Last updated: September 19, 2012 2:06 pm

Ask the Experts: Masters in Management 2012

Della Bradshaw, Philippe Marmara,Schneider Auswahl, Whitney Q&A

Masters in Management degrees are proving to be the most fashionable of post-graduate degrees, with applications to these programmes soaring. Why are graduates from these programmes proving so attractive to recruiters? Will a MiM become a prerequisite for many companies, banks and management consultancies? What will be the effect of this on the number of managers applying to study for an MBA?

On Wednesday, 19th September 2012, a panel of experts will answer these and other questions about studying for a Masters in Management degree.

More

IN Ask the Expert

On the panel are:

Philippe Marmara, senior partner and vice president at Globalpraxis, the international consulting company. For the past 10 years, Mr Marmara has worked with blue chip companies such as Vodafone, Heinz, ExxonMobil, JCDecaux, Unilever, Coca Cola and KLM.

Dr Jürgen Schneider, dean of the University of Mannheim Business School in Germany, ranked number 14 in the FT Masters in Management 2012 ranking.

Ben Whitney, acting director of the Centre for International Management at Queen’s School of Business in Kingston, Ontario and the associate director of Queen’s Master of International Business programme.

Della Bradshaw, Financial Times Business Education Editor

The Q&A session will take place between 14.00 and 15.00 BST on Wednesday, 19th September 2012. Post your questions now at ask@ft.com and they will be answered on the day.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

I am an IT professional with almost five years experience in the electric utility industry. I plan on pursuing my masters but am split between going with an MBA degree or a masters programme that caters to areas such as renewable energy, smart grid technology, sustainability and the like. An MBA comes across as a safer bet but I am inclined to build upon my career with the learning I have.

My question is: How does one judge the credibility and worth of the numerous Masters in Management degrees with specialisations offered in energy, smart grid and sustainability areas?

Aparna

Philippe: The choice between a specialised masters and MBA is critical here because it will not drive you to the same place. I would be inclined to advise you to stay close to your speciality as you have already done a lot in your field (and it seems that it is already your choice).

Regarding the judgement on masters, you have several ways to check: The classification (the FT issue rankings every year), the average salary and job recruitments published by the school, talking to alumni - you know that it is easy now through social networks - and talking to the HR manager of a few companies that you have in mind - they will give you at least an educated opinion.

Della: If you want to stay in the energy and environment sector then a specialised masters degree would make a lot of sense. However, I don’t think there are a lot of business schools that run these energy-focused programmes. If you decide whether you want to study part-time or full-time, and in which country you want to study, I suspect there will be a manageable number of programmes from which to choose.

Two things I would always check on is the student profile of past classes - age, experience, citizenship etc - and also where graduates go to work on graduation. If possible, get the names of previous recruiters and ask them what they think about the programme. Then choose the programme that best fits your aspirations.

Jürgen: As we are offering a generalised master, it is difficult to give you advice in this respect. My best guess would be to look for a university with a strong technical background.

I am considering doing a specialised MiM degree in luxury management, do you believe this is an industry that will continue to grow and offer significant opportunities for graduates of these kinds of courses?

Della: All the indicators are that the luxury goods sector will continue to flourish - in spite of Burberry’s profit warning earlier this month. The obvious growth areas are in China and other burgeoning economies.

Luxury management is a peculiarly European programme - there are very few US business schools that teach this. Indeed, there are really only two countries that specialise in luxury management, the management of fashion and cultural management: France and Italy.

Jürgen: Yes, I definitely think there is a substantial market in this field. Our long-term partner, Essec Business School, in Paris, offers an highly successful MBA in this topic and their alumni are making impressive careers.

Philippe: Luxury management is highly specialised and is not necessarily well covered by classic business schools. Jobs in the luxury industry are not easily accessible and masters specialised in that field are a good way to get in touch with the industry (training periods, internships,case studies, etc). If they know you and if they like your input, they will stay close to you.

As far as the industry is concerned, it is doing very well, mainly thanks to the increased business of the emerging world. I do not see this trend reversing in the foreseeable future.

Do recruiters prefer a Masters in Management degree or an MBA?

Jürgen: That depends, if they are looking for a strong theoretical background (MiM) or if they are looking for a graduate with work experience and substantial practical knowledge (MBA).

Ben: I think this is more an issue of awareness than preference, per se. Here in North America, recruiters are more likely to be aware of MBA programmes than of Masters in Management programmes; hence, this is the type of graduate that they initially set out to hire. Thus, it becomes an issue of educating recruiters of the various types of talent available to them, and once they’re made aware of the masters students, our experience is that they’ll often consider a masters candidate - along with an MBA candidate - for the same position.

Both candidates present an intriguing option for the recruiter. The MBA candidate presents a more seasoned profile, whereas the masters candidate presents a younger profile. In our experience, some companies prefer a younger candidate as he/she can more easily be moulded into that organisation’s ideology than someone with several years’ experience.

Philippe: The two degrees are different and recruiters dont generally mix them. An MBA is normaly suited for people with between three to five years work experience, while a masters could be achieved straight after the bachelor degree.

Most of the time, MBA holders have a different specialisation before passing the MBA, such as engineering or finance, so it is very unlikely that masters and MBA´s will be selected for the same job interviews, unless of course they both already have signficant work experience.

Della: It depends what they are looking for. MiM graduates have a strong reputation with companies who run graduate training programmes or banks and consultancies looking for analyst level recruits. These companies often hire a whole group of graduates to train.

At the MBA level, the hiring tends to be more individual: MBAs are usually hired to fill a specific job. This has always been the case in Europe and is increasingly becoming the case in the US too. At Harvard Business School, for example, only about 50 per cent of the 900 students now find a job through traditional on-campus recruiting.

How can these kinds of degrees help boost us out of the consequences of the recession instead of causing more debt for the individual?

James

Philippe: Very good question - I actually passed my MBA in the middle of a recession. I may be optimistic but I believe that the recession will not last forever. Furthermore, while a part of the world is suffering a lot, the other part is still enjoying economic growth.

So, if you think about you long-term career, about the foundations of your professional profile, my answer is YES, you should pursue your masters studies. Try to build your “own product” in such a way that you will be relevant for markets and companies that are not your home base. Learn languages and be ready to go abroad.

Ben: First of all, education must be seen as a long-term investment; the investment will pay dividends for you in your career trajectory long after the debt is repaid. The key is not to get fixated on a short-term ROI.

Moreover, masters degrees tend to be more inexpensive than MBA programmes (in terms of tuition) and are often shorter in duration (at least here in North America), meaning that you are only forgoing one year’s salary; thus, from that perspective, the Masters in Management can be viewed as a sound investment.

Della: I’m not sure the two are mutually exclusive, are they? Certainly these degrees can be expensive, but the more qualified an individual is, the more likely he or she is to get a better job and a higher salary.

But I hear what you are saying: the levels of personal debt that students - especially in the US and UK - are now asked to take on are sobering, especially as high levels of personal debt were part of the reason for the economic meltdown in the first place.

Jürgen: As I’m answering from a German perspective and as most of the German public universities offer bachelor and masters degrees without tuition fees, I can only invite you to consider studying in Germany. A lot of schools offer English masters programmes like my own school.

A friend of mine has an MBA degree from a low-tier institute in India. Due to poor choice and lack of options he had to pursue the degree back then. He is interested in pursuing a MiM degree in order to better his career prospects. Is this advisable for him?

Abhineet Kumar

Jürgen: I assume that your friend has at least some work experience. He should try to progress his career starting with what he already has and strive for an EMBA at a prestigious institution later on.

Della: I suspect from what you say that your friend now has several years of work experience under his belt. Therefore a MiM might not be appropriate. However, a specialised masters that is relevant to the industry in which he works might be appropriate.

Alternatively, what about an EMBA or an online business degree? These have the advantage that you can study and work at the same time. Online degrees in particular are becoming increasingly sophisticated.

If I study for a Masters in Management degree, would companies also expect me to study for an MBA in five years time?

Della: In my experience, most people who study for an MBA do so of their own volition and for reasons directly related to their career - they want to move from a specialised or funcional role to a more general management role.

However, if you are asking whether employers value MiM graduates as highly as MBA graduates, then I think it depends on the country in which you work. For example, in the US, presidential hopeful Mitt Romney has a Harvard MBA, as had George W Bush; in France, President Hollande has a MiM from HEC Paris.

Jürgen: No, I don’t think so. The masters is a high-calibre degree that qualifies you perfectly for a corporate career.

Ben: The content of Masters in Management programmes is not that dissimilar from that of a MBA programme in the sense that core business concepts across the various functional areas of business will be delivered in both types of programme. Thus, I see it as unlikely that companies would expect you to return for an MBA only a few short years after joining the workforce.

More likely, however, is that you may feel inclined to return for an EMBA programme in eight to 10 years, for example, to catch up on the latest thinking in management education and connect with other seasoned managers who may also be looking to take that next step in their careers. I see that as a more likely path.

Philippe: No, it is not an obligation but it would be a plus if you manage to go to a prestigious MBA. In five years time, you may be in a different state of mind regarding your career and your professional future. An MBA may be a good way to stop, learn, progress intellectualy and change your perspective.

I already have a MiM degree from HEC Paris but I am considering applying for an MBA at a US business school to advance my career. Do you think this is worth the extra investment? Or should I make the most of my MiM degree?

Chloe Williams

Della: It all depends on what you want to do and where you want to work. If you want to work in the US, a US MBA is still incredibly useful.

Jürgen: I cannot deny that maybe for the US-labour market, a US MBA can be an additional boost for your career. For the European market, I would consider that with a MiM from a high-calibre institution like HEC Paris, you will already have excellent career perspectives.

Philippe: I would always recommend to top up a continental degree (even one of the most prestigious) with an Anglo-American one. It will help you a lot for your international career, to be in tune with American companies and to have your degree valued for its real strengh. Unfortunately, the French masters system is not well understood by American companies.

Ben: This question suggests a bit of an “inferiority complex” with graduates of Masters in Management degrees versus MBA graduates. The quality of education of the Masters in Management degree is no less so than the MBA; again, the differences lie largely in those who are admitted to each programme, with MBA programmes attracting a more seasoned, mature candidate.

That said, if your goal is to work in the US, you may find you will have to spend some time educating recruiters on what exactly a Masters in Management degree is (keeping in mind that these types of programmes are far less common in North America than in Europe). But by all means, let your MiM degree (and HEC Paris’ reputation) work for you.

Given the increase in undergraduate fees in the UK, do the panel expect that there will be fewer applications to MiM degrees in three or four years time?

Jürgen: I would guess that more and more English bachelor graduates will consider doing their masters in other countries with lower or no tuition fees but still excellent schools.

Philippe: Yes, I am sure it will have an impact on English students. But this will not stop international students I believe. Today, the UK is one the most attractive student destinations, due to the quality, the ranking and the competitiveness of the universities.

For a recent graduate with little work experience, is it best to go straight to a general Masters in Management degree? Or is it beneficial to get some work experience first and then do an MBA. In this poor economic climate, it is tempting to apply for a MiM degree, especially as it tends to be cheaper than an MBA. But the MBA is more well known around the world…

Della: I think you have hit the nail on the head. But, as I have replied to an earlier question, it all depends on where you want to work on graduation.

Jürgen: That depends on the career you want to pursue. A MIM supplies you with a broad theoretical knowledge. If you strive for a job where you will need deep analytical skills, this would be the best time to prepare for it by doing your MIM directly.

However, a good job offer should not be disregarded either and then an MBA after three to five years of work experience can be a valuable option too.

Philippe: Maybe you have already answered your question. Once again, a MiM or MBA is a long-term investment, they will always stay on your CV. Good degrees are one of the best safety nets that any individual can have.

My advice would be always to strive for the best - not because there is a crisis, but because the further we go, the more competition we have between individuals for the same jobs. Five years ago, we were recruiting masters in management graduates in my field with little or no experience, we now have applicants with masters and MBA’s and three languages for the same positions.

Ben: You’re right in saying that MiM programnes tend to be more affordable than MBA programmes, and it’s also worth noting that - on average - MiM programmes tend to be of shorter duration than MBA programmes (especially here in North America). Together those factors combine to give MiM programmes a very attractive return on your investment.

I’ll concede that - at this point in time - MBA programmes are still more well-known in recruiters’ circles than MiM programmes, especially here in North America. But I think you’ll see the day in the not too distant future when this is no longer the case.

GMAC’s statistics tell us that those who write the GMAT are younger, more apt to send their scores to schools overseas, and are gravitating in increasing numbers to pre-experience, specialised masters programmes. With more students graduating in higher numbers from these programmes, recruiters will adjust to this younger talent pool.

For now, MiM graduates may have to spend some time educating recruiters on what exactly a MiM programme is; the good news is that our experience here at Queen’s School of Business suggests that masters graduates often compete for the very same jobs as the recent MBA graduate.

Finally, you may wish to combine a MiM degree with an EMBA programme down the road.

I’ve heard that if you wish to work abroad, sometimes it is a good idea to study in the country you wish to work in. What do you think of this idea, given the visa issues we’ve heard about recently? Would it be a good idea for US students to study a masters degree in London, if they wish to work in the capital?

Jürgen: I can only speak for the German market here. For German companies, it is easier to judge the value of national programmes and institutions. Also, the cultural barrier is easier to overcome if you study in your target labour market.

Philippe: At least you will not have a language issue! More seriously, work permits are really an issue today and they are one of the main obstacles for not hiring people. The problem though is less dramatic for big multinational companies as they have agreements with the authorities for a certain amount of “inpatriates.”

For smaller companies, it is a struggle. A good way would be to learn as many languages as you can so your company will have less difficulties to choose you for a job abroad. Of course, if you know the country and if you have studied there it will be a plus.

Ben: There is no better preparation for working abroad than to immerse yourself in that culture ahead of time. It will signal to prospective recruiters that you’re serious about working in that culture, and spending some time in the host culture will give you invaluable experience in navigating the local culture (e.g. what is the specific interviewing etiquette in the host culture? How much personal information should you share, or should you keep it “all business”? How is punctuality viewed?)

This is the rationale behind the Queen’s Master of International Business programme that allows students the option of participating in a single-degree track that features a mandatory study abroad term, or a double-degree option in which students earn both the Queen’s degree as well as a masters degree from the partner university; in either case, it is very much an experiential opportunity for the student.

That said, I don’t think it’s absolutely necessary to study in the country that you plan to work in later; international experience of any kind is valuable, regardless of the location.

Finally, it is important to note that you can also learn a lot about other cultures at your home university by interacting with and learning from international students.

Della: I do hear of examples where US graduates cannot get a visa to work here in London, even if they are planning to work for a US company. This whole area of visas is both complex and constantly changing. There are many countries that are hoping to benefit from the new UK rules by luring students there - Canada is perhaps the best example.

Here in America, masters in management programmes don’t have such a high profile and I see that there are no US-based programmes in the FT’s ranking this week. I like the idea of applying for a pre-experience general business degree, but would I have to move abroad for a quality degree?

Della: There are a few US business schools that run MiM programmes, such as the Fuqua school at Duke University, the Simon school at Rochester and Thunderbird. My question would be: why not move overseas? It could add quite positively to the experience.

Philippe: It is true that MiM degrees are more European than American, you have a wider choice with great schools in the UK, France, Spain, Germany and the programmes are very competitive.

Now I would always recomend to start with passing a recognised degree in your own country before going abroad. It will probably give you better access to good schools and universities and it will help you to be better recognised in your country.

Ben: It’s true that North America - as a whole - has been slower to embrace the Master in Management degree. But if you take a closer look, you’ll find that these types of programmes are starting to appear in the suite of offerings at a number of prominent Canadian and American business schools.

It is also important to point out that programmes are not ranked immediately after their first year of operation; only after admitting and graduating several cohorts are programmes eligible to participate in prestigious rankings such as the FT Masters in Management ranking. As such, it will take a bit of time for the North American schools to start appearing in greater numbers on these rankings.

And while it’s not necessary to look overseas for a “quality degree” - again, there are many such programmes already in existence on this side of the ocean - it is always a good idea to consider a programme that will allow you to study overseas for at least a portion of the degree as it will give you invaluable, hands-on experience in today’s globalised market.

The charts published by the FT show that the number of graduates have been increasing over the year. Is this sustainable without devaluing the diploma?

Jürgen: This is also a result of the Bologna Accord as countries which offered their national degrees, like Licentiate and Diplom Kaufmann, have now turned to the bachelor and masters system. In my opinion, the quality of the programmes and respectively, the value of the degree has not changed.

Della: I think that as world-class business schools - such as London Business School and the Fuqua school at Duke University - launch MiM degrees, the reputation of a MiM will go up, not down. I think the growth is certainly sustainable at the moment, but I am not sure what will happen if/when Western economies begin to grow again.

Philippe: This is also due to the fantastic growth of foreign students in the UK and Europe in general and the great appeal of the programmes. But as I said in an earlier question, the general level of student applying for jobs is going significantly up and we see more and more qualified students in our interviews.

Some of the criteria that make most of the difference are also related to “soft skills” (I really dislike this word), but capacity to work in a team, learning skills, loyalty, customer focus,cultural sensitivity, courage will make the difference between candidates with similar backgrounds.

Ben: Speaking purely from a North American perspective, I believe that an increasing number of Master in Management graduates is a positive trend, mainly because it will help entrench the MiM degree as the viable source of talent that it is in the minds of corporate recruiters.

Moreover, it has been argued in some circles that the MBA degree has been devalued with the proliferation of MBA programmes at business schools around the world, but recruiters still faithfully turn up at these schools seeking MBA graduates. Thus, I don’t view an increasing number of MiM graduates as having “devalued” the degree.

That said, prospective candidates need to do their homework when researching potential MiM programmes; you need to find the right “fit” for you. Talk to admissions people, yes, but also try to speak with recent alumni, and by all means, research which companies hire from each school.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2014. You may share using our article tools.
Please don't cut articles from FT.com and redistribute by email or post to the web.

SHARE THIS QUOTE