By: Stephanie Gray, Associate Director of Graduate Career Services, Kelley Direct
The Top 5 questions you should be asking when narrowing down your online MBA search
Planning for your future career and how to make yourself the most marketable in your industry has never been more important. During times of economic uncertainty, we often see an influx of MBA students, and given the nature of this particular situation, an online program may be even more appealing. So, if you’ve decided to pursue your MBA online while still working, congratulations and welcome! It is going to be challenging but fulfilling, especially if you are managing competing priorities like family, health, and employment.
My guess is that you are taking this step for one of two reasons: You want to move up, or you want to move over. Maybe in order to get a promotion, you need an MBA, or maybe you want to make a move from the technical side of the business to a more strategic role. This rationale definitely makes sense for online students. More and more, however, we see students also want an online MBA because they want to pivot into a new industry or function, and two years away from the job just isn’t going to cut it. If one of these situations sounds similar to yours, then it’s important that you compare what each school offers in terms of career support.
As an advocate for students throughout all stages of the academic and professional journey, I get a lot of questions about how to best utilize career services. After many years of hearing all the questions, here are the questions you should be asking:
1. Does this program offer career support to online students?
If the answer is yes, what does it look like? Is it a pared-down version of what is offered to in-residence students, or is it specifically designed for working professionals and the time constraints placed on them? For example, at Kelley, we support all online MBA students and do so in a way that looks a little different than the full-time program–because it has to.
As an online student, you aren’t on campus all day, every day, for two years, so you need a program that will meet you where you are. As you narrow down your MBA program options, try to discover if your preferred program provides user-friendly, online resources that let you quickly find relevant content including job boards, how-to guides, video tutorials, best-in-class examples, and links to rich resources specific to the needs of online students. You should have ready access to resources that enable you to gain the expertise to create a compelling resume, leverage LinkedIn search capabilities, put your best foot forward during an interview, and successfully negotiate a job offer.
2. Does this program have dedicated career coaches for online students?
Some programs like to tout that online students have access to the same career coaches as students in their full-time program. To be honest, because the two populations are so different, online students need and deserve their own dedicated career services team. If you think about it, it makes sense that an online student is likely to get better results with experienced coaches who can provide perspective on the challenges unique to busy professionals who are managing work, school, and life simultaneously.
I advise you to look for a program that provides coaches dedicated to helping online students, the majority of whom have already built successful careers and are ready to move up or move out into a new discipline or industry. Your program should encourage both seasoned professionals and emerging leaders to build the networks and personal brand critical for advancement.
3. Are there any classes that specialize in career development?
There is no doubt that you are having conversations with your family, friends, and hopefully your managers about your career trajectory. A staple of a good online program is formal professional development courses that help you figure out what that next step should be.
Have you had a conversation with your supervisor about your performance and potential? What about setting goals and creating plans that establish a roadmap for a fulfilling career and life? You should be having those conversations and reaping the benefits of addressing these topics head-on.
That’s why you should look for a program that offers courses designed to lead you through the advancement process step by step. It’s important that you have the confidence to search for your next step knowing you have all the tools to be successful. Kelley Direct offers multiple courses designed specifically for online students. One focuses on professionals who want to advance within their current organization, giving students the long-term planning tools and perspective to take on bigger responsibilities and a wider scope of influence. Another features case interviewing skills, preparing you for the rigors of the consulting selection process.
A third course is focused on the job search process. The search can be intimidating, especially if your only experience with career planning was through your undergraduate institution, or if you have spent years advancing within one company. But here’s a secret: Searching for a job is a lot more than just applying on job sites – and for most, that approach doesn’t get you very far. There is a strategy involved that starts with identifying your values, interests, and strengths; then continues with finding companies that align best with your preferences; and finally prepares you to network with those who will be your advocates, ensuring your credentials don’t get lost in the job board black hole.
4. What can I be doing now to set myself up for career success when I graduate?
The career journey is as much part of your MBA program as the core curriculum and electives. This isn’t something you begin to think about only right before graduating. I admit that my personal pet peeve is when a student sends an email a month out from graduating, letting me know they are ready to start their job search. Ideally, you will be proactive and recognize that your career journey needs to start on day one of your program. What does this mean? We developed a job search framework that centers on the phased activities of Discovery, Network, Interview, and Perform (DNIP). Discovery and Network are where you will spend the bulk of your time during your program. Learning what your values and interests are and challenging assumptions about different career paths is part of the process. It takes dedication. Remember when I said that finding a job is not as easy as just uploading your resume to a job site? Engaging with our graduate career services office from the time you begin your graduate program is where the real work happens. In addition, your program should ideally give you access to career services for life.
5. Do companies post jobs for ALL programs that your school offers (including online students)?
You can’t rely on generic job postings or jobs posted by any random company. You gain a real competitive edge by finding an MBA program that invests in a dedicated employer relations team. Any good employer relations team should be located locally and regionally and source jobs throughout the U.S. and abroad specifically for ALL students. The team should create lasting relationships with employers who represent diverse geographies and industries and who value program talent for all kinds of jobs.
When a company decides to post a job on this kind of job board, they are making a commitment to look at each application that comes through. Networking will always have the highest return on investment, but seeing which employers are actively looking for talent can guide your search by industry, function, or location.
The bottom line
So, what have we learned from all of this? You need to find a program that will equip you with what you need to be successful in your job search. There is no “typical path,” magic pill, or silver bullet. In fact, it takes a lot of blood, sweat, and tears to make a career transition or advance to the next step. I recall one of our alums giving a talk to current students about his career path and landing a job in strategy at Caesar’s Palace. One of the students remarked, “I hear everything you’re saying, but this doesn’t seem like the most efficient way of doing things.” The alum responded, “You are right, there is no efficient way. It takes time, dedication, and a lot of personal reflection to find your place at the end of your program.”
To get the best results, you need to be committed to doing the hard work and partner with a program that offers more than just a transactional graduate career services office. To reach your highest potential, look for dedicated career coaches, someone like me, who works specifically with working professionals and will help you plan out a long term career strategy.