What elements should be considered when choosing an MBA ? le 30/08/2016

BY KIRT WOOD

CAMPUS MANAGER MBA PARIS - KEDGE BUSINESS SCHOOL

There are many elements to consider when undertaking an Executive MBA and these will be different and prioritized differently for each individual :

Where are you at in your life?  Are you angry and confused in your job?  Bored?  Or simply seeking new challenge?  In short, you must consider your motivation.  Quality MBA candidates understand that an MBA is NOT a « golden ticket » but, in fact, a multi-year engagement toward learning, empowerment and change.  If your motivation is purely pretentious (money move, rapid career growth, bypassing necessary professional development steps, an MBA “brand” that will open doors, a “magic key” to the Executive Board room or “joining the club”), then I think your motivation will not sustain you and hold up over the duration of a serious MBA programme.  Motivation should come from a desire to undertake greater responsibility, develop business acumen, stature and confidence, create vision for yourself and others, confront issues of complexity and influence decisions, and create new opportunities for yourself and others all… over time.

If you are NOT clear, however, about your career objectives or expect an MBA to “give you” the answer… you may not yet be ready to even do your MBA.

The “right” MBA for you should be chosen through a careful analysis of the programme (structure, content, value-added above and beyond the core programme, accreditations, resources made available to candidates, diversity and strength of alumni network, and genuine investment on the part of the MBA programme in YOU.  Will the MBA programme be there every step of the way to support and guide these changes and keeping you focused on your objectives?  Can the MBA programme offer you unique skills and experiences with respect to your professional objectives?

Logistical issues must be considered:  Time away from work (opportunity cost if you do a full-time option), support of family, friends and colleagues, (length and nature of programme can solve some of these time issues), a proper time/place to adequately study, prepare and deliver needed projects, financing (this is an entire subset of issues that a good programme should help you solve), location of the programme (will you have to travel during the programme?)

 A good MBA programme should offer you a counselor (not a sales person) who can openly and carefully listen, provide opportunities for you to do proper due diligence (attend conferences, classes, speak with participants, alumni and faculty, explore the nature of curriculum and delivery methods…).  Your counselor should point you toward other opportunities if the programme simply does not conform to your needs and objectives.

Undertaking an MBA is like a marriage.  There needs to be much (and often subtle) discussion and negotiation.  A bit of dating…  The process should be pleasant (not stressful).  Both parties should be on equal footing going into the relationship and there must be open and constant communication.  Both parties should fully understand expectations of each other and desired outcomes.  An MBA is “for life” and should prove fruitful over many many years.

  • How do I know if I have the right profile?

There is no such thing as the « right profile » for an MBA candidate.  The beauty of an MBA, a general management degree, is that it provides training that is overarching and multi-disciplinary allowing you to consolidate your many personal and professional experiences and redirect your life and career in a new and exciting direction.  I have worked with professionals (doctors, vets, lawyers, accountants…), athletes, media and performing arts talent, financial specialists, entrepreneurs of all kinds, former military, chefs, international NGO volunteers,… the list is endless.  In each of these cases, I have seen the MBA change, transform and lead to excellent careers over time.

However, lacking the personal and professional experiences as well as the proper maturity to engage in this level of change and development, will prove disastrous…setting you up for failure and discontent. 

MBA programmes, consequently, look at every aspect of an individual with a strong focus on the professional experiences (years and quality), managerial moments and understanding of how the corporate world truly functions.  There is little room for “pipe dreams” or naïve ideas.  Candidates who come with solid experiences (wins and losses included), clear criteria, several good professional development ideas or projects, a genuine desire for change and a “go-getter” attitude generally make for an excellent MBA candidate.

  • How are candidates evaluated ?  Based on which criteria ?

Each MBA programme will have its own admissions criteria.  Shared for Executive candidates:

  • Years and quality of professional experience,
  • Concreteness of professional objectives (realistic and feasible) in line with the programme resources available (logical expectations),
  • Level of competence in English, (and other languages)
  • Significant analytical skills,
  • International exposure, openness to change,
  • Capacity to work effectively in groups (leadership potential),
  • Clear motivation demonstrating that the timing is right to undertake the programme (all your “ducks are in line”), and
  • Your value-added to the programme (what are you bringing with you for others?). 

Above all, you should have a clear understanding of what an MBA can and cannot do for you and how the MBA programme has put into place courses, workshops and seminars that will genuinely allow you to achieve your objectives

  • How should I prepare for an admissions interview?

Again, you should have a good counselor that will work with you extensively prior to application so that you are clear in your head about what the programme is looking for as well as what you are seeking to achieve.  You should be able to express, in very complete yet succinct terms, what your objectives are. 

Admissions interviews should come about after extensive discussions with programme representatives and, at least some, due diligence (getting to know the programme and actors first-hand).

Most programmes will openly tell you what they are looking for and what will be expected during the interview process.  However, good candidates should always expect surprises!... and be ready to respond enthusiastically and creatively.

  • From whom should I ask for a letter of recommendation?

Here, the variation between MBA programmes is vast.  Each programme looks at these letters through different filters and places differing levels of value on them.  Cannot generalize.  However, in my opinion, recommendation letters should come from people who are directly above you (N+1 or N+2) or at that same level and who are in a position to very accurately describe and explain what it is like to work with you.  What are your qualities as well as areas for improvement?  In reading the letter, programme evaluators should clearly understand what you are like daily and in moments of high pressure.  Are you a team player?  (how, give examples) or are you more solitary?  Your sense of discipline, dedication, values…  What have been your key accomplishments and how did you go about achieving them?  Who then, in your professional entourage, can best describe these aspects of your professional life?  Only you can truly answer this. 

I do think that a good letter of recommendation should not always come from the one person you know will say “good things” about you… but someone with a reasonable distance from you who will speak in both detail and critically.

Often programmes require two letters.  However, it may be in your interest to provide an additional third letter to give a more accurate picture.

  • What should I highlight from my professional experience?

Yes.  Every aspect of it!  This is essential.  An MBA is about, first and foremost, professional evolution and growth.  Your past must become the foundation for building the future.  That YOU understand the value of your professional experience will better help the programme determine the extent to which an MBA can move you forward significantly over time.

  • Is management experience required?

At the Executive level, the answer is yes.  The starting point of an Executive programme requires MBA participants to have had key managerial experiences as a jumping off point for more complex exercises and discussions about how to improve, lead, manage, and implement change.  Full-time MBA programmes may be better suited to those with minimal managerial experience.

  • What should I watch out for concerning costs and budget?

Seeking financing for your Executive MBA is a normal part of the MBA process.  And everyone must confront this reality.  The ultimate responsibility for financing your MBA is YOUR OWN.  As you will be the net beneficiary in the long-term of your MBA degree, you must consider this an investment in yourself.   A good programme should be there to guide and assist you in every way possible to find appropriate financing options.

Most MBA’s finance their MBA’s with a patchwork of financial sources, which include:  Company Sponsorship, OPCA’s (CIF, DIF now CPF), FONGECIF , Bank Loans (low interest), Personal Savings, Tax Reduction, Scholarships, Payment tuition plan (over 24 months), Financing by Third Party (corporate).

MBA candidates should look at tuition fees as well as other fees associated with the completion of the degree (travel, equipment, books, housing, transport, opportunity costs…)  However, this is an investment.  Consequently, a common error is to measure the cost over the short-term and not the long-term.  Over time, having an Executive MBA increases earning potential and decreases the significance of the initial monetary investment.  The cost of Executive programmes varies enormously.  I do think that a quality programme should be able to justify the cost of the programme with respect to candidate expectations.

  • Is there a right way to write application essays?

Again, this will vary widely among programmes.  However, in my experience, this is an area where you can genuinely “sing your life”!  Every programme will give you a series of short answer questions.  Read the questions carefully.  Try to fully understand what a school is REALLY asking from you.  Ponder your answer carefully over time.  Think outside the box, be creative, while at the same time include all the essential key points.  Use brief examples when possible to justify and illustrate your position.  Some essays will be more serious and focused.  Others, however, are designed to get to know you…understand your values, and help get a clearer picture of who you are as a person.  Lean on your “counselor” to help get an idea of the institutional values and how you fit into these.  Spell check your English and, if possible, give it to several other people to read before sending. Be thorough.

I’m not sure that a single “method” exists with respect to essays.  If there is one, it will be clearly specified in the online application.

  • What mistakes should I avoid when putting together my application?

When I receive an application that has been quickly entered into the computer, lots of small errors, incomplete information… all of this indicates the seriousness of a candidate (perception in any case).  Having to chase after missing documents or photos can also be determining in a final decision.

I recommend that a candidate download the application, print it out, and examine what is being asked over the entire application.  Don’t just let the online application lead you from one item to the next.  You risk missing key elements or forgetting what you’ve already said.  Share your application with others so that they can give positive input.

Also, organize yourself.  Look at the required documents and elements.  Just like in a job interview, it is good to prepare for the interview and show yourself as completely and accurately as possible.  If you put the time in and communicate with the programme well before committing anything to paper, the final application should reflect this well.

Personally, I appreciate an applicant that expresses their own objectives and expectations clearly while, at the same time, indicates their awareness of their value to the group as well as demonstrating a complete understanding of all the stakeholders involved in the Exec MBA experience.

Kirt Wood
Kedge Global MBA Paris
Kedge Business School
kirt.wood@kedgebs.com
+33 6 03 34 32 94

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