Putting together an MBA application is no easy task. There is your résumé to submit, essays to write, and proficiency tests to study for. Fortunately, as an MBA candidate you’re not alone in this process. There are support networks out there in the form of study groups, alumni networks and even the schools themselves.
But when it comes time to seeking a letter of recommendation, you need to turn to your employer for support – and that is only the beginning.
“On the professional side – at a very basic level – the letter of recommendation from your employer requires a certain level of support and buy-in already,” says Bernard Garrette, associate dean for the HEC Paris MBA program. “But a lot of participants, especially on the part-time MBA, are in a professionally ambiguous position. They want to change their career in some way, so they take the program, but at the same time they are still employed by their current company. Therefore, support and full understanding of this situation by your employer is important from the outset.
“Sometimes an employer is simply very generous, but other times an agreement needs to be reached in order for them to give you the support you need. It’s all about negotiation and communication,” Garrette says.
If you have an understanding employer who supports your ambition to pursue a part-time MBA, keeping these communication channels open is incredibly important – for your sake, as well as theirs.
“The major employers can offer time off and possible financial support,” explains Professor Paul Dainty, deputy academic dean and associate dean of teaching and learning, at Melbourne Business School in Australia. “However, the most important thing is ensuring they understand the learning process, avoid giving their MBA employees huge demanding workloads around assignment and exam times, and giving them space and time to do things, like syndicate work.
“That’s not always possible, but if the student and their boss discuss the study plan, that intangible support is more likely to be forthcoming. There needs to be some understanding about good and bad times, because if an employer sends their staff overseas, or gives them very demanding projects around assessment periods, that’s going to be tough.”
For part-time MBA students, it’s not just your employer you need to communicate with. There are also your colleagues and peers, and as Professor Dainty warns, you can’t necessarily expect your colleagues to understand what you’re going through.
“Resentment is an issue, especially when part-timers have to leave work a bit earlier. They need to try and help colleagues see that this study is also of benefit to the company. Yes, it’s an individual benefit, but it will be ploughed back into helping not only the company through the individual’s job, but also potentially broader company issues.”
While many MBA candidates leave their workplace in the hope that the degree will provide them with a career change, should you find yourself in a unique position, where your employer holds a job open for you upon graduation, organize regular catch ups to share with them your learnings from the classroom. Highlighting your newly acquired skills and knowledge, and making them relevant to the workplace, will allow your employer – future or otherwise – to see the value of your MBA.
Support can also come from the school itself. “We are always willing to help students, and prospective students, with any question they might have, any requests regarding concerns they have and any problems they are encountering,” says Marcel Kalis, head of career services at ESMT in Germany. “We understand, perhaps better than anyone, what sacrifices are involved and can use this knowledge to help students to get the most out of the MBA experience.”