Is the MBA still a career accelerator?

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In these times of distance education and lack of international contacts, are MBA still as effective in relaunching a career or re-enchanting a job?

By Sylvie Laidet

Even if this diploma has never had as much popularity in France as in the United States, a few years ago (or even a few months), taking a Master of Business Administration meant entering the circle of “happy few” that were to mark the new corporate governance. We – that is, mainly the schools offering MBAs – repeated it over and over again: winning this title was the guarantee of obtaining much greater responsibilities in one’s job, boosting one’s remuneration and accelerating one’s career towards the highest spheres. But here is the health crisis and, with it, economic uncertainty have passed through there, causing many strategies to falter… And the question arises: is it still as interesting to invest in an MBA to reinvent your career? Because, yes, embarking on an MBA is an investment. Just take a look at the prices charged by business schools. According to the reputation of the establishment, the price flirts with 90,000 euros for prestigious MBAs. Is the game still worth the candle?

According to the schools, the enthusiasm for MBAs is undeniable. “Even if we had some fears following the first confinement, the number and quality of applications is on the rise this year. In particular for our “full time MBA” intended for profiles with an initial experience of five or six years, who stop working for a year to follow the course with the aim of landing a better job”, notes Thomas Jeanjean, Deputy Managing Director of Essec Business School responsible for continuing education and MBAs. The Executive MBA from Edhec Business School recorded a 25% increase in applications. “With the crisis, many executives have done their soul-searching. At mid-career, 39, the average age of our Executive MBA students, they project themselves into a future more in line with their values. They want to make sense,” analyzes Stéphane Canonne, director of Edhec Executive Education and MBAs.

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For program managers, the MBA market is counter-cyclical: managers want to train when things are going badly, in order to prepare for recovery. This is an opportunity for them to “take a step aside” by immersing themselves in a deliberately generalist training. In one or two years face-to-face (and up to three years on a work-study program), an MBA above all offers the opportunity to acquire food for thought and knowledge in finance, strategy, organization, human resources or management, but also personal development and leadership. All delivered by high-level speakers, with hand-picked classmates, in an ultra-international environment. The opportunity to build a “worldwide” network and discover new work environments and other ecosystems,

But on the added value of these masters in a professional career or on the economic model of these training courses, discordant voices are heard. “The content of MBAs is increasingly offbeat. They did not see the subjects of sustainable development, inclusion… Today, reality has outstripped educational fiction”, underlines Hervé Borensztejn, partner in the executive recruitment firm Heidrick & Struggles. For him, the account would no longer be there. He even goes further by stating that all this content is now available online, for prices much lower than those of an MBA.

Admittedly, faced with this rise in self-learning, MBA managers are adapting. And insist on the quality of the individual support of their students, especially during the crisis. “To maintain a permanent link with our learners, we now have more professional coaches and community managers,” says Thomas Jeanjean. For courses, workshops and conferences which, due to Covid, can no longer take place face-to-face, the schools have switched to digital. Even in augmented reality, thanks to headsets that allow participants to slip into the skin of an avatar and have the impression of being in the room. And exceptional collaborative work platforms and systems are deployed for all group work, which is essential in this type of program. But, for the time being, learning expeditions abroad, particularly in Silicon Valley, have been postponed indefinitely. A big pitfall for these training courses, whose effectiveness is based on the spirit of networking and collaborative work.

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“The absence or limitation of meetings between members of the same class will remain a shortfall because human experience is the only one that builds lasting relationships”, underlines general manager of the recruitment firm Hays. According to him, to remain profitable and really allow you to reinvent your job, an MBA must therefore be part of a well-defined professional project. “If the candidate has a clear plan for managing a business, launching a start-up or taking over a business, it’s always worth it,” he explains. On the other hand, if he has already been in a general management position for twenty years and he wonders if an MBA would be appropriate, my answer is no. What will he find more than what he has already learned in the field?

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