Independent Graduate: Mastering the art of business

An MBA isn't the only possible route to obtaining a senior management position, as Hannah Foxcroft reveals
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The Independent Online
So you want to do an MBA? After all, the MBA has a reputation of being an essential entry ticket into the world of senior management. During the last decade there has been a four-fold increase in applications nation-wide.

The bad news is, however, that business schools claim more and more of these applicants simply don't have the experienced required - a minimum of two years in business. The good news? An increasing number of business schools are setting up an alternative of a one-year full-time Masters degree in a specialised subject. Popular examples include business and management, and marketing. Their message is that MBAs are no longer the be all and end all.

Advocates of these Masters courses claim there are particularly beneficial to graduates. A potential problem of MBAs, they explain, is that the range of topics covered tends to be broad which means the depth of study into individual disciplines can be limited. For those about to enter senior management, this is ideal. But for those who haven't yet reached that level, the opportunity to excel in a single discipline is a far better - and faster - way of climbing the career ladder.

Leeds University Business School now offers several of these courses, including an MSc in International Marketing Management. "We were aware there was a demand for this type of course," says John Hillard, Director of Taught Postgraduate Programmes "We were having to turn people away from the MBA and marketing is a hot area. The response has been incredible."

Unlike the MBA, recent graduates with a good degree (2:1 or above) in any subject can take a Masters. Seen as a "conversion" degree, it gives them a deep understanding and specialisation in a discipline that will make them, undoubtedly, stand out against the thousands of graduates pouring on to the job market. For recent graduates seeking a good position in industry or the city, they are proving to be invaluable.

Mark Fisher recently completed a full-time MA in Marketing at Kingston Business School, which offers MAs in strategic financial management, direct marketing, among others. Fisher had done some freelance marketing in Spain, but was looking for a way to get a formal grounding in marketing on his return to England. Having completed his Masters, he got a job immediately. Four years later, he is retail development director at United Distillers and Vintners: "It has been a pretty fast track to where I am now. Without the Masters I think it would have taken me at least 10 years to reach this point."

Before embarking on the course, Mark researched both Masters and MBAs. "An MBA was too broad for me at the time," he says. "It looked like I would become a jack of all trades and a master of none."

Ann Rinsler, MBA course Director at Kingston Business School, emphasises the importance of picking the right course according to the stage you are at. 'There is every expectation that you will continue your education and do other courses," she points out.

As a result, a course is being devised at Leeds where a graduate can complete a Masters, then spend a few years in work and come back to do an MBA.

For those with a few years of experience in industry, a Masters will focus more on experiential learning, while still looking at an individual discipline. At the Management Consultancy Business School, an MSc in Management Consultancy is offered - the first of its kind. Consultancy is the greatest consumer of MBA graduates, with new graduates earning up to pounds 80,000, compared to general industry where a starting salary is nearer pounds 35,000.

Unlike students of MBAs, those doing a Masters can combine "theory out of practice", as Rebecca Shepheard, Director at the Management Consultancy Business School explains. The course is taught by professionals, not academics and has a large research element. Inter-personal skills feature strongly at this school and at many others. "We look at how you behave in a way that is appropriate, how to manage yourself, your client, your team," she says.

The bottom line is that a Masters provides you with confidence about the discipline studied - a competitive advantage to the person standing next to you. Indeed, it is the ability to communicate what has been learnt and experienced on the course that leads to the jobs. "It is what I got from the Masters and how I presented it, not the piece of paper saying 'Masters'," explains Mark Fisher "It gave me the tool kit to be able to move on in my career."