MBAs: What’s in them for HR?

by 12 May 2010

MBAs are particularly relevant for HR practitioners who are looking to broaden their business knowledge. HR Leader examines the process of choosing the ideal MBA school and program and how to get the most out of an MBA

While an MBA is a respectable credential for any business professional, HR practitioners possibly stand to gain the most from an MBA, compared to their peers in other functions.

Historically, there has been a considerable gap between what HR folk learn at university and what they experience in the real world of business. While this gap is closing at some tertiary institutions, HR professionals often have to turn to other sources to bring their skill set up to speed with the expectations of most senior management teams.

For this reason, MBAs are a particularly effective option for HR professionals seeking to increase their business credibility and nous. However, MBAs are not cheap, with prices in excess of $60,000 for the top programs in Australia. Given MBAs also require a significant investment in terms of time and effort, experts agree that it is worth HR practitioners’ while to do their MBA homework before signing up with one of the more than 40 Australian business schools that offer MBAs.

Doing your homework

All business schools around the world are ranked by organisations such as the UK-based Financial Times, the US-based Business Week and the Wall Street Journal and Economist Intelligence Unit.

Jennifer George, dean and director of Melbourne Business School, says it tends to be true that higher ranked schools are going to attract better students and faculty members, and they’re going to indicate something about the placement and career prospects of people from the program. “Your fellow students are going to form your future network and because you care about the value of your education in 30 years time, you should also care about the network that you will take with you,” she explains.

It is also important to look at the quality of the prospective program faculty, she adds.

“You need to find out if the faculty actually care about business,” says George, who says it is worth considering whether the business school has regular consulting relationships and/or strong business connections, the number of times business people come into the school to speak, whether it has student clubs that are engaged with business and facilitated by faculty members, if its career placement services network with the business community, and if students get the opportunity to do real-life projects that are actually based in companies and on live cases.

“The third thing you should think about is how effectively your business school will help in your future job search,” says George. “Look for schools with good placement statistics. These statistics form a regular part of rankings and schools do collect that data so ask for it.”

The alumni network is another thing to think about, and George says it’s important to consider how engaged the alumni are, whether the school has international alumni chapters in parts of the world where you wish to work, and if the alumni returns to the school to engage with current students.

Advice from the field

Graham Rowe, manager – organisational development and learning for General Motors International Operations in Shanghai, says there were a number of major learnings outside of his vocational area of HR that came about through his completion of AGSM’s executive MBA.

“It gave me a great grounding in areas that I have not had a lot of experience, but which are becoming increasingly important in my role. I particularly liked the broad nature of the course – it covers accounting, finance, data analysis and economics, all the way through to softer topics such as HR and managerial skills,” he explains.

“It drives a structured and strategic approach to thinking, and provides the tools and resources to execute this type of thinking,” says Rowe, who adds that he also enjoyed the opportunity to work with people from other industries and to increase his personal network.

For HR practitioners considering an MBA, Rowe says it is important to do your research. “Really think about why you are doing the course and what you want from it,” he recommends. “Think about the time commitment, and choose a course after you have considered your individual needs and how the course will meet those needs.”

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