ADVICE

Getting an MBA during an economic downturn? Here’s why it’s not a bad idea

SOURCE: Dr Christine Menges
Dr Christine Menges is a career development and mentoring expert.


By Yasmin 

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An economic downturn may leave many quaking in their boots about the stability of their jobs and the ramifications resulting from COVID-19. This begs the question: would now be an opportune time for professionals to pursue an MBA?

If you’re eager to develop a broad overview of management skills that would help you to take on higher management positions, advance your career and future-proof yourself, building your skillset should not take a backseat.

Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity

In preparation for a post-COVID-19 world, you may want to consider using this period to grow your knowledge, skillset and network for opportunities that will crop up once the economy recovers.

Speaking via a Zoom interview from Germany, Dr Christine Menges, MBA Careers Center director at the WHU – Otto Beisheim School of Management, told U2B that it’s essential for professionals to ensure their skills are up-to-date to enhance their employability.

“If you want to do an MBA and advance your career, it’s a good time to do it now because once the crisis is over, companies will be looking for talent that are most usable to them,” she explained.

It may sound counterintuitive to pursue an MBA during a global health crisis – especially at a time when many companies may not be hiring – but the last global recession has shown that some resilient companies have continued to hire despite less than favourable market conditions.

In a similar vein, it may benefit professionals to do the counterintuitive thing to help them be at the forefront once the crisis is over.

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Choosing the right MBA programme 

MBAs at European universities typically run for a year compared to two years in the US.

According to reports, the average tuition for a two-year full-time MBA programme in the US is over US$60,000, but you can expect to shell out over US$100,000 at a top business school in the country. 

In Europe, London Business School’s MBA programme is £87,900 for its 15 to 21-month long course, while the IE International MBA tuition at IE Business School is €72,200 for the 2020-2021 academic year.

Either way, MBAs can be expensive on either continent, while taking time off from work to go back to school also translates to a loss of income.

In such instances, a mini MBA – or a highly concentrated version of an MBA that takes significantly less time to complete – can seem alluring for professionals who feel tied for time and money.

While these are valid concerns, Dr Menges’ advice to prospective MBA students, however, is to pick a programme that gives you the best value for money. 

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Traditional MBA programmes provide students with a deep dive into the subjects of the course, ensuring they develop the knowledge and skills of general management, in addition to serving as a platform for students to connect with their peers and build their network over the duration of their course.

So while you might spend more with a traditional MBA programme, the benefits may outweigh the upfront costs, she said.

Another common question on the minds of many MBA aspirants is if they should pursue a general or specialised MBA. 

A general MBA, however, might be a better option as companies in the future are looking for a “T-shaped” person. 

The vertical bar on the letter T means that they have expertise in a specific function while the horizontal bar represents being able to work and understand the different perspectives of experts from other areas, such as HR or operations. Students who are pursuing an MBA typically already have one speciality, be it in sales, marketing, finance or the like.

“To be flexible and add value to your employer, you need to be able to go from not only focusing on one area, but to also be able to work in different areas,” she explained, adding that general management expertise will give you insights across a range of areas that will be beneficial in the future.

Potential industries MBA graduates should look out for

MBA
The tech industry is becoming a major recruiter of MBA graduates. Source: ANGELA WEISS/AFP

Traditional hires of MBA graduates include consulting and investment banking sectors, but the tide has been turning across business schools around the world, with the tech industry quickly becoming a major recruiter.

Companies like Amazon are big recruiters of WHU Otto Beisheim School of Management’s MBA graduates, and as such, Dr Menges said many of their graduates are moving into the tech and startup scene. 

Based on current trends, Dr Menges believes this will continue into the future.

A World Economic Forum report, Jobs of Tomorrow: Mapping Opportunity in the New Economy, highlighted seven emerging professional clusters, adding that the highest-growth jobs of tomorrow span across all clusters. The seven clusters include Data and AI, Engineering and Cloud Computing, People and Culture, Product Development, Sales, Marketing and Content, Care Economy and Green Economy.

Dr Menges said these are among the industries MBA graduates should watch out for in the future, adding that there will be more jobs appearing then disappearing due to new developments.