Over 40 and considering a master’s degree? Consider this…

salute to edAre you an mature professional who is considering a return to school for a master’s degree? Going back to school for any level of higher education is a fast-growing trend; recent stats from the U.S. Department of Education confirm that adult students are now the fastest growing demographic in the educational arena.

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?” The MBA is certainly a hotly discussed degree. Many seasoned professionals leave the corporate world (by choice or not) to start new businesses, and think they have what it takes to do their own thing. Maybe, maybe not. However, it is possible that the training involved in achieving an MBA could be their best defense against some of the most common mistakes new entrepreneurs make.

By the same token, an M.S.in Education or in Psychology and Human Services may empower you to reach for better, more interesting, and higher paying jobs than those available to someone with a bachelor’s degree.

Here is a brief overview of three possible master’s degrees you may be considering:

Master of Business Administration

The MBA is the most popular advanced degree in America and is one of the most reliable paths to a successful career in business – whether your goal is to rise in a corporation, run your own business, or lead a nonprofit. An MBA program provides you with the essential general management portfolio of strategy, operations, finance and marketing, with a strong emphasis on organizational development and personal leadership training. You will upgrade your technical business decision-making skills and increase your overall organizational effectiveness and value through improved self-management – skills that will benefit other areas of your lives

A good MBA program provides you with the invaluable opportunity to learn from professors with extensive experience as well as expertise in their respective fields of strategy, operations, marketing, finance and organizational development.  Look for programs where faculty members have extensive experience in, and a passion for, mentoring, training and educating diverse professionals and helping them build fulfilling careers.

Master of Science in Psychology (or other Human Services)

Senior managers recognize that they get a better worker when you go back to school for additional training, which can lead to promotions and pay raises. If you have established yourself in a specific type of counseling career for a few years and decide you want to try something different in the field, a graduate degree will prepare you to do so.

Master of Education

A master’s degree in education gives you the latest essential skills for educators and can provide you with an advantage in the job market over candidates with a bachelor’s degree. Whether you are interested in teaching in a public school, or simply wish to expand your understanding of the education process, but do not plan to teach in a classroom setting, an M.S. in Education can increase your options.

Look for colleges that can tailor programs to meet your specific career goals, needs and interests. Learning the latest classroom trends enhances your resume and expands your employment options. Look also for programs that are affordable and accessible to over-40 individuals already working in the field.

You, the over-40 professional, know you will be living longer, and you demand more from your life. In returning to school for a master’s degree, you are DARE-ing to pursue new career ideas, create new businesses, and fulfill your lifelong dreams.

 

adult ed pic two 9 4 2013

What’s the Big Idea? – Inspiration and Cautionary Lessons for Entrepreneurs of All Ages and Motivations from NYU’s Business Plan Competition (Part 1)

nyu sternRecently, I served as a judge in a semi-final event for the 2014 NYU Berkeley Center for Entrepreneurship Business Plan competition, dubbed “The Entrepreneur’s Challenge.” The final event was held last Friday at NYU, capping nine months of preparation by hundreds of aspiring entrepreneurs. Comprised of several dozen teams, it was ultimately winnowed down to winners in three categories: Technology ($75,000), Social Enterprise ($50,000) and New Venture in Any Category ($75,000).

Each of the winning ventures had one very compelling characteristic in common. (More about that in a minute.)Some of the young students and seasoned entrepreneurs sitting with me at the event were surprised at the winning selections, but I wasn’t. Having produced, pitched, taught and evaluated business plans and marketing campaigns my whole career, working with fast-talking money-changing Mad Men types, I picked the same winners the official judges did.

So, what exactly does it take to launch, differentiate, compete and scale a business idea into a profitable enterprise that attracts loyal customers, secures investors and thrives until such time as the entrepreneur decides to sell, expand or merge? From the official website of the NYU Entrepreneurs’ Challenge, the following are just some of the criteria, quoted verbatim, italics inserted for emphasis:

“…Not any old ideas. What we’re interested in are disruptive ideas, ideas with the power for great impact and influence. Ideas that challenge assumed boundaries and inspire a sense of what’s possible.

“The $200K Entrepreneurs Challenge provides you with the framework and motivation you’ll need to think and do what no one else is doing…”

Here’s my view of what the judges saw in this year’s winners:

1) Conscious competence – and the commitment, confidence and drive to turn an incipient idea into a viable company, i.e., to “scale.” By the time competitors get to the finals, they have lived, breathed, dreamed and agonized over their business ideas, making dozens of revisions. All of this has helped them further establish and demonstrate their competence, confidence and drive to differentiate, solve true marketplace needs and aspire to be the best solution to those needs.

2) Forget “analysis is paralysis.” In a competitive arena where millions (let alone thousands) of investment dollars and/or sales to consumers are in play, research is king, queen, and master of the universe. The winners demonstrated they had performed painstaking research into and testing of the differentiating strategies, operational levers and financial models that would turn their concept into a business offering worthy of at least initial investment beyond their friends and family. They considered every possible method for launching successfully, accelerating awareness, building positive perceptions and securing attractive customer bases, while also demonstrating they could manage unnecessary costs, fix weaknesses and address threats efficiently and effectively.

3) Practice, practice, practice, and be willing to take and apply what may seem like excruciating advice. The most motivated among the NYU competitors participate in energizing but grueling boot camps and multiple preliminary competitions, representing thousands of collective hours of sweat equity and brainpower expended. If it’s true that to become truly competent, one needs to have engaged in an activity some 10,000 hours, then I suspect the winners did that and more. If you consider yourself an expert already and resist the notion of all but the most essential business advisors, chances are you won’t sustain your business for long or you’ll struggle at some impasse where you absolutely need fresh thinking.

4) A truly differentiated product or service that answers a compelling marketplace need that the new firm can meet better, cheaper or faster than existing products or services. As good as all the finalists were in stating the need for their services and their differentiating competitive advantage, the judges rejected all but the three winners for the following reasons:

a) Unfocused or incorrect strategy: business models that were too complicated or too simplistic to make money and scale sufficiently.

b) Risky operations: underestimating logistical constraints and the inherent costs involved (among them, inventory costs, privacy issues and insurance liabilities); the team’s lack of industry experience; inability to address serious technological challenges.

c) Weak branding and/or lack of a marketing expertise: either too little or too much investment estimated for target audience segmentation, other market research and marketing itself to acquire initial customers, let alone build a brand that would scale, be sustainable and yield ROI in a reasonable amount of time.

So, what was the secret ingredient, the winning factor that distinguished the prize winners? Venture capitalists and other financiers ask a lot of questions regarding the marketplace need for a new offering, and the questions all boil down to this: is your business offering a vitamin or a painkiller? In a similar vein, is your business a pain to use?

nyu stern awardsThe ultimate winners of the NYU competition crafted and made compelling business cases for offerings that addressed marketplace pain. Take a look and see what you might be missing in your own business offering.

 

It’s Never Too Early and Never Too Late – Two young enterprising careerists demonstrate.

Most of us by now have learned that using the term “seasoned executive” is a sure turnoff to many of today’s younger hiring managers, some of whom look as if they could be our kids but in fact are now our supervisors. They’re learning early how to Drive, Advance, Rule and Express their Experience and Expertise.

Make no mistake that they are running the new world, and we must run along with them, run faster than them, or run and hide from them. For me and other women over 40 who DARE, the last choice isn’t even an option. I say we challenge ourselves to run along with them and champion them to win – the pie is big enough for all of us.

Chardia Christophe

Chardia Christophe

Two phenomenal young 20-something women I met several months ago illustrate this point. At the behest of a friend, I attended an evening networking event sponsored by New York Women in Communications, being held at an Upper West Side restaurant in a very fashionable neighborhood in New York City.

Among the young women we observed scooping up guacamole, slurping mixed cocktails, and balancing their tiny frames on vertiginously high heels that evening were Micaela and Chardia Christophe. Two utterly charming twin sisters, both have been working and learning about business since their early teens. Micaela manages showroom merchandising projects at Donghia, a high-end home furnishings company featuring textiles, lighting and accessories. Chardia works for American Express, managing the marketing for a wine club along  with other member affinity clubs under such luxury brands as Food & Wine, Sky Guide, and Departures.  Chardia has a Master’s in Communication Studies; Micaela is pursuing her MBA in Marketing.

micaela christophe

Micaela Christophe

Even a few of those remarkable accomplishments would place them high on my list of “young professionals I would love to mentor/sponsor/adopt.” On top of that, they are extremely endearing, fascinating and fascinated about everything, and hilariously funny because of their complete and utter curiosity and genuine appreciation for every opportunity they have to advance their careers constructively and productively, make their parents proud and have as much fun as possible doing it.

Following is just some of the wise advice Micaela and Chardia offered when they spoke to my Marketing Planning class at NYU. They didn’t merely shoot from the hip; they did a full-blown Power-Point presentation. Their advice is as suitable for 60-somethings as it is for 20-somethings. I’ve paraphrased only slightly for space and context, adding my own two cents- type comments here and there.

1. Get engaged in the industry you wish to be in – especially if you’re job-hunting. The ladies’ specific advice:

  • Follow powerful people you admire or would like to network with on Twitter and LinkedIn. Comment politely on their background or posts.
  • Volunteer at events whenever you can.
  • Go to mixers and network strategically.

2. Professionalize your phone presence and voice messages. The ladies’ advice:

  • Be sure your outgoing message as well as the ones you leave for others are friendly and professional.
  • If you are trying to persuade busy executives, script out what you want to say, because very few executives pick up their own phones, and assistants will happily put you into voice mails.
    My own two cents: Record and listen to your cadence and delivery (this goes for oral presentations in general). Be especially cognizant of what I see in women of all ages, the telltale “uptick” at the end of declarative sentences as if they were questions.

3. Check your email, at least three times a day; being responsive is a highly valued trait.
My two cents: if you truly cannot respond in a day, at least acknowledge the email within 24 hours and/or default to an “out of office” notice so your lack of reply doesn’t seem discourteous. If you’re like me and running through airports mowing down baby strollers and old people, you’re probably not interested in email as much as you are in food and bathroom facilities.

4. Be careful with your wardrobe. Remember to “dress for the job you want, not for the job you have.”
My two cents: nothing saddens me more than to see a woman over 40 dressed slovenly or in sweat pants in public unless said woman is: a) escaping from an Outward Bound retreat; b) coming or going to the gym; c) appearing in public that way before dawn, in which case “slovenly” might be most handy caffeine-procurement garb, in which case, perfectly suitable!

5. Utilize your friends and contacts courteously when job hunting. The ladies’ advice: Reach out to all your contacts and let people know you’re looking. People like to help, and they can’t if you haven’t asked them! Looking for a job IS YOUR JOB.
My two cents: regarding your friends and contacts, do ASK, don’t demand; accommodate their schedules, don’t impose; be geo-friendly – don’t specify neighborhoods you’d prefer to meet when time is tight for the people you’re asking!

6. Practice, Practice, Practice. The ladies’ advice:

  • Go through the possible interview questions until you’re blue in the face.
  • Know the company well, so well that you feel confident and comfortable.
  • Remind yourself of the value of direct eye contact with the interviewer. As you practice, look in a mirror to be sure your body language is relaxed and strong, that you are not fidgeting.
  • Try out your wardrobe choice in advance.
    My two cents: when you’ve done so much research on the firm and reviewed your resume to the point where you could recite it from memory, group all of your benefits to the employer into these three “bundles:” strengths, motivation and fit. Trust me, ALL interview questions fall into those areas, and ALL of them must reflect what the employer most wants that you are willing to deliver to get the job.

7. Go to ALL interviews. Consider them networking opportunities, even if you do not get the job. You never know who knows who.
My two cents: AMEN to that, for sure! It also helps to have a strategic job-hunting plan, and identify the kinds of people you most need to cultivate.

8. Use good online Resources: Media Bistro, Indeed, LinkedIn – all are good for a variety of jobs. There are new online career sites emerging every day.
My two cents: Don’t forget that most hiring managers either hire from within or hire someone they know and trust. More than that, you need to research and secure a SPONSOR. (See my previous blogs for more on working with sponsors: http://thedareforce.com/2013/05/20/executives-over-40-a-few-choice-words-from-your-sponsor-part-1/; http://thedareforce.com/2013/05/30/part-2-great-expectations-from-sponsors-from-you/

Micaela and Chardia Christophe are just two of the young professionals currently hoping to run the new world. Here’s hoping that their managers over 40 are not only running along with them, but championing them to win. Leaders over 40 need to embrace every opportunity to mentor, champion and sponsor the next generation. If you doubt the pie is big enough for all of us, then the next generation of digital natives and relentlessly inventive entrepreneurs will be eating your lunch.