An MBA has barely helped me to progress — what next?


This week’s problem

Following a part-time MBA, I sought to make a return on my investment through improved pay and progression. Three years later, I have moved a single rung up the ladder and pay is no better than pre-MBA levels — well short of the FT published salary statistics for full-timers at my business school. How should I translate this data to support a discussion with HR? Do people in my situation just end up leaving to convert their gains elsewhere? Anonymous

Jonathan’s answer

As a new MBA graduate, you are disappointed that your employer has not promoted you as fast as you expected. What was your motivation for studying the part-time MBA? While it may have been to learn specific business skills and management theories, it sounds as though you hoped it would have a more direct influence on your salary.

If the latter, one of the main career development benefits of an MBA lies in building networks with classmates and guest lecturers, and perhaps alumni as well. You can still access your classmates and perhaps some of the inspiring outside speakers, to start networking.

Recognise that your organisation may have part-funded your MBA, both in cash and in time off. If so, they may have invested to retain you as a future leader, or perhaps for a new role that would require some specific skills from an MBA. Even if immediate upwards progression was not going to be possible, a sideways and upwards move would require MBA skills and knowledge. Do note that students’ aspirations often change faster than an organisation can match.

Riaz Shah, global learning leader at EY, gives an employer’s perspective. EY has a programme of in-house micro-credentialing and an accredited MBA, free to all staff, worldwide. “With these programmes, we aim to improve staff attraction and retention, and find that by upskilling staff this way we provide better service to clients and staff feel more engaged,” he says.

Securing a pay rise will usually be associated with taking on a new role that often has more responsibility. Such a new role may well be outside your current organisation but, before you start scanning the job ads, work out what role you seek that will make good use of your current skills and experience and newly acquired MBA knowledge. Use this to identify specific jobs that might provide opportunities for you to raise your visibility and build your personal brand.

Perhaps volunteer to arrange a secondment to such a job and present it as an idea for managers to consider. This way they keep you in the organisation, make more use of your new skills in which they invested and you get to raise your profile, demonstrate you take positive control of your career, show loyalty and commitment to the organisation and probably get a career boost.

As Shah observes, “At EY, our MBA graduates find they have opened up their networks and found more career opportunities.”

Readers’ advice

Use current position and experience plus MBA to secure an offer elsewhere. If you wish, use that to pitch for a counter-offer from your current employer. In the absence of a counter-offer, leave. RobDean

You need to use the skills that you developed on the MBA to make a move. It’s not the letters that make a difference, it’s how you developed as a person during that year. IanVonLux

Jonathan Black is director of the Careers Service at the University of Oxford. Every fortnight he answers your questions on personal and career development and working life. Do you have a question for him? Email: [email protected]


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