Folklore has it that when Chou En Lai was asked what he thought was the impact of the French Revolution on history, he replied that “It is too early to tell”. When the question of how an MBA has helped in my career is posed, a similar thought occurs to me.
When people generally ask if you use what you learnt in the MBA classroom in your workplace, the immediate answer is ‘not much’. There are some jobs where the key takeaway from the MBA degree is the technical knowledge but most jobs are not a direct application of the theory that we learn in the classroom. As someone from the FMCG sector, I can assure you that we do not quote from our marketing text-books every day. If what we do is not necessarily what we learnt, then how does the MBA help?
The two words that define the key learning from my MBA are “big picture”. Over the course of the post-graduation, the sheer variety of courses that one studies is fascinating. From basics of marketing to economics to financial accounting and organizational behaviour, an MBA keeps challenging you to study and understand multiple, seemingly disparate topics.
And yet, looking back it is this melange of skills that has been key to my deriving the maximum from my job. So, when the competition’s quarterly results are announced, the balance sheet is scrutinised to the fullest to try and understand their performance better. And tracking the macro-economic picture can help predict a downturn and prepare for it accordingly.
Most of all, the MBA has helped me to think – deep and wide. While engineering teaches you that every problem has an answer, MBA teaches you that every problem has multiple answers.
The other aspect that is critical to understanding the need for and success of a post-graduate education is the career push it provides. Those entering B-schools often think of it as a panacea to all career ills.
That is definitely not true. An MBA can help individuals change career tracks, but more importantly it equips you to acclimatise quicker to a wider variety of industries.
The other question is, can the role performed by an MBA grad be performed by anyone else? Definitely, yes. The fact is that all companies have individuals in similar roles, from diverse backgrounds. What helps is how much of what you learnt you can apply at your work place. It is here again that the breadth of courses that one covers in B-schools are of assistance. Personally, that was my mindset during my MBA and that has helped me settle down in my current role faster.
It is also important that one chooses the right mix of electives in B-school. In other words what helps is not the MBA degree, but the MBA education.
“What do you plan to do after your MBA” is a question which is asked twice – once at the time of interviewing for the school and then when interviewing for the job. Looking back, am I where I thought I would be when I first answered the question? No. But, by the time you are through B-school, your interactions with professors, compatriots, seniors and people in the industry gives you a fair sense of what to expect when you start working. And therefore retrospectively, my answer to the question the second time around is much closer to reality.