Category Archives: MBA Tips

When to do your MBA?

By David Falzani MBE, President EIBFProfessional engineer

An MBA is a highly regarded and sought-after qualification for employers around the world. Not only can it leave you standing head and shoulders above your peers, it can transform the opportunities that open up to you as you progress in your career.  One of the questions we are asked by prospective MBA candidates is when to take an MBA. Is there an ideal time? Will I get more out of my MBA depending on when I take it?  The optimal time depends on several factors, but more often than not the answer is a resounding yes.

First, you need to consider your personal circumstances and what stage of life you are at.  Do you have the flexibility to take time out to study? Will your finances hold up? Second, you need to consider your career and how you will really benefit from an MBA. Those with several years’ experience in a business or specialised role such as an accountant, technician or scientist, will have a lot to gain from an MBA. Those with very little experience may still benefit from an MBA – but without the ability to contrast what they are learning with knowledge and experience gleaned from work experience – they will not be getting the most out of it. Or certainly not the same benefits as students who have been in the workplace.

In other words, timing is important.  Let’s take a look at the three MBA categories people can choose depending on their life stage: The Executive MBA, Full-time MBA and MBA straight from university.

The Executive MBA
The Executive MBA is a popular route because it enables you to gain the qualification whilst working, so there is no dramatic change to your personal lifestyle. The Executive MBA allows you to study part-time while actively engaged in employment. It’s very much an educational experience which requires you to link your learning to your ongoing work projects and vice versa. For that reason, it’s essential to take the MBA while you are employed in a role that allows you to make those linkages and reap the benefits.

In order to make the most of an MBA you need to be in a role that will give you the latitude to develop and apply what you are learning. If in doubt, explore each business school’s entry requirements as these will help you to determine whether or not you have the right level of experience and are working in an industry sector/role that will ensure you benefit from studying with the school. A good business school doesn’t just want your fees; they want you to thrive and succeed and therefore help build their brand.

An Executive MBA is a great route for someone who is employed in a role that will allow them to maximise the content of the course, develop/grow and add further value to their company. The Executive MBA is often the number one choice for people looking to balance learning with earning.

Full-time MBA
This is the MBA sweet spot and the most popular route to earning the qualification – candidates usually have between two to six years’ professional work experience.  Typically, full time MBA candidates are in their mid to late twenties.  Business schools are particularly interested in this group for two main reasons.  First, this group has professional experience which they can draw upon and link to the course, and then use it in the classroom to benefit themselves and their classmates. Being collaborative and using your previous experience in the classroom is essential – non-participation is not an option.   Previous experience is crucial to maximise the benefits of a full time MBA. If your work experience is the touch paper on a grill, the MBA is the match that ignites it and really gets things cooking. One without the other generally does not work.

Picture a young graduate with no work experience tackling an MBA. They’ll be able to read, absorb and learn, but without being able to apply those ‘learnings’ to practical experience of work, it’s all theoretical for them. It’s worth bearing in mind that around 25% of what you learn in an MBA is through discussion and collaboration with peers. If a student doesn’t have work experience to bring to the table, he or she may find it hard to relate to some of the concepts that will inevitably emerge, as well as hard to contribute to peer discussions.

Second, business schools are interested in candidates with this level of work experience because they are not so locked into their careers that they cannot make dramatic changes in their thinking and future careers.  Although it’s not a hard and fast rule, by the time people reach their early to mid thirties, they are often very invested in their existing careers, and may have young families and financial commitments such as a mortgage.  Although an MBA is a catalyst for growth and change, helping students to build even more stellar careers, these personal and financial factors make the decision to step out of a secure job and into an expensive and demanding full-time MBA too high risk for people who have been working longer than six years.

So, there is a peak time to take a full-time MBA. That peak may vary slightly from person to person, but you need to demonstrate that you have not only drive and ambition but relevant industry experience and are still able to evolve your career; that you are ready to explore new opportunities that will open up.

From university graduation to business school
This is a bit of a wildcard but it’s worth including because, although it’s rare, it does happen. There are business schools that will take a graduate straight from university, without any or little work experience.  Usually, these candidates have already proven themselves to be academic high-fliers who will benefit from the insights that only an MBA can offer and allow them to go even further in their careers. Furthermore, these students (like all MBA candidates) will meet a diverse group of people and these connections may be useful when entering the workforce.

So, is there a good time to do an MBA?
In order to get the most out of your MBA there most certainly is a good time to apply, but that time will vary from person to person depending on their circumstances and life stage.  You should choose to take on an MBA at a time in your life when you are confident that it will enhance your career opportunities. It’s a huge commitment that requires an investment of time, money and effort and you want to make absolutely sure that it’s going to have a tangible and positive impact on your career prospects.

How to Apply for the Sainsbury Management Fellows MBA Scholarship

If you are a professional engineer considering an MBA as one of the stepping-stones towards a business leadership career, visit our MBA scholarship application page, you could become one of our successful awardees –the individual scholarship is £50,000 and we award ten of these every year.

Mastering the MBA Admissions Essay

Wharton MBA Candidate Nic Renard

By Nic Renard, (CEng MEng Hons, Imperial College London), The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania

For some people, an MBA is something that was always going to be a part of their career – a rung in the ladder that they would plan for years in advance.  My journey was a little different. I’ve always loved being an engineer, but after working for eight plus years in the same company I felt the need to make a change. Society needs to evolve, and I want to play a part in driving that evolution. To achieve that, I knew I would need to develop my entrepreneurial skills, deepen my understanding of digital technologies and equip myself with the business know-how to kickstart the next chapter of my career.  That’s when I decided to apply for an MBA.  Having gone through the application process, I thought I would share my experience of tackling the MBA admissions essay as this may help aspiring applicants.

Being true to yourself
“The MBA admissions essay is important for lots of reasons, but ultimately, it’s about getting to know the candidates and their motivations for wanting to do an MBA. It’s very easy to fall into the trap of writing what you think the admissions team wants to hear – if you catch yourself doing that, take a step back and do some more thinking.

“First, it’s very difficult to persuade somebody that you’re something you’re not, and sooner or later you’ll get caught (probably during the interview). The admissions team is very thorough, and reviews thousands of applications each year, so are adept at spotting lack of authenticity; people that present themselves in a way they think will please the admissions team. Second, the essays are a fantastic opportunity for you to reflect on your career journey and your next steps.  Approach the essay as a ‘thinking tool’ – use it to dig deep and reflect on what you have achieved so far and where you want to go next in your career. If you don’t figure out where you want the MBA to take you, you’ll end up trying to recruit for consulting, banking and big tech all at the same time!

“For me, the admissions essay was a chance to sharpen my career plan. It also helped me focus my time and attention on the right activities at Wharton. When you start at your chosen school, you will find so many opportunities at your feet that you will need a clearly defined set of goals to choose the right ones and make the most of your time at b-school. 

Putting pen to paper
“The admissions essay will force you to think seriously about yourself and your career. I found it an interesting exercise, and I learned a few things about myself that might otherwise have slipped under the radar. For weeks, I discussed what I was going to write with my wife, parents and friends, and this helped me to cut through the noise and get to the heart of what I wanted to say. I did find the actual writing of the essays and staying within the word limit a challenge, but it was made immeasurably easier by first figuring out my story and what I wanted to say.

“Coming from an engineering background there were very few people in my network that had gone through the MBA applications process to whom I could go for advice. At the time I was concerned about this, but it was a blessing in disguise as it forced me to focus entirely on what I wanted to say rather than what the admissions team might want to hear. By all means look to others for advice before putting pen to paper, but make sure your essay is yours and yours alone. 

Structuring your essays
“Essays traditionally have a set layout with an introduction, body and conclusion.  This is important, but the format your MBA admissions essays take will largely depend on your chosen topic and your individual story. There is no fixed format or ‘top ten things that need to be included in your essay’.

“That said, the admissions team will be looking for certain traits in your essay. They will want to see examples of leadership, particularly in extra-curricular environments. They will also want to see evidence of proactive contributions in team settings, as well as any industry skills you may have picked up on that might not be explicitly referenced on your resume. Different programmes will have different criteria by which they assess your application, so this will impact the layout and weighting of topics.

“Take care how you express your accomplishments. You need to balance a fine line between singing your own praises and conveying the uniqueness of your application. Be wary of superlative language or anything that feels boastful but do bear in mind that it is a competitive application and the admissions team does want to hear about your accomplishments in the right way.

Making it relevant
“One of the most important aspects of writing an MBA admissions essay is tailoring it to each business school you are applying to. Different schools have different requirements, preferences and weightings, and programmes can vary widely too. Some schools might be looking for academics, others might be more interested in entrepreneurs, some might want natural leaders or industry professionals etc.

“It’s also a good idea to get a sense of where each school’s programme is trying to go, for example, is it trying to develop a new type of major? Does it want to improve its finance rankings? Has it recently opened a new environmental research centre? All of this should be easy to research online and will help you understand what your chosen business schools might be looking for in candidates. Going back to the essay structure, this research could hugely influence the weighting of your essays and how you write them. 

Backing achievements up
“One of the unwritten rules for admissions essays is back up everything you say with real-world examples. No MBA administrator is going to be impressed with a well-written essay that doesn’t demonstrate the talents and skills you claim to have. For example, instead of writing “I’m a passionate team player who leverages everyone’s skills in every project I undertake,” you should write something along these lines: “While working on project X, I personally sought to bring people from departments Y and Z into the team because their skills in A, B and C complemented mine and enabled us to tackle aspect D of the project and complete it X months early.” I think you will agree that the latter example is a more persuasive way of highlighting a relevant skill.

“On the whole, I think the key to unlocking your MBA future and submitting a brilliant admissions essay is simply figuring out why you want to do an MBA and what you bring to your business school of choice. If you take nothing else away from this article, this alone should be enough to set you up for success.”

How to Apply for the Sainsbury Management Fellows MBA Scholarship

If you are a professional engineer considering an MBA as one of the stepping-stones towards a business leadership career, visit our MBA scholarship application page, you could become one of our successful awardees –the individual scholarship is £50,000 and we award ten of these every year.

How to tackle the MBA Admissions Essay

By Víctor Manzanares Bonilla, (MEng Polytechnic University of Madrid [UPM]), IESE Business School

“For those aiming to start a successful career in business, there is no better springboard than the MBA. Since its inception at the Harvard Business School more than a century ago, it’s become an incredibly prestigious qualification, sought after by many employers in the world of business. The MBA provides a unique opportunity for flexible, intensive learning that alters thinking and challenges perspectives across a number of key areas. Put simply, if you’re looking for a transformational experience, a change in your career or to take a few steps up the ladder to get noticed in the world of business, an MBA is for you.

“Through a combination of hard work and good fortune, I was humbled to receive a scholarship from SMF to pursue an MBA with the IESE Business School. As a civil engineer, finance and business have never been my strong suit, so I’m very much looking forward to filling these knowledge gaps and complete my profile as I think about progressing my career.  However, gaining an MBA placement is about more than scholarships. The MBA admissions essay is a key part of the on-boarding process, and for many institutions will make or break your application. Having been through this process and tackled the MBA admissions essay myself, I thought it might be good to share some thoughts with aspiring MBA candidates.

Honing your message
“First, it’s important to understand that almost everybody applying for an MBA will have a stellar CV and a solid GMAT score, so these aren’t necessarily things that are going to set you apart.  Make the assumption that every other applicant is as qualified as you are – if not more so – so you’re going to need to look beyond academia and professional career to make an impression. For the MBA Admissions Committee, this is their first ‘handshake’ with you. They’re going to be interested in what makes you who you are, how you’ve progressed in your career and what your ambitions are for the future. What are you hoping to learn? How will an MBA further your goals? What motivates and drives you?

“These are all great questions to think about and require some time for self-reflection. I’d also recommend thinking not only about what the course can do for you, but what you can do for it. What can you bring to the table? How will you be an asset to the particular school you’re applying to?

“The admissions essay is a great time to open up and reveal a little more about your thoughts, values and aspirations beyond the academic grades.

Setting aside the time
“Quite often, the admissions essay will in fact be admissions essays, if you’re applying to more than one school or course. I had to write four essays for IESE, and before starting each, I’d spend at least one day ruminating about what I wanted to say.  I’d think about the title of the essay and how it aligned with my experience and career objectives.  I’d check the business school’s website again to remind myself of their mission and values, and how I might be able to contribute.  An entire day may seem like a long-time to plan a short essay, but if you put in the hours, you’ll find the writing process that much easier.

“That said, I think you also need to know when to call it quits. Having two or three drafts is fine, but if you constantly tweak and modify your final draft into something you think the committee wants to hear (as opposed to what you actually want to say), you run the risk of sounding very generic and impersonal. Remember, the committee wants to get to know you – not a version of you.

Structuring your essay
“Structuring your essay is something very personal, but I would say that all good essays have an introduction, a main body and a conclusion.  However, with something like an admissions essay there’s a little more to think about. First, you need to make sure your introduction is very short and to the point. It should consist of one or two sentences that directly relate to the title of the essay. If your essay title is a question, the first sentence or two should answer it as concisely as possible. As for the body, this is where you show your ‘working out’.  Expand on the introduction, drawing on your past experiences and your own personal values and judgements to support the essay’s core message. Your conclusion should be as concise as the introduction – a quick summary of the main message and the thinking behind it.

“If you’re struggling to get started, do what I did.  Sit down with a blank piece of paper and write down what you want to convey in very simple bullet points.  Then assign relevant milestones and achievements in your life to those bullet points. This will give you a neat structure with a unique personal angle.

Keeping things relevant and in context
“It’s very tempting to fall into the trap of simply listing achievements and qualifications throughout your essay to make up the word count.  Remember, the committee already has your CV and knows how capable you are. This isn’t the time to prove what you can do, it’s the time to prove who you are.

“While this might sound contrary, you should also avoid making the essay all about you. Yes, the committee wants to get to know you, but they also want to gain a deeper understanding of what kind of student you’d be and how you’d fit into their school.  So, talk about yourself, but do so in context.  Each time you mention one of your experiences, traits or values, think about how that might resonate with the school or course you’re applying for.

Answering the ‘big question’
“One of the questions that makes us all secretly want to run to the hills is, “Why do you want to study an MBA?”  It’s a very reasonable question, but it’s intimidating because it’s so vague and there are so many wonderful answers you could give.  While there isn’t necessarily a wrong answer to this question, there are right ways to go about answering it. You should start by talking a little about your career and experience and what led you to discovering the MBA as a qualification. Talk about your deepest motivations and why an MBA in particular appealed to you.

“The key here is context – you need to demonstrate how your own personal experiences and world view led you – as an individual – to consider an MBA. However, do remember that you’re not just applying for an MBA. You’re applying for an MBA at a particular school, and you should include your school of choice in your thinking. Don’t just talk about why you want to study an MBA; talk about why you want to study an MBA at your chosen business school.

“At its heart, the MBA admissions essay is an exercise in self-reflection. If you take the time to uncover your true motivations and articulate them in a concise, relevant and meaningful way, you’ll easily make the shortlist for your chosen school.”

How to Apply for the Sainsbury Management Fellows MBA Scholarship

If you are a professional engineer considering an MBA as one of the stepping-stones towards a business leadership career, visit our MBA scholarship application page, you could become one of our successful awardees –the individual scholarship is £50,000 and we award ten of these every year.

Why Do Companies Prefer MBA Graduates?

In a business landscape that is becoming ever more complex and difficult to navigate, a company’s ability to hire assets is important. Although candidates with business degrees are becoming more and more common, the need for experience and specific training at a higher level is becoming very desirable.

If you are looking to climb the ladder, or indeed to become an integral asset within your given sector, then you might be considering the idea of an MBA. As you may know, the MBA is no small undertaking; it requires time, funding and energy. So, here’s the question; is it worth it?

Arguably, the answer is yes. Having MBA written next to your name on your CV is a huge advantage. That is not to say that having this qualification makes you a shoo-in, as companies are also more and more interested in the type of person you are; your attitude, ethics and personality. Having said that, to succeed in the quest for an MBA qualification, dedication and resilience are required.

Let’s look at what employers like about MBA graduates, what you stand to learn by undertaking one, and which desirable specialities you may want to develop.

Critical Thinking and Creative Problem Solving
The advantage of being a ‘box-fresh’ graduate of any high-level qualification is how up to date their references are, and a fresh perspective on the issues surrounding their industry or subject. Two of the key skills taught by most MBAs are both critical and strategic thinking. Throughout your training, you will have come up against various simulated scenarios, some common and some rare, ensuring that your ability to think in this way is limber and informed.

This is also true with the skill of creative problem-solving. Fresh MBA graduates are drilled in solving new and uncommon problems and are extremely aware of what is going on in their industry right now. When you have been in a business with a certain focus for some time, it can be difficult to see how to deal with issues that are far removed from the original remit of said business.

Financial Training
The MBA will equip you with a comprehensive knowledge of the intricacies of the financial sector; how it works, how to operate within it and how it relates to the wider business community. This is essential knowledge. In order to take calculated risks, an excellent understanding of finance is not only desired but required. It is an essential component of a business’ success.

Leadership and Communication Skills
Leadership and decision-making skills come naturally to some, but to be truly effective in leadership, training and refinement is required. Mid-level leadership is hard to be good at; it takes balance, patience and respect for a company’s values. This is also something that MBA graduates are great at. Even if leadership is not a specific focused skill in their training, the very nature of group projects, partners and general teamwork requires one to better their leadership and communication skills.

We live in a world where marketing is more important and more complex than ever. The market is getting ever more crowded, the platforms we market on are growing and branching off, and marketing techniques are becoming more specific. Having a solid foundation in modern marketing is essential, and something that you are guaranteed to gain by gaining an MBA degree.

Collaboration is tricky. In order to collaborate effectively, you need to be able to hold on to and believe in your own values, but also be able to compromise for the good of the collective cause. It requires a lack of ego, equal respect for others and a light touch. Again, an MBA, by its very nature, fosters this skill naturally. Collaboration is a skill that is often underrated or forgotten, but one that is vital to the smooth running of a business and to make wise decisions.

Organisational Behaviours
You’d be surprised how hard it is to find employees with excellent organisational skills. This is perhaps down to the preconception that organisational nous is something you either do or do not have. However, this is not so, it can absolutely be taught; it is a skill that can be acquired and nurtured. An MBA fosters essential skills such as this to optimise both the quality and the efficiency of your work. This is another thing that employers find extremely attractive.

The MBA is as valuable for equipping you with technical skills and knowledge as it is for helping the individual become a good team player. The skills and behaviours covered above are just a handful of the assets acquired through the study of an MBA.

Gaining an MBA is worth the considerable financial investment because it opens new career opportunities, boosts your employability, significantly increases earning capacity and allows you to develop an international network of contacts that you can call on for years to come. As well as your management skills being a draw for global employers and exciting start-ups, employers will also be impressed by candidates’ ability to build and maintain influential networks.

If you are a professional ing engineer seeking a scholarship to assist with your MBA study, visit the applications page.

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?

292070 from Stock Exchange for MBA USA v Europe Article
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]


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.