That feeling just never goes away. You just can’t shake that something isn’t quite right in your career. You’re stuck in a rut, getting passed over for bigger roles. Sometimes, you wonder why peers seem to get an audience – and buy-in too.
Well, you’re not alone. That’s exactly how Fernando Palhares, a customer experience manager, felt before he started his MBA at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business. “I felt my career was going sideways – I had a good job at an incredible company but I was not really seeking my passion and achieving the kind of impact I wanted through my work.”
ONLY SO FAR YOU CAN GO
That passion, Palhares shares, is sustainability. In this field, he saw so many possibilities in technology, consulting, and entrepreneurship. Regardless of application, he knew the transition into the field would be treacherous without an MBA.
“It’s tricky to put a number on your job satisfaction but I felt that if I didn’t take the risk and commit the resources, I would never be entirely satisfied.”
Palhares wasn’t the only member of the Class of 2020 to confront certain limitations. Alexandra Medack also found herself in a cushy job as a senior manager of emerging technologies at General Motors. Despite working with teams from across the globe, she would always confront certain gaps – ones that hindered her ability to build fully-formed strategies. To do that, she needed to quit playing it safe and start her MBA at the University of Virginia’s Darden School.
“While I could speak to the policy implications of the questions at hand, I wasn’t able to fully grasp the broader business implications of the decisions we were making, and that was frustrating,” Medack admits. “I wanted to understand the full picture and be able to have a larger impact on the organization.”
ROLE MODELS TO FOLLOW
This sense of wanting to know more – and needing to be more – are two reasons why twentysomethings often pull the plug on their careers and stream back to campus. As years pass and responsibilities grow, they are increasingly exposed to the bigger picture. In the process, they discover how far they still need to go – often from observing the leaders around them.
That was the case for Brian Porter, who joined Carnegie Mellon’s Tepper School last fall. At a startup, he marveled at how MBAs boasted skills that enabled them to contribute in ways he couldn’t yet match. “I watched the CEO as he navigated the turbulent waters of the startup world, creating a positive work culture, obtaining series A funding, and deciphering market needs. If I honestly reflected on my capabilities, I realized that I needed to expand my professional toolkit if I wanted perform at the same level.”
Wondering if you should pursue an MBA too? As part of P&Q’s profiles of MBA candidates from the Class of 2020, we asked first-years why they decided to tackle the MBA at this point in their careers. Sure enough, class members were happy to share their insights and inspirations. Here are a dozen tipping points that led these students to take a leap of faith and enroll in business school.
1) Saw Growth in Peers: “I have always known I wanted to pursue an MBA as I lacked skills—particularly the quantitative skills—I knew the MBA would provide. However, pursuing an MBA became urgent about a year ago. I distinctly remember working with a colleague before he went to business school and working with him soon after he finished school and returned to Deloitte. I was astounded by his growth as a professional. I was also embarrassed because he was running circles around me. That experience was a catalyst in my pursuit of an MBA as I realized: (1) I didn’t have a spouse or children so there were no real family considerations; (2) my company offered a sponsorship program; and (3) I was getting older so if I didn’t do it now I would never do it.”
2) Recognized the Value of Business Fundamentals: “Despite my rich experiences in biomedical research and patient care, it became clear that one fundamental piece of my training in “translational” medicine was missing – an understanding of the mechanisms that target and invest in viable discoveries, finance their transformation through clinical trial to therapy, and ultimately bring them to the global marketplace. I hope to capitalize on my MBA experience by understanding the forces that drive innovation across key players in drug development and helping to close the gaps that stall innovation between them.”
Tyler Hayes, London Business School
“West Point provided me with a strong academic and ethical foundation, and the Army gave me a lot of practical experiences managing and leading teams. Before I could successfully make the transition from the military to the renewable energy industry, I realized that I possessed analytical, functional, and social weaknesses that needed to be addressed. Pursuing an MBA affords me the opportunity to become better-versed in the language of data analytics, acquire formal skills in operations management, and take the time necessary to become better at the art of networking, while learning the nuances of a culture outside of the military.”
Daniel Titterington, Cornell University (Johnson)
3) Identified The Opportunities Ahead: “I reached a point where I saw a huge opportunity to address a void in the private equity marketplace. Given that there are currently not a lot of solutions to address this specific industry bottleneck, I realized that the best way to pursue this strategy was to create it. After weighing the prospects of trying to pursue this on my own, I realized that business school, specifically Booth, offered resources that could be valuable in translating this idea into an actual strategy.
I also recognized that we’re amid a technological revolution that will fundamentally change how business is conducted over the next few decades. The opportunity to pursue an MBA now presents a unique opportunity to expand my skillset to focus on areas that are most relevant for a business world that will become increasingly more global and technologically advanced.”
Ricardo Johnson, University of Chicago, Booth School of Business
4) Quit Learning: “I knew it was time to go back to school when my daily activities at work were no longer in line with my passions. While two years ago I found SolidWorks design and analysis challenging and engaging, I was now seeing those activities as repetitive and mundane. Instead, I found my energy and motivation to be highest when I was in the planning and concept phases of a new project. The high-level road mapping and brainstorming activities really engaged my creative thinking and I looked for opportunities to ask questions like “Who is the target customer and what is the problem we are trying to solve?”, “What are the key features that add value to the customer?”, and “What are the critical milestones in the development process and how will we measure success at each milestone?”.
However, I saw a gap in my education and the development process as a whole: it was not being driven by strategic business objectives. At this point, I knew the MBA could offer two critical benefits to me: (1) I would gain the fundamental business skills needed to bring strategic leadership and insight to the product development process; and (2) I could immersive myself in learning other aspects of product management, such as marketing and analytics, and pivot my career to better align with my creative goals.”
Louise Hardman, Arizona State University, W. P. Carey School of Business
Comments or questions about this article? Email us.