Anyone can find themselves confronted by the “What next?” question, even MBA students, who are widely regarded as possessing prudence and foresight. Of course, you need not go into panic mode. Keeping calm and analysing the situation carefully is always the best strategy in uncertain times, as you have probably already learned.
Bright prospects for MBA graduates
Let’s take a look at the statistics first. In its forward-looking Corporate Recruiters Survey, GMAC, the organisation that administers the GMAT exam, announced that employer demand for recent MBA grads has reached its highest level since 2010. The survey, conducted in February and March 2016, also found that 88% of corporate recruiters who work directly with participating graduate business schools said they plan to hire recent MBA graduates in 2016, compared with 80% of companies that actually hired MBAs in 2015.
As you see, there is no need to worry about finding a job in the current MBA market, and you probably aren't losing sleep over that. Each case is individual, though. You may be concerned not about your future employment but about your vocation -- you may still lack that feeling that you want to dedicate yourself to a particular job or to fulfil a particular role in life. If this is your case, you should start thinking about a plan now. You may be a little late with that, but there is still hope.
The importance of having a plan
It may sound a bit harsh, but not having a plan is not typical for MBA graduates. Studying for an MBA is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and students usually know in advance what they want to do after their MBA graduation. The decision to pursue an MBA is usually made after careful consideration and on the back of several years’ work experience. Most MBA students have a clear idea of how they want to shape their career. Obtaining an MBA degree and then wondering what to do with it is not really a very wise strategy.
In addition, admissions committees are usually looking for candidates who are fully aware of what they want to achieve in life. Admissions officers want to see a clear, thought-out career strategy based on solid self-understanding. They want to know why you decided to pursue an MBA degree and what the goals are that you want to achieve.
Ideally, the selection of your MBA programme should be coordinated with the professional path you want to follow. Only when you have a clear career goal in mind can you select the right MBA programmes. Then you will know which factors can boost your career and how to check whether an MBA provides what you need. This strategy will help you read between the lines of B-school marketing presentations and uncover the facts and stats that will help you rate the value of each programme on your own scale.
Keep your feet on the ground
Being realistic is important for newly-minted MBA grads. Adam Heyler, an MBA graduate who operated the TheBlueCollarMBA channel on YouTube, says that the degree can help you by giving credibility to your CV and expanding your network. It even teaches you how to manage your time. However, the MBA degree won't automatically make your richer, neither will it make up for lack of work experience. It won’t magically make it so that you have to put less effort into making your dreams a reality or turn you into a successful entrepreneur overnight.
MBAs offer no guarantees. The degree won’t hide certain flaws like being bossy or unimaginative. An MBA may help you get an interview, but beyond that it’s up to you.
MBA graduates value their degree highly but most of them don’t immediately start earning as much as they expected to, according to research cited by Investopedia.
It’s vital to keep your feet grounded in reality and realise that grabbing the degree does not instantly make you an astute businessperson or an inspiring leader.
Some MBA graduates fall into the trap of believing that they will get a promotion simply because they have the degree. Art Petty, a coach, speaker and workshop presenter, believes that degree-driven promotions are rare. He says that:
In the case where they occur, it’s usually more due to a good on-going professional development plan than anything prompted out of response to your graduation.
The truth is that your graduation is just the beginning of the process of learning to lead and learning how to create value for your stakeholders. You have to drive your success by building on the skills, knowledge and network from your MBA studies.
Meanwhile, apply yourself. Christophe Coutat, founder of education services provider Advent Group, says:
MBA students have to be the active agents in their career development. During your MBA studies, take all opportunities to diversify your profile: elective courses, study abroad, immerse yourselves in new cultures and business environments.
Make the most of MBA Career Services
In addition to being realistic, you are also well advised to check out the career service of your school. Business schools are increasingly aware that career satisfaction is what matters in the long run for their alumni. So, many have developed accommodating MBA career services. Iliana Bobova, PrepAdviser’s Head of Admissions Consulting and a career counselor, says:
If you feel that you will need professional guidance to implement your post MBA career plan, particularly if you are changing your country or industry, explore the career services to identify the most relevant to your needs.
At some schools you can get personal coaching to identify what you can be really good at and discover or fine-tune your own leadership style; you can work with career counselors specialised in different sectors of industry who are in constant contact with recruiters and discuss not just the current needs, but the skills and profiles that will be needed in each industry in the future.
Continue your education
Continuing your education is also an option. MBA programs focus on general management and prepare professionals to operate businesses. However, if you feel you want to gain expertise in a particular field, you could consider pursuing a Master’s degree in Finance or Taxation or take professional certifications such as the ACCA or CFA. It is more common for people to first opt for a Master’s and then for an MBA, but the reverse process is actually also possible. In yet another possibility, you can gain work experience for a couple of years and then enrol in a PhD programme.
A PhD is a valuable asset in the business world, especially in Europe, according to Karl T. Muth, who has a PhD from the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE). A great number of executives in Europe, especially in Germany, hold PhD degrees. Asia is increasingly following in the footsteps of Europe in this respect.
You have a lot of options but, whatever you choose, you have to understand that the hard work and the learning process continues after your MBA graduation. Promotions and job opportunities won’t start raining on you just because you have an MBA degree. Prepare to work hard for what you want because professionals who drive their own success are the reason for MBA graduates' prospects being this bright.