Tag Archives: Career Development

Should I choose a new career path or return to my employer after my MBA?

The answer to this question very much depends on your MBA starting point.  If you are studying an Executive MBA and it is part of your firm’s career plan for you, then naturally you will be aiming to stay with your employer on graduation, especially if they are financing or sponsoring part of your MBA.  However, professionals who do full-time MBAs have to think about whether to seek a new role or return to their employer after graduation. Often this decision is made at the start of their MBA journey, not the end, although occasionally the answer changes.

Studying for an MBA unquestionably widens a graduate’s business knowledge and worldview which opens new career opportunities.  Typically, MBAs are taken by professionals who have already been working for several years, with many opting to study at a top international business school.  The prestige associated with an institution’s brand adds considerable value to the graduates’ credibility, giving them an additional asset when they are looking for a new position.

Once a full-time MBA course is completed, some graduates may return to their former employer with the new skills they have learnt but it is more likely that graduates will seek very different work experiences.  For most, a change in career direction was the driving force behind studying for an MBA in the first place.  Even if that was not the case,  the MBA is such a transformative experience that graduates come out fundamentally different people and this brings about a shift in thinking about their future career.

After the MBA experience, graduates tend to have different hopes, aspirations and, perhaps most importantly, different expectations about the next part of their lives and careers.  It could be that their previous jobs are no longer compatible with these expectations and that could be as simple as where they work in the world.  Many people study overseas, and a new environment opens their eyes to different opportunities.  Or it could be that the familiarity with their former job or industry sector no longer holds the same fascination as it did before their MBA.

MBAs change the way you think
Why is there such a dramatic change in career aspirations?  One reason is that MBAs expose students to many areas of business in an intensive and immersive way that challenges and stretches their perspectives and thinking.  It gives them tools to go out and explore a diverse range of subjects and to tackle any business challenge.  This, plus the glow of the prestigious international business school brand, creates amazing prospects and earning potential for the graduates.

Another way of looking at it is that the MBA experience rewires students’ brains, giving them improved capabilities such as thinking far more critically than before, quickly structuring and analysing information, filtering out what is important from the irrelevant. These new capabilities enable graduates to read, assess and plan rapidly so they can find innovative solutions to big problems.

Returning to a former employer is of course a valid choice. However, you need to first consider whether the job you want is available at your former employer – can you achieve the leap forward that you desire?  Second, will your former employer have a full appreciation of just how much you have changed and be able to meet your current aspirations and expectations?  A former manager may not understand the way you think and your needs today unless of course, they have undergone a similar MBA experience.

The ‘market’ drives MBAs into new roles
Business schools offer extensive career development and recruitment services, and all this is at the feet of the graduates.  There are so many new and exciting avenues for them to consider and this is stiff competition compared with their previous employer.  Their old sectors and jobs may no longer have the same allure.

There is a strong, efficient market for MBA talent, so going back to the company you left goes against the market mechanism. For example, major international firms engage proactively with business schools to ensure they attract the talent they need for their businesses to keep growing.  The market is a ‘matching mechanism’ between MBA individuals with certain traits and skills and employers that need them.

After a one to two-year transformative MBA experience, not using the market mechanism to find the very best opportunity would be a great shame, especially as you may never get the chance again.  Tapping into the huge, liquid job market to secure a role that you find truly fulfilling and exciting is a very important step.  Of course, it could be that your last employer can offer that, and if so, returning to your old firm is an obvious choice.

Our own experience shows that most MBA graduates move to pastures new.   Based on the experiences of 375 Sainsbury Management Fellows, who have all received a generous scholarship to help finance their MBA, the vast majority of them have chosen very different career paths after they graduated – most have pivoted into different types of job roles, industry sectors and even entrepreneurship.

Returning to a former employer post-MBA is certainly an option if the organisation can offer a position that makes the most of the graduate’s new skills and experience and something worth examining closely before you embark on your MBA.  Alternatively, and this is happening on a large scale, freshly qualified MBA graduates from the top schools use their newly acquired skills to widen their horizons by choosing challenging new careers where they can make a difference within their organisations and in wider society.

About the author: SMF David Falzani MBE is President of Engineers in Business Fellowship and a Professor of Practice in Sustainable Wealth Creation at Nottingham University.

How to Fund My MBA?

MBA Scholarship photo

The decision to embark on an MBA is one of the most important of your career. The experience will sharpen your business skills and will open the door to new and exciting career opportunities in the future, but at what cost?

An MBA is a big investment, with tuition fees varying considerably (depending on the business school’s pedigrees) from £7,500 at the University of Wales Trinity St David to £87,900 at London Business School.  Of course, there are also living expenses to consider as well.

With these costs in mind, most people looking to study for an MBA will be faced with two crucial questions:  ‘How do I fund it?’ and ‘am I willing to take on the risk of doing an MBA given the financial commitments?’

The funding dilemma
This is one of the most important parts of the whole MBA process. The consideration of these questions and then coming up with the answer, ‘Yes, I can find a way’, and ‘Yes I am willing to take the risk’, is all part of the self-development process of getting into a business school and having a successful outcome.

There are risks involved but finding a way around these challenges is an excellent introduction to what you will be doing for the next 20 to 30 years of your career.  People who take on personal debt to do the MBA are indeed taking a big risk.  For example, one never knows what the economic climate and job market will be like at the end of their MBA – COVID being a prime example of how things can change dramatically.  Yet the ability to take on and manage big risks is one of the attributes that top business schools, future employers and indeed Engineers in Business Fellowship, is looking for in candidates.

To cover the cost of an MBA – particularly in the absence of full-time employment, savings or help from family members – it is critical that prospective students thoroughly research the potential sources of funding available.

Research what help is available
The key to resolving the question, ‘can I fund an MBA?’, relies on extensive research.  There are many different options and opportunities, so it is essential to find out which is best for you.  Unearthing this information involves intensive desk research, not a one-hour Google search.  The process could take as much as eight hours of exploration over several days, weeks or even months. 

What can you offer?
Competition is stiff for MBA scholarships so you will need to demonstrate in your application that you have the skills and experience needed to succeed on a demanding MBA programme, that you have clear goals post-graduation and how you intend to contribute to society. 

As part of your research and planning, you should go through a period of introspection and ask yourself the questions that a grant-giving or financial institution will want to know.  The typical questions you could ask yourself are ‘who am I?’ and ‘what do I have to offer?’, ‘What makes me special?’, ‘What traits, attributes and experiences do I have that make me different or stand out?’,  ‘What have I done in the past that makes me special?’,   ‘What will I do in the future that will make a difference in society?’.  In essence, what will impress and convince a grant or loan giving body that you are worthy of the investment?

Some of the main characteristics that universities and funding bodies will be looking out for when assessing scholarship applicants include leadership potential, evidence of entrepreneurship/intrapreneurship, track record of innovation and a proven commitment to a particular sector.

Once you have an idea of what differentiates you from others, you can start thinking about who can help you achieve your potential.  There are many grant-giving bodies, so it is essential to research them all and understand their perspectives.  However, there is no point tracking down these funds unless you can answer the questions about why they should award you a grant (or a loan from a financial institution).  You must match what they are looking for with what makes you stand out.

Choose the right funding or mix of funding
The funding options have different terms, conditions and requirements and they can be quite complex.  Below are a few categories of funding sources; for more information, these articles are a good starting point – Findamasters and Figmat.

Part-time study while working
Part-time study is a relatively common option for MBA degrees.  Many programmes are intended to be completed by practising management professionals and some courses set tasks for students to apply within their workplace.  A part-time MBA could therefore be a great way to study while continuing to earn a salary. The UK Government’s postgraduate loans are available for part-time masters.  The amount you borrow will be divided evenly across the duration of your MBA programme.

Banks
Before the 2008 financial crisis, several banks in Europe and the US offered loans tailored to MBA students.  Following the withdrawal of many banks from the MBA lending market, choice has been limited, particularly for international students.  In the UK, there are few tailored MBA study loans offered by high street banks, leaving higher interest personal loans as the predominant option for bank borrowing (see Figmat).

Employer sponsorship
An MBA could represent an attractive investment for your employer. After all, these programmes are aimed at enhancing the skills of experienced business professionals and developing advanced leadership skills that could prove invaluable in a current employer.  You will need to persuade your employer that sponsoring your MBA would be worthwhile for the company as well as your continuing professional development. Some employers may contribute towards the cost of an MBA, providing that you are willing to commit to returning after graduation. 

Scholarships and bursaries
There are many different scholarships and bursaries aimed at helping talented prospective MBA students get their dream qualifications.  Most universities and business schools run funding schemes to attract the brightest and best applicants from all backgrounds.  According to the Financial Times, 54% of students who graduated from a ranked USA MBA programme in 2010 received some form of financial assistance from their school or an external source.  Among their peers who studied in Europe, 31% received such assistance.

Scholarships are also offered by various organisations and institutions from across the world. For example, Chevening scholarships are offered by the UK Government to help talented international postgraduates study in the UK and our own Sainsbury Management Fellows £50,000 scholarships are available for engineering graduates from the UK, EU, and EEA to study an MBA at 14 of the top international business schools.

It is worth noting that institutions that offer money only have a limited pot each year.  Some of these schemes waive a portion of the fees, while others are cash positive, helping with living expenses as well.  Some schools have specific grants for certain demographics, for example, widening participation schemes.   You will need to know which demographic you fit into, whether you are part of a minority that can gain additional support. So, you need to look at both the macro and micro levels when researching. Remember that it is possible to apply for multiple grants from different institutions.  Some grant authorities may well be inclined to support an applicant because having one grant already shows that their decision to support a candidate is a good one because another body is already investing in that person.

Thankfully, there are many grants, loan schemes, fee waivers and other forms of assistance to help people to fund their MBA. The most important thing is to find what is right for you.  Once you have done your research, look at the big picture, consider how you fit into the offerings by defining your special qualities and then leverage that to come up with what works best for you. Most of all, invest as much time as you possibly can to track down the many sources of funding.  The time may pay off in the end and help you to achieve your ultimate goal.

About the author: SMF David Falzani MBE is President of Engineers in Business Fellowship and a Professor of Practice in Sustainable Wealth Creation at Nottingham University.

 

How an MBA Helped A Nuclear Energy Engineer Become A Business Leader at Google – SMF Samarth Sharma, Head of Partnerships for EMEA App Developers at Google

SMF Samarth Sharma at INSEAD Graduation

SMF Samarth Sharma is pictured far right

Born in Tezpur, a small town in a developing region of northeast India, Samarth experienced a unique multi-cultural childhood. Growing up in the remote region, there was very little to occupy this young boy with big dreams.  When his father, a civil engineer who built bridges for a living, got a posting in Paris and announced the family would be moving there, Samarth – aged eight – had no idea what to expect. Fast forward to today, and Samarth is Head of Partnerships for EMEA App Development at Google, in no small thanks to a Sainsbury Management Fellow MBA scholarship.  

 Samarth reflects on his journey, describing how his interest in engineering started and how the MBA helped him get to where he is today. 

The first spark of interest in engineering
When we moved to Paris, I was eight years old.  I had never seen tall buildings so imagine how I marvelled upon seeing the Eiffel Tower.  Perhaps the biggest change was the abundance of electricity in France and it got me thinking about the differences between the two countries.   When I learned that France used 80% nuclear energy, I became intensely interested in it.  How do you build a nuclear plant?  How is energy produced and stored?  If I could help bring energy to millions of people who, like me, never had reliable access to it, the world would be a better place.  I knew there and then, at that young age, that I wanted to become an engineer. That was the spark.

Building on that interest
I was fortunate in my early education to study the International Baccalaureate. I remember being around 16 years old, working on my diploma.  We had to do a project and a 4,000-word thesis on a topic that interested us.  As part of that project, I built a small wind tunnel because I was intrigued by how aeroplanes fly.  I built the tunnel with a cardboard tube and modelled the wings with straw and foil and set things up to find out at what angle the lift of the wings would occur.

So my passion for engineering started early and stayed with me. There was an Indian Prime Minister – Rajiv Gandhi – who studied at Imperial College London. I thought if I could follow in his footsteps and get there myself, it would allow me to get a good general understanding of engineering and then specialise in a particular field like energy or aeronautics.

Imperial College and the beginnings of a career
I was so fortunate to study at Imperial College.  To this day, I look back on the four years I spent there as some of the best years of my life. I was very studious!  Whilst many of my fellow students were out clubbing on weekends, I spent (most) of my Saturday evenings in the lab and loved every moment! Imperial College is strong in applied engineering, so for me, it was perfect, and it had extensive resources.  In my final year, when I did my masters’ degree in nuclear reactor technology, we even got to work on a mini nuclear reactor!

On graduation, I thought I would go straight into the energy sector, but I took a diversion. I had gone straight into Imperial College from my international school and found that many of my peers at Imperial had taken a gap year and had experiences that stretched them.  That got me thinking about doing a gap year.  With London being a centre of finance, Imperial College was one of the target universities for investment bank recruiting, and they vied for the top graduates.  Deutsche Bank offered me a one-year graduate program, and I thought working at the international bank would be an excellent gap year. Different from the norm, but I would expand my horizons and learn about the world of finance and business.

From bank internship to nuclear energy
Would you believe that I started my internship on the same day that Lehman Brothers failed – what an initiation!  Yet, despite the turbulence in the financial sector at that time, I had a great experience at Deutsche Bank.  It was a blessing in disguise for me because I got to see an entire industry change in front of my eyes.  As part of the graduate program, I was seconded to New York to work on a large US automobile company’s restructuring.  I do not think I have ever learned so much in such a short space of time, aside from my MBA experience.

I learned that how you react to setbacks defines you as a person, particularly things out of your control like global financial crises. I also learned that the world of work is very different to university, where you solve problems in front of a computer.  Work is much more about people management and nurturing relationships.  Another key takeaway was the importance of delivering on promises and being dependable for your team and those around you.

When I began the Deutsche Bank graduate program, I had planned to work in banking for one year, and I stuck to that and left with a range of valuable new skills. Once I finished the graduate programme, I made plans to leave the bank – but where next?  Fortunately for me, at my graduation ceremony, Imperial College had awarded an honorary degree to a highly respected female business leader, Anne Lauvergeon, formerly the CEO of the French nuclear company, Areva.  Through a connection with Anne, I was introduced to Areva, gained an interview and was hired, enabling me to fulfil my dream of working for a world leader in nuclear reactor technology.

Working for a world leader in nuclear energy
My first posting at Areva involved working with one of the project management teams to build a nuclear reactor in China. I spent two years in China working as a Project Engineer on the critical path of a key project, identifying stopgaps with sub-suppliers.  When I came back to Areva in France, I was one of a few people who had a combination of finance and engineering experience, so I was asked to join Areva’s investment team to handle project financing of several projects.  Halfway through my seven years at Areva, I was asked by our UK CEO to build the UK team to work on major UK government projects (Hinkley Point nuclear power station and off-shore wind projects in the North Sea).  I managed negotiations with the British government and EDF, our chief supplier.  I was chief of staff to the UK CEO and helped grow the Areva UK entity from 20 to 200 people.

I reached a crossroad near the end of this project. With eight years of valuable work experience under my belt, I had to decide whether to continue in nuclear energy and build a long-term career at Areva or do something different and push onto the next level.

First encounter with an MBA
My first glimpse into what an MBA could do for me came when I met a friend, Chris Hughes, for a drink on a beautiful summer day in Paris.  He was in the middle of his MBA at INSEAD, and he talked about how transformative the experience had been for him.  He suggested that I do an MBA, but I told him it was out of the question – there is no way I could afford it!  Chris had an answer for that too.  He put me in touch with Cathy Breeze at Engineers in Business Fellowship (EIBF), a charity that helps engineers in their career development. Cathy told me all about the Sainsbury Management Fellows scholarship for professional engineers and the network of graduates who provide ongoing support for members.

I had to go through EIBF’s competitive application process, of course, but the chance of financial support spurred me on. I was invited to an impressive historical building in London for my scholarship application interview, part of which involved a short presentation. I had put a lot of effort into telling my story, my journey from Imperial College London to working on the Hinckley Point nuclear plant, but I was still nervous.  However, once I was in front of the panel, it dawned on me that having reached this stage, EIBF must have seen something persuasive in my written application; all I had to do was convey that passion in person.  I was delighted when they decided that I would be a good custodian of the SMF scholarship.  I chose INSEAD as my preferred business school and gained a place.  Being awarded the scholarship was genuinely life-changing for me. I will be forever grateful to Chris for introducing me to the idea and the charity.

A brief spell in finance
Before starting my MBA, I had the opportunity to work on a project at a leading VC firm in London called Index Ventures.  I had the time and wanted to try something new, and this experience taught me how much I enjoyed being an advisor to entrepreneurs and working in a fast-growing company. The energy sector is very stimulating but has reached a mature growth level (compared to say the technology sector).  It was then I realised that I wanted a very different future career.  I even started thinking about working for a company like Google and decided to spend my time at INSEAD figuring out how to break into Google.

Takeaways from INSEAD and the MBA 
I went into INSEAD with an open mind, ready to absorb whatever knowledge I could.  I wanted to learn more about the world of business, learn from my peers and see just how far I could push my career.  Looking back, Deutsche Bank set me up well on the basics of business; I understood how accounts worked and all the basic tenets of running a business.  The real lightbulb moment came when I realised that business is only really half of what you do on an MBA.  The rest is about your relationships with people, how to manage them and their expectations.  At business school, you are put into hypothetical situations, for example, acting as a CEO. You learn so much from role-playing. For me, learning hard skills was a small tick, whilst learning soft skills was a huge tick!

You also get time during an MBA to figure out who you are in a way that work does not allow. It is all about introspection, teamwork and learning from those around you.  Learning from such a diverse group of people with different backgrounds and different ambitions was a privilege.

One of the things that INSEAD taught me was how to connect with my inner self and find a higher level of patience.  It helped me realise that some things are outside of my control and to be okay with that. You can give your best, but even then, it might not be good enough.  Life will throw challenges at you, and if you keep thinking it is your fault, you will never succeed.  You have to take a step back, accept that there are things that you cannot control, and you have to let go and not take them personally.

INSEAD and the springboard into Google
The access and exposure you get to people from different cultural and professional backgrounds at INSEAD are remarkable.  While there, I worked as a strategy consultant on a so-called ‘moonshot projects’ for Google’s experimental ‘X’ division.  This was my first taste of life at Google, and I loved it.  Following my graduation from INSEAD, I did not take the traditional path of post-MBA careers in consulting or finance like many of my peers.  I knew I wanted a future at Google and was happy to carry on networking to secure an interview there. That interview came a few months later through networking with professionals associated with Google.  I was introduced to the leader of the strategy team for the EMEA business for the SMB (Small and Medium-Sized Businesses) sector at Google.

Since Deutsche Bank, I had a newfound respect for job creation and the volatility of the job market. My passion for helping small and medium-sized businesses scale-up was recognised and I was offered a role as EMEA Strategy & Operations Manager. It was a great fit and I had a fantastic experience.

After leading business planning for the entire EMEA region, I joined our Apps business to become Head of Partnerships for App Developers and manage Google’s third-party partnerships.  We are all spending so much time with apps these days – from gaming and shopping to education and socialising.  Many of those apps benefit from services from third-party players and it is my department’s job to grow successful partnerships with these players to help our customers expand their businesses.

Advice for engineers considering an MBA
Everybody’s circumstances are different but do not let financing an MBA be a limiting factor.  If you decide an MBA is right for you, you should apply for a Sainsbury Management Fellows scholarship.  It is also a good idea to let go of any preconceptions you have about people who do MBAs – they do not all go on to work for the likes of McKinsey or Goldman Sachs.  You will get far more out of an MBA if you keep an open mind and stay true to your ambition.  Another thing I would suggest is always trying to operate slightly outside your comfort zone, but never in your panic zone.  Continuously nudge yourself in new directions as this will help you to thrive.

Lord Sainsbury’s vision of getting more engineers into business organisations through the MBA scholarship scheme is a force for good.  Engineers can bring perspectives to business that other people might not have because engineers have built things their whole lives.  I am grateful to everybody who has helped me on my SMF journey – my family, Chris Hughes, Cathy Breeze, the interview panel that awarded me the scholarship and the SMF network that, to this day, is a valuable resource.

The SMF MBA Scholarship
If you are a professional engineer considering an MBA as a stepping-stone towards a business leadership career, visit our MBA scholarship application page, you could be awarded a £50,000 scholarship.

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.

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.

Specialisation
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.

Use your Personal Brand to Build your Business and Boost your Career

Kathy Ennis Personal Branding Specialist SMALLER

Extract from a presentation delivered at the Sainsbury Management Fellows’ Networking by, Katy Ennis, mentor, trainer and public speaker

An effective, authentic personal brand will help you build a profitable business and boost your career success, but before looking at personal brand I want set the context by looking at the underlying principles of ‘brand’.
What is a brand?
The response that I often get from asking this question is a list of criteria such as logo, strapline, trademark, colour etc. It’s a bit more complicated than that.

At its heart a brand is a collection of thoughts and feelings that customers have about a particular product or service. For example, if you consider your response to two different types of car you may get something like:

Bentley – expensive, stylish, sleek, leather
Hyundai – nippy, cheap, functional

Creating a brand is a step-by-step process that starts with the organisational values and emotional response you want to create; well before images, colours and fonts appear. You can break it down broadly into three sections:

The Brand – at heart this is an emotional response; it is the thoughts and feelings that a customer (or potential customer) has about your products or services.

The Visual Identity – the visual aspects that form the identity of the brand, such as, colours, fonts, shapes, words, symbols. 

The Logo – the simplest form of the brand in that it identifies it via a mark or an icon using the colours, fonts, shapes etc that form the visual identity.

Why is branding important?
There are five main reasons why branding is important:

  1. Recognition: a brand helps customers recognise your product or service
  2. Differentiation: a brand differentiates your product or service from your competitors
  3. Loyalty: a brand helps to build loyalty
  4. Relevance: a brand makes what you have to offer relevant to particular target markets
  5. Focus: a brand enables you to focus your marketing message

Sensation Transference
Back in the 1930s Louis Cheskin, a scientific researcher, clinical psychologist, and marketing innovator embarked on a life-long obsession to understand how customers’ perceptions motivate their purchasing behaviour. Through his research he observed that people’s perceptions of products and services were directly related to the aesthetic details of their design. He named this relationship sensation transference.  He spent most of his life investigating how design elements could significantly impact perceptions of value, appeal and relevance.

Q: What colour is margarine?
A: The answer is often ‘yellow’. The real answer is that it is not. In its natural state margarine is a greyish-white. Cheskin convinced the manufacturers that they would sell more if it looked more like butter.

Do you think he was right?
In his 2005 book, Blink, Malcolm Gladwell considered the work of Cheskin and a number of studies that followed on from his work and in summery Gladwell wrote:

“people give an assessment of something they might buy … without realising it they transfer sensations or impressions that they have about the packaging of the product to the product itself … most of us don’t make a distinction – on an unconscious level – between the package and the product. The product is the package and the product combined”

Blink: the power of thinking without thinking, Malcolm Gladwell, 2005.

Personal Branding
So, where does this leave us in terms of personal branding and its impact on our businesses or our careers?

Well, the first thing to realise is that the process of going through a personal branding exercise is exactly the same as the process for branding a business or a product; you take the three brand elements and apply them to the individual:

Brand – identifying the inner you; your values, your message

Visual Identity – creating the outer you; your ‘look’

Logo – managing the inner and the outer you to determine how you make your mark; build, manage and maintain your reputation

The five elements that make branding important – recognition, differentiation, loyalty, relevance and focus – are summarised in my definition of personal branding:

Personal branding unites your passions, strengths, skills, behaviours, attitudes and core values in a focussed message. It makes you instantly recognisable, differentiates your uniqueness, builds a loyal following and makes you relevant to your target audience.

A personal brand:

  • enables clients or employers to recognise your potential – “does what it says on the tin”
  • differentiates you from your competitors – what makes one engineer better than another?
  • helps build loyalty – client loyalty means they keep coming back (it is far easier to keep a client than it is to find a new one); employer loyalty can influence job security and promotional prospects
  • helps clients and employers understand you and buy into your core values – people buy from (and buy into) people they like
  • makes what you have to offer relevant to your target market
  • enables you to focus your personal marketing message

Summary
Developing a personal brand allows you to understand your core values and create an authentic key message. Your values and your message are then applied consistently across all aspects of your life, your business and your career to enable others to have that ‘emotional response’ and ‘know’ what they are getting when they buy from you or buy into you.

A mentor, trainer and public speaker, Kathy Ennis uses the concepts of engagement marketing and personal branding as a method of business and career development; she firmly believes that it is individual effectiveness that contributes most to the overall success of any organisation. She helps people grow their business; and enhance their networking and communication skills. www.kathyennis.co.uk