"After all, an MBA program just gives you a bunch of knowledge about business administration, right? But that knowledge will eventually be obsolete—and if knowledge is all I want, I can just read a book with 'MBA' in the title!" However, like everyone says, how you are perceived in terms of your knowledge about the latest management theory (frameworks) by those around you is another story. It's similar to how subscribing to Golf Digest won't improve your score on its own. To go to the extreme: an MBA is not about acquiring knowledge. It's about acquiring an attitude.
Now that we're clear on that point, I'd like to explain the step-by-step process those who are determined to obtain MBAs should follow.
Making preparations to obtain an MBA
In order to prepare for obtaining an MBA, it is very important to ensure you have sufficient time to get ready before attending lectures. About three hours of preparation time are required for each case study, so it's essential to make the effort to set aside the time for your commute, lunch break, and travel and make the necessary accommodations for early mornings and late nights. You should also consider allocating a little of your personal time to your MBA studies. If you're pursuing an MBA program overseas, you have another weighty decision ahead of you: submitting a letter of resignation to your employer. Given the current climate in Japan, it's not as if everything will be instantly all smiles if you come back with an MBA, either. Understand that it is commonplace in Japan for it to take three years after graduating with an MBA to get a promotion and a raise—you have to establish a track record at the company first.
Preparing for an MBA interview is an opportunity to face yourself
It is recommended that you use your MBA education to reflect repeatedly on what you truly want to do and be in the future. The interviewer will be a pro who has seen countless candidates for an MBA education, so come prepared to ensure that you're not surprised or uncomfortable. Also, don't forget to dress for the occasion—wear a jacket or suitable business attire on the day of the interview! You don't need to don a tailored suit made of fine British cloth but showing up like you just woke up on casual Friday won't do, either. It's important to make a good impression on the interviewer as a working adult—and for your choice of attire to be well-suited to the occasion. If you give 120% and make the grade, move on to the next step.
Should I tell my company or not?
There are some folks who refuse to inform their companies that they're attending business school until they obtain their MBA. It is undeniable that in Japan today it is not always clear how the pursuit of an MBA will be received by one's superiors, colleagues, and HR department—companies want their employees to give their best inside the firm, regardless of the fact that the external activity occupying the employee's time is an MBA program. Happily, there are employees who have received a degree of assistance and support from their companies in pursuing an MBA, but I would estimate this amount to be no more than 20% of total cases . I've had many opportunities to meet with company HR employees, and I always ask them to consider employee participation in MBA programs as a positive attribute come promotion time—it represents an investment in oneself.
If you're having trouble deciding whether or not to inform your company about your pursuit of an MBA, see if there's anyone in your company or circle of contacts who has an MBA. Reactions to your decision might vary depending on your corporate culture, so the experiences of these people will be helpful. By the way, one of my subordinates is going for an MBA, and I'm in complete agreement with the decision. Do your best!
Points to remember for foreign-owned businesses
Foreign-owned businesses, businesses that actively recruit MBA holders, and businesses whose HR personnel come from overseas usually have an excellent understanding of what business schools do and what MBAs are, so if you work for one of those firms, it'd be wise to choose a school that's internationally accredited and whose credentials are recognized both in Japan and abroad. This goes without saying but making a second attempt at an MBA degree is extremely difficult. Your choice of a school will have a direct impact on your career, so be prudent, and choose wisely.
The Specialty Professional Education & Training Grant System: a powerful ally
Once you are approved for admission to an MBA program and manage the situation (make proper arrangements) with your company, your next step lies at the Public Employment Security Office. Don't worry: you're not filing for unemployment. New students in MBA programs affiliated with the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare's Professional Education and Training Grant System are eligible for up to 1.12 million yen in educational grants. The goal of this system is to expand opportunities for improving occupational skills. The grants are limited to individuals who are paying for their own tuition, so if you're attending your MBA program on orders from your company, investigate a Career Formation Facilitation Subsidy instead. If an individual is sent to attend an MBA program as part of employee training, it'd be nice if the expenses were deductible...but that's not the case.
When to visit the Public Employment Security Office
The deadline for filing for grants with the Public Employment Security Office is one month before the start of classes. Those taking the admission exam just before the deadline must proceed with their grant applications before receiving the results of their exam. (It's a little-known fact that you can apply for the grant regardless of your admission exam results.)
When you attend orientation, don’t forget:
When you attend orientation, you'll inevitably wonder who the heck these people sitting in the seats next to you are. Attending orientation can stir up feelings of insecurity and anticipation you might not have experienced in years. There's one thing you won't want to forget: your business cards. Bring plenty! Many proclaim that a valuable part of the MBA experience is the personal connections you make. The network of friends you'll be creating over the next two years will start at orientation.