The process of deciding whether to earn an MBA can be time-consuming and require earnest thought. Obtaining a higher ed degree takes a large investment of time, energy, and money and shouldn’t be taken on lightly. As a prospective student, you need to know whether the degree will be worth that expense. What will it actually accomplish for you, your professional aptitudes, and your career?
Thankfully, you can gauge the answer to that question without ever having to fill out an application or enroll in your first class. Any MBA program, and especially those that are delivered online via virtual programs, should include a few core elements that will translate into professional competencies for you once you’re finished with the degree.
If those elements are in line with your career goals and would benefit you as you advance (or enable you to advance more quickly), earning an MBA can prove a high-potential investment.
Three Major Skill Areas an Online MBA Should Include
Though some MBA programs can be specialized and designed to meet specific career path needs, many are relatively general. They are usually designed to equip students to be able to perform in a wide variety of roles after they complete the program. But this kind of widespread vision could make it difficult to evaluate MBA programs or weigh them against each other to make an informed decision.
Thankfully, all MBA programs should include a curriculum that imparts three core skill sets: project management, business development, and strategy. These three aptitudes form the foundation needed for a wide variety of leadership and management roles.
By understanding these elements and how they would advance your unique career goals and interests, you can more effectively understand the MBA degree’s core purpose and decide whether it is a worthwhile investment for you.
Skill One: Project Management
The process of seeing a project through from start to finish can range from simple to almost infinitely complex. For those interested in pursuing leadership or career advancement, being able to oversee projects and ensure that they reach completion within the expected time, resource, and budget parameters is imperative. Effective project management involves a few distinct components:
While there are certainly exceptions, the vast majority of projects in the professional world require more than one person to complete them. A project manager is almost always responsible for choosing those individuals, structuring the team, ensuring strong skill/assignment fit for everyone involved, communicating effectively with those team members throughout the entirety of the process, handling discrepancies and team conflicts, maintaining expectations, navigating discipline or personnel changes as needed, and more.
Project Design and Mapping
Projects aren’t often simple or straightforward. Part of project management includes mapping out the intricate details of how and when each element of the project needs to happen in order for the entire thing to be completed.
A variety of factors can influence or dictate this process. These can range from client expectations to equipment availability to weather patterns. Project management requires thinking through as much as can be known before the project begins and creating a detailed plan of attack to accomplish whatever needs to be done.
Even when a project is designed well, it will always encounter unforeseen factors that couldn’t have been predicted. This means that a project manager will also need to learn how to effectively weather those setbacks or problems and come up with solutions that can, as much as possible, keep the project moving forward on schedule.
Skill Two: Business Development
The world of business development can become a bit convoluted, given that many definitions exist for the term. Business development can include a portfolio of skill areas that all contribute to growing a business or company:
Building and Refining a Sales Process
Though some differentiate sales development into its own category, this can be considered a core part of the business development process. Ultimately, without sales, a business cannot exist (in most cases). The process of building a scalable, reliable, efficient process for discovering, wooing, and converting leads is an acutely important part of business development.
Identifying Strategic Joint Ventures and Partnerships
Advancing a business endeavor can be expedited dramatically by entering the right partnerships. Working with companies with complementary offerings or different audiences can springboard a company to new heights or make even bigger opportunities possible. Seeking out, devising, and operating mutually beneficial partnerships and opportunities is a massive part of business development.
Talent Acquisition and Development
A company is only as good as its people. Organizations that refine their hiring process over time, learn from hiring mistakes, provide effective employee development programs, invest in their workforces, and create strong, collaborative cultures create a massive advantage for themselves over their competition and experience superior performance and longevity over organizations that neglect this area.
Skill Three: Strategy
Of all three, strategy might be the skill that is the least tangible. It requires a high level of knowledge about the market or industry, strong analysis skills, the ability to plan strategically for the future, and a knack for presenting visions or findings in compelling ways to other decision-makers or stakeholders.
Strategic planning can be a part of your role as an employee, or it can be a consulting service you offer as an external expert. Business strategy or strategic design usually involves the following elements:
Identifying the Organization’s Position Within Its Market
This usually looks like analyzing its customer base, plotting out its points of differentiation against competitors, and identifying places of opportunity for growth or expansion.
Identifying Priorities and Objectives
Without intentionality and focus, businesses or organizations might take on more work than they can handle, say yes to deliveries or expansions that are outside their core focus, or begin to drift across adjacent markets without a clear direction. Strategic development identifies priority areas for a business or company and develops objectives that align with those priorities.
Creating a Plan of Action to Implement Those Objectives
This could range from designing a six-month sprint to a 10-year strategy document. Teams that sit around a conference table to talk about priorities and strategy but do not design an explicit action plan for bringing their priorities to life will likely drift away from those priorities and lose focus. A vital part of the strategy is outlining how the strategy gets applied in real-time.
Common Career Pathways for MBA Holders
The collection of skills that are taught in online MBA programs is highly transferable. Because of this, MBA degree holders can be found in just about every conceivable industry. However, MBA degrees can lend themselves well to several role types in particular:
One such category where MBA degrees are commonly useful is finance and accounting. Roles that often utilize or benefit from MBAs include financial controller, corporate finance manager, financial analyst, or auditor.
Marketing is another area that commonly houses management positions that benefit from having an MBA. Positions like marketing manager, advertising and promotions manager, or market research analyst are all roles that can greatly benefit from having an MBA degree under your belt.
It probably goes without saying that many corporate management positions look for, or even require, applicants that have earned an MBA. Suppose your goal is to take on a role with elite influence and responsibility within a business or organization or to hold a position within upper management or the executive suite. In that case, an MBA will aid you greatly in that journey.
About the Author
Ryan Ayers is a researcher and consultant within multiple industries including information technology, blockchain, and business development. Always up for a challenge, Ayers enjoys working with startups as well as Fortune 500 companies. When not at work, Ayers loves reading science fiction novels and watching the LA Clippers.