Let's face the reality! The times are rough right now, and the hiring mood is not very upbeat. For students across professional streams, these times can be really confusing. Even for professionals looking to pursue MBA, the big question is: 'Should I or shouldn't I?'
Too often, we question whether it's the right time to pursue an MBA by considering job prospects and economic opportunities. However, a volatile economy in rough times is perhaps the best time to study macro-economics, strategy, change management, mergers and acquisitions (M&A), and other core MBA courses. While external instability in the financial markets and global economic uncertainty make us uneasy and insecure, they also turn the world into a great classroom laboratory, and give genuine meaning to problem-based readings. In the end, these patterns are cyclical, or at least repetitive, to some extent.
There is no 'market timing' for pursuing an MBA degree. Given applicants' personal situation and goals, they need to determine for themselves 'which type of MBA programme' is best suited to their needs rather than 'when to do MBA.' However, while pursuing MBA, the students have to keep in mind some considerations such as where they currently are in terms of their career, what their goals are in getting an MBA, etc. Dipak Jain, Dean of the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, and a visiting professor at the Indian School of Business (ISB), Hyderabad, says, 'The right time to do an MBA is when you are mentally prepared to start the journey. External market conditions need to be factored into your decision, but they should not be the driving decision. Conditions come and go, but the MBA degree will continue to be of enduring value. We believe that intellectual curiosity and learning should be your guide in the journey ahead.' 1
The best time to sharpen your skills is 'now.' Upgrade your skill-sets and make yourself more relevant and attractive to the job market. MBA should not merely be done to kill time. While looking to do an MBA, the intention of the aspirant should mainly be to increase his/her skills and to get ready to explore other career options. You have to develop a serious attitude towards the MBA degree to derive anything out of it.
It is important to set your expectations from MBA education in the right place. You should remain confident that the MBA programme will definitely provide a net value-addition to your profile, and make you more attractive to employers in the next two years. The MBA is a very comprehensive programme that exposes students to diverse aspects of management such as general management, marketing, human resources, leadership, entrepreneurship, corporate strategy, finance, etc. MBA education focuses on creating a structure for unstructured business problems.
Acquiring additional skills will enable your return to a better salary and job-designation level than you were at before the slowdown. Management education acts as a balance between theory (i.e. academic rigour) and practice (i.e. business relevance). MBA students are exposed to the state-of-the-art research and innovative practices by engaging them in experiential learning through real-world projects with global corporations. Such comprehensive training will only enhance the chances of students in achieving their desired career goals and opportunities ' regardless of economic conditions globally. Given the growing demand for efficient managers around the world, an MBA is an education as well as a qualification. Remember that the recession is not permanent, and whenever the situation improves, your newly acquired skills will become a trump card for you in the job market. For instance, those who are in sales could pursue an MBA in finance and strategy, and thus become employable for bigger and challenging roles in the future.
Therefore, an MBA degree is very important for anyone, and more so, for entrepreneurs, because it helps them in acquiring both analytical and people skills that they can apply to future ventures.
In case, you are a student whose offer letter was recalled due to the slowdown, you could still go for an MBA. Since it will be difficult to get job-experience before the MBA, one could look at pursuing a part-time job in an industry of choice, while pursuing a part-time MBA. There are many good B-schools that offer part-time executive courses and other MBA courses. You can choose the one that suits you the best.
If you are already employed, it may be a good idea to convince your employer to sponsor you for an MBA. If you are a valuable resource, and the organization wants to retain you, they will help you develop yourself. This way, you would not have to dent your financial pocket to go for the MBA. Otherwise, you can always avail educational loans that are readily available, and would need to be repaid only after you have secured a job.
If you are convinced you want to work in a particular sector, then a specialist degree would be the best way to guarantee that. But, if you are not sure, then an MBA gives you the opportunity to explore your options. There is still a strong demand for MBA graduates because of the increasingly complex business problems faced today by managers across the world.
There are different reasons for getting an MBA. An MBA prepares you for life, equips you with the necessary managerial skills, gives you the credibility and global alumni network that is invaluable, whether you choose to work for someone or establish your own business. The research surveys done in the past show that even those MBAs who graduate in very difficult years eventually get very good jobs. Substantiating this view, Della Bradshaw, Business Education Editor of Financial Times, says, 'The class that graduated in 2002, for example, often ended up taking jobs on graduation that paid lower salaries than the jobs they had quit before doing the programme. But three years after graduation ' when we surveyed them for our rankings ' they were earning salaries comparable to those reported by their peers in previous years.' 2
Due to globalization, the demand for talent has increased significantly. The MBA is becoming more and more relevant in an ever-changing global market. Irrespective of economic conditions, the market is always looking for top talent. Even during the economic downturn in the wake of September 11, 2001, more than 90 percent of MBA graduates found a job. Therefore, students should focus on learning both in the classroom and through collaborative teamwork. This will help them in developing critical and relevant business and leadership skills that will set them apart, and make them valuable for corporations seeking talent.
Banks and financial institutions still seem to be interviewing MBA graduates for financial positions and for internships. Following the 2001 recession, many of the banks and consultancies understood that not bringing any new blood into the organization piled up problems for the future. This year, there seems to be a far wider range of financial institutions looking for MBAs ' it is no longer just the investment banks.
An MBA degree is definitely growing in relevance in today's world, and employers would look for more MBA graduates to cater to the increasing need for higher-level skill-set in performing highly complex businesses today. An MBA degree enables you to encounter new opportunities otherwise beyond your reach (i.e. working overseas, catapulting your career, etc.). Increasing number of people are pursuing higher studies today. Thus, to stay competitive in the job market, it is almost 'necessary' to get an MBA.
Emphasizing the need to get an MBA degree, Dipak Jain, says, 'The MBA degree is relevant now more than ever. Globalization today is almost like a force of gravity, and it's essential that managers are equipped with the right tools and foundations of managerial skills to lead in an ever-changing and challenging business environment.'3 Professor Richard Painter, the Dean of the business school at Staffordshire University (UK), agrees: "In an economic slowdown, applicants need an edge over their competitors. So the slowdown, in a sense, increases the importance of a significant postgraduate qualification in business." 4
MBA education is an investment for a career spanning more than 30 years. It is important to secure an education that is of the highest quality in a world-class school. The benefits of such an education would easily compensate for the cost. With the MBA, you will be adequately armed, and your chances will improve amidst the strong competition that you would face in the job market. Also, the knowledge that you acquire during the course will help you become a better professional in terms of crisis-handling, decision-taking, problem-solving, creative-thinking, and in overcoming many other business challenges that form part of the MBA curriculum. Thus, your chances of succeeding in your career would also increase manifold.