Career Crossroads: Choosing an MBA Specialization

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iStock 000003084250XSmallYou'll progress faster in your career path if you select a specialization for your MBA. Why? Well, that's what your customers want. What you have to offer is what your clients (potential employers) will buy – at the price they are willing to pay. Your MBA with a concentration in a specific area makes your degree edge out that candidate with a generic MBA. Choosing a specialization that fulfills you benefits both you and your employer. So, try these selection tips.

Examine Your Motivators

"Do what you love and you'll never work a day in your life." Confucius' saying may sound cliché. But, do not think it means work is going to be all fun, all the time. It won't. Everything has moments of drudgery when you must do it to pay the bills. You'll have to answer to people, not all of whom you'll like or respect. You'll have deadlines and budgets and pressures. Still, every single day, you'll get the pleasure of polishing your innate talents. You won't kill your soul working daily at something you hate!

Let your passion, natural talents and interests guide you. How do you please or fulfill yourself when you aren't at work? What would you do even if you never earned a dime? Why? It's your gift, your talent, your raison d'être! When you are fulfilled by doing something, you stay interested in it. It feeds you mentally, physically, spiritually and practically. You are motivated to grow your skills and abilities, and you look forward to getting the chance to do it.

Of course, there are only so many MBA /Superhero and MBA/Fairy Princess jobs out there! Loving to play the piano won't necessarily make you a concert pianist with an MBA. But wow, the job of running the Sydney Opera House! Imagine!

The Past Can Create the Future

If you don't already know what your gift or passion is, research what you've done before. What jobs have you held? What did you like best and least about them? What made you want to know more? Did you like making daily tasks more efficient? Did you enjoy doing things with your hands or solving problems? Was it selling? Talking with people? Teaching or presenting?

Most MBA students have had some years in the workforce to analyze. Even if not, look at your past academic and elective courses. Review your hobbies. Consider what distracts you when searching for something else on the internet. What news articles do you always read? Do you have book, movie or entertainment subscriptions? Do you like the blood, gore and guts of dissection? Or would you prefer to manage the robotic instruments budget? Do you want to run an airline or compile statistics for testing Elon Musk's "Jetsons' Tunnel"?

Analyzing what you loved and hated about your previous employment or activities can help you identify a concentration. Whatever made you proud, satisfied, or coming back for more could be your future.

It's Not All or Nothing

Heads up: Nobody slammed any doors just because you made a degree choice. You won't make a permanent mistake. There is no real right or wrong in this arena. There is only - different.

Any good MBA program will have internships in your area of concentration. If you discover early that you don't like your specialty, change it. If you begin to dislike it closer to graduating, finish anyway. Parlay that degree into a position in an area you prefer, or work in your specialty until you discover what you like better. Some people are not working in their degree fields but have careers they enjoy because they completed a key element of entry – their degrees. On the flip side, many people left their degree concentrations and later returned.

Having a degree focus doesn't mean you're locked into that for the rest of your life. There are vertical and lateral growth options within specialties and industries. It could be a tiny turning point like for profit or non-profit. You've been growing and changing all your life. Keep it up as your experience grows.

Do Your Homework

Identify targets. You can't aim at nothing. List the top five interests you might consider as a concentration. Choose industries relevant to your specialty interests, then companies within those industries. Next identify people in those companies and their competitors.

Research and track them. Attend career fairs, business expositions, and professional association meetings where your targets are represented. Guest lecturers, industry seminars and other campus events should be on your agenda. As you rule specialties in or out, adjust your targets and keep researching.

This way your MBA specialty will be based on real world knowledge of industries and positions. After completing your degree, your job search or advancement campaign will benefit. What employer is not interested in someone who knows the industry issues, players and competitors?


Career advisors often say that people are either 'networking or not working'. Rest assured that networking is a skill you MUST HAVE to succeed in business, so start now. Be skilled by graduation.

While you are earning a degree is a perfect time to get advice from those who know more than you about degree specializations, opportunities and career paths. Ask recruiters and people in companies for their advice. If you have a faculty member who was formerly in business or who studies real world practices or emerging business and industry, ask for a brief meeting. Look at your target lists and ask classmates for referrals to their friends, colleagues and relatives working in positions and industries of your specialty interest.

From those contacts, request their industry perspectives and insights into roles they've had. Ask for a description of their career paths, as well as any warnings they can offer. Then stay in touch to keep building your network. Don't let it lapse. You will never, ever be sorry.

Do Not Quit

It can be overwhelming, but you can select the MBA concentration that will make you more likely to achieve your future aspirations. Examine your motivations and past use of skills, remember that nothing is written in stone, and perfect your research and networking skills. Then start, and never quit.

You don't have to be great to start, but you have to start to be great. ~Radio host, Joe Sabah

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