3 Questions to Ask When Considering an MBA for a Career Change

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Tuesday, December 13, 2016
By Barbara Coward
When considering an MBA for a career change, it’s important to ask the right questions to inform a decision that will affect your career and your quality of life.

Some investments we make in life are more consequential than others. The decision to further our education, like buying a home or car, isn't made on a whim. There's significant cost involved from both a time and financial perspective, and the investment isn't immediately reversible like a pair of designer shoes that can be returned to the retailer. As a result, it's not surprising that perspective students begin considering graduate management education, on average, two years before applying to a program.

There's a lot to consider, and it's important to ask the right questions to inform a decision that will affect your career and, by extension, your quality of life for many years to come.

Here are three essential questions to ask yourself when considering an MBA for a career change.

1. Where are you now in your career?

Assess your current professional well-being. How do you feel when you go into work in the morning? How do you feel as the weekend approaches? If your main objective throughout the work week is to get to the weekend, then something isn't right. Job satisfaction is a critical factor for life satisfaction and wellbeing, according to research from Manchester Business School. The findings reference a recent study suggesting that the most important determinants of job satisfaction are whether an employee finds their job interesting, has good relationships with their managers and colleagues, has a high income, is allowed to work independently, and has clearly defined career advancement opportunities.

The fact that we spend over 90,000 hours at work over our lifetime plays no small factor. Our time spent at work accounts for most of our waking hours. If you are feeling bored, disengaged, or unmotivated, it's time for a change. Research says you are not alone. The majority (50.8 percent) of employees in the U.S. are not engaged in their jobs, according to Gallup. Life is too short to simply endure each day. You have the power to determine your destiny, and an MBA can greatly amplify that power.

Asked and Answered: One MBA alumnus tells the story of how he hated his job before the MBA and constantly wondered why his career had stopped progressing. He credits his MBA for providing him with the one missing skill that turned around his career.

2. What is the best way to make a change?

There are numerous options that can help you facilitate a career change. In our rising culture of impatience, we seek instant results. We often opt for the quickest way to achieve change, such as blasting resumes on job boards. However, the question you need to ask yourself is, what is the best way to achieve your goals? Be careful not to set yourself back further in the long run. For example, if you feel stagnated in your current position and are looking to assume more responsibility, you might seek a new role with an incremental increase in stature. However, a graduate degree, such as an MBA, can help you make a larger leap and bring you even closer to your long-term goal.

Also, research by GMAC shows that the most common circumstance that triggers the journey to business school is when a prospective student initiates a job search and realizes he or she lacks the knowledge, skills, or abilities to be competitive for the desired job. Instead of acting impulsively, which often leads to further frustration, take some time to think about where you want to go and what you need to do to get there.

Asked and Answered: A marketing professional, unsatisfied in her first career as an event planner, decided to pursue an MBA to accumulate the skills, contacts, and experiences she needed to transition into the technology industry.

3. What is your dream?

Many years ago, a career coach in London gave me terrific advice. She told me to take a piece of paper and write down this question: "What is my dream?" It provided an anchor to help me visualize what I needed to do to achieve my goals. You may not be unhappy in your job, but you may not feel like your "true" self. Think about your values. Think about what energizes you. Is your current role meeting your needs? Is it enriching your life with meaning? Often, there is more you can do to reach your full potential.

That can mean having a tangible impact in the world to improve the lives of others. One of the biggest misconceptions about the MBA is that it is just for your own gain. However, the people who make the most of an MBA are those who are outward-focused. The skills you develop in business school can have a profound impact on others, from innovating in new products and services to creating jobs to solving some of society's biggest problems. The more you want to effect change, whether your radius is 50 miles in your own city, or 5,000 miles on the other side of the world, the more you need strategic thinking and strong leadership skills. An MBA provides the tool kit to tackle even the most complex humanitarian crisis of our time.

Asked and Answered: Carolyn Miles, an MBA graduate of the University of Virginia Darden School of Business, is president and CEO of Save the Children, where she has been improving the lives of Syrian refugees.

For those of us who lead extremely busy lives, trying to juggle work and personal commitments, these questions can seem all-consuming. Yet MBA students report that the application process was one of the most personally revealing and rewarding time of their life. You learn a lot about yourself through deep reflection, and insightful questions lead to illuminating answers that ultimately place you on a more fulfilling path.

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Barbara Coward
Founder, Enrollment Strategies
The views expressed by contributors to AACSB Insights do not represent an official position of AACSB, unless clearly stated.
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