Saturday, July 19, 2014

Avoiding Unhappy Endings

It's always nice to get invitations, especially when someone calls and says you'd be a great addition to their team.  In my experience, pretty much no one thinks their job is perfect, even when they get good pay or enjoy a solid reputation and can boast a healthy tenure.  There's always the question about the future - Could I make more in a new job?  Where is my present job going?  Everyone says you should have options, so what are my options?

So anyway, I love my job and the people I work with.  I like the drive to work, I like the pay and benefits and the industry is growing.   But there have been changes at my company and like anyone else, I believe I have to consider options if and when they become available.  So I was happy when I received not one, but two inquiries from recruiters on companies they said would be happy to have me.   I had pleasant conversations with each of the recruiters, and phone interviews were scheduled.  I sent my most recent resume to both, and then did some homework to learn about both companies. 

You may have read articles about how businesses use social media and the Internet to learn details about the people who apply for jobs.  It happens that the same tools are available for ordinary people, to find out about the companies they are considering for application.   For example, I was interested in the growth potential at each company, both for my role and also for the company health in each case - there would be no purpose in taking a job at a company which folds or needs to lay off employees a couple years later.   Also, there are a number of web sites which offer employee reviews of their jobs at companies, covering things like salaries, job satisfaction, company officers, and are two very convenient examples.  Search engines can also provide information in changes in ownership or leadership, lawsuits, new products and other important events in the company history or plans.   

In the course of doing my homework, I learned that both of the companies were relatively new businesses; that is, they were part of larger, established companies but were starting new projects that had a certain amount of risk.  Employees from both companies expressed doubt about their employers’ business plan and leadership, and morale at both companies was low, as grievances apparently had been ignored by senior leadership, either because they were unaware of the concerns or because they do not consider employee satisfaction a high priority.  In both companies a majority of employees answering surveys said there was no sense that a career path was viable for them.  

These discoveries created problems for me.  I find it unwise to take any claim at face value, and I am aware that people are more likely to complain than to praise a large company/employer.  But when making a career decision, I realized that only two offers could be seriously considered – one with significantly better long-term career prospects, or one with considerably better immediate pay and title.  Since both of the offers were for essentially the same rank/role with only marginally better pay, and in both cases the drive to work would be much longer, with computer systems different from the SAP I know and proprietary system I work with now, the results of my personal risk/benefit analysis dictated staying at my current position.

After reviewing and checking my work and results, I contacted both companies and declined the offers.   In both cases the recruiter was very courteous and professional, which is one reason I have not identified the companies; someone else in a different place in life may find their decision different for very good reasons.  But I do believe that my decision examined and weighed valid risk factors, both in staying at my current job and in taking a role at a different company.  I wrote this article in hopes you may find it helpful in some of your own career decisions.

Good luck.   

Monday, July 14, 2014

If you are considering whether to pursue a Masters degree in Business Administration, I have bad news for you. You have a lot of choices to make. First, you need to examine your personal career path, and decide whether pursuing an MBA makes sense for you. Your education is just one set of tools you use in building your career, and an MBA is not necessarily going to be the right choice to get you where you want to be. You have to know what you want to do, and to understand how the MBA will help you accomplish that goal. Sometimes other degrees will serve better. In my case, as an example, I went back to school after years of work, because I realized that my career needed the specific credentials an MBA could offer, and I also needed to add specific courses to improve the breadth of my skill set. I obtained an MBA with a concentration in Accounting, because my work in Credit would gain from that specific degree. A colleague of mine with similar experience chose to pursue a Master's degree in Accounting, because he planned to earn a CPA License and work as an Accounting department manager. For him, the needs were different so the degree to pursue was different. The first lesson is to understand that the MBA will not change you, it can only add to your tool kit of credentials and highlight what you can do for an employer. An MBA is focused on management, and should be obtained only if your career path is in management. I should note that an MBA is not necessarily ideal for an executive; many CEOs never earn an MBA because they don't need it at the top of a company. Many department heads need degrees in their field, but not an MBA, per se. Then again, many professionals use the MBA they earn to build a broader skill set, and to maximize the development of their professional network - to build their brand, as is popular to say today. An MBA is a tool, which if used properly, can help a professional reach their full potential. The first step is deciding what tools you need, and in this case whether an MBA is worth the work and cost it takes to earn the degree.
Let's say you are sure you want to pursue an MBA. Fine, how do you choose the right program? Again, it comes back to what you need. There are literally thousands of MBA programs available right now, just in the United States. But there are certain standards you should consider, and you should also look for attributes to a program which will be of value to you. First off,I strongly advise considering only schools which are AACSB-accredited. The AACSB is the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business, and it is the premier international organization for business schools. Every major business school is included, 711 are accredited as of this year, and they include every valid concentration for an MBA that exists. Earning an MBA will take money, time, and a lot of work, so you want to protect your investment by making sure your school meets that standard.
Next, you'll want to think about your concentration. Again, going back to my own career as an example, I spent eleven years in Operations Management, then worked as an auditor for a Healthcare company for five years, then five years in Credit management before deciding I needed to earn an advanced degree to get where I wanted in my career. I also wanted to gain better tools in Accounting, so I pursued an MBA with a concentration in Accounting. That meant I needed to find the best school that could meet that combination, and since I was still working it had to offer a flexible schedule and be close to home.
Choosing a school next depends on your ideal job. There are schools with internationally famous names, like Harvard or Wharton or Stanford. Those schools have three main disadvantages, however. First, they are extremely expensive, often costing several hundred thousands of dollars. Second, they are difficult to get into as MBA candidates. And third, most high-profile schools are reluctant to change their programs when innovation and evolution are available. They forget the ideas and environment that changed the reasons why those schools became the leaders. Smaller and newer schools are not automatically good, but if you pay close attention, you can observe the ones developing programs which are ready for the 21st Century, and which ones may offer tools unavailable from the 'premier' schools. Online classes, for example, utilize virtual team-building and multiple culture collaboration, while city-affiliated universities are bringing local business owners and leaders in to address classes, offering timely and first-hand management experience. The key is considering what you want from your MBA program, then exploring to find the right schools by location, price, concentration, and reputation in your chosen field.
You can find information on MBA programs via the web. Once you know the criteria that matters to you, simply search by that criteria and then review what you learn. Again using my own career as an example, I was returning to school after a significant time working, so rather than seeking an MBA which would get me a junior management position, where a prestigious school gives a young professional a chance at the fast track, I needed a degree which would expand my skill set a bit and underscore my experience. Since I was working full-time I needed to be able to take courses on a flexible schedule, and I did not want to incur heavy debt, I determined that the University of Houston at Victoria best served my goals. The same year I graduated, I was offered a position which represented a twenty-four percent raise, along with a more significant position than my previous role. My case is anecdotal, yet I would say that my decision was based on experience, serious cost-benefit analysis, and my results bear out the value of the process. .