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How to Choose MBA for Midlife Career Change (and Avoid Midlife Career Crisis)

Aug 17, 2007
Clients considering a midlife career change often call with the question, "Should I go back to school for another degree? So I wasn't surprised to find an article in a major business journal, featuring a Q&A around the question, "Should I get an Executive MBA after 50?"

Frankly, I wonder why the question even comes up. The real question is, "How will I benefit from a new educational credential? And how can I steer clear of embarrassing headlines, like 'Top Executive Reveals Degree from Diploma Mill?'"

(1) Instead of asking "Am I too old," ask, "What do I need now."

For an under-30 student, a traditional MBA can be an express elevator to the executive suite. For a midlife career change, you're more likely to use your MBA for networking, starting a business, or jump-starting a new career.

But will you get a lower return on your investment, with fewer years remaining in your career?

Who cares?

Five or ten years after completing your degree, you're facing a brand new career with technologies that weren't invented when you started out. Or you realize you've outgrown your career.

So these days any degree, at any age, has a ten-year life span at most. Midlife career change happens more than once in a lifetime.

(2) Education programs offer unparalleled networking opportunities.

Midlife career change usually requires networking. Degree programs offer a unique way to network without feeling pressure, bypassing informational interviews.

Your fellow students will have information about other companies, industries and professions. Professors at business schools (and other specialized degree programs, such as psychology, engineering and even music) often maintain a network of contacts.

Once I taught a class for an executive MBA program. Shortly after entering the program, student "Meredith" lost her job. Her resume landed on the desk of her classmate "Rodney." Rodney recognized her immediately, as they'd been on a class project team together.

(3) Degree programs give you new ideals.

You'll meet people and take classes on subjects you'd never consider otherwise. Most career change comes from serendipitous encounters, so you'll raise your chances of finding the best opportunity for your next move.

(4) Choose a program that won't land you on the wrong side of Sixty Minutes.

You've probably seen the horror stories flashed across your television screen. Mid-career professional gets doctoral degree -- and then gets fired for displaying bogus credentials. Senior executive discredited when sources reveal degree from non-accredited university.

One technique: Does the university have an alumni program? If the answer is "no," don't bother applying. If yes, attend a few meetings as a guest. Talk to alums about their success, experiences and their memories of academic rigor.

(5) For any educational program, set realistic goals and decide whether you can meet them.

Signing up is easy. These days, you'll find a warm welcome at universities, certificate programs, coaching programs - just about anything you might consider.

Figuring out the benefits? That's the hard part. Let's say your local university offers a certificate program in Human Resources. It sounds great: just four courses and you get to write on your resume, "Earned HR certificate from Local U."

How will future employers regard your certification? That depends on the reputation of Local U, the experience you bring to the table and the qualifications of your competitors.

Any of those factors could change overnight. So entering Local U with the goal of "a career change to human resources" may not be realistic.

But your certificate can pay off through networking opportunities, an extra edge if you change jobs, even a jump start to your bored professional self.

Bottom Line: You get my favorite answer. It depends.
About the Author
Cathy Goodwin, Ph.D., former business school professor, wrote Back to School for a Midlife Career Change. Insider tips to choosing a program that moves you to your dream career (and away from dangerous diploma mills).
http://www.cathygoodwin.com/schoolbk.html
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