By Perminus Wainaina
My article last week on reasons why you should not pursue an MBA elicited a lot of response with many of you wanting to know the best or right time to pursue an MBA.
As a recruiter who interacts with employers daily, I’ll share my opinion on the best time to pursue this advanced degree so that you can have a positive return on investment.
First things first, what is an MBA? According to Investopidia.com, a master of business administration (MBA) is a graduate degree achieved at a university or college that provides theoretical and practical training to help graduates gain a better understanding of general business management functions. And these functions range from finance, marketing, HR, strategy and other disciplines.
From the above and pay close attention to the phrase ‘gain a better understanding’, an MBA is important but not necessary. If your job does offers enough exposure that might be enough to take you to the next level. After all, 95% of employers are more interested with your hands on skills than the certificates you have accumulated.
But having said that, you have to consider market forces. If everyone at your level has an MBA then it becomes a standard requirement. Same as most employers will expect those with a B.Com in finance or accounts to have CPA. Employers didn’t take care in the past if you only had CPAs but now that every CV has both the bar keeps rising. It is a fact that multinationals and big corporates in Kenya look at candidates with an MBA favorably.
Does that mean you enroll for an MBA tomorrow? In my opinion the best time to pursue one is
1. After You Have Settled In Your Chosen Career.
If you are among the lucky few chances are that your first job was in your area of training. But if you are in the majority I can bet that you are doing something totally different from your degree/training. Due to high level of unemployment, many Kenyan professionals take time to settle in their careers because circumstances force them to take what’s available. So you have an engineer who is working at a bank or an accountant who is in sales. Some end up loving their job and new career but for many it’s a struggle. If you are in such a situation then you should postpone further studies including pursuing an MBA until a time when you are crystal clear on the direction you want your career to take.
Think where you are hoping to take your career in the future. You don’t have to know exactly which job you want, at exactly which company, but the MBA should be looked at as a means to an end rather than the goal itself. The best way to research your career goals is to ask lots and lots of questions. If you’re not sure where to start, begin by asking friends, family members and colleagues about their career paths. See if something resonates with you. Once you have a career path in mind, find out if the MBA would help get you there. Ideally by the time you are actually applying, you know for sure that you in fact need the degree, and you know what you would like to gain from it.
2. After You’ve Had Enough Experience.
There’s a reason it’s called an MBA. It’s an advanced course. The course is tailored for those who have more than 3 years experience and ideally someone eyeing a supervisory or managerial position. If you are fresh from college I don’t think there’s much value in you pursuing an MBA. You haven’t learnt the intricacies of running a department, being accountable and in most cases a lot of what you do is through instructions.
Oftentimes two or three years of experience can bring much more clarity to the types of jobs or career paths that might be the best fit for you. The MBA offers a fantastic opportunity to target particular areas of development, become a master at the things you’re currently just “pretty good” at, and fill in some of your knowledge gaps. Unless you have some understanding of your professional personality, it can be difficult to figure out just what you want or need from an MBA.
3. After you’re financially stable.
Many professionals in Kenya pursue an MBA due to prestige and the hope that it will make them more competitive in the job market. Unfortunately there’s no guarantee that the 500K to 1.3M you’ll have spent in class will come back in form of a salary increase or you getting a better paying job. You therefore shouldn’t rush to class in order to earn more money. That shouldn’t be the motivating factor. Earning a higher salary has got more to do with your skills and expertise and qualifications especially at post graduate level are an added advantage.
I am therefore not a fan of people taking loans to invest in post graduate studies including MBA’s. In the 90’s and early 2000 when MBA holders were few you were sort of guaranteed a better life if you pursued an MBA but time has changed. MBA is an investment and like any other, strive to make an informed choice before you’re inside both feet. There are many loans and scholarships available to students, but make sure that you are comfortable with the financial sacrifices you would have to make in order to pursue an MBA.
4. Are you academically prepared for the MBA?
Try for a moment to forget about whether your undergraduate grades will get you admitted or not or whether you can afford, and think instead about whether you are actually prepared to handle the rigorous (often quantitative) coursework. You will have a much more successful MBA experience if you target any academic weaknesses prior to submitting your application. Most MBA programs don’t require you to have taken business classes, and many do not have math prerequisites; however, the MBA curriculum moves very quickly. If you struggle with math, consider your decision carefully. If you have never taken accounting before, look into opportunities to learn the basics. Brushing up on a few key areas can be a great way to prepare yourself for school and to assess whether you have what it takes to keep up with the challenging MBA coursework.
Perminus Wainaina is the Managing Partner & Head of Recruitment at Corporate Staffing Services Ltd.