How Do You Position Your MBA?


‘Leveraging your MBA.’ What does that mean? We throw around this phrase often in b-school and what we mean when we say it is a bit ambiguous, subject to interpretation and rarely ever questioned. What it typically means is how one takes full advantage of or makes best use of one’s MBA.

A very related, but far less frequently heard phrase is ‘Positioning your MBA.’ And what exactly does that mean? Positioning your MBA refers to how you convey or communicatethe leveraging of your MBA to key stakeholders. Put another way - How do you tell others what you’re getting out of the MBA program and how will you use your experience to impact your current or future company?

Students in executive MBA programs frequently ask how they can effectively leverage andposition their MBA degree with various audiences, both within their company and in the external marketplace.

The way I like to frame the primary benefits of the MBA is to use the analogy of a three-legged chair or stool. The three legs each represent a way in which you can leverage and position your degree. These would be the academic experience, the alumni network and the Booth MBA as a credential itself (and one from a top-tier institution). Sometimes you will use all three legs of the stool, sometimes you’ll only use one or two. And again, this depends on the audience of key stakeholders.

Let’s look at the first leg of the stool - the academic experience. The knowledge, tools and skills that students acquire going through the program are incredible. The Booth MBA program is an accelerated learning experience. Students gain exposure to, learn and assimilate information rapidly - first by learning fundamentals (e.g. Statistics, Financial Accounting, Microeconomics) and then connecting those fundamentals together through more advanced coursework. Applying that hard-earned knowledge to your workplace is both a way to leverage your MBA education, and also position yourself well with key stakeholders in your organization. This, of course, is based on your performance and your perceived value to the organization.

The second leg of the stool of the Chicago Booth MBA is the school’s global network of 49,000+ alums. This powerful network gives our students access to relationships and perspectives of successful individuals within the network, who are at companies that they might not otherwise have a connection to. I encourage students to look at the Booth network as a system of experts - experts with information that will help give them an edge when it comes to decision making, finding potential investors, looking for a new job or being informed about life in a certain city or country. Of course, alums are not just experts…some of them are also lifelong friends, business partners, sometimes event life partners. The relationships that students benefit from through the network can help position them for a multitude of different pursuits.

Which brings us to the third leg of the stool - The actual MBA degree itself and specifically the Chicago Booth MBA. Mid- to senior-level roles often ask for an MBA as a pre-requisite for the job, but a Booth MBA, even more than this, provides a strong signaling effect for the span of one’s career - signaling about the calibre of professional you are, the level of thinking you have and the problem-solving capability you bring, wherever your career may take you.

Leveraging and positioning your MBA takes thoughtful planning and focused effort. When we speak of the ROI on the MBA degree, this is precisely where talk and action meet - fully using your MBA and letting important others know how you’re doing so.

Wayland Lum

Senior Associate Director, Career Management