How an MBA can advance your career

Taking on an MBA can bring your career in an entirely new direction

Kavita Shial, global operations manager for Qualtrics.

Kavita Shial, global operations manager for Qualtrics.

 

Taking on a masters of business administration (MBA) is a big commitment. However, the business skills and knowledge you will acquire can have a positive impact on your future career.

The financial cost is substantial, with fees ranging from €8,000 at the lower end to almost €30,000 at the higher end. Then there’s the time commitment: because MBA students enter the course after several years in their career, they are likely to have major work, personal and family commitments, so they have to walk a tight balance beam.

Professor Geraldine Doyle, assistant dean of the UCD School of Business and director of the Smurfit Business School - the highest-ranked business school in Ireland and consistently ranked as one of the top 50 in the world - says that while MBA students do have to make a huge commitment, it is one that pays off.

“Our data shows that our full-time students see an average 68 per cent growth in earnings three years after completing an MBA, while our part-time students have a 41 per cent increase one year after doing the MBA programme. And those on the executive MBA (which is designed to accommodate working professionals) report that, over their two years of study, their career begins to accelerate and that they get promoted faster than their colleagues.”

On any MBA, students can expect a mix of different modules such as corporate finance, data analytics and strategic marketing, but they will also work with their classmates to solve real-world business problems and gain the softer skills - particularly communication and leadership - that employers value. Smurfit students are among those who have an opportunity to study in other global schools, too.

MBA courses may provoke images of egomaniacal sharks, but Doyle says that empathy is a key part of what makes workplaces better, and that a good MBA should develop this increasingly important skill.

“Employers are looking for their employees to be able to communicate effectively and have an understanding of themselves,” says Doyle. “Being in a leadership role myself, I would say that empathy and self-awareness make for a better workplace. Leadership involves understanding yourself and how you relate to others, what your strengths and weaknesses are and where your colleagues may be coming from. It also means, increasingly, having empathy for what goes in not just in the workplace but for what goes on in their lives outside the workplace.”

Smurfit recently announced two scholarships aimed at encouraging more women to enter MBAs, with the ultimate aim of increasing diversity in both the classroom and the workplace. “If a woman in leadership is a strong role model, it can give reassurance to younger women on the team that it can be done - particularly if the leader is a woman with management training and empathy for those younger colleagues,” says Doyle.

A big part of Smurfit’s leadership programme focuses on intercultural intelligence because, Doyle says, intercultural organisations and teams, whether in Ireland or elsewhere, is part of the real world of business. “Business wants people to have self-awareness which they can use to lead diverse and global teams.”

Students on MBA courses usually come from a diverse range of professional backgrounds and, at Smurfit, that includes doctors, chartered accountants and scientists. “Students are trying to figure out how their expertise fits into the organisation as a whole, and how different parts of a business interact.”

For Kavita Shial, global operations manager for Qualtrics (a survey, research and data collection “experience management” firm) in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, gaining a greater understanding of the commercial world was a key reason for taking on an MBA at UCD.

“My undergraduate course was in philosophy and, after a year of backpacking, I spent the first five or six years of my career working first with a social enterprise and then with a charity, focused on sustainable supply chains. I wanted to develop more commercial acumen and so decided to do the full-time MBA. I liked the small class sizes at UCD and was drawn by its ranking. I didn’t really have a game plan but knew I wanted to learn about finance, human resources, culture and operations, and understanding the core concepts of business.”

MBA graduates go on to a variety of different careers, says Doyle. “Our recent graduates have gone to Google, Accenture, Microsoft, Aer Lingus, Workday and Oxfam. They come to do the MBA for a career change or to achieve promotion, but they may have a mix of motivations, or they may want to start their own business.”

The course was intense and Shial has never studied harder, she says. “I learned how to work with diverse groups, listen to different perspectives and figure out how to make teams of different personalities work. Now I always make sure that everyone on my team of 34 has a voice and that one alpha doesn’t overrun everything, and I put this down what I learned on my MBA - which included a lot of things I didn’t know before.

“An MBA doesn’t get you the next job - you get that on experience and the quality of your interview - but when you are in that job, you may have an advantage because you can think of the business holistically and have the right conversations.”