to think that business school will give you all the tools you need.  That’s why we’ve brought a great resource for you here on our blog….Ask Dr. Business.  Send us your questions and we’ll get you answers from a tried and true entrepreneur.

5 Reasons You Can’t Find Opportunities

One of the activities we put so much energy into is finding opportunity.  We will spend an enormous amount of money and years of our lives to earn a college degree, in the hope of creating opportunity for ourselves.  Others choose to work long hours, travel extensively for the company and tackle difficult problems to earn access to opportunity.  Yet, others search and search for opportunity in another company or job, repeating this many times during their career.  But what if opportunity isn’t that complicated?  What if it is all around us but we just don’t see it for what it is?  Here is a look at one week in my life and the opportunities I came across.  I write all of them down in a notebook.  Opportunity is everywhere.  The question really is “what will you do with it?”

From my notebook:

On Sunday, I was mowing my lawn when a neighbor came across the street to talk to me.  He had a brilliant idea for a business and wanted to know what I thought about it. 

On Tuesday, a friend emailed me an idea for a mobile app.  She knows I started a Mobile apps development group. 

On Wednesday, an acquaintance emailed me an idea for a new book.  Just a few hours later, she sent an outline for the book.

On Friday morning, a business partner sent me an idea for a new product.  He wanted to create the product but wanted me to do marketing and distribution.

This is a typical week for me.  A few years ago, if you would have asked me how many opportunities I get in a week, I would have said I had no idea.  I wasn’t paying attention to what people were giving me.  Now, I log every single idea in a book I carry with me everywhere.  I won’t let an idea die without some consideration.  Of course, they are never dead as long as they remain in my book for consideration every month.  Opportunities are everywhere.  So why don’t we see them?

Fear.  Fear destroys our vision.  I have a close friend who has spent a lot of money and time earning college degrees in the hopes of moving up into a management role.  He’s been sitting in the same job he had before his MBA for 5 years now.  I’ve asked him so many times “What are you waiting on?  Opportunity? How long will you wait?”  He had invested so much into those credentials and is now burdened with a student load debt that feels like a mortgage, which he must pay with the same salary he had before the MBA.  His greatest fears are enveloped by the fact that he doesn’t know where to go or what to do.  What if he changes companies and it doesn’t work out? What if he asks for a raise or promotion and they say NO? The “what-if” syndrome keeps him locked in his own prison.  My “what if” question to him was “what if the opportunity never comes?”

Failure.  There’s no better teacher than failure.  Unfortunately, it can leave an everlasting distaste for taking risk.  One of the best stories I’ve ever heard about this was from Tom Stanley’s book, The Millionaire Mind.  In this book, he describes a situation where millionaires were sharing their story with each other.  One salesman stands up and begins to tell a yarn about the numerous sales jobs he had.  In his first job he learned about quotas and what can happen to you if you don’t meet yours.  On and on he goes about each job and how it didn’t work.  When he was describing job #5, someone in the circle of friends mentioned that he should just quit trying to be a salesman.  When he got to job #9, he mentioned he found the right company where he could be successful.  Then, after a year or two, he quit and started his own company.  Now, what if he would have quit at job #5?  Well, he wouldn’t be a millionaire sharing his story.  Don’t let failure imprison your ability to take risk.

Perspective.  Learning to spot opportunity requires some intentional conditioning.  Most people look for opportunities from their employer.  The bad part about this approach is that even though companies create processes to measure performance on a yearly basis, it rarely leads to opportunity for you.  This is also the reason most employees are unhappy with their work.  Jobs are unfulfilling and offer little personal growth.  So why do we only look to the company for opportunity?  It’s easy.  We know the process.  To see the opportunity that exists in your world, you need to adopt an entrepreneurial mindset, where everyone around has the potential to help you grow and develop.  As in my week described above, others offered numerous opportunities for me to build new skills, such as writing, marketing, sales and so on.  Which ones should I take?  The choice is mine.  Isn’t that the situation you want to be in?

Confidence.  By nature, most of us are followers.  In another post, I mentioned that the Wharton School of Business published statistics that indicated about 7% of the MBA graduates went into entrepreneurship.  That implies that 93% would be going to work for an existing company in the corporate world.  Why?  It’s safe.  Sure we have just built some awesome skills that will lead us to great success but we don’t want to put them to the real test where we risk everything if we fail, like when starting your own company.  As a follower, we wait to be told what to do.  So, I don’t get a promotion until my boss says I get one.  I won’t even consider asking for one.  This trained behavior keeps us from considering opportunities that others present to us.  Our lack of confidence in our own abilities makes the opportunity sound completely absurd.  Yet, many of us sit inside companies and shake our heads at those in leadership roles.  Can you really do any worse?  You won’t know until you try.

Bias.  When it comes to the future, we all think way too narrowly.  We make a single estimation about what our opportunities will be and then we close our minds.  We seek closure on this prediction because it’s easy.  Instead of exploring risks and uncertainties, we sum of our path to success in one single swoop and close the question.  The problem is that we have a strong tendency to be overconfident in our estimations, which leads to considerable error (and lack of action in the case of your career).  In the Harvard Business Review article “Outsmart Your Own Bias,” the authors propose a simple process for “nudging” your gut feelings which we fail to test sufficiently.

Since I began looking, I’ve found opportunity just about everywhere.  I have friends at the gym who always bring me business and product ideas.  Spotting opportunities is similar to the phenomenon we experience when we buy a new car.  Suddenly, we see our car everywhere.  But we didn’t see it before we bought it.  Why?  You’re looking now.  Opportunity is no different.  Open your eyes and see.  It’s right in front on you.  Then, you’ll just have to ask yourself one question “what shall I do with it?”

Why Should You Get An MBA?

If you’ve been reading my blog for any length of time, you know I don’t just recommend doing anything because it is trendy, especially when it comes to spending a lot of your money and even more importantly, a lot of your time.  The MBA is a great tool for your career; that is, if you use it correctly.  If you don’t have an MBA, you may be asking yourself “how do I use the MBA?”  Well, it’s more than the degree we are talking about here.  Let’s look at this in more detail.

The GMAC 2014 Prospective Students Survey Report states that the MBA provides three key benefits:  skills, networks and brand.  Were these in your initial thoughts?  They weren’t in mine.  I thought education was about learning those quintessential skills that make you valuable to the business world.  Of course, I didn’t graduate from a top tier business school, where the mentality is quite different.  According to many top tier graduates I’ve worked with over the years, networking and branding are major subjects that are studied and perfected during the program.  Grades are not as important.   So, you can learn from the top tier programs that the “MBA Experience” is very important to future success.  If you just enter your MBA program with the intent of only learning new skills, you’ll miss out on two-thirds of the overall benefit of the MBA Experience.

We’ve looked at what MBAs do with their degree.  Take a look at our presentation. If you’re a basketball fan, you’ll love it.  It’s March Madness and the MBA_2015.

Naturally, not all MBA programs are equivalent when it comes to the experience.  Top tier programs will be more organized and geared towards the networking and branding aspects.  Most every other program will suffer in these areas.  And some programs won’t provide anything at all.  I would dare say that most MBA programs are in this category.  Sure, you can read a few articles that say MBAs are in high demand but economics would beg us to understand the supply side of this before making a decision.  The problem for MBA aspirants is that it is difficult to truly assess the supply and demand side of the MBA.  So, your only choice is to gather as much information as you can and make the best decision possible.

But where do you go for such information?  Often, aspirants seek information from the MBA programs themselves.    This is a good place to start but it shouldn’t be your only source of information.  After all, the problems you’ll run into with the MBA will be post-program issues.  Universities will have limited experience in this stage of your career.  For example, I’m a father of three kids and I’ve seen the birthing of each child but I can’t tell you what it feels like to give birth.  You have to go to the source for that; that is, the mother.  Well, if you want to know the impact the MBA has on your career, you need to ask someone who has had that experience.  In other words, ask the MBA graduates.  After all, they are the ones who are trying to build their career with the MBA degree.  Wouldn’t that be a good source of information?

Before you make any decisions about the next two years of your life and the destiny of a whole lot of your money, take the time to understand the impact the MBA has on your career by reading the stories of MBA graduates from around the globe.  Their experience will enlighten you and give you insights that will help you maximize the return on your personal investment.

We’ve taken the time to capture the knowledge of MBAs from around the world on many topics that affect MBAs directly.  These topics aren’t the kind of issues that get addressed during your MBA program (and never will be) but they are REAL WORLD issues faced by MBAs every single day.   Click below to learn more about What MBA Graduates Know.

If you’ve been reading my blog for any length of time, you know I don’t just recommend doing anything because it is trendy, especially when it comes to spending a lot of your money and even more importantly, a lot of your time.  The MBA is a great tool for your career; that is, if you use it correctly.  If you don’t have an MBA, you may be asking yourself “how do I use the MBA?”  Well, it’s more than the degree we are talking about here.  Let’s look at this in more detail. The GMAC 2014 Prospective Students Survey Report states that the MBA provides three key benefits:  skills, networks and brand.  Were these in your initial thoughts?  They weren’t in mine.  I thought education was about learning those quintessential skills that make you valuable to the business world.  Of course, I didn’t graduate from a top tier business school, where the mentality is quite different.  According to many top tier graduates I’ve worked with over the years, networking and branding are major subjects that are studied and perfected during the program.  Grades are not as important.   So, you can learn from the top tier programs that the “MBA Experience” is very important to future success.  If you just enter your MBA program with the intent of only learning new skills, you’ll miss out on two-thirds of the overall benefit of the MBA Experience. We’ve looked at what MBAs do with their degree.  Take a look at our presentation. If you’re a basketball fan, you’ll love it.  It’s March Madness and the MBA. Naturally, not all MBA programs are equivalent when it comes to the experience.  Top tier programs will be more organized and geared towards the networking and branding aspects.  Most every other program will suffer in these areas.  And some programs won’t provide anything at all.  I would dare say that most MBA programs are in this category.  Sure, you can read a few articles that say MBAs are in high demand but economics would beg us to understand the supply side of this before making a decision.  The problem for MBA aspirants is that it is difficult to truly assess the supply and demand side of the MBA.  So, your only choice is to gather as much information as you can and make the best decision possible. But where do you go for such information?  Often, aspirants seek information from the MBA programs themselves.    This is a good place to start but it shouldn’t be your only source of information.  After all, the problems you’ll run into with the MBA will be post-program issues.  Universities will have limited experience in this stage of your career.  Look, I’m a father of three kids and I’ve seen the birthing of each child but I can’t tell you what it feels like to give birth.  You have to go to the source for that; that is, the mother.  Well, if you want to know the impact the MBA has on your career, you need to ask someone who has that experience.  In other words, ask the MBA graduates.  After all, they are the ones who are trying to build their career with the MBA degree.  Wouldn’t that be a good source of information? Before you make any decisions about the next two years of your life and the destiny of a whole lot of your money, take the time to understand the impact the MBA has on your career by reading the stories of MBA graduates from around the globe.  Their experience will enlighten you and give you insights that will help you maximize the return on your personal investment.   We’ve taken the time to capture the knowledge of MBAs from around the world on many topics that affect MBAs directly.  These topics aren’t the kind of issues that get addressed during your MBA program (and never will be) but they are REAL WORLD issues faced by MBAs every single day.

 

 

Do You Really NEED an MBA?

I recently held conversations with a brilliant engineer from India.  He has a PhD in Electrical Engineering and has a dream of moving into a management position.  Don’t be shocked, engineers do this all the time.  He thought that the MBA would be a requirement for getting into such a position.  I wasn’t surprised by this, he is an engineer after all, and management isn’t his forte.  I asked him to consider a few things before he made his decision to earn the MBA.  Here’s what we discussed.

Is the MBA required for management positions?  This question is a little higher up than his specific situation but it is imperative that MBA potentials understand the requirements for the positions they seek.  To illustrate my point, I went online to several job sites, like Indeed.com, and pulled up several management job descriptions to assess their academic requirements.  Here’s what we saw.

VP, Operations Support

  • Bachelor’s Degree
  • 7 years of experience in Product Supply
  • 3 years of experience forecasting, planning, supply chain metrics, Lean/CI, Six-Sigma

Regional Vice President

  • Functional Area: SA – Sales/Sales Support
  • Experience Level: Mid-Level
  • Required education: Bachelors Degree or equivalent experience

CEO and President

  • Education Requirements: No requirement

Sr Vice President – IT

  • Education: Bachelors Degree (four year college or university)
  • Experience: 4 to 10 years experience

On and on this went.  Most management jobs did not require an MBA.  The jobs we saw that mentioned the MBA stated it as a preference or as desirable, not a requirement.  In those cases where it did appear, the experience requirement was more significant (such as 12 years relevant experience).  These listings, and many others, clearly illustrate the need for MBAs at mid and senior levels.

Does your management have an MBA?  In determining whether an MBA would help your career in your existing company, it’s useful to assess the background of your current management.  How many of your leaders have an MBA or an advanced degree?  I would suggest that in most cases, the upper echelons are not highly educated professionals.  Most have been in business for some time, however.  If your management doesn’t have advanced degrees, they most likely won’t see a great deal of value in it at their level.  Experience will trump everything else.  Why? Because it’s the value they can provide easily.  I would never place a high value on a characteristic I don’t have.  I would be ruling myself out of my own job.  So take time to understand what your leaders consider to be important.  Otherwise, you’ll stress yourself out over a credential that won’t help you much.

More isn’t always better.  If a bachelor’s degree is good, then a master’s degree or PhD has got to be better.  This is what many professionals believe.  If I can’t get opportunities with a bachelor’s degree, then a master’s degree will certainly bring them to me.  Really? This isn’t logical thought.  There are industries that require advanced education but most don’t.  When you earn an advanced degree, you do put yourself in a unique group of professionals (who all have an advanced degree), all of which who are seeking opportunities at the upper end of corporations where there are much fewer opportunities. Don’t forget that many of those positions are already filled by professionals with less education and aren’t interested in giving their position up.

Will your performance suffer?  Earning the MBA takes time and energy.  For most of us, we’re already too busy and taking on the burden of classes and homework pushes our boundaries.  If you’re working full time and earning your MBA, it’s important to understand that your daily job performance can suffer.  You’ll get tired and become more focused on your school work than your job.  People will notice the change.  At first, it will be okay as people will understand your new challenges.  But after a while, their memory will fade and even though you’re working twice as hard as everyone else, you could be seen as an average or even below average performer.  It’s not fair but then again, you are being paid to do a particular job.  Balance is critical.  Make sure your management understands your situation before you dive into it.  Ask your coworkers to watch your performance and let you know when you show signs of an imbalance.

Who wants your MBA?  The biggest challenge you’ll run into as an MBA professional is finding organizations that truly value your educational credentials.  There are companies that do seek out MBAs, but they are usually tied to particular universities.  Consider the big 4 consulting companies.  They chase the graduates from top tier programs.  Not because they are smarter but for the brand power their MBA credential carries.  For example, I’ve worked with many Harvard and MIT graduates and I don’t think they are any smarter than anyone else.  But when you mention they are a Harvard or MIT graduate, people go crazy, as if they have superhuman powers.  Now, for all of those graduates of lower tier programs, you won’t get this reaction, especially from major companies.  The good news for you is that there are companies who do need the skills MBAs possess.  You have to identify what companies need and then create your value proposition, which includes tangible proof that you possess those skills and have used them to create success.  This type of analysis requires some serious networking inside of companies to understand how their management works, what skills they need, how you can become their beacon of hope and position yourself as the only viable candidate.   But I figure if you can afford two years to earn the MBA, you can certainly afford the time it takes to find the right position.  Just don’t get in a hurry and settle for something less.

If you’re asking yourself if the MBA is right for you, take time to consider these questions.  The MBA is just a college degree.  It’s a tool that you can use to improve your career.  It bestows no guarantee of success.  In fact, many colleges are struggling to improve the MBA’s value proposition to students because graduates are finding many of its promises to be empty, void of the ability to make their dreams a reality.  Universities sell too much and students expect too much.  The MBA can be useful in building a career, just take the time to understand how and where to use it.  Getting an MBA to simply possess one will only leave you with a big student loan….and who wants that?

If you’re really sold on the idea of earning an MBA, you should check our ebook “The Joy of an MBA.”  In this book, MBAs share stories of how they used the MBA in their career.

5 Steps to Achieving Maximum Benefit from Your MBA

Earning the MBA, at any point in your life, requires a substantial commitment in time. As a young student fresh from college, time is a considerably more abundant resource; however, as a seasoned professional with numerous responsibilities, such as those accompanying a full-time job, family, or both, you must focus on an efficient utilization of many resources to achieve the maximum effectiveness in your professional and academic development. Too often we become so involved in just completing the tasks necessary to earn the degree that we fail to truly prepare ourselves for life with the degree.

The MBA, as we are told, is designed to have a huge impact on our lives. To reap these rewards, we stress ourselves out for two years trying to balance the school work, family commitments and job responsibilities. Once it’s all over, our expectations are that the accolades will pour in all by themselves. If we’re looking to change jobs, we update our LinkedIn profile so recruiters can find us. If we want to move up in our current company, we simply wait for management to hear the news of our graduation before coming to our desk to offer us a new opportunity to support them or maybe even join their ranks. This is the MBA dream, but unfortunately, it’s very far from the truth. The reality is that success is surrounded by an enormous layer of competitiveness. The MBA can tear into this layer and bring you closer to your dreams but it can’t do that by itself. Earning an MBA is a great feat but it is no guarantee of any level of success that is simply derived from its possession. Achieving success requires a strategy and some real planning. The following steps will help you do just that.

  1. Determine your goals before you begin your program. Write it down.

Writing your goals down triggers a response in the brain called “reticular activating system” that can create a sense of awareness of opportunities that can help you get closer to your goals. The unconscious mind will continue to focus on the direction you set in your written goals even when you aren’t consciously thinking about it. The reticular activating system will filter out those things that aren’t important. It will keep you in tune with events around you that may help you achieve your goals and will keep pushing you until the image that you have in your head of what your real success looks like is equivalent to what is physically present in your surroundings. Have you ever had an epiphany or have a salvo go off in your head? That’s your brain telling you that the situation you are currently in holds an opportunity that will help you get closer to a goal. Writing your goals down even has benefits when you aren’t even conscious. As an engineering student, I would often awaken during the night with the solution to class assignments. But how could that be if I was asleep? It’s because your subconscious does the real brain work. Here’s how you can tap into that.

Determine what you want from your MBA and write it down. Try to be very specific in defining these goals. Keep them challenging but achievable. Perhaps you want a raise, promotion or job change. List what they are, how long it may take to get there, what resources you need, who can help provide those resources, etc. Put specific dates for completion of these goals. Then, create a plan on how you will go about achieving each goal. Review these every day so that your mind stays focused on what you need to do. Celebrate completion of tasks and especially major goals. Mark them off the list when done. Each little success provides additional motivation as they cause the brain to release chemicals that make you happier, healthier and more driven to reach your goals. If you don’t have detailed plans for your career with your MBA, you should realize that it most likely won’t do anything for you.

  1. Seek guidance from other MBAs.

Take the time to get to know other MBAs. You should be engaging MBAs long before you begin your MBA program. Working MBA professionals can help you identify trends in industry. Top tier universities provide data to show you how their graduates are placed in industry but most don’t give you a clear picture of how successful you can be with their MBA. Most MBA graduates want to get a management position or change careers entirely. Therefore, the best way to understand the challenges that are specific to your Alma Mater is to consult with the alumni. If the university doesn’t have an alumni group, find graduates by using social media, such as LinkedIn. Then, tell them your story and ask for advice. MBA professionals can also help you understand the finer details in utilizing your MBA to create the success you expect. The most important information they can share will actually help you establish the proper expectations. The MBA isn’t capable of giving you that meteoric rise to the top of your company because many other factors come into play when you get to those first levels of the senior management ranks (e.g. Director, VP) that have nothing to do with your credentials.   Working MBAs can tell you what factors are important in their industry or specific company. Getting the most out of these new connections requires a thorough understanding of what you want from your degree. Once you complete the first action listed above, writing your goals down, you’ll know exactly what questions to ask from those MBAs who have gone before you. One last note, to get the best information, choose graduates who are just a few years ahead of you as their lessons are still fresh in their mind. Consulting an MBA graduate from over 20 years ago will be helpful but it isn’t likely to be advice you will use immediately.

  1. Share your thoughts and ideas.

As you go through your MBA and transition into a long working career, you’ll develop a broad network of knowledge professionals. The most important thing you can ever do to improve your career is to become active in this network. Before you begin your program, talk with MBA professionals to find out what issues managers are facing. Then, when you begin, share these ideas with professors and develop your own opportunity to find solutions for these problems. Investigate opportunities to perform research in these areas, which helps you develop expertise and recognition for such knowledge. Research quite often affords opportunities to publish the results of your efforts in professional journals, conferences, the university magazine, white papers and more. If research isn’t available, work with your professors to find specific companies that have issues they have communicated to the university and that you can address. If that fails, reach out to professional organizations (even student versions) to see where you can build new knowledge, skills and abilities. It’s important to note that while the MBA teaches you to solve business problems, this doesn’t add value to what you have to offer. The real value you offer comes from actually solving problems. Collaborating with professors, alumni groups, and student and professional organizations are great avenues for collecting ideas on what you can do to build your value. Today’s level of competition requires graduates to have already demonstrated their value before graduation. If you wait until you graduate to begin this development or base your value on the idea that you have the skills to solve problems, you’ll find yourself struggling to compete.

  1. Create opportunities to increase your knowledge in areas in your plan.

As previously mentioned, building your value is done by providing tangible proof of your skills. It’s also possible to build value by demonstrating your knowledge base.   Companies have problems and they want help resolving them. Reading articles from industry journals and other periodicals are a good way to boost your understanding of the problems that are currently plaguing businesses. Joining professional organizations is another great strategy. Most local branches of professional organizations provide access to industry professionals through conferences, presentations and meetings. A good approach is to join one of these organizations and seek an active role. This will put you closer to those already working in the field that can provide you a much better understanding of the field than articles can. Use these interactions to not only gather as much information as possible, but setup opportunities to help specific companies solve some of their problems. Companies like to hire to fill a specific need so find out what some are and fill them. Don’t forget to find ways to document your achievements so that you have stories to tell and documentation to prove it (e.g. published articles).

  1. Update your goals and progress often.

As you go through your goals, make notes on areas that are a natural strength or a weakness for you. This information, along with other pertinent information from professors and business professionals, should help you steer your career in the right direction. If your performance isn’t the best in your chosen area of focus, it becomes critical that you collaborate with other professionals in that field to determine if you need to improve your abilities in that area or you may be just fine with what you already know. This is even more critical if you plan to use your MBA in a different field than you are currently working in. You should develop a list of skills and experiences required to excel in your new field and then work on checking each one off until you have tangible proof that you have what it takes (all before graduating). Companies don’t want to hire professionals that are looking to make a transition, as this is a little risky. But, if you can provide sufficient evidence that you already have been demonstrating the skills, knowledge and abilities required for some time, then you can show you aren’t making a transition and you are a seasoned professional.

The MBA degree is just a credential. You’ll soon realize this once you’ve been in business for a year or two. It doesn’t really make you stand out. Why? It moves you into a group of professionals who already have a graduate degree. How do you stand out from them? As you move up in organizations the competition grows evermore fierce. Those who avoid the steps identified above and lean on the fact that they just have an MBA will experience stagnation and a loss of career mobility. No one is watching out for your career but you. If you put no effort into it, you’ll get nothing out of it. If you have an MBA or are working on it, you’ve obviously got a little fire in you. Use this fire to plan and implement your next steps after graduation. Create a habit of setting goals and reaching them. This will establish a history of tangible successes which will make you happy. After all, when it comes to your career, this is the person you should focus on.

The MBA Guide to Mentoring

Has your career mobility stifled?  Has your salary flatlined?  Perhaps you’ve fallen into the trap of trying to achieve your career success individually.  As a high achiever, you already know that many have achieved greatness.  We’ve read about them and you find tons of stories about they continue to do great things.  But they don’t achieve these things merely with their own effort.  They have help.  So many of try to gain success by impressing others.  Unfortunately, the ones we’re trying to impress aren’t really concerned with our success, only their own.  So how do you select the right people?  You must search and find those who are willing to invest in YOU.

Here are a few statistics to consider:

The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) notes in this article from August 2011:  “The Corporate Leadership Council of the Corporate Executive Board surveyed 880 high-potential employees. More than 25 percent said they planned to change jobs within the next 12 months. That’s potential attrition 2.5 times greater than just five years earlier. Among the dissatisfied, 64 percent said their current employment experiences are having little impact on their development.”

Inc Magazine says CEOs can’t find the talent they need.

In an overview of its “2011/2012 Talent Management and Rewards Study, North America,” Towers Watson says, “…almost 60% of North American companies are having trouble attracting critical-skill employees, an increase over 2010.”

In an article from The Wall Street Journal on reverse mentoring: “In an effort to school senior executives in technology, social media and the latest workplace trends, many businesses are pairing upper management with younger employees in a practice known as reverse mentoring. The trend is taking off at a range of companies, from tech to advertising.”

For my friends in the UK:

Sage surveyed more than 11,000 small and medium sized businesses in 17 countries across the world, to find out their attitudes towards business mentoring. Here’s what they found.

  • 93% of small and medium sized businesses acknowledge that mentoring can help them to succeed.
  • 28% of small and medium sized business currently make use of business mentors
  • 27% of business decision-makers would be most likely to go to people they know for business advice and mentoring.
  • 9% of business decision-makers would go to ‘select business mentors’ as their first option for business advice.

There are so many things you can learn from mentors.  Think about it.  Why do you read a book?  To learn from others.  But you can’t usually get access to the author to understand how to mold their advice from the book to fit your situation.  But mentors can help you do that.  While it’s hard find statistics that identify the impact mentors have, some mentoring statistics show that professionals who have used a mentor, earn between $5,610-$22,450 more annually, than those who perhaps didn’t use a mentor.  That’s a pretty good benefit, at the very least.

Stop chasing dreams by repeating lessons others have already learned.  Your career should be a learning experience but don’t make it one full of things you wish you hadn’t learned.

Before you head off to find a mentor, check out our latest ebook release, The MBA Guide to Mentoring.

The MBA Nightmare

Here’s a story that might keep you up at night. I was talking with a client who had graduated with his MBA just a year ago. He was upset that things had not changed for him in his current company. No raise. No promotion. No new opportunities. In fact, no one even recognized that he earned his MBA. “My job doesn’t require an MBA but I have one. Now I worry that my current employer will see me as overqualified, likely to get bored and leave, further damaging my career mobility,” he explained.

He also heard that if he doesn’t move up soon that recruiters will think he’s not a real go-getter. I had to ask about that. He felt that while he was working his day job and earning his MBA at night, he would be viewed as a high achiever. However, since he graduated and stayed in the same job he was in before starting his MBA, he would be considered somewhat “unmotivated” if he remained in that job for several years.   “Wouldn’t employers wonder why I went through the effort and money to earn the MBA and then did nothing with it?” He worried that his job title wasn’t representative of his skill sets and felt that employers would avoid him because he wasn’t working towards his potential. The one degree that was supposed to offer a buffet of opportunity, career growth and money failed to deliver on all accounts.

That’s his story. What do you think? Have you seen that before? Are you wondering if things went according to his plan? Did he fail to plan? Did the college fail to help him? Did his company fail to utilize his talents? Who’s to blame for his stagnation?

This is not a good place to be. It’s not a good feeling and eventually it can destroy your job satisfaction and happiness.   So what went wrong? Here’s a few observations.

Too much hope. Too many students believe that the MBA experience will provide for their needs. What are their needs? Many identify money and opportunity as their main reasons for earning an MBA. But how does spending two years of your life and $80,000 meet these needs. If you consider that you give the college money and work your butt off for two years with only a piece of paper to show for it, you might feel the need to rethink this approach. You don’t get money at the end of the program. You get a bill. The agreement you have with the school is the opportunity to learn new skills from professors. It’s not a guarantee that you will. You have to put effort into it. That’s all. If you want anything beyond that, you have to go get it yourself. Working professionals who earn their degree have the expectation that their current company will recognize them, reward them and give them a new office beside the CEO. If you want to understand the probability of this happening, look around. Connect with MBA professionals and ask about their experience. They’ll tell you that it doesn’t happen. Why would I give you more money to do a job that doesn’t require an MBA to start with? You were hired to do that job. If you want to go develop yourself further, that’s great but I still need you to do the job I hired you for. Hope is not a strategy. You can’t wait on something to happen.

Lack of action. If you consider that you wanted money and opportunity from your MBA, you must realize that the college can’t give that to you. That’s not what they do. They educate. That’s it. Move on. You need a company to do that or you need to start your own. My client was sitting in a job with a big bill and the same needs he had before starting the MBA. He hasn’t filled his needs yet. So why did he stop his pursuit? It was obvious that the mere possession of the MBA was insufficient. It’s a credential that has value. That’s why you spent time and money on it. But if you are in an organization that doesn’t care, it doesn’t have value to them and your needs won’t be met. So why are you still waiting on them to reward you? It won’t happen. Do you think that waiting longer will help? Go-getters are always in action. They do what they can with what they have. They don’t stop until the needs are met. Then, they find new ones and start all over.

The wrong attitude. Growing your career is tough. There are a lot of barriers that are put in front of us. Sure, some kids grow up in luxury and have free entry to the top echelons of organizations. For those of us who don’t, that doesn’t matter. We have to build our own success. Education is just a part of the journey. There is never a point in the journey where we can simply rest on our credentials.   This week I worked with numerous professionals who were laid off. Their company is struggling to survive. These professionals had law degrees, engineering degrees, CPAs, etc. They are smart people and yet they have just experienced what appears to be a setback. What do you do? Just stop working? No. You must realize that you have value and you must search to find someone who will pay for that value. The wrong attitude is to simply pretend that you are satisfied with where you are. You have to satisfy those needs because they won’t go anywhere. They will keep screaming louder and louder, until you respond to them. Have you ever wondered why your life isn’t filled with people who want to make your life a huge success? It’s because people are trying to fulfill their needs and create their own success. The wrong attitude is to believe that someone else can give you your happiness. They are searching for their own.

Gaining success with an MBA, or any degree, requires work. Define what you want and how each credential can help you get there. The MBA gives you knowledge, skills and abilities. It does not differentiate you from others. There are 150,000 new MBAs every year. Your differentiation comes from the value you can provide to others. Your value is driven by your desire to build success, even if only one small step at a time. It is the accumulation of all of these small steps that put your career motion and move you further to your goals. The MBA is a tool that can be used to build a better career. You have to swing a hammer to drive a nail. Drive enough nails and you can build a house. Sure, it takes time and effort…but it’s worth it. It meets needs. Professionals that don’t achieve all they choose to do so because they accept it. I know what you’re thinking…but what about this?….but what about that?….but, but, but. “But” is the argument for your limitations. When you argue for your limitations, you get to keep them. Define your needs, then go fulfill them. The solution lies within your drive and determination. When you stop, so does your career. Let your actions define you. Go get your success now. Never be satisfied.

10 Wishes for the MBA

I’ve been following the MBA, students and graduates for a long time. A lot of our discussions focus around things that the MBA doesn’t do. Many of these things we feel the program should be able to do but somehow it falls short of our expectations. So, instead of focusing on the shortcomings, I thought I would use this post to offer a few suggestions for improving the whole MBA experience. Imagine sitting in the front of the auditorium during your MBA orientation meeting and the director steps on stage to say a few things. Here’s what I wish they would say.

10. I wish they would tell students that specialization is not bad and is currently better than generalization. If you’ve earned the MBA and are looking to change careers, you probably already know this.

9. I wish they would tell students that they don’t provide a lot of career guidance.   It’s usually best to take advice from MBAs who’ve been in the corporate world for a while about the issues MBAs will experience. You also want information about the market as it is now and how it has been in the past few years. Getting advice from 20 years ago may not be relevant. That’s why you need to use MBA alumni groups. (shameless plug – read our ebooks at www.bt-books.com).

8. I wish they would teach students to communicate their value as an MBA.   This is important as more than two-thirds of MBAs are looking for a career change and will be asked about the value they will provide. If they can’t articulate it, it must not but be real impressive.

7. I wish they would tell students that they need to focus on differentiation. Earning the same degree everyone else is doesn’t help you take advantage of opportunities.

6. I wish they would tell students to focus on creating successes during their program. Earning the degree isn’t as powerful as they think it is.

5. I wish they would tell students to learn to work together and get to know each other. They’ll soon be asking each other for a job. So make as many friends as you can.

4. I wish they would tell students that networking is the key to finding a job. In fact, Networking is the key to just about everything you’ll get out of your career. Most of the accolades you’ll seek will come from someone else.

3. I wish they would tell students that internships are critical to getting into your desired industry. Some industries require experience, like private equity, before they’ll hire you. The MBA, without the experience, is useless.

2. I wish they would tell students that the job search needs to begin when you enroll, not when you are done. It’s so sad to see students unemployed after graduation. It shouldn’t happen. Give yourself plenty of time to get a job. Start early.

1. I wish they would tell students that the MBA is just a degree in fortune telling. Saying you know something about business is much different than proving it. You have to do some good things before people will believe in you. Remember, advice without a proven track record of success is speculation.

The MBA has greatly increased in popularity around the world. In recent discussions with companies around the globe, MBAs are graduating without the skills they need to be effective. Now combine this with the fact that most graduates don’t have a plan for their career, or even the first job, and you can begin to see why so many are struggling today. Nonetheless, the responsibility for your career is yours. Pointing fingers and assessing blame doesn’t help you any. Read, study, talk with MBAs and whatever else it takes to plan your career. You’ll pay a lot of money for that MBA and if you want to get a good return, you’ll have to plan it. Otherwise, the only thing you’ll see from it is a bill each month.

What do you wish for?

How to Get a Raise With Your MBA

If you’ve got an MBA, you’ve probably already realized that getting the MBA doesn’t lead to more money, despite what the statistics say (at least not immediately). When I was working on my MBA, I had three friends who were earning their MBA too but at different schools. We were quite competitive with each other and were very interested to see who would benefit the most after graduation. You see, we all worked in the same company. I hate to admit it, but I didn’t win the free lunch, which was the prize for getting a raise upon graduation. If you’re looking to make some money after you graduate, you’ll want to read about our little experiment. Here’s what we did to earn a raise with our MBA.

There were four of us enrolled in four different universities. Three were in the traditional brick and mortar MBA and one was in an online MBA program. In the last semester, we all began trying to figure out how we would sell our new skills to management in the quest of that trophy of champions, the raise. And who doesn’t want that?

The first brick and mortar MBA graduate felt that his university had significant brand power (well, it was a top 25 program). So, he didn’t do anything. He felt that once management caught wind of his new accomplishment (MBA from a top program), he would instantly gain access to the club, more money and a new position in the upper echelon. Unfortunately, his was wrong. Management didn’t throw a party for him nor did they offer any of the accolades he had dreamed of.

The second MBA graduate had a little more strategy to his plan. He took some of his learning and used it to find ways to reduce the cost of operations. Surely, creating a list of activities that could help the company save money would be worth something. So, he studied and researched some effective methods. He even put some probabilities, budgets, schedules and return on investments in his analysis. It was an impressive list. But, alas, it turned up no coins to jingle in his pocket. Management was happy to receive it but wasn’t moved enough to reward his behavior.

The third graduate took a slightly different approach than the second. He didn’t focus on saving money. He sought ways to make money. To begin his pursuit, he asked management what were their biggest challenges they had. Then, he knew what problems he needed to solve. So, he worked just like the second graduate by researching and studying the challenges the managers identified. He outlined several ways to overcome the challenges and created plans for achieving them. Even though a couple of these plans were acted upon later, this effort did not yield any money for the graduate.

The fourth graduate tried something totally different than all the others. He set out to prove that he had acquired some desirable skills from his MBA program. He focused his efforts on marketing since this was a passion of his. He worked with several departments to understand what their marketing challenges were. Then, just like all of the others, he set out to find solutions. Once he found them, he put them into action, without discussing it with upper management. Risky move? I thought so too. However, when he presented his list of problems and solutions, he included one piece of information that the rest of us failed to do. He presented results. “That’s the initiative we’re looking for” was management’s response. They didn’t want to know what the problems were; they knew that already. They didn’t want to know what you thought would work; they wanted to know what would work. That meant you had to do something to understand what would work. They could then take the methods that really worked company-wide but they had to know what worked first. Needless to say, the fourth graduate got the raise.

The lesson we learned that semester is that it isn’t about what you know nor is it about what you can do. It’s all about what you actually do. Your value isn’t based on what you have. It’s based on what you give. In learning to earn a raise, three of us found that potential energy is nice but you’ll gain much more if you convert it to kinetic energy. In short, do something. An MBA is not proof that you have any specific skills, knowledge or ability. It’s only proof that you took some classes. Accomplishments are the real proof that earns rewards. When you think about asking for a raise, don’t go into the discussion empty handed. Don’t give them ideas or possible solutions. Give them a clear view of your drive and determination to make the business a success; that is to say, a clear understanding of what they can do to make the company more profitable as determined by what you’ve already done.