When should I do an MBA? - is a question that many people begin to ask themselves at different points during their lives. A person who asks this question in his second year of college probably ends up doing an MBA in IIM, XLRI or SPJain. The person who asks this question when he is 35+ probably ends up doing an executive MBA. When is the right time to do an MBA? In the last 6 months or so, I have often thought of how I would have planned my career differently if I had known what I know now. What would have been the most aggressive tactic, I would have employed?
The first section 'sooner rather than later' is for people who are very young and can still benefit from it. This is the most ideal situation. It is not meant to discourage people who aren't young but still thinking of MBA. For other categories of people, other blog posts follow.
Sooner rather than later: I had an opportunity to meet my classmate's boyfriend when he had come down to visit her. He was from Madras and since we had some common topics such as school life to talk about, I probed him on his career progress. I met him in 2007. He had finished MBA from Columbia in 2005 and was working in Bain & Co for 2 years. More importantly, he is 26. His girlfriend, my classmate will join Bain this year. She is 25. So I began to extrapolate their lives into the future. If they follow the formula of 5 years in Management Consulting and then shift to an industry job (which is usually at a VP, Director level) then they would break into senior management before they are 30. Then they have a good 15 years to plan and chart a career that would either lead them down a C-suite path (CEO, COO, CFO, CIO, CMO) or a develop enough money and contacts to start their own company. Not everybody who plans to do this, manage this successfully - but thats not the point because you can say the same for every age group. Compare this person with a person who finishes MBA at 29 joins as a Product Manager in an Industry and takes 7-8 years to make Director. Here are 2 people in the same designation. One who is 30 and can afford to make mistakes, learn and change paths and still have enough time to become a C-employee Vs someone who may not have that much time. Given the uncertainities that prevail in any career would you want to start early or late?
Age is a criteria that is often underestimated. But I suspect it plays a surprisingly crucial factor in senior leadership selections. Ya ya! you can call it superficial, quote a few exceptions but I have come to realize that age matters. You can drown yourself in pedantic philosophical debate about this like my classmates and I did. Most older MBAs don't want to believe this and so would naturally contest this. This is quite natural and in fact the right attitude that this category of people should hold. However, being anywhere early matters more than just being anywhere. In the sample of alumnis, MBAs and senior management folks, I talked to most people agreed that age is a factor. But then again I might have spoken to a sample that thinks like me. They key is not to debate the ifs and buts. The more intelligent people who have set their minds on a management career will want to do it early and will want to know how it is done early. I cant give you a formulae but I can quote a few examples. An important reason why HBS admits a large volume of 23,24'ish people. Whatever a normal person does when he is 26, HBS wants a guys who has done the same thing at 23. I met a HBS admit couple of years ago in Bombay, who was 23, was a Product Manager (such designations matter) and had successfully launched a few products and tried to start a company on his own. I never knew people like this existed before I entered this process. Like 'samayal-kattu-pogai-varadhuKutti' All I knew was that at 23 people either finished their masters or got promotion to senior software engineer. To know what other people do is important. To discuss career paths with arbitrary people you meet gives you information that will open your eyes. If you are in your final year of college with a campus job. Use the time between now and start date to find out people like this. Others who are just entering college, scourge the net and talk to various people on what they did parallel to college to develop a strong application package. I have my own thoughts on this, which I shall put in the 'how' part but the idea is to begin the research now.