Since starting the MBA I’ve been asked by family, friends and colleagues: Why do an MBA?
The whole course cost £15,000. £15,000 I could have invested in my home, paid off debts, holidays, a new car… Generally making life that little bit easier. The majority of students I met were sponsored through work, but there were a few like me who bore the financial pressure personally.
I spent hours bent over a desk, researching journal articles, studying text books and grinding out essays late into the nights. It impacted on my social life and there were times I despaired at the thought of finishing a hard day of work staring at a computer screen just to go home to do more of the same. Rinse and repeat.
Now I’ve completed the MBA and I finally have time to reflect I can ask myself: Why did I decide to do an MBA? What did I want from from an MBA? What did I think the benefits of an MBA would be? Why did I put myself through the financial strain, endless nights of study and self-imposed social alienation that a part-time MBA requires?
Was it worth it?
Did I achieve what I set out to? What has been the return on investment? Was it worth the time and the effort?
- I did, and more. I met my target in under 2 years and continued to develop
- Shortly after starting I received an increase in salary that easily covered the annual cost of the course. Now I’ve finished I’m looking for roles far higher than my earnings when I first started 5 years ago. Not bad for a £15k investment.
- Probably. It was harder than I expected, it did impact on my social life and now it’s over I have more free time than I realised and my stress levels have plummeted.
Why decide to do an MBA? Or anything?
After several attempts to move into management I realised I needed to do something/anything to be more successful. I applied for managerial jobs and did reasonably well, consistently getting to final stage. Feedback was consistent: my subject matter expertise was obvious, but I didn’t have the managerial experience that assured a safe pair of hands, especially in the period of austerity.
One assessor told me I had been her preferred candidate as someone with potential she could manage and develop. Unfortunately, she had been overruled by two more senior managers who wanted more experience and an extensive network of contacts.
I found myself in a conundrum:
How do I gain the experience to demonstrate I can be an effective manager without being a manager? How do I demonstrate I can do the job as well as or better than existing managers?
What did I want to achieve?
I aimed to break this cycle and manage a service of my own particular expertise within a competitive environment. I wanted to lead, shape, mould and deliver what had become my passion. I wasn’t motivated by wealth (you don’t chose to work in the public sector for the pay) and I wasn’t thinking further than managing an operational team.
I needed to demonstrated consistency; that I could manage a team consistently; that I could manage a budget effectively; that I could deliver corporate targets.
What options did I have?
I found mentors and volunteered for projects. Although these raised my profile and demonstrated my skills and abilities they didn’t give me the ‘management’ experience I needed; I just took on too many commitments!
I decided that if I couldn’t demonstrate the necessary experience to be manager, I could get a qualification that said I could.
In work training wasn’t available at the standard I needed. I researched professional development courses, certificates in management, post graduate diplomas and masters.
Why an MBA?
I decided on an MBA almost by mistake. I was signing up for a post graduate diploma in Business Administration (two thirds of the way to an MBA) when I made a split-second decision to sign up to the full MBA. I checked the box marked ‘MBA’ and clicked submit.
I reasoned in the long-term an MBA would develop me further and provide more opportunities. It also looks more prestigious than a Diploma. I didn’t know where my career might lead, so why not maximise opportunities?
The Open University provided distance learning and flexibility to adapt to my lifestyle and financial situation. It emphasised practical application of theory, it’s ranked the 13th best distance learning MBA in the world (Financial Times, 2014), and it was relatively affordable for me at approximately £3,000 per module (at 1 module per year).
What did it achieve?
After the first year I was successful in applying for a deputy manager position, becoming acting-manager 2 months later (no extra pay) in time for the largest project we’d ever undertaken.
With my foot in the door and a little experience under my belt I applied for the job full-time 5 months later. Within 2 years I had achieved what I had set out to do; management.
2 years later I was selected to work directly with the new Chief Executive, using my organisational knowledge and organisational skills to get the ball rolling on a wide-scale transformation programme and various high-level projects.
A year into that I applied for a Director level position. Although unsuccessful, I’m not surprised I didn’t get it. I am surprised I made it through to the final stage.
The MBA has helped at every step, expanding my understanding through applying the various tools and theories at different levels:
Could I have done it a different way?
I’ve asked myself these questions:
- Did the MBA help me get promoted or was it ‘right-place/right-time’?
- Did I already have the skills or did the MBA help me develop new skills?
- Did the MBA propel me higher than peers?
- Could I have invested the fees elsewhere more effectively?
It’s difficult to assess the ‘what ifs’ and predict potential outcomes of different actions.
I know I needed to show I had potential. Perhaps getting my foot in the door on becoming the deputy manager was all I needed to move up.
I probably already had some of the management skills/attributes: leadership, communication, organisation, supportive and diligent, but hadn’t had the opportunity to demonstrate these.
Perhaps I could have invested the fees elsewhere, but I probably wouldn’t have financially benefited as much. My earning increased by more than the cost of the MBA quickly, so it’s definitely funded itself. Would I be earning as much now if I hadn’t? I don’t know, but I doubt it.
And… Was it worth it?
Useful lessons, techniques and tools have helped me understand the business environment and the predict the impact of my decisions, some I’ve written blogs on (Learning how to be successful, the importance of reflective learning and Stakeholder theory in particular).
I’m more confident in my abilities now, as well as comfortable in my weaknesses. My horizons have been expanded to new possibilities and I realise I have more transferable skills than I thought.
I achieved what I set out to do, earn more, have greater prospects and new aspirations.
It has been a financial burden and a source of stress. It has impacted on my social life and relationships. There have been times when I have had to close off the world for weeks and months preparing for exams or completing coursework.
It has impacted on those around me when I’ve become more distant, or have had to endure hours of me prattling on about management theories and concepts. I thank my partner, friends and family for supporting and baring with me, especially when I have been such a pain in the backside. They have been wonderful when I needed it.
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Of course I’m biased, but I once I get those three capital letters after my name on my LinkedIn profile or resume, I think it’ll be worth every penny (unless of course I don’t pass, then I’m going to be an angry bunny).