You’re here because, very likely, you’re wondering Is an EMBA or Part-time MBA worth my while? and if it is worth your while, How will I leverage an MBA into tangible advancement in my career? I’m going to cover both of those questions in this article. Know that, while general advice applies to the general population, your case is unique. Feel free to reach out for a Free Consultation if you’d like to chat.
Before we get into my take on things, let’s look at some advice that’s typical of what you’ll find online:
EMBA degrees can position you for a promotion, especially for careers in finance, marketing and accounting. And although a well-regarded and rigorous EMBA program will sharpen your skills and look good on your resume, it’s not a guarantee that new doors will open for you. That’s a critically important factor to consider, because an EMBA isn’t cheap and employers reimburse for less than they once did.
If your goal is to switch careers—not just advance in your current career—you might be better off in a full-time MBA program rather than an EMBA program. But if you’ve got several years experience in one career and want to move your career to the next level, an EMBA program is a better choice.
Knowing that an EMBA can position you for a promotion doesn’t really help you figure out if it will in your case…..while suggesting that people who are in their 30’s or 40’s should consider a traditional 2-year MBA makes no sense at all. See my article Too old for a full-time, 2-year MBA?
Oftentimes when people begin seriously considering a part-time MBA or EMBA, it’s because they’ve come to a crossroad in their career. Sometimes they’re looking for something new, other times they’d like a way out. They believe that upon completing an MBA, their career will be effortlessly, almost magically transformed. While that is true in the particular case of people in their mid-20’s who do traditional 2-year MBAs, part-time MBA and EMBA candidates will often, and mistakenly, use inductive reasoning to imagine that the results of the particular case (full-time MBA) hold true for the general case (all MBAs). It’s simply not so.
The most important piece of advice I’d like you to take away from this article is that part-time MBA and EMBA programs offer virtually no practical career support. Just as your current career progression is entirely down to your ability to identify the right roles and successfully promote, market, sell yourself into those positions – your career progression, even with a benefit of three little letters on your resume – MBA, will likewise be entirely your responsibility.
An MBA isn’t going to compensate for the fact that advancing professionally is a sales job. Many people enroll in EMBA/Part-time MBA programs thinking that the school will provide the career guidance, coaching, resume rewriting and mock interview support necessary to effectuate change in their careers.
I am back to work full-time in largely the same role as pre-EMBA — but I am not the same. The program’s biggest fault was that it didn’t totally prepare me for this awkward transition with my employer. I think the degree is a catalyst for professional change, whether originally intended or not. I wish I’d known that earlier.
– Wharton EMBA Alumnus
The problem here isn’t with the EMBA program, it’s with the candidate’s expectations of the program and his failure to take an active role in his own career management.
I recommend that you develop a 5-year career plan and that you not wait until you complete your MBA degree before beginning to leverage it. The moment you’re accepted into a program, you can add the MBA to your resume. Rather than making one big career leap after you finish an MBA, look to make two smaller leaps: one at the beginning of your MBA program and another 2-3 years later.
Priorities & Due Diligence
Let’s begin by touching on your priorities. Is your priority in pursuing an EMBA/Part-time MBA a) personal enrichment with the goal to re-calibrate your outlook (with little or no concern for the cost and time commitment) or b) quantifiable ROI and impact on your career? Most people find themselves in the second category. Sure, they’re interested in the MBA experience but their priority is to translate their career goals into reality. For these people, an EMBA/Part-time MBA is an investment. Because it’s an investment, a preliminary due diligence process is necessary.
Unfortunately, most people gloss over the due diligence process. To me that’s strange, because if these same people were to invest $100k+ in real estate or the stock market, I’m pretty sure they’d take a much more evidence-based approach.
The due diligence process will help you to a) define short-term career goals (what is the next role you’d like to pursue?); b) determine whether you can achieve your short-term goal now – without an MBA; c) determine how much of a material impact an MBA will make on your career; d) develop a 5-year career plan.
Let’s walk through some steps you can take to ensure that you’re making the right decision.
Step 1: Define your short-term goal & pinpoint your next role
Take some time to reflect on where would you like to see yourself 1 year, 3 years and 6+ years from now? Are you looking for a career change or career advancement?
Advancement Scenario: I’d like to continue advancing on my current career path (typically that would mean advancing within your current company or industry).
Change Scenario: I’d like to transition to a new functional role or I’d like to continue on in my functional role but transition to a new industry or do both.
Change is always possible, but, as we transition from being a novice in our early 20’s to a more seasoned professional in our 30’s, career change becomes a little tricky.
A lot of times people get to a point in their lives (often mid-career), when they’re looking to rekindle the enthusiasm they had for their work early on in their career. While it’s pretty easy to just up and totally reinvent yourself in your 20’s, by your 30’s or 40’s things are a bit more complicated. If you’d like to transition from one functional area to another, I’d suggest looking for roles that meet the 60/40 criteria. 60% of the role should leverage on skills or inherent strengths you either have or can convince others of and the other 40% of the role can center on an area you’d like to grow in. By pinpointing roles that meet the 60/40 criteria, you’re bringing something to the bargaining table and also obtaining something. If instead you’d like to transition from one industry to another, I’d suggest looking for a similar functional role to the one you have now.
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Pinpoint Roles: Simply saying, ‘I’m a senior manager and I’d like to be a V.P.’, is too vague. Instead, look for specific opportunities – current job postings online (LinkedIn and Indeed.com) or within your company’s intranet. Be sure to focus on positions you’d be thrilled to have rather than limiting yourself to only those jobs you think you can get. Copy and paste postings into a word document for reference.
Broaden Your Search: Casting a wide net is a good idea. So often, people limit the scope of their job search to functional roles or industries they’re familiar with. This always makes me think of a scenario in which a child is asked what he wants to be when he grows up. Invariably he’ll answer: a policeman, a fireman or a doctor…simply because he’s come into contact with so few professions.
Recently I spoke with someone in private wealth management (PWM) who said he’d either like to find a new career path. He thought he could either leverage on his knowledge of investment vehicles OR go into management consulting. Why? Because, as it turned out, he’d had a positive experience collaborating with outside consultants at his current employer. I suggested he widen his search to include some of the experiences and intrinsic qualities he had (but hadn’t given much thought to).
He had extensive experience in private wealth management which translated into more general skills like: sales and good interpersonal communication. In addition he’d worked as a special assistant to a high-ranking person in his organization and had: managed teams, managed special projects, overseen internal issue management and been in charge of hiring and evaluating employees. In addition he was bilingual in English and Japanese.
I’d suggest creating a table similar to the one you see below.
- Skills & Strengths: skills (e.g. sales) and intrinsic strengths (e.g. strong communication skills)
- Keywords: terms that describe the type of environment you’d like to find yourself in (entrepreneurial, collaborative, fast-paced, international etc.) or what you’d like to do in that environment (strategy, customer relationship management, outreach etc.)
- Limiting Factors: criteria that will help you narrow your results – for example, the role must be in the L.A. area and pay more than $100k
Search examples: ‘sales + strategic’ or ‘project management + collaborative’ or ‘investment vehicle + Japanese + international’
Leverage LinkedIn to find people in similar roles to the one you’d like to transition into. Every LinkedIn profile tells a career trajectory story. You’ll be able to glean insights by examining what others have done. You can even reach out and connect with these people. Ask for 15 minutes of their time to learn more about what they do and how they got to where they’re at. Not everyone will agree to chat with you, but some people will! One tool I’d like to point out is LinkedIn’s premium account called Recruiter Lite. Recruiter Lite provides advanced search functionality that allows you to find people by company, industry, experience level, alma mater etc. It’s about $110/month but LinkedIn offers a free 1-month trial. You can sign up for the trial and immediately cancel your subscription. Your Recruiter Lite access will automatically expire after 30 days.
Shortlist: Consider the roles you’ve found and shortlist those that seem the most appealing to you. Pay particular attention to what is written in the job description. Usually responsibilities towards the beginning of the job description indicate what you’ll spend the majority of your time focused on.
Step 3: Verify that you need an MBA to secure your next role
Now that you’ve got a shortlist of roles in hand you’ll want to verify whether or not you need an MBA to secure your next role. This is a question people often fail to thoroughly explore!
‘I applied for the role at a few places and didn’t hear back. I need an MBA.‘ Generally speaking, when a candidate doesn’t hear back from a recruiter it’s not because their profile is fundamentally lacking in something (like an MBA). Rather, it’s because their resume is not conveying the right stories. These people have a marketing problem that they think an MBA will solve. That’s just not true. When this person graduates from an EMBA program he’ll have two things: a new MBA AND his old marketing problem.
As part of the due diligence process, I’d suggest having your resume rewritten by a professional. After performing your due diligence, you decide to move forward with EMBA/Part-time MBA applications – you’ll need a fresh resume anyway. So you’ll kill two birds with one stone.
With a fresh resume in hand, apply for the role(s) you shortlisted in Step 2. There are a couple of ways to go about this.
- Using a fresh resume, Apply to roles you’d genuinely consider accepting
- Using the A/B Testing Method to send out A) resumes with an MBA and B) resumes without one. If you only get responses to the MBA resume – that supports the hypothesis that an MBA may be a critical next step. If neither resume generates interest you either need a better resume or you need to question whether the roles you’re applying to are too much of a reach at this juncture.
Reach out to executive recruiters and headhunters. Share your resume with them as well as your short-term goals. These professionals will be able to provide you with industry-specific feedback. In addition, make sure your LinkedIn profile is up to date. When recruiters reach out to you, be sure to follow up. Put forward the fact that you’re considering an EMBA/Part-time MBA to get their perspective.
Reach out to HR and decision makers within your current organization. Ask them about the possibility of transitioning to a new role now or in the future. Mention that you’re considering an MBA and find out whether the degree would bolster your candidacy.
Work isn’t just what you get paid to do. You can diversify the professional experience section of your resume by offering to lend a hand (pro bono) to nonprofits and startups. Additionally you can network within your current company and volunteer to work on special projects that you wouldn’t otherwise have a chance to be involved in.
4. Leverage your EMBA or Part-time MBA
If you decide that an MBA is a good option for you, you’ll want to have a 5-year career plan in place before you begin applying to programs. As I mentioned earlier, I recommend that you not wait until you complete your MBA degree before beginning to leverage it. The moment you’re accepted into a program, you can add the MBA to your resume. Rather than making one big career leap after you finish an MBA, look to make two smaller leaps: one at the beginning of your MBA program and another 2-3 years later.
Your 5-year career plan should detail the next two roles you plan to go after (one in the next year and another 2-3 years from now). This plan will help you better direct your networking efforts while at school. In addition, it will help you convey a broad vision for your career to HR people and line managers during interviews. This is extremely important because line managers often form an idea of whether or not a candidate has potential for advancement during preliminary meetings. Voicing your interest/intention to advance along a specific path sets expectations early on.
5. Consider different MBA programs
In my experience, HR people don’t differentiate between EMBA and part-time MBA programs – both appear as ‘MBA’ on your resume and both formats will provide the same amount of professional leverage. Choosing the right format boils down to a) how much exposure a candidate has had to management/high level decision making and b) personal preferences (part-time programs require you to attend class on a weekly basis; EMBA programs usually meet twice monthly).
Not all business schools are viewed equally. Simply asking around or using the A/B testing method to experiment with different business schools on your resume can be useful. People in different industries tend to have different ideas about which business schools are ‘best’. For example, an EMBA from Michigan Ross, MIT Sloan or Cornell Johnson might be a better fit for someone from the IT industry because of the strong engineering departments at these three schools. For someone in banking, schools like Wharton, Kellogg or Booth might be preferable.