Category Archives: MBA Tips

Eight Interviews with MBA Scholarship Winners

Choosing MBA Master of Business Administration program for outstanding career

Welcome to the Q&A interviews with six young engineers who have each won a £30,000  Sainsbury Management Fellows scholarship to study for an MBA at a leading business school.

Over the next few days, we are publishing a new Q&A from an  awardee who will share why they decided to take an MBA and how a business education will help them achieve their goals.

Each year Sainsbury Management Fellows supports engineers with business leadership ambitions by awarding  up to 10 applicants a scholarship to help offset study costs.

Equally important, the scholarship awardees become part of the SMF network , a diverse, dynamic and experienced group of professional engineers who provide the MBA candidates with mentoring and support as they advance their careers.

If you’re a young engineer with ambitions to start a business or gain a leadership role in a blue chip company, gaining an MBA degree will augment your engineering qualifications and experience with strategy, marketing and finance skills.  These combined skills-sets will enable you to push your career in an exciting new direction.

We hope the interviews  inspire you to consider applying for a scholarship.  Learn more about how to apply.

Will an MBA really make a difference to my career? – David Falzani, SMF President

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To a large extent, that’s up to you. An MBA (Masters in Business Administration) is much more than qualifications and getting the most out of the experience requires the right mindset and purposeful action.

Pursuing an MBA programme is likely to be one of the biggest development challenges you will face.  Certainly, for full-time programmes, the time commitment, the temporary loss of a regular income when you leave your job to study, and the fact that so many MBA graduates are filling the market each year, leads prospective candidates to question whether an MBA degree is worthwhile.

An MBA programme with a great reputation at an internationally renowned business school is invaluable for those looking to advance quickly to senior management roles. If you reach your full potential, it can be a genuine stepping stone for getting ahead in your current sector, or starting up successfully in an alternative sector. An MBA not only opens up opportunities in terms of experience and contacts, it also gives you an excellent practical and academic background in essential areas of business including finance and marketing.

The MBA will stretch your mind, not only through academic rigor, but also by enabling you to work with a diverse range of people with differing views and perspectives. You will also benefit by pursuing new interests through specialisation and developing long-term goals that help your personal growth.

A map for the future
Where do you want to be in the next five years? To ensure an MBA makes a difference to your career trajectory, you should ideally have some clarity about your future career path. At the outset, this doesn’t have to be as specific as working in a defined sector or industry, but it should cover factors such as time-bound career progression (eg when you want to be in a senior management role in a blue-chip company or set up your own business) and a strategy for using the MBA programme as a springboard to achieve your goal.

A roadmap will help you to decide which business school to apply to and in which country, the length of programme and electives. Your roadmap doesn’t have to be set in stone; it can be continually updated as opportunities arise and your interests develop throughout the course of your MBA.

Your MBA gives you access to a wide range of elective course modules both within and outside of your current programme. This might be anything from life sciences, property, environmental studies to digital media and computer science.

The MBA allows you to contextualise your studies within a business perspective. You might spot a new opportunity within a sector for a start-up. You could use that elective in ‘big data’ to work out new, broad strategies for your current company. Alternatively, you might be looking to move from a technical expertise-oriented position towards management, and require new skills and knowledge.

One of the most powerful things about an MBA is that it enables technical specialisation and growth of expertise in the context of a strong, business-oriented education. By making the most of your options on your course, you’re ultimately enhancing employability – boosting your expertise, opportunities, and potential salary. 

Many people, rightly in my view, place a high value on the people they connect with during the course of their MBA programme. You are in a diverse, international environment full of very talented people with vastly different experiences and aspirations who enrich the learning experience. But do be careful not to see this as an enhanced networking opportunity. Your MBA represents a major opportunity for developing new expertise and specialisation.

Many MBA programmes involve a company placement period where you will gain real-life experience in management on major projects, often at big brand companies. This is a powerful element of the MBA: it throws you into the deep-end of the management world and demands rapid learning and quality work. This experience will not only enhance your cachet and boost your CV but provides a valuable insight into what’s to come when you complete your studies. The lessons you learn during your placement will come in handy in your later career.  Often placements turn into real jobs.

Different business schools have different teaching styles and cultures so naturally, produce different kinds of managers and entrepreneurs. How you fit into the programme or a school’s environment will have a large impact on the outcome of your MBA – not least because the best schools are often recruiting grounds for big companies.

The impact an MBA will have on your career prospects and personal development will most likely change the course of your future. This is a major chance to study, develop your expertise and personal skills, make new contacts and collaborators, and even travel.  How you approach it that will determine whether your MBA fast-tracks you into your dream career, or whether you’ll end up having to learn on the job regardless.

Various scholarships exist for MBA programmes. If you’re an engineer seeking a scholarship, why not consider applying for our Sainsbury Management Fellows scholarship. Ten of these are awarded annually to professional engineers by the Royal Academy of Engineering. 

Read part 2: Will an MBA really make a difference to my career? Choices & Options.

If you are making decisions about taking an MBA course, you will also be thinking about whether to study in Europe or America.  For some thoughts on this topic, read our blog USA or Europe – where to study for your MBA?   

You may also be interested in reading interviews with the winners of the SMF MBA Scholarship.

USA or Europe – Where to Study for your MBA?

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You will do your MBA once, so it’s important to choose an environment that enriches your journey.  Ambitious young professionals come to their MBA programme with personalised goals and objectives, so there is no ‘best’ country in which to study. There are pros and cons to both the American and European system, so it’s a case of deciding what’s best for you.  Here, we highlight some features of both systems which may help with your decision-making.

The MBA qualification was invented in the USA – it had the institutions in place, the knowledge, passion and the need.  It probably suited the existing university platform to have business schools, which did not pre-exist in Europe.  With such an august heritage, the USA has developed big brand schools such as Harvard and Stanford, which are known worldwide.  While studying at any top business school gives you kudos and enhances your own brand, gaining an MBA from an Ivy League business school adds weight.

When Size Matters

One of the biggest contrasts between European and USA schools is that American schools are usually much bigger. They tend to sit on top of well-established large universities which broaden the learning opportunities. For instance, at Wharton School in Pennsylvania there are some 1,500 courses from which students can choose their elective.  This is possible because students have access to the entire law school, medical school, engineering school as well as the business school. Imagine you wanted to specialise in micro-electronic bio-medicine because you saw an business opportunity in that area; you could specialise in something that you find intensely interesting and design your own finale!   European schools do not typically sit on top of a larger educational system except in name and therefore have much fewer courses from which to choose an elective.

The Faculty
The top business schools all have first-class faculty, but America tends to lead the field, attracting world class authors of business books and published works, because they leverage such an impressive academic base.  For example, Philip Kotler, arguably the number one marketing guru in the world, is a lecturer at Kellogg School of Management; Dr Dipak Jain, who is now dean at INSEAD, was previously Dean at Kellogg and Michael E. Porter is affiliated with Harvard.

European faculties are becoming increasingly competitive and have big hitters and famous publications too – Blue Ocean Strategy, probably the most famous business book published in recent years, was written by two INSEAD professors, W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne at The Blue Ocean Strategy institute.

Course Length
USA schools run longer programmes; two years is the norm, though they can be completed in 16 months by working through the summer and some of the modern courses can be shortened further. The advantage of longer courses is breathing space – you have more time to reflect on learning and absorb yourself in projects of special interest. This, of course, is only feasible if your circumstances and resources allow two years study, as programmes in the USA are much more expensive.

European MBA programmes are shorter – INSEAD’s course lasts 10 months, which makes for an extremely intensive period of learning. Undertaking an exercise as costly as an MBA in a shorter time frame is obviously advantageous, but you need to consider if this suits your personal learning style. A longer course is more accommodating to personal growth; based on what you learn you may want to change direction and specialise in a different area. Will a shorter course provide sufficient time for reflection and to evolve?  For some people the shorter course will be ideal and studying for two years would not be fast-paced enough or suit their personal circumstances.

International Experience
Gaining international experience is a key component of MBA programmes. The top USA business schools are extremely international, exposing you to a very different environment to normal surroundings and forces you to organise your life accordingly.  Studying in Europe (outside the UK), you have the added challenge and benefit of learning a new language. If you choose to study in your home country, you will still be exposed to an international group, as the schools attract students from all over the world (European schools probably have about 60% overseas contingent) but studying overseas gives a more international perspective in business experience and knowledge, you will interact with a larger number of international students and develop a truly international network.

European business schools are becoming more international in their structure – Nottingham  University Business School is a good case in point; now it also has campuses in Malaysia and Singapore.  Students can start their studies in one location and finish in a different, more exotic environment!

Business School Culture
Choosing the right business school is not only about the academic programme and unrivalled facilities, it’s also about your personality and where you will feel most comfortable and can shine.  Here too, there is an important difference between the USA and European schools – it is said that top American business schools produce a highly competitive ‘Type A’ personality environment, filled with similar supercharged people, many of whom aspire to become entrepreneurs in specific fields.  By contrast, European schools attract a broader mix of personality types and it is speculated that they produce a larger number of graduates who move into consultancy careers.

Gaining a place in either a USA or European business school is equally challenging and competitive, so make sure you choose one that fits your personality as well as your academic and career ambitions.

Teaching Styles
Look into the different approaches to teaching. European schools devote much more time to classroom teaching, which is a plus if your personal learning style lends itself to more frequent tutoring.  American schools give students more ‘free time’ to pursue areas that interest them. Also, check how assignments must be presented and be clear about the schools’ grading policy (who grades, can grades be challenged, are grades confidential or shared with others, such as recruiters?) – these will differ by country and school. European schools have more international standards such as GAAP (general accepted accounting principles), whereas American schools have their own GAAP.  Though, in reality, the content of both are similar.

Alumni and Milkrounds
Finally, compare the differences between the USA and European models beyond the MBA programme itself.  Both models have strong alumni organisations and recruitment support but many argue that the American model is unrivalled.  American schools have large, very well-funded alumni organisations, and their milk rounds and recruitment assistance are broader and deeper than in European schools. Because American schools are bigger and operate in a much larger economy, every blue-chip company goes to their favourite schools to seek out talent and provide big financial incentives to recruit the candidates they want.

You may also be interested in reading interviews with the winners of the SMF MBA Scholarship.

[photo: Subin]


Winning ways – preparing for your SMF scholarship interview

Interview Candidate

Over 300 engineers have succeeded in winning an SMF scholarship to study for an MBA at a world-class business school. You could be about to join this group of talented individuals who, once qualified, forge outstanding careers in major companies or develop their own thriving enterprises, thus helping our economy.

We asked SMFs and candidates currently studying for their MBA to think back on their application and assessment experience and share their thoughts and tips on making a strong case for a scholarship. Here they tell us what things to consider and how to impress the panel while being true to yourself.

There is bound to be something here to inspire your application, so do dip into to this valuable source of advice throughout your application process – good luck!

Are you really ready?

  • Ensure you have completed your professional engineering registration and are close to reaching Chartered status.
  • Be very clear about why you want to go to business school, and how you see it accelerating your career. Ideally, you should have a 3-year and 10-year plan.

Don’t be shy – sell your capabilities and achievements

  • Make sure your application tells a story about you, about the capabilities you think are important and about the way you have demonstrated them to colleagues. Learn how to tell that story using illustrations of successes and failures in words and for your presentation.
  • When filling in the online form, think about the various skills and qualities you are being asked to demonstrate, and also show how you expect these will be supplemented by your MBA. Don’t limit yourself to your professional experience – extracurricular activity is useful too, particularly if it demonstrates leadership potential.

A winning application form

  • Don’t waste space in your application on unnecessary filler words. Every sentence should, if possible, say something meaningful and interesting about you and demand a follow-up question. Don’t forget, it’s not just work and career that is your ammunition to enrich the picture. Your leadership, communication and innovation skills will be evident in many other areas of your experience.
  • Demonstrate your professional achievements as well as your contribution to the broader society. Include details of extracurricular activities such as charity work, competitions, committee work, training workshops for students and professionals, working for professional institutions and writing research papers. Detail these activities, their impacts and any awards received.

Engage your audience

  • Consider your presentation opportunity very carefully. It’s your unique chance to dictate what the selection panel hear and see. It’s your best opportunity to sell yourself. Think about your preparation as well as technical and commercial content.
  • In your presentation know that your message is not what you did or how you did it but why you did it and how you impacted people around you.  A historical or technical review means nothing if you can’t integrate it with what you are trying to say about you. Remember, technology is only a very small component of engineering leadership. People are by far the largest factor.
  • Don’t just present to the panel. Engage them in drawing out the questions you want them to ask. Your Q&A session should never be regarded as a passive exercise.

Winning interview – the devil’s in the detail

  • Your interview will fly by so make the most of it.
  • Be prepared to talk about your achievements when you were 7 years old! You can be asked questions about your very early life and travel experiences – things that may not feature on your CV. Also, be prepared to discuss technical details of your projects as well as your leadership experience.
  • The interview panel is looking for colour around what you’ve put in your application and get an understanding of you and what you’re hoping to get from your MBA.
  • As the panel may be interviewing candidates back-to-back, they may not have remembered all the detail in your application, so it’s up to you to cover all the areas you want to highlight.
  • Don’t be afraid to use your time at the end of the interview to mention one or two aspects of your candidacy if you haven’t been able to discuss them during the main part of the interview.

Let your personality shine

  • Be natural and genuine during the interview. The interviewers are your future SMF colleagues and are looking for individuals that bring richness and diversity to the Fellowship.

Good luck with your panel interview!


Key questions when you’re getting ready for an MBA

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If you’re looking to advance to a senior management role either in your current career path or an alternative one, a Masters in Business Administration (MBA) from an internationally renowned business school is an invaluable qualification to attain.

The MBA provides a sound background in key business areas that help aspiring managers and business leaders take on new challenges, including setting up their own enterprises. MBA candidates gain an understanding and appreciation of the science of management, HR and organisational behaviour, entrepreneurship, leadership, strategy, international business, economics, accounting, finance, operations management, marketing and project management.

Full-time students will also usually undertake a placement within a business where they will be responsible for managing a real project.
As with most things worth having, it is not a course of action to be taken lightly – don’t underestimate the commitment required to complete the MBA successfully. MBA courses at the leading institutions are rigorous and the shorter the course the more taxing it is likely to be.

Here are some key things to think about as part of your planning and preparation.

  • What are your goals and aims in undertaking the MBA? Do you have a short and medium term career plan? How does the MBA fit into this plan?
  • Is it a logical stepping stone towards your goals? Conduct thorough research to find the type of MBA programme that best matches your career goals, lifestyle and financial status.
  • Are you and your family aware of the impact your study time will have on your family life? For example, you may be studying abroad; possibly away from your family.
  • Studying part-time and combining this with a job will help with finances but you need to take into account between 15-20 hours study per week, in addition to your preparatory work and participating in study groups. You need to be very organised and driven to succeed.
  • Can you commit for the period of time required? Most full-time MBA courses run for anything between 10 months and two years; part-time students can expect to do course work for at least five years over weekends and evenings. Some MBAs can be tailored to specific roles and business sectors and this may determine the length of the study time.
  • If you’re thinking about enrolling in a fulltime course, how will you finance your study as well as your normal household expenses while studying? Increasingly employers are willing to fund or part-fund the cost of MBA study because they are looking to promote from within the organisation and keen to develop talent and harness new skills. Support ranges from paying for course materials to full funding. Even if your organisation does not promote support for MBA study, it is worth speaking with your line manager and/or HR department to see if the organisation will consider sponsoring you.
  • If your employer is willing to sponsor your study, will this support be tied to a guarantee that you will return to the company after gaining your MBA? If so, how does this fit into your career master plan?
  • If you are self-funding your study, look into scholarship opportunities, as well as loans. Traditionally MBAs have been funded through loans. Banks have been willing to lend to post-graduates in the knowledge that once the MBA has been attained there would be a substantial increase in expected salary.
  • Also, look into financial support from the business schools you are considering – some provide lending schemes to help with costs.

If you are a young engineer looking to develop your management knowledge and skills and considering an MBA, please look at the rest of the SMF Scholarship sections of this website applications for a £30,000 scholarship are considered on an ongoing basis, with up to ten awards made each year.

You may also be interested in reading interviews with the winners of the SMF MBA Scholarship.

Are you Ready for an MBA?

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The MBA qualification is designed to develop strategic thinking and empower you to reach career goals required for a role in senior management.

If you are in full time employment, or ready to leave university you may want to consider the opportunities that acquiring an MBA may offer you and the career doors that it will open.

Here are the top ten signals that may indicate that you are ready to dedicate the next one or two years of your life and studying for an MBA:

  • You already have some experience in real world business, have a reasonable idea about business practice and want to take this experience to the next level.
  • You are in a middle management position and feel that you have the ambition and drive to progress through your existing company.
  • You are a university student who is dead set on going straight into business school and have a compelling reason for getting an MBA before gaining work experience.
  • If you are looking for a complete career change, an MBA provides you with the skills set to do this and make you more attractive to a wider range of potential employers.
  • In certain industries very few people hired straight from university gain promotion to advanced positions, for example, in the banking or consultancy sectors. An MBA is necessary in most firms in these sectors.
  • If you are planning to become an entrepreneur running a business, an MBA will give you the business and marketing exposure and grounding needed to maximise the potential growth of your company.
  • You are planning on expanding a business idea and become an employer and need to know effective ways to manage a team and human resources guidelines and regulations.
  • Although an MBA is not essential for a leadership role, if you aspire to leadership, it is a valuable set of skills to have at your disposal.
  • If you are struggling to communicate with people in a more senior role than yourself, an MBA will give you the business language you need to converse more effectively and to influence others.
  • If your current employer wants you to become a more resourceful and better qualified employee and is willing to invest both time and money into furthering your skills set.

If so, how does this fit into your career master plan?
If you are self-funding your study, look into scholarship opportunities, as well as loans. Traditionally MBAs have been funded through loans. Banks have been willing to lend to post-graduates in the knowledge that once the MBA has been attained there would be a substantial increase in expected salary.
Also, look into financial support from the business schools you are considering – some provide lending schemes to help with costs.

An MBA is a very useful qualification to have under your belt whether you’re in engineering, finance technology, consultancy, the sciences or an entrepreneur with great business ideas to pitch to potential investors. Furthermore, the contacts you meet during your MBA study will often become useful allies in the future.

You may also be interested in reading interviews with the winners of the SMF MBA Scholarship.