Written by Tulika Gupta

Technology and access to information are changing the world at an incredible pace. One of the ways to prepare oneself as a young professional for the changing global environment is by pursuing an MBA. But deciding whether to go back to school is no easy decision. Here are some practical tips and tools to consider while deciding whether or not to pursue an MBA; a challenge and change in itself.

If you are a young professional, have had some work experience, and see the value in pursuing an MBA, here is a list of considerations that could help weigh some important factors before you take the plunge.

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”

- Nelson Mandela

Prepare yourself for a new global reality

We live in a global economy today that is intricately interconnected - each move impacts the entire system. Today’s oil price downturn pales in comparison to the events of 2008, but it has notified us of a need for new tools that prepare us for future volatility and equip us to tackle the risks inherent in a career within the energy industry.

Combine these risks with the technical nature of our business and the public’s growing demand for transparency, and it becomes clear that we will all need to be active contributors to the management of responsibly-run businesses. As the globe trends towards a more innovative, sustainable, environmentally-conscious future, businesses have been, and must continue to be adaptive and innovative to survive.

Keeping these changing conditions in our environment into account, doing an MBA for the right core-competence and skillset to keep up with this changing global environment seems a natural choice. Not only does an MBA prepare you for the changing world with practical tools and innovative thinking but it can also help you understand what makes an effective leader in today’s world.

MBA equates to competitiveness

Research is starting to show that an undergrad degree no longer guarantees a job, and therefore it’s worth considering what you can do that will give you a competitive edge among your peers.  An MBA increases your confidence in your skills, instills strategic thinking, broadens the career paths you could pursue, may increase your ability to influence, opens up a network to pursue any opportunity you are passionate about, and increases your employability and salary.

Your work experience

We often value quantitative skills over qualitative ones. However, over time, especially as we progress into leadership positions, qualitative skills become essential. Exposure to senior executives in your company can provide an excellent opportunity to observe and see the value of qualitative skills. But what if you’re not able to interact with a senior executive member? How can you get that exposure to impactful qualitative ways of thinking? Answer: in an MBA classroom.

Some questions to consider include:

  • Do you see growth opportunities in your current role?
  • How satisfied are you with your career plan and do you think you need new perspectives?

Career versus MBA

Often, we find ourselves needing to invest in our career to keep moving up, either by pursuing additional formal education or considering a cross-functional move. There will never be a point where taking a break in your career sounds like a perfect idea. A full-time MBA takes 12-24 months to complete. But remember that applying for an MBA could be a fairly lengthy process depending on your target schools. It takes about two to eight months to prepare, apply, interview and accept. Hence, it is beneficial to start thinking about furthering your education a year in advance if you plan to pursue an MBA. That gives you enough time to mentally prepare yourself and to plan your career goals post-MBA as well.

Some questions to consider include:

  • Have you spent enough time in a role to step up into a managerial/leadership role?
  • Are you looking for a change in the field you work in?
  • Are there challenges you face that could be tackled better if you had certain tools to deal with them?
  • Where do you see yourself in five years and would an MBA help in getting there/getting there faster?

Short-term versus long-term strategy

Any time we make an investment, it is important to consider the long term. The impact on your career in the next two to five years might not be enough to show the returns of investing a huge amount of your savings into financing an MBA. However, in the long run, an MBA has the potential to increase your salary, your network, and your career prospects amongst others. As Warren Buffet would say, always remember that a sound investment strategy is value-based. That is, it requires patience to see results.

Some questions to consider include:

  • What are my sunk costs and investment costs for pursuing an MBA?
  • How long will it take me to recover the costs and is the time and money worth the investment?
  • Will it take time away from my family?
  • How does it impact my plans or goals in other areas of my life?
  • Is there a better time in the future?

Full-time versus part-time

If you see the value of an MBA but also want to reap the benefits of continuous employment, a win-win could be pursuing a part-time MBA. This really depends on your time management skills and your personality type. Some like to do one thing at a time whereas some can manage a bit of both together. Either option is the right one, so long as it suits your needs. A part-time program might help you to adapt to the realities of going back to school by allowing you to work while attending classes.

Some questions to consider include:

  • Ideally, would you prefer to immerse yourself at work and study in isolation of each other?
  • If you lean more towards isolation, consider full-time:
    • How could you better place yourself in the company to be able to come back after the MBA program ends?
    • Are you ready to consider the expenses and time commitment?
  • Otherwise, a part-time MBA:
    • How many courses could you pursue at once while maintain your work-life balance?
    • Does your MBA School allow for flexibility in course load? Have you gained a good perspective on how things work through your experiences?
    • Would you consider an online MBA which are growing increasingly popular?

Still stuck? Ask for advice

After evaluating these factors, consider speaking with a few mentors and sponsors to get their opinion on whether they think it could be beneficial for you and to get perspectives you might not have considered.

Still on the fence? It’s been shown that individuals who deliberately make clear, written goals and have a plan to accomplish them are more successful. If pursuing an MBA is one of your goals, start today. Put your thinking cap on and work through some of the questions raised in this post to see if an MBA is the right choice for you.

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Tulika Gupta has worked as a Production Planner on the Fort Hills project at Suncor Energy Inc. and has five years of experience. Tulika was recognized as one of Alberta Oil Magazine’s 2016 “Top 35 under 35” in Canada’s energy sector and was awarded a “Young Women in Energy” award in 2015. This year, she was acknowledged as one of 2017 Oilweek magazine’s “Rising Stars” and nominated as one of the Top 75 finalists for RBC’s 2017 Top 25 Canadian Immigrants. She holds her B.A.Sc Honors in computer engineering from the University of Toronto and will be attending Harvard Business School for her MBA in the fall of 2017. Outside of work, Tulika is a 2017 Technovation Calgary mentor and 2016 Miss India Canada Second Runner-up.  She looks forward to using her experiences and skills to lead within the Canadian oil sands sector. She is also passionate about encouraging women to pursue unconventional careers and emphasizing the importance of continuous learning.