Many of my colleagues and friends from college are now in graduate school, either completing an MBA, both full time and part time, or mixing things up with law degrees or marketing masters'. Leaving a job in this economy may seem insane. However, I'm about to join the student ranks, having been recently accepted to the University of Toronto Rotman School MBA program. I chose that school primarily for its innovative program that emphasizes integrative thinking, and I'll be starting in the fall.
The pinnacle of professional business education is one degree: the almighty MBA (notwithstanding some innovative technology or marketing master's degrees growing in popularity). Nevermind that the MBA curriculum is generally designed for the nonbusiness-trained crossover; it is still the highest professional degree and thus the key to opening the best doors (strategy consulting, investment banking, private equity), certain sought after firms and "fast tracked" careers.
In the past, the MBA has been a sort of get out of
jail career free card. In talking to current students, it's clear that it's now more difficult to make the case for a career switch, what with increased competition for positions (employers will generally opt for the lower-risk candidate with similar skills). However, a move to an area generally only available to MBAs—such as strategy from a general consulting area—seems like a reasonable target, and that's what I'm after.
Three or four years out (I will be right at the three-and-a-half mark) for the consultant is a good time to head to school B-school. Some employers expect or require it, as is the case for Deloitte's business analysts. Some may even cover the cost ... that is, if you go back to that company for a set time period (if you change your mind, or if the grass looks greener someplace else, you can always pay them back). Less than three years of experience in the field and I'd anticipate trouble with recruiting placement. An MBA with no job experience is like a pilot license without flight hours. That said, students with an entrepreneurial background may be just fine.
I have always found academics too disconnected to practice and professionals too disconnected from ideas. As you get deep into an area of expertise, you're all about the details and what actually exists, after having heard about all the things that should exist. It's a frustration that's hard to alleviate. I think that professional growth would benefit greatly from a closer fusion of theory and practice, and heading back to school is a nice way to reignite that passion for ideas. I'm especially excited to learn about fresh new theories like Design Thinking, outlined in a recently published book from my new B-school dean. As you can see, I'm already gunning for that extra credit!
--Taylor O'Neal is a supply chain consultant for a major consulting firm. He graduated from Miami University School of Business in 2005 and Indiana University's Kelley Masters of Information Systems program in 2006.
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