In my business consulting work and the workshops I produce for executives in transition, the most-asked question I hear is should I go back to school and if so, should I pursue an MBA. While I have no regrets about my MBA, especially since I had the opportunity to choose the dual concentration of Finance and Leadership, I know it may not be the ideal investment for most professionals, especially those over 50. Take into consideration your own specific financial situation and current knowledge, strengths and aptitudes, of course, but here’s what I’ve observed are, in fact, good investments for professionals over 40, and the reasons why:
1) Digital Media Marketing – There are so many course offerings, at every type of institution or training facility, from community colleges to major universities, to companies like Media Bistro. Here’s why:
a) Learning digital media is very attractive to almost any professionals over 40 who are worried that their counterparts in their twenties and thirties are far more nimble, facile and advanced in digital media.
b)Younger professionals who are born into the “digital river” are earning promotions much faster, while older professionals are being passed over or worse – downsized.
c) In almost any industry, in any sector, being skilled in social media and its applications to business at large, especially those undergoing structural chaos, such as media, and to marketing in particular is an important differentiating advantage.
2) Business Administration refresher courses or earning a Bachelor’s in Business – Many professionals over 40 leave the corporate world (by choice or not) to start their own businesses, and think they have what it takes to do their own thing. Maybe, maybe not. Here’s why:
a) Courses in business administration, whether a certificate or Bachelor’s, could be their best defense against some of the most common mistakes and disillusions that plague even the hippest hoodie-clad start-up CEO. Launching a business seems easy; running one day to day is far from easy.
b) A well-rounded education in business administration gives the budding entrepreneur (at any age) grounding in operations (one of the most tedious aspects of the business that a lot of so-called visionaries can’t manage), accounting (try writing a business plan without that!), and the more right-brain and crucial courses of strategy, marketing, brand management and leadership.
c) If the time comes to sell, be merged/acquired or seek investors, then you had better know something about corporate finance or you won’t be able to even read a deal memo, let alone write or negotiate one that won’t leave you disappointed and feeling as if you wasted the sweat equity you built up in your business.
3) Career Management and Talent Development – This field has almost no barriers to entry, which is good for seasoned business professionals but also makes it very attractive to all sorts of nefarious imposters. Here’s what to look for and why:
a) Forgive my snobbery, but when I was considering a different career path, I consulted a Master’s-level counselor, not a so-called coach whose sole credentials were a 4-week teleseminar certificate!
b) Smart professionals who seek career coaching likewise want someone who’s well trained and exudes trust, not someone who’s following a commercial enterprise’s notion of “counseling.” Opt to put in the time, do the good work and earn a recognized Master’s degree in a discipline that has a reputable body of knowledge. Whether your Master’s is in psychology, social work, organizational development, counseling or any other mental health profession, the degree distinguishes you (to some extent) from those reading from a telemarketing pro’s psychobabble-ridden bromides.
c) In the same vein, anyone who takes advice from a business coach that can’t demonstrate his/her extensive experience and expertise in having actually run a business, or at least having earned an MBA, is gambling with their money. Again, if business coaching is your area of interest and you can afford the time and money for training, then earning an MBA can give you a leg up on business coaches that do not have an MBA.
4) Online courses in almost every topic imaginable – arts, science, math, and so on. My new favorite is Udemy.com, but Coursera, University of Phoenix and Southern New Hampshire University (www.snhu.edu) are just a few of the online schools to check out.