Making Your MBA Work at Work

An MBA is a special degree… and completing an MBA while working full-time is quite an accomplishment.

Some leadership roles require an MBA or advanced degree. In other cases, an MBA may cause your resume to stand out. In all cases, an MBA provides the opportunity to develop as a business leader. But even though the average salary increase for a North American MBA graduate three years after completion is 90% higher than the pre-MBA salary, simply completing an MBA doesn’t guarantee a promotion or a salary increase. There is a lot of work to do, in addition to the exams and papers.

Whatever your reason for pursing an MBA while employed – whether for a future promotion or a love of learning – use the following steps to chart your course before, during and following time your time in class.

Do Your Research

Not all MBA programs are equal – including online MBA programs. While you may have several onsite options depending on your geographical location, there are hundreds of online options. Take time to determine which one best fits your budget and timeline. Pay attention to concentration options. And do your homework on brand strength and access to university career services – even if you hope to stay with your current employer following graduation.

Know Your Next Desired Roll

Simply having an MBA won’t guarantee you a promotion. It also won’t magically provide clarity on career direction, as one Harvard MBA grad noted. You’ll need to think deeply about these things both before and during your enrollment. Assuming you intend to remain in your career field, include your boss in these discussions and make the courses you take a part of your individual development plan (IDP).

Get Company Tuition Assistance

Just because your organization offers a tuition assistance program doesn’t mean you ought to go back to school. But if you do, make sure to apply for the funding. A typical online MBA program costs between $35,000 – $50,000. Many US organizations contribute as much as $5,250 per year to tuition assistance. Depending on your timeframe, you may be able to take this benefit over two to four calendar years for a typical program. Don’t leave that money on the table! Make sure you know your organization’s application process and timeline. Apply early to be safe.

Apply Your Education to Your Work Projects

Once you’ve begun your MBA program, you have an immediate opportunity to apply what you learn at work. Don’t miss out on the chance to learn by doing vs. only learning by studying. It’s also likely that some courses will take place outside of your functional area. Volunteer to participate on a project that incorporates your learning objectives, even if it’s not the type of work you do every day.

Share What You Learn with Your Colleagues

Honestly, this should be part of your modus operandi following any learning activity, even if it’s just attending a seminar or reading a book. Ask for a few minutes of a team meeting to share what you’re learning in class, host a lunch-and-learn or send an email to your team. Without initiative, most potential organizational learning opportunities slip through the cracks.

Give and GET Cross Functional Support

Participating in an MBA program while working puts you in a unique situation. You’re simultaneously an employee and a student. Some employees may be skeptical to help a colleague they don’t know, but most will go out of their way to help a student. Use this to your advantage. When you take a course outside your main work function, schedule time with a leader in that area to explain what you are learning and ask how things work here. Conversely, take the opportunity to ask the leader what information he or she would like you to seek from your program. Then treat your program like the academic partner it is and see if you can find additional expertise or insights you can share.

Attempt to Calculate Company ROI

If you really want to impress company leadership, compile the extra revenues generated or costs saved from projects where you applied your MBA education throughout your studies. Depending on your role, this may be tricky, but give it your best shot. Then compare that to the amount of tuition reimbursement you received to find the ROI. Share it with your boss and subtly with other company leaders where appropriate. Your initiative will demonstrate to leadership that the investment was worth it – and that you possess a keen awareness of bottom line impact.

Step Up at Work

Once you graduate from your MBA program, nothing magical will have happened at work. Most colleagues won’t notice a difference the following day. But now that you’re finished with classes, you have more time and energy to contribute at work. Taking on a few extra work assignments is very visible – and makes a great case for the additional value you now bring to your organization.

Refresh Promotion Discussions

Ideally, you’ve been holding regular performance, development and career discussions with your boss and have clear milestones for each. But once you’ve graduated and demonstrated increased competence and capacity in your role, it’s time to be more forward. If you desire a promotion, bring the conversation back to the forefront and highlight your increased capabilities to make your case. Be specific so that both parties understand your goals. Request feedback so that you both remain on the same page.

Ultimately, an MBA isn’t the right choice for every employee in every situation. Not everyone will get the opportunity. Some will succeed just fine without one. But if you do pursue a degree, a little extra work goes a long way in making it pay off. Good luck!