Maximizing Your MBA: How to Network Effectively and Secure Career Advancement

Maximizing Your MBA

An MBA can cost up to $120K. It doesn’t take a business student to understand that that is a pretty steep price. Short of buying a house, it’s probably the most money you will spend on anything. Ever. Can getting a Master’s in business really be worth that much money?

It depends on how well you use it. Recruiters everywhere are reporting a greater interest in finding professionals with advanced degrees. By leveraging your skills and connections you can secure more money and better career opportunities with an MBA. However, it’s not enough to simply have the degree. You also need to know how to press all the right buttons.

In this article, we take a look at how you can effectively network to increase the value of your MBA. Read on to learn more.

Choose Your Discipline Wisely

MBA programs can be very diverse. Some are dealing in management. Others in finance, data, technology, etc. Basically, every business discipline correlates directly with an advanced degree, and some of them are more valuable than others.

While most MBAs correlate with higher salaries, those relating to tech, data, and finance are currently netting the highest return on investment. Keep in mind that you aren’t necessarily limited to getting a degree that relates to the field you are currently in.

Most programs will be receptive to people coming in with any business-related degree. Find out what programs you are eligible for, and decide what opportunities seem most enticing as a long-term proposition.

Speak with Your Current Employer

If you are already in the workforce, it is a good idea to speak with your employer on the front end, before you even start your program. This accomplishes several things:

  • Sets expectations: You are for sure still going to need to bring you’re A-game even while you work on getting your degree. That said, most employers are going to be glad to get an MBA. Your manager may be more flexible with expectations and deadlines while you are enrolled in your MBA program. Even if they aren’t, it’s still a good idea to give them the heads up.
  • Financial aid: Many businesses will financially support their employees’ educational efforts. Some will pay for the entire degree. Others will provide a credit-based stipend that at least reduces the sting a little bit.
  • Lays the groundwork: If you are hoping to advance through the ranks in your current company, chatting about your graduate school plans with your boss may help to lay the groundwork. Naturally, they want highly skilled employees and it is almost always easier to promote from within than it is to reach for an outside hire. Let them know about your degree ambitions now and they may factor you more heavily into their big-picture plans.

Even if you aren’t necessarily sure you want to stick with your current employer long-term, it’s still a good idea to leave the door open for advancement. A quick chat with your boss can help lay the groundwork for a vertical move.

Choose Your Degree Program Wisely

Most experts agree that when it comes to student loans you should only borrow about a year’s worth of expected future earnings. For MBAs, that figure may be pretty substantial— many graduate degree holders command six-figure salaries.

Nevertheless, you do want to be smart about how you choose your degree program. Here are some considerations to keep in mind:

  • Expense: Even if you can afford to borrow one hundred thousand dollars, that doesn’t mean you want to do it. Find a program that provides a sensible combination of value and quality. While pedigree may vary from school to school virtually all accredited programs will equip you with the skills you need to be a boardroom boss once you have graduated.
  • Flexibility options: Brick-and-mortar learning is no longer the default option. You can get a lot done online these days, and remote programs tend to advantage working professionals. If you don’t want to take an hour out of your day just to commute to and from school, you might decide to take advantage of remote learning opportunities. Not only does this free up your time, but it also vastly increases the range of schools you can choose from. Virtually every major university has remote learning curriculums.
  • Networking opportunities: Does the school have a good reputation for networking opportunities? Some universities are really known for it. Others are not. Word to the wise— the school doesn’t need to be ritzy to be good for networking. Many state schools are well-known for helping to connect alumni with profitable relationships.
  • Curriculum options: And of course, you also want to make sure that the school you are interested in is able to provide you with the degree program you are interested in. Some schools have a wide range of options, and may even allow you to “build your own major,” so to speak. Others will be somewhat limited in what sort of options they are able to provide.

Prestige isn’t as important as many people think it is. While the top universities can help open doors, virtually all graduate programs will come with lots of built-in opportunities. Unless you don’t feel limited by time, money, or space, it’s a good idea to try and Moneyball the situation. Find the degree that will get you the most bang for your buck.

Make a Business Plan (for Yourself)

Good businesses don’t just flip the metaphorical open sign-on and get to work. They spend a significant amount of time developing a plan that will help them attain long-term success. Consider taking the same approach to your career. Determine where you would like to be in one year, five years, ten years, etc.

Then outline steps that you intend to take to help you get there, and describe how you think you can use your MBA to gain leverage toward these goals.

Without a plan, it is easy to stumble blindly into both success and failure. You need to establish benchmarks for yourself if you are to achieve goals that scaffold into larger successes.

Ask for a Raise

Your employer may not voluntarily give you a raise just because you completed your degree. However, they probably will be willing to fork over more money if you ask for it. Most businesses are only all too eager to work with MBAs. They value you for your higher levels of skill and knowledge. They also know that competitors are also interested in hiring MBAs. Usually, they will be willing to increase your salary if it means keeping you out of enemy territory.

Asking for more money can be intimidating but by following these simple steps, it can be less scary than you likely anticipate.

Find Leverage

Your degree is leverage in its own right, but you also want something that tells the story of why you deserve more money. One thing you can do is find comparable salary examples from people with comparable experience and education. If you are really bold, you might also consider actively seeking a new job.

You can then go to your current boss and say, “This is what they are offering me over there.” Of course, you should only try this latter approach if you are willing to actually take the job should things go south.

Ask for More than You Expect to Get

Realistically, they probably aren’t going to double your salary. Asking for an outlandish number will most likely just shut down all forms of communication. Instead, ask for 5-10% more than you think they will be willing to pay you. With this approach, you still might wind up getting more than you expected and it will show your employer that you are earnest about your intentions to stay with the company.

Make a Case for Your Value

You don’t want the story to be, “Well, now I’ve got another degree.” Instead, sell yourself as a good employer. In what ways do you contribute unique value to the company? Paint a vivid picture of someone who is worth spending a little more money on to keep around.

And remember, if negotiations with your current employer don’t go the way you want them to you, it doesn’t have to be the end of the road. You made a  plan for yourself. Stick with it, even if that means exploring opportunities at another company.

Getting a graduate degree is all about advancement and opportunity. There’s definitely someone out there who is willing to give you the opportunities you have earned.