TALENT: When to Get an MBA


Roberta BrookeIt’s Fall! We see some of our friends and colleagues heading back to school for an MBA, and we wonder:

How do I know when the time is right for me to consider enrolling in an MBA program?

I asked five smart women for their best advice.

Elissa Sangster, Executive Director of Forte Foundation, providing women with the tools and resources to achieve a successful career in business:

“Most students consider a full-time MBA program two to eight years post undergraduate. For part-time programs and executive programs, the timeline is usually more extended.

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That said, the ‘right time’ is different for each individual. Making your decision requires a bit of soul-searching and perhaps a quick analysis of motivation. Ask yourself these questions:

  1. Do my career goals/ambitions require additional business skills that will allow me to make a broader impact?
  2. Have I recently discovered an interesting career path for which I need extra knowledge and training in order to be successful?
  3. Am I technically proficient but lack the management skills to advance in my current career path? Or do I have technical skills that I would like to translate into a management career?

If you answer ‘yes’ to any of these questions, then an MBA is worth exploring. As you explore, visit Forte’s Pre-MBA blog.”

Roberta A. Brooke, MBA Program Director, Eastern Washington University:

“First let me share my own experience. After a divorce I felt compelled to re-enter the workforce. My daughter was about to head off to college and I needed to be financially supportive. I was at a point in my life where I needed a makeover!  I was 42 years old and had recently returned to the work force after staying home to raise my daughter for eight years. A wise friend said to me, ‘If you really want to get connected in this town, you’ll go back to school.’ And she was right. I found a graduate program that fit me and launched me into a new career.

During the application process, we ask our students: ‘Why do you want an MBA?’ Here are some of their reasons:

  • It’s time to enhance their competitiveness: they need the master’s degree in order qualify for certain positions
  • Many want to combine their current field of expertise (e.g. pharmacy, engineering, music) with business skills in order to manage an operation in their field
  • Some hope to compensate for an absence of work experience
  • Others want to start their own business and are seeking the skills to do so
  • For some it is time to remake themselves: they are pursuing the degree for their own personal growth and satisfaction”

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Nicki Gilmour, CEO, Evolved People Media LLC (including TheGlassHammer.com):

“As a committed lifelong learner, I wanted to develop and build upon my expertise. That’s how I knew it was time to go back to school.

I had been informally consulting to clients around gender issues, and I wanted to have a formal toolkit to do this work and launch a separate business dedicated to looking at systemic bias. TheGlassHammer.com is all about motivating and empowering women in the trenches, but I wanted a separate vehicle to empower companies. That is how Evolved Employer was born.

I chose to do an executive masters program in Organizational Development and Change Leadership at Teachers College, Columbia University. I chose this degree rather than an MBA for several reasons. First, I had already gone through two undergraduate business degrees, and I didn’t see a need to do more accounting and managerial economics classes. Second, I have no dreams of becoming a banker, where the MBA offers its advantage.

The Teachers College executive program appealed to me because it offered courses such as leadership and diversity that were exactly tangible for me in my current work. The format–a cohort of executives who participated in eight day residentials four times a year–suited me. I knew enough to know that, in my busy life as a CEO, this immersive style would engage me more than reading a book or attending a lecture on a Tuesday.

I realized that I could help my consulting clients only so far without this type of additional training. “You only know what you know,” and this program has given me a whole new viewpoint on how organizational life works. And as it turns out, the program was life-changing.”

Dorie Clark, author, “A Campaign Strategy for Your Career,” Harvard Business Review

“First, ask yourself: Will a graduate degree be degree mandatory? If it’s not a requirement [for your career path], then ask yourself: Can the skills I need be acquired in another way, such as reading on my own or taking isolated classes? If you’re going to a top-notch, prominent school, go for it. You’ll get incredible connections in addition to your skills. But if you’re going to a school with a less stellar alumni network, you may actually be better off saving your money and strategically getting the skills on your own.”

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Gail Romero, CEO, MBA Women International:

“Getting an MBA is really about where you are in your life as well as your career.

I often suggest to people that they pull out a big sheet of paper–you know, butcher paper or post-it sheets. Start by inviting your family to an ‘advisory council family meeting.’ Make sure to have plenty of treats that appeal to your new  council. Remember, this is just as much about them as it is you. They will have to make sacrifices. Your parents will see less of you. If you have children, your parents may be called upon to back-stop you during finals weeks or when a paper is due. Your partner may be asked to take on more–or all–of the household duties. Children may see less of you and have to carpool to events and games. Time is no longer your own.

At the family meeting, draw a line down the center of the paper. Write “pro” on one side and “con” on the other. Start asking opinions (and voice your own) as you list all the things that will change. For example–weekends will never be the same for two years, and dinner hour may be quick meals and everyone doing homework together.

If you can balance both work and life, if you’re willing to learn and engage, if you have the support of your own network–then you may be ready.”

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