Cambridge University has an 800-year-old legacy that includes a huge list of Nobel prize winners, prime ministers, actors, writers and other famous alumni who have excelled in their fields. Within that awe-inspiring context, the Cambridge MBA is relatively new. But it has carved a niche for itself among the MBA rankings that are dominated by bschools that have been in existence for much longer.
When all the discussion forums were abuzz with paranoid MBA aspirants wondering how the recent changes to the UK work permit & visa rules would impact their post MBA career prospects, the Cambridge MBA added another feather to its cap. An impressive 97% of the graduating class had jobs in hand within 3 months of completing the program. And the cherry on the cake – over 50% of Cambridge MBA graduates switched careers (either industry, role or geography) and 29% managed to change all three.
Sameer Kamat (founder of MBA Crystal Ball) caught up with Conrad Chua – Admissions Director Judge Business School (University of Cambridge) to talk about some typical and other not-so-typical questions, including the big one – How easy or difficult is it to get a job in the UK after an MBA?
MBA Crystal Ball: What makes the Cambridge MBA special?
Conrad Chua: The values. At Cambridge, we believe that putting together a group of bright, driven people from around the world, with very different backgrounds, and who are comfortable with collaboration, provides a great learning experience from which our students can go on and achieve great things. These values drive the type of people we look for, whether it be students or staff. And the values are also what has made the University of Cambridge what it is today — one of the world’s top universities.
MBA Crystal Ball: How does the Cambridge 1-year MBA program stack up to the conventional 2-year programs offered in America?
Conrad Chua: I get asked this a lot, probably because many people think that the differences are stark when actually there isn’t that much difference from a substantive point of view. Our students study the same core subjects as their counterparts in two year programs.
Because our program is only one year in duration, our students take fewer electives but there is no reduction in choice of electives. And some of our students use the summer months to take up internships, no different from their 2-year counterparts. There is also no difference in outcomes.
Our most recent employment report showed that 97% of our jobseeking graduates found jobs within 3 months of graduation, and more than half had switched either industry, geography or job function.
Where there is a difference is the pace of the programme. It is much more intense in a one-year programme, and that’s one big question that I always have when assessing candidates — can this person keep up with the very intense academic programme?
MBA Crystal Ball: What do you look for in candidates keen to join the Cambridge MBA program?
Conrad Chua: I first look at their GMAT (and from this year onwards, we are also accepting GRE) and their academics. This is to ascertain if a candidate is academically capable of handling the intense pace of the MBA.
Then, their work experience, their essays and their work references. Here, I am looking for people who have a demonstrated track record of success, enjoy working with different cultures and have the potential to be a great alum.
MBA Crystal Ball: What should prospective applicants focus on in their application to maximise their chances of getting into the Cambridge MBA program?
This is one question that I get asked very often. Sometimes a candidate who is looking to apply in a few years time might ask a variant of this question, which is “what can I do in the next two years to get an MBA?”
I think both questions are the wrong starting point. An MBA is not an end in itself that one works towards. Instead, if you share our values and live your professional and personal lives according to those values, then the Cambridge MBA will naturally be the right choice for you at some time in your life.
In terms of the application, the best advice is to Just be themselves. It is always easy to spot the ones who write their essays based on what they think we want to hear.
MBA Crystal Ball: How do Cambridge MBA students finance their degrees? Does the school offer any financial assistance (through scholarships, bank tie-ups)?
Conrad Chua: Most students finance their degrees through a combination of personal savings, loans and scholarships. We don’t offer any bank tie-ups but we do offer some bursaries.
My advice to MBA candidates in general is to budget carefully for their MBA. There will be unplanned for activities, eg travel to attend job interviews or business plan competitions etc so it is vital to build in a lot of financial buffer.
This almost always means changing your lifestyle. If you are married, you should think carefully before asking your partner to leave their job and relocate. And finally, candidates should be very careful before committing to taking on loans.
Most loans start accruing interest from the time of disbursement which would be at the start of the academic programme. In this regard, a one-year programme might be more cost-effective than a two-year programme in that a candidate’s opportunity cost and actual financial outlays are less, and a student can start to repay the loan sooner.
MBA Crystal Ball: Many MBA applicants have been cautious in considering UK based MBA programs due to the uncertainty surrounding work-permits. Is that concern justified?
Conrad Chua: Not from what we have seen. Non-EU students are still receiving job offers in the UK. What has happened though is that there is a widespread perception that the UK is closed to non-EU students, when the reality is greatly different.
Yes, the UK has tightened its work visa regime but in many respects, non-EU MBA students are exempted from many aspects of the visa regime. For example, there are no caps on non-EU students, and if a non-EU student accepts a job offer during the period of their student visa, the student is not counted towards the annual quota of Tier 2 visas, nor is the employer obliged to comply with labour market testing.
MBA Crystal Ball: Can you share the number of students recruited by the top 5 companies – McKinsey, Credit Suisse, Amazon, KPMG, Siemens Management Consulting? (the website only mentions overall percentages for sectors)
Conrad Chua: Our latest stats are for the MBA class who graduated in September 2011. Of the 167 students in that year, 6 went to work for McKinsey, 3 each in Credit Suisse and Amazon.
MBA Crystal Ball: It’s taken a while for the consulting and finance jobs to make a comeback. Do you think the upswing will continue over the coming years? What are the other most promising sectors for MBA jobs?
I am not sure what you mean by making a comeback. In consulting, the jobs are there but the nature of the jobs is changing. The major strategy companies are incorporating implementation into their service offering, while companies such as KPMG or Deloitte are using their strengths in implementation consulting as a springboard into offering strategy consulting.
These are all in response to customer needs for integrated, practical solutions. What this means for MBA graduates is that they will have to be comfortable with both strategy and implementation, and they should broaden their search to include the consulting arms of the Big 4.
In finance, as investment banking takes a hit, there is a widening of the type of finance positions that an MBA should consider, eg private wealth management. Also in an environment where the industry becomes more regulated, there are also jobs in risk management and compliance.
29% managed the tough task of a complete career transition – sector, function and country. Were there any common elements (backgrounds, career goals or job hunting process adopted) that worked for them?
I think they were, to borrow a word coined by Nassim Taleb, anti-fragile. This means that they were determined and worked hard but they were also resilient in the face of disappointments. More than resilient, they learnt from disappointments and were flexible in their approach.
MBA Crystal Ball: Around 40% of the jobs were facilitated by the B-school. That’s a big proportion. What were the various avenues tapped by the Careers team?
Conrad Chua: The Careers Team organises recruitment presentations from companies, helps students link up with alums, and arranges workshops conducted by experts on issues such as case interview preparation, effective CV writing etc. Also, our Careers team adopts an individualised approach, meeting students one on one to develop a good understanding of each student’s career goals, strengths and weaknesses.
MBA Crystal Ball: What can MBA candidates do before or after getting into the Cambridge MBA program to improve their chances of getting their dream jobs?
Conrad Chua: Think carefully about what it is you are looking for, and your motivations. Do lots of research in the sectors of interest, in the companies that you are targeting. All the time ask yourself why these sectors and companies are of interest to you.
One thing that I always encourage candidates to do is find someone in their targeted sector or company, and ask them about the work environment (what are companies in that sector looking for; what do people have to do to get ahead in that sector; are you prepared to make the necessary sacrifices?) and more importantly, whether an MBA plus your work profile would be a good fit.
Make sure you check out the Cambridge MBA website. It has plenty of useful information about the average GMAT, class profile, scholarships, placement statistics and student blogs.