UBC MBA grad working for Vancity

UBC MBA grad working for Vancity

An MBA is no fast track without work experience

Talk to the business schools and they’ll tell you the demand for MBA grads is strong. That’s not an idle boast. A survey from the National Association of Colleges and Employers, a U.S.-based organization that tracks employment trends among post-secondary graduates, reports that employers plan to hire more MBA graduates this year than last – on average, three more per organization. Yet the market for graduates is also competitive, the association adds, with employers planning to hire MBAs from a larger number of schools than ever before; just because you studied at the best-known school doesn’t mean that dream job upon graduation is guaranteed. Moreover, thanks to the proliferation of MBAs in the hands of prospective executives, the degree often isn’t enough for recruiters. They’ll likely discount the MBA itself when there’s a candidate with both a degree and unique work experience. So what’s the value of the degree that is traditionally seen as the sine qua non for fast-track careers? The good news is, the degree still has the ability to get careers off to a good start. “What an MBA tends to do is put you ahead of the game,” says Bruce Diemert, practice leader for Future Step, a subsidiary of executive recruiting firm Korn/Ferry International. Someone with an MBA will get first consideration for more challenging tasks versus someone with just a BCom, Diemert explains, and earn a salary commensurate with those responsibilities. More importantly, those opportunities allow the graduate to demonstrate skills that will never be awarded a degree. “People want to get you involved in things so you get exposed to more things that will move you along the career path quicker,” Diemert says. “But you still have to be really good at what you do.” That’s where work experience paired with an MBA plays a role in enhancing the degree’s – and the recipient’s – value. While most students who pursue an MBA later in their careers are doing so to fill a perceived gap in their training or to kick-start a stalled career, work experience allows the MBA program to confer more benefits. “People who have gone out, worked for a while, then gone back to school, got an MBA – that’s seen as a more valuable degree than somebody who did a BCom and an MBA,” says Kirsten Tisdale, managing director of Korn/Ferry in Vancouver, who typically works with candidates seeking upper-level management positions. “If you’re in a class that has a bunch of people with real-life experience, it’s going to be a far richer experience,” she adds. “You’re going to get way more out of it than if you have a bunch of 22-year-old BComs.” The appeal of MBA graduates with more than a straight business background is especially keen in the tech sector, where most executives are now expected to have MBAs. It’s a change from a decade ago, says Tim Swanson, a consultant with Corporate Recruiters Ltd. in Vancouver, but it also reflects the unique needs of those leading the sector. “An MBA is of higher value for a technical person in balancing their career than a business person, in the technology area,” Swanson explains. “It’s virtually impossible for a BCom to go back and get a master of engineering or something like that. It’s easier and it’s broadening for the technical people to move in the other direction.” The relationships developed as part of an MBA can also help a growing tech company broaden its talent networks, Swanson adds. This is where the calibre of the school may add value to a degree. Swanson says that schools with stellar reputations, such as Queen’s or Harvard, give candidates an edge, but he adds that second-tier schools with a strong and desirable academic focus may provide a valuable complement to a company’s existing network. UBC provides the statistic that 92 per cent of its MBA grads find employment within three months of leaving the program. Out on the street, two recent graduates can vouch for the program’s success rate. Andrew McVie completed his MBA program at UBC in December 2007 and joined Terasen Gas in Surrey in February. The offer came after four months of scouting opportunities, just over 30 enquiries and about seven serious ­interviews. Getting interviews wasn’t a problem, McVie says, but demand isn’t as great in Vancouver as in other centres, such as Toronto or just about any city in the U.S. Some companies have also expressed concern that MBAs are valuable but too expensive. Rebecca Pearson, an associate at Vancity Capital Corp., landed a job on her first interview. She started looking for work last summer, but solid networking while at school opened doors to Vancity, where she has been working since August 2007. She is currently completing her MBA program on a part-time basis and expects to graduate this year. The interview with Vancity followed four letters of inquiry to various companies in the area of sustainability. She didn’t experience much competitive pressure, noting that demand for MBA grads specializing in sustainable ventures outweighs the number of candidates in the field. Then again, the market is generally pretty strong. “The people who are well-qualified don’t have problems finding good and interesting work,” she says. “I think that’s a real plus.”