Gaining personal competitive advantage in your career – the key benefit of an MBA?


This blog first appeared on the Bradford University School of Management blog.

Next week, I am hosting the MBA Preview event at our Bradford campus, on Wednesday 10 July (there is still time to sign up if you are interested – see below for more information).

We are looking at how an MBA gives you a personal competitive advantage, both in your current job and in the global marketplace.

There has been considerable debate in recent years over whether an MBA still puts you ahead of your peers.  A conversation recently with a partner at one of the world’s top headhunters confirmed just how important an MBA is for the very top jobs.  She told me: “Most of the global corporate board positions require an MBA as a basic requirement.  It can be frustrating for us – sometimes we have an outstanding candidate, but without an MBA, our client won’t let us even put them on a shortlist.  That shows just how much business leaders value this qualification. ”

We recently asked our alumni for their views about how an MBA gives you a personal competitive advantage, particularly in light of their career successes since achieving it.

pdonovanPaul Donovan studied for a full-time MBA at Bradford University School of Management in 1989. Former regional chief executive of Vodafone and now a non-executive director, he attributes his studies to giving him a greater appreciation of every aspect of running a company.

There are four key areas where we see an MBA giving you a personal competitive advantage.

1. Moving from specialist to general manager

For many who do our Executive MBA (part time whilst working full time in their current roles), the idea of going from a technical specialist to more of a generalist can initially be counter-intuitive.

Those who are technically excellent at what they do – whether in engineering, manufacturing, IT, construction, marketing, finance or another specialist field – tend to get promoted to a certain level based on their level of technical skills. But when they reach a certain point in their career, their operational abilities become less important and general management skills are needed to take them to the next level.

For some, this can feel like starting from scratch but, with an MBA, they can gradually start to learn how to operate at a more senior level and directly apply that learning in their day-to-day technical role in preparation for the next stage of their career.

stynegateSteve Tynegate, who graduated from our Executive MBA in 2009, said: “I had always resisted the idea of an MBA because I was a manufacturing guy and thought they were only for commercial people. But I used what I learnt about operations to lead my site team to win a national manufacturing award and put together a proposal for a management buy-out of a redundant site.”

2. Demonstrating personal commitment to your career

Another way an MBA increases your personal competitive advantage is by being seen to make that investment in your own career/development whilst not disadvantaging your employer. In fact, at Bradford School of Management, we encourage the application of knowledge and skills back into the workplace from day one – so there is every opportunity to really demonstrate your personal commitment to professional development.

3. Positioning yourself at board level

When it comes to having conversations at board level, your personal competitive advantage is very much dependent on your ability to see the bigger picture and understand how different elements of the business or organisation fit together at a strategic, and often international, level.

Often the only way of getting this perspective is to step back from the ‘daily grind’. Our Executive MBA is taught in weekend blocks on our leafy, secluded campus. The intense days spent with fellow MBA students from different backgrounds and specialisms give professionals a chance to analyse and solve problems with a broader perspective than they would ever get into at work.

4. Branding yourself as a management professional

Personal competitive advantage ultimately starts with being able to act and interact like you are at management level. For many managers and technical specialists this is about confidence.

Our MBA modules and dedicated careers service helps MBA students create a personal brand for themselves which gives them the confidence to apply what they’ve learnt to their careers.

Julian-BartholetOne of our recent Executive MBA alumni, Julian Bartholet, went from a senior role in an innovative SME to working at a strategic level for a FTSE 100 company after realising that if he was to realise his ambitions, he needed to be somewhere where he could progress much further than he had originally thought possible. The MBA allowed him to “speak a different language” at work after just two months.  By the end of the programme, he had the confidence not only to apply for higher level jobs but strategically target the companies he wanted to work for.  He did this by pitching himself as the solution to a specific problem, coming up with radical mini business plans for them. He said: “I would never have had the confidence or ability to take such a proactive approach without my MBA expertise.”

Even though the job market remains tight, MBA graduates are in demand.  Latest figures released by the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC) show that 92% of 2012 business school graduates worldwide found employment within three months of graduation, up from 82% in 2011.

This is what we hope our MBA students will achieve – the advantage to take their careers to the next level and have that personal competitive advantage.

Has an MBA given you a personal advantage?  Do leave a comment on this blog and share your stories.

Our MBA preview event takes place between 6.15-8.30pm on Wednesday 10 July. Click here to sign up or contact me at to discuss this further – or sign onto our online events. Our Executive MBA only has one annual intake in September so don’t miss the boat to start gaining your own personal competitive advantage.

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