An MBA from a reputable business school is a ticket to ride, but getting on the right train requires more than just a ticket.
Guest blog by Ricardo Mancuso-Marcello
Several times over the past few years I have received congratulations, praise and respectful nods for making the decision to undertake an MBA whilst holding down a full time job. Furthermore, the handshakes and back-slapping intensified and swelled to include applause, hugs and ultimately some rolled up cartridge paper at the graduation ceremony. And an engraved clock. During a sunny afternoon in Henley-on-Thames the pomp, the scrolls and the camera flashes had the robe-wearers walking an inch taller. We resembled a green-caped swarm of academic superheroes. Into the boardroom, and beyond! And why not? We were entitled to the spotlight and the immodesty, to quash the resentment of those library-hours.
However, the most awkward questions posed to me at the ceremony, by well-meaning invitees not wearing robes that day, all followed the same theme: “So, what now?” “Have you considered your next move?" "What will you do to make use of your learning?” “How will you monetise your investment?” “The world is yours to bend at your will – who will you choose to kneel before your iron throne as you observe your minions?”
Ok, so I made the last one up, but I imagine it would have been delivered in a similar tone.
The awkwardness of the questions is based on the realisation that undertaking an MBA does not tell you what to do, only how to do “it”. An MBA empowers you (from a theoretical expertise rather than a job-application-friendly standpoint) to understand the various facets of running an organisation: Any organisation, in fact, from Micro-Cisco-Google-Soft to Mrs Patmore’s basement kitchen. It is all about creating value for stakeholders which, conveniently, is anybody vaguely impacted by its actions. This is the butterfly effect distilled into a 2x2 box diagram.
What an MBA does not empower you to do is to make the decision about how you choose to spend the next decades of your working life. In addition, it doesn’t buy you credit of the "experience” recruiters and hiring managers choose to focus on. Although your CV may, at least, end up on the yes-pile.
This is in no way meant to undermine the value of completing your course, but simply a recognition that an MBA is largely limited to competency and confidence: Career management (soon to be renamed career self-actualisation in a learning centre near you) requires a personal conviction to determine what it is you want to do. A plan is also handy, to ensure you don’t de-prioritise your career change until your exams are over, your kids have left school, the economy has recovered and Scotland has qualified for the World Cup.
Of course, there’s the networking side to an MBA, but undertaking an MBA is, by and large, an individual pursuit: 1,000 hours of reading and writing interspersed with chats at the water cooler hardly seems the most efficient platform for schmoozing potential colleagues. Still, networking (aka talking positively about work, in the pub) is the only known tool to access what is commonly referred to as the hidden job market. Social networks have only succeeded in altering the hidden to slightly opaque, so leveraging these networks might just increase your ROI over time. And it’s cheaper than the golf club.
So, an MBA is just a ticket. A golden ticket for some opportunities, a more commonplace pewter for others. It is skill-building, confidence-boosting, brain-aching and applause-inducing. You can present this ticket at the station, but you still have to read the timetable, pick a destination and get yourself a seat.
Many thanks to our guest blogger Riccardo Mancuso-Marcello - Henley MBA, Business Transformation and Strategy Consultant