April 26, 2017, by Paul Caulfield

Navigating your MBA

Taking on an MBA is a big deal. At Nottingham, we get that. You might wonder what you can gain from an MBA? Or what attributes you might need to complete the course? And what does that course even entail?

In this blog Paul Caulfield, director of the Nottingham MBA, gives the lowdown on everything you need to know, from the types of people you’ll meet and the skills and knowledge you’ll acquire, to the experience you’ll gain and the transformation you might see.

Why should I study the MBA?

“Deciding to study an MBA is an important choice in someone’s career,” says Paul. “What people are looking for during the course of their studies is to get a deeper understanding of how business works, maybe to integrate some of their experience more fully into a more comprehensive view of what it takes to be a manager in the 21st century.

“What we find with people that are choosing an MBA, they’re often competent managers. What they’re looking to do is fill in some gaps or to progress their careers in a particular way and that’s why people choose an MBA.”

What type of people study an MBA?

For Paul, there are a range of people who choose to study an MBA. Each has different needs based upon the type of transformation they are seeking from their MBA journey.

The ‘progressive’ who wants to move forward in their career, filling gaps and building on current experience to progress their careers.

Then there are the ‘controllers’ who are on the MBA to take back control of their careers. “They are often looking to establish their own entrepreneurial business or to progress some innovation or change their career in some way where they are owning their career direction a little bit more,” says Paul.

The third type, the ‘re-inventors’, are those who are slightly unsure about what they want from the future and are using the MBA as a “vehicle to reflect, maybe change their direction”.

We also,see a growing number of MBA students are ‘returners’ – those returning to the workplace after a career gap, such as childcare, who are keen to re-establish their networks and their credentials and rejoin the workplace.

The final type, ‘translators’, are on the MBA to learn the language of business. “They’re often very accomplished managers of, for example, local authorities or public services, healthcare, education, and they’ve managed in those contexts but don’t have the language of business.”

“The final category everyone can be part of,” Paul adds, “using the MBA as a signal of attainment – the attainers. You should always have that as your goal but in combination with some other sort of transformation”.

At Nottingham, an understanding of these different groups is vital in catering to their needs, whether it be entrepreneurial activity aimed at the controllers, or opportunities to establish networks that is likely to be a major aim of the returners.

What attributes are you looking for from students on the MBA?
It’s all about knowing why you want to do an MBA, says Paul. “Doing an MBA first and foremost should be about knowing yourself and knowing what type of difference you want as a result of the MBA.

“Ultimately it’s a big investment choice so you should be very aware of what it is that you want, the gaps that you need to fill, the knowledge you want to gain, the experience you want when you’re making that choice.”

What will the course entail?

Nottingham’s MBA is based on 180 credits divided into three stages.

Stage 1 includes six ‘core modules’ worth 10 credits each, covering areas such as finance, business economics, management, marketing, operations and strategy, helping students to build a “bedrock” in management skills and management competencies.

Stage 2 involves two core modules. The first, entrepreneurship and creativity, is designed to create ideas and push those ideas through into an entrepreneurial activity. The second, Sustainable Decisions and Organisations, tests students’ abilities in a real setting that will see you come up with a strategy that you present to a real board, as well as facing a panel of journalists in a press conference around a specific business issue. In short, it’s a “live experience” over a week, testing students’ abilities in practice.

As well as this, students will choose four electives (if you’re studying an Executive MBA in Healthcare two of these are defined), allowing you to experience modules in more depth or to broaden your management experience.

The final 60 credits (Stage 3) of the course are dedicated to the ‘management project’. This can either be a business analysis where you work independently to progress your ideas on a particular management topic of your choice, or through a business plan or work with a company on a consultancy-type engagement.

So with effectively three choices on how to round off your MBA, Paul has a few words of advice. “Ultimately that final part of your degree should be the thing that you care most about and put right at the top of your CV and the thing that makes a substantial difference in the workplace.”

How will I choose what electives to do?

When you choose your electives, it’s about making sure you’re equipping yourselves with the competencies and knowledge you need for the future.

Paul’s advice is to think about broadening your competency base or looking at where you might want to deepen your knowledge, but also about building on core modules you actually enjoyed. “It’s much easier to perform well on modules if you’re genuinely curious about the type of knowledge you’re gaining and how you might use that in the workplace. So do consider the type of choices that excite you and allow you to be curious.”

How does the Nottingham MBA combine practice with academic study?
Integrating business experience into academic learning is an important part of what an MBA does and how it works. At Nottingham this happens in several ways, from talks from business leaders to Business Practice Week (include link to other blog) where we take a whole week out of the classroom to go into business and learn about their issues. There’s also a series of study tours – this year to China and the USA – where we take students to other countries to see how their business environment differs, as well as the culture.
We also set aside time for your own development through our Personal and Professional Development Programme (include link to other blog), a separate programme that helps develop areas such as presentation and leadership skills, allowing you to take them back into the workplace.

What’s different about the Nottingham MBA?

For Paul, it’s all about flexibility and allowing you to fulfil your own ambitions through your MBA. “Flexibility is a really important part of what it means to do an MBA, particularly in Nottingham where we actively try to tailor your experience to your needs through ongoing discussions,” hence the freedom to choose from a wide range of electives, whether you’re on a full-time course or an executive programme.
“We know you all have different ambitions, you have different goals. We like to treat you and think about you as individuals progressing your own agenda.”

This piece was written by Ellen Manning, a freelance journalist, writer & blogger. Ellen writes for several leading publications, and also helps our MBA students to develop their media skills.


See other news on recent changes to our MBA

Business Practice Week’ marks Nottingham MBA from competitors
There are many elements that mark Nottingham’s MBA out from others on the market – one of those is Business Practice Week. This unique opportunity gives our students a week out of the classroom to get a rare insight into a range of businesses and valuable face-to-face access to the people running them. Find out more here:
Developing competencies and transforming lives
At Nottingham, the MBA isn’t just about adding a qualification to your CV but about developing great managers, team players and business leaders. To do that, the programme is about more than academic knowledge but about helping students identify their strengths and weaknesses and achieve their transformation into visionary business leaders for the 21st Century. To that end, we have created a Personal and Professional Development Programme that enhances our MBA students’ career prospects and also helps them focus on and develop critical business competencies and skills. Find out more here:

Managing effective media communications
One of the most challenging modules of the MBA is Sustainable Decisions and Organisations. This module challenges our students to run a business over the course of the week and to retrieve the strategic direction of Wearing Well. A failing fashion retailer with considerable ethical and sustainability challenges. During this module students face an intense press conference where they will have to defend the company’s reputation against a panel of real journalists. Find out more here:

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