As the euphoria of graduation subsides, MBA graduates’ attention often turns to making a significant career move
Completing your MBA is a major achievement and a career milestone worthy of wholehearted celebration. At the culmination of years of hard work involving much juggling of competing commitments, many graduates have high expectations of the ensuing career benefits. As the euphoria of graduation subsides, MBA graduates' attention often turns to making a significant career move.
If an employer has contributed to course fees there can be contractual or ethical considerations which mean that at least in the shorter term any career move must be internal. Self-funded graduates might enjoy a far broader range of options. Some people especially those with significant career experience behind them undertake an MBA with the expectation that it will enable them to move to another business sector or even embark on a whole new career.
Whatever the scope for your next move when your energy for change is high and you feel eager to realise the full potential of this huge investment in professional development the likelihood of a successful outcome will be boosted when you pay attention to three critical aspects of being an MBA graduate ready for a bigger role:
- The language you use;
- How you translate theory into practice; and
- Where your interest is focused.
Watch your language
MBA programs are replete with the jargon of their component subjects. You have likely emerged from your MBA with a clear understanding of what a ‘value proposition' is when human resources management is ‘operational' and when it is ‘strategic' and what exactly ‘strategic alignment' is. That organisations need a ‘mission statement' that ‘knowledge' is able to be ‘managed' and that it makes sense to seek employees' ‘commitment' all seem obvious.
There is nothing wrong with jargon. Every profession has its own and part of the value of your investment in business school is that you have learned the language of professional management. The challenge back in the workplace however is to use language which makes sense to people who have not attended business school but whose understanding of the meaning behind the jargon is critical to successful business outcomes. This can include people at the most senior levels as well as staff across the organisation. Importantly it can include decision-makers associated with your next role!
The language of business school creeps gradually into students' everyday language. When you are frantically timesharing work study and family it can be easy to overlook eyes rolling at work when you language is littered with the language of academic papers and your assignments!
As an example a newly graduated MBA in a manufacturing company was ultimately grateful to her boss who told her that although he was impressed by her team's new approach to strategic planning the documentation would be much more effective if she used simpler language that would be meaningful to everyone whose commitment to the plan was needed.
Make graduation a prompt to check YOUR language at work!
Evidence theory in practice
By the time they graduate most MBA students have forgotten far more models frameworks and theories than they have remembered. It can be quite troubling to realise that with exams and assignments now behind you so much of the knowledge you sought to gain seems to have evaporated. However what counts at this stage is far less about what you remember from your studies and much more about how you have applied what you learned and the business value that has ensued.
By way of example an employer-sponsored MBA graduate in a middle management role had initially qualified as an accountant so found the finance subjects a breeze. But she knew from the internal performance feedback process at work that an area needing significant improvement on her part was people management. Whilst she had no problem setting targets and measuring progress for reporting to her General Manager a recent culture and climate survey had shown morale in her area to be significantly behind her peers.
With support from her workplace mentor she applied some of the models and theories she had learned in her ‘Change Leadership' and ‘Organisation Dynamics' subjects with impressive results. By all measures morale in her team improved dramatically. The process she had used was later integrated into an organisation-wide Learning and Development Strategy.
Your career advancement potential is far more likely to be strengthened by convincing evidence of the application of selected relevant theory and frameworks than by your attempts to remember the theory itself.
Sharpen your focus
By the time you finish your MBA you will have studied at least twelve subjects and in the case of an honours program several more. As you shift your attention to how to apply what you have learned in a more challenging role it helps to be clear about which aspects of your learning have inspired you the most and which you want to build on further. Whilst each subject might have been interesting and enjoyable from an academic study perspective your task now is be clear about which aspects of your learning will be to the fore as you drive your career forward.
As an example a civil engineer had been promoted to team leader part way through his MBA. Initially he had found the so-called ‘soft' subjects such as human resources management and leadership far more challenging than the ‘hard' subjects like finance and economics. Over time however he became fascinated by the leadership challenges of his current role and gained much personal satisfaction from applying what he was learning about staff involvement and participation. By the time he graduated he was clear that he was prepared to forego technical advancement in favour of shift in career direction that would eventually take him into general management.
Making your current role bigger
When thinking about how to boost your career with an MBA qualification make sure you don't overlook the potential to do more with your current role. Whilst increased pay and greater seniority might be your ultimate aim there is often much to be achieved just by re-examining your current role now through the lens of your MBA experience and implementing improvements or adding new initiatives based on your learning.
For example think about how you can apply what you learned about group dynamics and leadership to better managing your team. Or what you can do with your learning about strategic thinking at your next team planning event. There is often a great deal of scope – you just need to take time to look anew at your areas of responsibility. A good place to start can be to identify your most significant current challenge and then working with a former MBA colleague or two for peer support figure out what out of the vast body of knowledge you have accessed during your studies could help you deal with the challenge.
Colleagues benefit your reputation is enhanced and theoretical knowledge from your MBA becomes integrated into your managerial practice. Being ready for a bigger role doesn't often happen overnight – mostly it develops gradually through the effort of applying what you have learned to practical workplace issues.
Looking for more ideas?
For readers with an interest in extending their reading about the topics covered here the following articles are available on the website:
About the Author
Dr Janet Fitzell is an independent organisational consultant and facilitator specialising in organisational development and team dynamics through her company FourLeaf Consulting Pty Ltd (http://www.fourleaf.com.au/). She facilitates strategic planning and team development undertakes organisational reviews using a collaborative approach coaches individuals and teams and generally helps organisations to build sustainable futures.
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