Archive for the 'Career' Category

Choosing an MBA Program That Best Fits Your Career Aspirations

Two years ago, when I made the decision to earn my MBA, I spent a lot of time debating whether to earn the degree as a full-time student or through a part-time program.  The two options had their pros and cons, and I eventually decided on CSUF Mihaylo’s part-time MBA program.  But prospective MBA’s aren’t limited to just full-time or part-time programs; seasoned business veterans can earn an executive MBA as well.  The right choice for each individual comes down to his or her current career situation and future career goals.  I’ve provided some of the important features of each MBA program in an effort to help prospective MBA students make an educational decision that fits their career goals.

Full-time MBA: Full-time MBA’s require a student’s full commitment to the program, often for two years (a brief description of one-year programs is also provided below).  Most programs require students to stop working and focus completely on their studies.  These programs usually span four semesters, and require students to spend one summer working on an internship.  In the classroom, students focus on their core courses in year one and then specialize and select electives in year two.  Full-time MBA programs tend to accept students from a variety of backgrounds in order to encourage student collaboration and increase their exposure to a variety of life and business experiences.  These numerous backgrounds also help with networking, and when combined with most programs’ extensive career services these features help students obtain post-MBA employment.  And the reason most full-time MBA students earn the degree is to enhance their post-MBA employment.  For some students, their employer will help pay some or most of a student’s tuition.  That financial assistance then requires the graduate to commit to several years of post-MBA employment at the company, but typically after the student is promoted to a higher management role.

Some universities offer full-time one-year MBA programs.  These accelerate programs move extremely fast (students earn a degree in 11-16 months, compared to 20+ months for a full-time program).  Internships are not normally a requirement for this type of MBA program, due to time constraints.  Students pursuing the one-year MBA benefit from the improved opportunity cost of earning the degree quicker (they spend a shorter period of time away from their job not earning an income).

Part-time MBA: The part-time MBA, like the one I’m enrolled in at CSUF, is dramatically different from a full-time MBA.  Part-time programs are structured to fit around work schedules, so students can work and then attend evening classes once or twice a week.  The programs don’t require internships, and career services can be limited to those found in full-time programs.  Part-time programs are most popular with career enhancers who have already developed strong network connections.  For me, CSUF’s part-time program fit within my limited budget and allowed me to continue working while developing my professional skills.  I felt I have developed a strong network through my own efforts, so I was confident in my ability to compensate for the features a part-time MBA may lack when compared to full-time programs.  In my mind, I’m getting what I pay for – an MBA program that is significantly less expensive than a full-time program, but one that offers less extensive features than a full-time program as well.  Therefore, I knew going into the program I’d have to network and job search more on my own; CSUF wasn’t going to get everything squared away for me.  Students need to be aware of these differences before making the decision to earn a part-time MBA.

Executive MBA: These MBA’s are tailored to business executives who want to improve their management skills and move up their company’s career ladder.  Companies often sponsor their executives by paying their tuition, but (just like full-time MBA students) their employers expect several years of service from their MBA investment.  Executive MBA programs require participants to meet on Fridays and Saturdays (usually all day) so employers must provide flexibility and allow for the necessary time off.  Executive MBA programs move extremely fast, and participants often can’t even miss one class period.  Participants have to commit to working extremely hard, as Executive MBA programs require one to balance work and MBA commitments.  Students with families must also weigh the effects on their loved ones, and ensure they fully understand the commitment they’re making to the program and their careers before diving into the MBA.

Prospective MBA students have a variety of degree options available to them that they can tailor to fit their needs.  It is extremely important that students weigh all the pros and cons earning an MBA, because each degree requires a firm commitment to educating and improving oneself.  Relationships and career prospects can suffer if students don’t fully prepare themselves for the challenge of earning an MBA.  However, students that effectively research all their options available and weigh the opportunity costs of each program will likely find the MBA program best suited to help improve their management skills and advance their career goals.

Are you thinking about pursuing an MBA in the future?  Which program do you think best fits your career situation and future goals?  Or do you have questions about CSUF’s part-time MBA program?  Leave your questions or comments in the Comments section below, or tweet me @OrangeCountyMBA.  I’d be happy to answer any questions or concerns you may have about earning a Mihaylo MBA.

Can MBA Programs Teach Entrepreneurs?

Entrepreneurship is a hot buzz word right now.  The idea of working for oneself and creating a successful enterprise from scratch has been a dream of individuals around the world.  In fact, America was founded by frontiersmen and adventurers who embodied the entrepreneurial ideals of creating something out of nothing and building it into a success.  It should be no surprise then that modern-day Americans have brought those same qualities to the business world in the form of successful start-ups and small businesses.

It’s hard to talk about entrepreneurs without thinking of giant tech firms like Google and Facebook.  These companies were once only ideas that their founders grew into gigantic, multinational firms.  But I am more concerned about how entrepreneurship relates to an MBA degree.  Specifically, what are the challenges in teaching entrepreneurship?  What schools have successful conveyed the important start-up lessons to their students?  And how does CSUF’s MBA program stack up with other universities’ when it comes to teaching entrepreneurship?  These questions are important, because students are still going to business schools and earning MBA’s and entrepreneurship is on the rise.  Therefore, it’s worth exploring the challenges is teaching business school students entrepreneurship, and how successful programs have circumvented these challenges.

Managing Start-Ups

The major issue MBA programs face when teaching students about entrepreneurship is the perspective these programs take.  What that means is that an MBA is typically a “corporate” degree.  MBA graduates often aspire to work for Fortune 500 firms, and are taught corresponding lessons like how to calculate weighted average cost of capital (WACC) or develop a marketing plan.  The issues an established multinational corporation must tackle differ greatly from those a start-up faces, and this leads to challenges when trying to teach entrepreneurship to MBA students.

Right of the bat, start-up and established businesses approach success from different perspectives.  New ventures are often more concerned with survival than anything else; established firms worry about their next quarterly earnings report.  These factors require dramatically different skills from leaders from these organizations.  Instead of needing to calculate WACC entrepreneurs must learn how to attract investors and raise start-up capital.  Instead of knowing how to manage employees’ workflow, entrepreneurs often must learn how to constantly pivot their ideas and recalibrate them until they achieve a working product or service.  And instead of developing a new product marketing plan for international customers, entrepreneurs must learn to create buzz around their product and obtain their first few, important customers.  These challenges aren’t always addressed in MBA programs, but some US business schools are doing more than others to help MBA’s become successful entrepreneurs.

The Best Entrepreneurship Program – It’s Not Who You Think

Different schools take different approaches to teaching entrepreneurship.  Some emphasize contests, like Rice University’s annual Business Plan Competition.  Other’s emphasize hands-on experience.  I mentioned in a previous post that Harvard recently revamped its curriculum to emphasize entrepreneurship.  The school went so far as to require students to create a new business and even provided seed funding for the start-ups.

But Forbes recently declared Babson College the reigning king of entrepreneurship programs.  This small school in Massachusetts provides seed funding to students to start their own businesses, requires students to donate any profits they earn to charity, and then forces students to liquidate their firms at the end of each year.  The school wants students to experience entrepreneurship through its entire life-cycle in order for them to gain greater insight into the needs and struggles that go into starting one’s own business.  This program, and others like it that encourage and foster entrepreneurship, have gone a long way towards making some of the school’s graduates extremely successful entrepreneurs.  And the school tried something few business schools do in order to help this program succeed – it split its general business degree from the entrepreneurship degree, so faculty and resources can be devoted to this very different way of thinking about and approaching business.  These steps appear to demonstrate the entrepreneurship and a standard MBA curriculum should be taught using different strategies and techniques.  Perhaps more schools will begin adopting the Babson model in an effort to attract aspiring entrepreneurs.

CSUF and Entrepreneurship

So how does CSUF’s MBA program stack-up with other programs, from an entrepreneurship perspective?  The school offers several entrepreneurship programs, including this year’s first annual business plan contest and its Center for Entrepreneurship.  The course offerings include some entrepreneurship classes as well, including New Venture Leadership and Management which I will be taking this fall.  I was originally concerned CSUF’s entrepreneurship courses would be focused on textbook reading, and I hoped I might get lucky  and the class would involve some case study work.  I feel entrepreneurship learning should be hands-on, and was excited to find out I might get my wish this fall.  The New Venture Leadership and Management course description states the class includes case studies and hands-on work with local businesses.  If this ends up being true, CSUF may have found a way to incorporate some effective entrepreneurship lessons into its MBA program!  I’ll report back later in the fall with my personal opinion on how well the school presents entrepreneurship.

Entrepreneurship will continue to be an important part of MBA programs and the American economy, especially if jobs continue to be scarce and unemployment remains high.  MBA programs may have had difficulty in the past teaching a subject like entrepreneurship, which requires hands-on learning and a different perspective for creating and developing a business.  But several schools have made tremendous strides in developing exciting entrepreneurship programs, and I hope CSUF continues to make progress in order to position itself as a leader in West Coast (or at least Southern California) entrepreneurship.

Step Off the Cliff, Take the MBA Plunge

The background on my laptop currently contains an inspirational image I downloaded from Primer Magazine.  It’s a simple cliff, with messages written at its peak and trough.  The messages read “Comfortable is no way to spend your life.  Learn to enjoy living on the edge.”  And as funny as it may sound, that quote speaks perfectly to my recent situation registering for my fall 2012 MBA classes.

Courtesy of Primer Magazine

I’ve written in previous posts and for CSUF about my decision this summer selecting an MBA degree concentration.  I put thought into the career direction I want to pursue, but when registration rolled around I was still uncertain as to what direction I wanted to move in.  On top of that, after reviewing CSUF’s course options, I found several classes across a variety of disciplines that piqued my interest.  So I decided the best possible concentration for me out of CSUF’s offerings was essentially no concentration at all.  I decided the General MBA concentration would be my best fit.  It would allow me to tailor my degree with courses that interested me, and I’d have the freedom to choose any disciplines I wanted for my electives.

I must admit I’m not always the most adventurous person.  I’m perfectly willing to try new foods or watch a random movie on Netflix, but I tend to be more cautious when it comes to making career decisions.  Therefore, when it came time for me to register for my fall MBA courses this past Tuesday, I hesitated making one my elective selection.  My second course decision was easy – I had one core class remaining, Marketing Management, so I immediately registered for that.  But the other class would be my first of four electives, and I was torn between a safe pick and a more adventurous selection.

The safer pick would have fallen in line with my undergraduate degree which was in finance.  But I’ve started to learn during the years since my graduation that I don’t find finance terribly interesting – I want to pursue something more creative and that involves more interaction with people.  The other fall course that had caught my eye was New Venture Management, and dealt with the management, HR, and organizational issues faced by start-ups and early ventures.  The topics seemed much more interesting than the standard finance topics like capital budgeting, and on top of that the course description said it would require case studies and work with local business (two things I’ve found I really enjoy doing).  On paper, New Venture Management seemed like a shoe-in.  But I still found myself a little hesitant when 6:30 rolled around and it was time for me to register.

Part of my hesitation stemmed from my fear of the unknown.  I had graduated with an undergraduate degree in Finance and managed to find a full-time job during a challenging economic climate.  What if my decision to pursue a different field hindered my ability to find the job I wanted down the road?  What if I ended up making a mistake?  How far back would that set me in my career?  How would I know if I’d made the right choice?  The “what if’s” managed to march through my head throughout the time leading up to 6:30.  Another part of me wanted to be practical, and wanted to stick with Finance because in my mind I felt that was a “safer” career option.  But in reality, how safe was it?  The financial sector had been one of the hardest hit during the recent financial crisis.  And I was paying for this MBA degree myself, so I only had to answer to myself when it came to determining my MBA and career directions.  Plus, I’ve always wanted to start my own business at some point in time; maybe this New Venture Management course would provide some helpful tips.  So I stepped up to the edge of the cliff, moved my laptop mouse over the Register icon, and stepped off the ledge and into the New Venture Management abyss.

Now this all might sound a little melodramatic, but it was definitely a bit of a struggle for me to choose this “less safe” class option.  And I’m sure this is a similar dilemma faced by numerous other MBA students.  They may struggle with similar class choices, or they might be debating whether to spend their time on campus devoted to the Investment Club.  Students might even second-guess themselves right before trying to network with a prominent guest speaker that came and spoke on campus.  It seems to me like we all face our own personal cliffs, and they might manifest themselves in things as small as deciding which course to take.  But the MBA journey, like life itself, is full of new adventures and new horizons, and most of the time the fun lies in simply taking the plunge over the edge of that cliff and seeing where the journey takes you.