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Ask the man or woman in the Boardroom for their take on why colleagues might choose to do the MBA and the responses you are most likely to hear will include preparation for a career in senior management, the expectation of a short-cut to promotion and a boost in salary (not necessarily in that order). Argument abounds over how easy or otherwise those particular goals are to achieve in today’s increasingly competitive job market, but there’s no doubt that the preoccupation with money, management and moving up can mean that other potential benefits of the course are easily overlooked.
As a career changer looking to switch from the legal profession into a role in mainstream business, I was attracted by the combination of academic learning, practical project work and in the case of Strathclyde, the opportunity to take advantage of a comprehensive Careers and Professional Development programme as I reposition myself for new challenges ahead.
On the academic side, the MBA syllabus offers a series of intensive modules covering the various disciplines involved in making businesses work. Coming from a specialist, vocational background as I do, this taught element allows me to place the experience I already have in a broader business context, as well as covering areas – such as marketing and business finance – where I’ve had little experience to date. Having a good grounding across that range adds value to my existing experience and I feel that building up my personal knowledge base in this way will give me a real competitive advantage as I go on to pursue new opportunities.
The MBA Project follows the academic courses and occupies the final two months of the MBA year. As well as allowing candidates to put theory into practice and work on a real-world consultancy style problem set by local businesses, the Project offers those of us who – like me – are looking to switch sectors, a golden opportunity to market ourselves and our abilities to prospective employers in those new industries.
Less high profile, but nonetheless in my view an absolutely vital component of the MBA package is the Careers and Professional Development programme. At Strathclyde, there are two main elements to this. Firstly, the class as a whole receives six vocational modules timetabled at regular intervals throughout the academic year and covering a range of topics including strategic career planning, personal branding and presentation skills. The second – and perhaps more important aspect – involves access throughout the year to the services of an experienced career coach. The benefit of having that facility available whenever you want it is that it gives each of us the ability to follow our own personal career development path, which we can tailor specifically to fit our own individual circumstances. In a year group of almost fifty students with some eighteen different nationalities and as many industry sectors represented that’s incredibly important.
For me, career coaching so far has been about deconstructing my previous experience and understanding how best to promote the skills and competencies I have to employers in the sectors I’m interested in moving into. Tips on how to maximise the effectiveness of my self-marketing and networking have also been really valuable and I’m looking forward, in due course, to advice on honing my interview technique. Some of that sounds quite basic, however it’s important to remember that the MBA job market is a distinct one, so it’s actually critical to have professional one-on-one guidance on how to negotiate this unfamiliar recruitment environment. It’s really all about making the most of the leverage the qualification can offer.