Every business that craves conspicuous success must try to set itself apart from the competition. Similarly, anyone determined to ascend the career ladder should always give thought to the accumulation of a few USPs. I’m regularly asked does an MBA aid the latter cause. And it’s not only students who wonder whether this is so. Many people already making their way in the “real world” want to better understand what an MBA involves and whether it might prove worth their while.
My own opinion is that an MBA can make a massive difference. It can serve as a stepping-stone for progressing in your chosen sector or for branching out into another. It can offer multiple opportunities and provide an outstanding grounding in many areas of business.
But whether it achieves any of these things is very much down to the individual. An MBA will prove genuinely useful only if you have the correct mindset and a sense of purpose before you even commence the journey.
Establish what you actually want
Let’s assume that you expect an MBA to have a positive influence on your career trajectory. This inevitably gives rise to a crucial question: exactly how would you like your career trajectory to develop?
It’s not enough simply to say: “I want my career trajectory to go up.” You need some idea of your objectives. A roadmap for where you might like to be in a few years’ time and how you might get there.
This doesn’t mean plotting everything in painstaking detail. Life is full of unforeseen twists and turns, as we’ve all seen of late. You don’t have to be religious to recognise the truth in the aphorism “Man plans, God laughs”.
What it does mean, though, is that you can’t rely on an MBA to miraculously propel you towards a glorious triumph that you haven’t even started to consider in earnest. If you want an MBA to serve as a springboard for your goals then you should at least have a realistic and fundamental notion of what those goals are.
Make the most of diversity
Another reason why this kind of framing is vital is that an MBA programme offers a potentially daunting array of modules. The overwhelming likelihood is that you won’t know which way to turn if you treat the exercise as a blank canvas.
Diversity also abounds in the student body. MBA programmes usually attract extremely talented people from around the world. You’ll encounter a remarkable miscellany of backgrounds, perspectives and aspirations.
This, too, requires a form of discipline, because it can be all too easy to regard your surroundings as a networking paradise. Resist the temptation. What’s far more important is to appreciate how all these people can enrich your learning experience.
Why? Because they encourage diversity of thought. Business schools are routinely described as melting pots, but they’re really mosaics: rather than seeking homogeneity, they take disparate elements and create a beautifully challenging whole.
Choose well and prepare for change
Different business schools have different teaching styles and cultures. Smaller schools can be inclusive, cohesive, close-knit communities and might also offer unique specialisations. Larger schools are likely to provide more electives, more customisation and more intellectual demands.
This means that different schools produce different sorts of managers and entrepreneurs. Remember that how you fit into a specific programme or environment is likely to have an enormous impact on the outcome of your MBA.
So, too, is your choice as to which type of MBA – part-time, full-time or executive – is best for you. It’s only when you begin analysing the respective pros and cons that you realise that huge commitment is obligatory and that an MBA isn’t merely a career-changer: it’s a life-changer.
Always bear that last thought in mind, because embarking on an MBA programme will almost certainly be one of the most significant decisions you’ll ever make. Moreover, if you treat the task with the care and respect that it merits, it should also turn out to be one of the most beneficial.
David Falzani MBE is an Honorary Professor at Nottingham University Business School’s Haydn Green Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship and president of the Sainsbury Management Fellowship.