EMBA: Are you an enhancer, shifter or explorer ?

The UCLA executive MBA program in one of its essays asks the current students about their career goals as they relate to pursuing the MBA degree.  The question asks whether a student is a Enhancer, Shifter or Explorer. The elegant definitions of these three types of applicants are italicized below:

  • Enhancer = I plan to continue in the same field/function and see FEMBA as necessary to advance and stay competitive.
  • Shifter = I want to change either industries or job functions and want FEMBA to help me facilitate this shift.
  • Explorer = I want to make some kind of career shift and want to identify this goal as I move through FEMBA.

Its an interesting question, and one that every MBA applicant should ask of him or her self when going to an EMBA.

Most companies sponsor executive MBAs because they see skill enhancement as important for the roles they would lke the employees to play. However, from my discussions with applicants to those applying to executive MBAs, I’ve seen a mix in terms of types. Those who are excited about their futures in their companies are generally enhancers. Shifters and Explorers are more self-motivated, sometimes tired of what they’ve been doing, and trying to find direction. At times they’re dreaming of sunrise industries such as cleantech or exciting adventures in investment banking or consulting. Those who desire to move from say GE to McKinsey are really explorers, and probably the ones most likely to be dissapointed by EMBAs. Executive MBAs are not very good for those seeking to make radical career changes, particularly into industries that are structured to recruit full-time MBAs.

Many EMBAs have golden handcuffs where the company pays for the education. Even if the company doesn’t pay, making radical changes requires time to learn, network and interview. EMBAs juggling the demands of work and classes don’t make very focussed job hunters, especially when the career services at business schools don’t really help in this exploration.

Shifting is easier. Moving industries is harder, but again possible. The path is usually best taken by first shifting industries but moving into the same function, then trying to shift functions. Having an MBA affords that luxury. If you want to work in marketing at Proctor & Gamble, and are currently a programmer, start by moving into P&Gs IT division during, not after your MBA. Then network your way into the marketing department. Its been done often. What you need to demonstrate is passion, knowledge and find champions with the marketing department willing to take a chance on you. During the EMBA it is possible to short circuit the process, so work the phones and try to meet as many people in marketing at different companies as possible.

If you really want to explore a brand new career, an EMBA is a risky way to do it. If you dream of investment banking and consulting, private equity or venture capital, its best done with a full-time MBA (with age and other constraints of course). Drop your current career cold and then begin your search in a full-time MBA program. It may not be wise decision from a financial standpoint, but full-time MBA students manage this with great success because they rarely have anything else to fall back on.

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