By David Falzani MBE, President EIBF
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.
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.