Thinking of an executive MBA? Think again

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This is the (near) unanimous message from campus recruiters at investment banks to anyone contemplating a diversion into the world of management education. Business schools are in agreement: when it comes to penetrating the highly competitive field of investment banking, total immersion is best.

"We don't have a focused programme for recruiting Executive MBAs," says Danielle Wrobleski, head of European graduate recruitment at Bank of America. "Executive MBA courses are not an obvious place for us to look for hires."

A recruiter at a rival European bank puts it a little more strongly: "We're not as interested in executive MBA students. If you can't commit to a full-time MBA it suggests you can't commit to a career in banking: if you work for us, you need to be able to spend six months in New York at the drop of a hat."

"If you're thinking of studying an MBA, it's worth doing it full-time," says Caitlin McLaughlin, head of campus recruiting for the Americas at Citigroup. "In the full-time programme you have more access to information, both through the careers service and through your network of classmates."

"We focus on hiring full-time MBAs," agrees Kristina Peters, regional head of campus recruiting for the Americas at Deutsche Bank. She adds: "If you want to use an MBA as a career change device, you should do a full-time course. That way you can also do an investment banking internship, which is critical for career changers."

Despite banks' apparent preference for full-time MBA students, part-time, or so-called 'Executive MBAs,' are a growing phenomenon. According to a recent study by the Financial Times, applications for full-time MBA courses have fallen as much as 30% in the past year. Concurrently, leading schools such as Chicago have seen executive MBA (EMBA) applications rise 50%.

The part-time option

While traditional MBA students spend two years immersed in a world of strategy classes and managerial accounting, EMBA students study while working full-time. Students of the Wharton EMBA, for example, spend alternative weekends on campus, as well as undertaking a one week international study seminar abroad.

Despite the intermittent nature of the tuition, EMBA courses can be a costly business. Wharton, for example, charges between $129,000 and $138,000 for its two-year executive MBA course compared to around $100,000 for its full-time programme. The expense reflects the fact that existing employers have traditionally subsidised EMBAs. Today, however, schools say an increasing proportion of students are paying their way themselves.

At London Business School (LBS) half of all executive MBA students pay their way themselves. Lynne Hoffman, director of the EMBA course at the LBS says this trend is rising fast: "When the course began six years ago, only 20% of students were self-sponsored."

Growth in self-sponsored students is prompting schools to re-evaluate the support given to job seekers on EMBA programmes: to avoid conflicts with sponsoring employers, EMBA students weren't traditionally given access to school careers services.

This is changing. Christopher Morris, head of the MBA career management center at Wharton, said self-sponsored EMBA students can now use the resources of his office.

Out of the loop

Nevertheless, executive MBA students are likely to find themselves out of banks' recruitment loop. Not only will they be unable to undertake the all-important summer internship, but they're unlikely to be on campus when recruiters call.

"Banks structure recruitment events around full-time MBAs," says Wharton's Morris. "They might hold an event on Tuesday evening after regular MBA classes. But most of the Executive MBAs don't live near the Philadelphia campus and take the train down here from New York on Friday."

Citigroup's McLaughlin says studying for an MBA and holding down a full-time job doesn't leave time for much else: "If you're dealing with classes in an MBA programme as well as working for the organisation you're currently employed by, you're not going to be able to layer on top of that a 20-40 hour weekly job search."

There are also quietly held notions that EMBA courses are more lightweight than their full-time equivalents, and that students attracted to them are too old and too senior to want to put in the long hours required of investment banking associates, the usual entry point for MBA students.

"The curriculum for EMBA programmes just isn't as good," says a recruiter at a European bank. "Plus, we're looking for risk takers who commit to something 100%. It's a gutsy move to pack up a job, get into debt and go do an MBA and it says a lot about the kind of person you are."

William Kooser, associate dean of the Chicago executive MBA programme, says graduates of Chicago's full-time MBA programme are typically aged 28-29. But graduates of the EMBA are more often aged 36-38. "When investment banks come to hire an MBA they are looking for relatively low level folks," he says. "They are not in general looking for older people with lengthy experience."

When part-time is best

Should the possibility of an EMBA be dismissed entirely? Not necessarily. Recruiters say there are some instances when EMBAs are a good thing.

Personal situations may make EMBAs more appealing than full-time study, says McLaughlin. "The traditional investment banking career path is three to five years of work experience and then off to business school," she says. "But your personal scenario might not let that happen. An EMBA can be the only way of getting an advanced degree."

Although few investment banks recruit EMBAs into associate training programmes, some will hire them on an ad-hoc basis. "We consider seasoned recruits as lateral hires," says the head of US campus recruiting at one bank. "You might not have banking experience, but if you're a researcher or a scientist at a pharmaceutical company and you have an EMBA, we may love to have you on our pharma team."

On the whole, however, recruiters and schools agree EMBAs are most appropriate for people who want to get ahead in an existing organisation. If you're already working in investment banking, your employer may sponsor you. Merrill Lynch, for example regularly sponsors existing staff members to study EMBA programmes.

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