Business Forum: Is now a good time to seek further education?

Feb. 1, 2011
Q: I was fortunate to get hired as a CEO during the telecom bubble but have not had a good job since. I have been looking at the mobile space and also thinking about an MBA. I am at a loss after being rejected by several top schools—probably due to my age. At this point, I am running out of networking contacts. Any suggestions?
1304qa Chang New

Q: I was fortunate to get hired as a CEO during the telecom bubble but have not had a good job since. Recently, I have been looking at the mobile space and also thinking about an MBA. I am at a loss after being rejected by several top schools—probably due to my age. At this point, I am running out of networking contacts. Any suggestions?

A: I am sympathetic and I hope you allow me to speak my mind. Do filter what I say to fit because I tend to be conservative.

I suspect you want an MBA to give you an edge in finding an executive position. But there may be other steps to achieving your goal—maybe even scaling back the position for which you apply in order to avoid a large gap in your resume.

I wonder how much you can gain from getting an MBA at this stage of your career. An MBA program can bring a healthy dose of general management techniques for someone just starting out, which can be very useful knowledge when you manage a real-life project. However, you have probably experienced most of what is taught. The downside to seeking an MBA at this point is that you run the risk of getting rejected for having an unusual career path. People are usually looking for reasons not to hire when filling a job opening, especially in very competitive positions.

You may want to think about applying a strategy that I would call "competing down": In your case, look for opportunities in areas where you can compete at an advantage or where you bring a unique capability to the job, and in areas less sought after or less competitive. Look critically at your resume; you can be very helpful working alongside a novice entrepreneur. Mobile, on the other hand, is a hot space at this time, so you may want to think about where there are fewer job seekers and how to compete with young people who have grown up in the digital age, having been inundated with mobile applications during their early years.

Q: This is my first attempt at starting a business. How can I get investors interested in my idea before I spend too much time, only discover it is not a sound investment?

A: Ideas come and go; you have to assume investors are not going to be interested unless they see a full business plan. They will want to be sure you are serious about your idea and you know where it should lead the business. I can understand why you wouldn't want to waste time on an idea that isn't going to go anywhere.

You may be able to use your lack of experience as a way to get advice after you have written an executive summary that addresses the key issues. And if you accept the potential investors' input to develop the business plan, then by their definition you'll have a good business idea. In marketing jargon, that is in effect "creating a pull" for investors to think about your idea and find their own reasons to buy into it.

You may have noticed I shifted "idea" to "business idea." The point is a good business idea is more than just a viable technology or a useful application: It has to make business sense from every point of view. My advice is for you to work through the outline of a business plan to address the key issues in your executive summary: technology, applications, and product; plans for getting financial resources, technical capabilities, management, and business skills; and whatever else is necessary to gain competitive advantage in the marketplace. Time spent even on a plan you don't ultimately pursue is not wasted because you are practicing to get good at what you need to do each time—until you truly have encountered a "good idea."

About the Author

Milton Chang

MILTON CHANG of Incubic Management was president of Newport and New Focus. He is currently director of mBio Diagnostics and Aurrion; a trustee of Caltech; a member of the SEC Advisory Committee on Small and Emerging Companies; and serves on advisory boards and mentors entrepreneurs. Chang is a Fellow of IEEE, OSA, and LIA. Direct your business, management, and career questions to him at [email protected], and check out his book Toward Entrepreneurship at www.miltonchang.com.

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