Sunday, May 13, 2007

MBA Series: The question of 'When' - I

Note: Please read this blog's disclaimer. Especially items 5,6,7,8,9,11,12,13

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.
How much work-experience is considered aggressive but not too-early or stupid? If you put a gun to my head, I'd say two. The average work-ex in MBA would range between 4.5 to 5.5. It might be less in HBS but this is usually the range. But I have seen several people with 2 years experience. The immediate concern for a person with 2 years work-exp is - how would I compete with people who have 5 year work exp? Would I get interviews ? You'll just be fine if not better. The should-I-call-him-for-an-interview criteria might change if you are younger. For example the GMAT scores and grades begin to assume more importance. While, I can't name a single industry which would discriminate against a younger person I can visualize scenarios where less work-ex is a disadvantage. On the other hand, based on experience Investment Bankers and Management Consultants love young people. So if you are young, have high GMAT, grades and come from brand name institutions, IB/MC folks will love you. Another important positive (and also a distinguishing factor between US schools and IIMs) is that - if you join IB or MC after 2 years work-ex - you will join it at the same level (Associate Level) at which a person with 5 or 7 years work-exp joins. They dont create a level between Analyst and an Associate to accomadate people with less experience. If you complete undergrad at 21 and then you have 2-3 years work experience, you'd typically be finish MBA when you are 25. This means that you minimize the non-value adding non-management career part of your life and maximizing the business experience.
Remember that no matter, when you start thinking about the MBA, there is a time-line for the application process (More on this in the right pane tabs). This should be considered when you are planning backwards.


Nilu said...

kezha boltu...thaangala.....

unga vootla itha kekka aale illaya? athaan pondatti irukaale -- ava enna amma ootukku poyirukkala?

Anonymous said...

hey that was a gr8 post,
but it would be gr8 if you can write somethin abt doing MBA twice.
i see two types here.
the IIM's who after few years work ex go to HBS/wharton ..
the REST who happen to do some junk MBA from a crap institution and aspire to do a top class MBA.
i find both categories succeding in getting admits.Can u pls throw some light on this?
P.S. i'm in the second category.

raj said...

Nice Post. I agree with most of what you said and this is a topic that i think about a lot as i am headed to Duke this fall and am in my late 20's already.
I dont refute what you said about Age at all but just to add another sample to your observations i can give you an example of my uncle who got his MBA straight out of college from a pretty decent school in India(IRMA, Institute of Rural management, Anand) and went to work for Ramco.Now he has reached a stage in his career where he regrets that he moved to a field like IT Consulting and didnot know any better when he did his MBA. The only advantage of a late MBA is that you get to know yourself better and have a better idea of all the career paths and their pros/cons.If someone in their early 20's is so aware as to chart the kind of career path that you talked about then by all means they are going to do well, MBA or not. But for every one like that i guess you could also find someone who just went into the hot field on campus out of MBA and now is working very hard to get out of it. That would probably explain all those MBA's from good Indian institutes who do a double MBA's again here in US.
I really admire that friend of your classmate who got his MBA from Columbia by the time he was 24. I wonder how many non-IIT students from India have that kind of awareness or aggression.
In my whole engineering class of 350 from all branches i wonder if i came across one student during my B.Tech who had any conception of a career plan beyond writing CAT,GRE or campus job and i attended a top 5 REC and the 7th best engineering college in India.I say this with much confidence because i got an interview invite from an IIM in my final year and knew pretty much most students who were interested in such career paths.
From me personally i think i am better off doing an MBA now as i have a much better idea of a career and the different options. I am positive i would have known nothing like this if i had been lucky or smart enough to get into an IIM out of college.
Enough said i guess..

I said...

MBA, BA, BE, MS, all same. In april 13 2036, a huge comet is going to hit the earth and everyone will be dead.

Anonymous said...

Good Post!

Can you tell us how does not having Green Card (requiring sponsorship for employment) affect one's chances during employment recruitment season. Approx, how much % of employers only look for candidates with GC/Citizenship.

I've heard that MC/IB firms hire less no. of students/firm as opposed to traditional companies. Is that true. Can you tell us what % of your total grad. class got offers from MC/IB firms.

Bullshee said...

The gyaan you deal out is awesome....I'm a confused 20 something guy who's just deciding to go about his MBA....I wouldn't be suprised if I took advice off this post to make career/life decisions!!! I'll be scrouging through all your posts, on a hunt for more put more up!