5 questions before applying for an EMBA

In the early days of 2015, as I was starting a new assignment a strong feeling of deja-vu gain me. The new job was similar to the previous ones and didn’t bring any excitement, no challenge that required me to push my limits to overcome it. Did I need to give new impetus to my professional career? The answer seemed natural at the time: I needed to apply for an MBA.
Why? Because with over ten years of professional experience, it’s the “natural” way to move forward your career. At least it’s what I was thinking at the time, and my environment just confirmed it.
So I started looking at what are the options around me, then I made a list to compare the different MBAs and EMBAs. The criteria were the usual ones: schedule, content, price and expected return on investment, accreditations, school renown etc. I end up choosing one and moreover being accepted to this program.

In August 2015, I started my executive MBA at EPFL with high but not precisely defined expectations for the program nor the impact on my career. When the workload increased rapidly, time seemed to vanish and setting priorities became a priority in itself. But how to prioritise when you have “not precisely defined” goals, so nor direction.
It was time for me to set down and rethink the situation. So I started the refective work that I should have done a couple of months before. Here are the five questions that I asked myself.

1. What is my purpose?

The first question is the hardest: “Where do I want to go? What do I want to achieve? What is my goal?”. This is not about a job or a role you would like to have, but rather about the impact you would want to make in this world. If there are no constraints and no obstacles, what would you see yourself doing? And most importantly: why would you do this?

Earl Nightingale summaries it very well: “People with goals succeed because they know where they’re going. It’s as simple as that.

2. What are my expectations?

Now that you are aware of the overall purpose, can an EMBA help you achieve it? Imagine the path to fulfil this goal as a puzzle of multiple, irregular pieces. Each piece represents knowledge or a skill or a tool necessary to accomplish your goal. Some are very familiar, some are only vaguely shaped, and some are entirely unknown. Try to identify which parts of this puzzle could be completed by an EMBA experience. If the parts are significant, then the EMBA is the right choice. Moreover, these pieces are your expectations and therefore your focus during the program.

3. Am I ready for the required investment?

Everyone agrees that an EMBA program is a significant investment. Nevertheless, most people are talking about the financial resources to cover the program’s fees, travels and other regular expenses. When considering an EMBA, we often oversee the emotional investment. The energy that we need to take in more work on one hand and give up on free time, social life and leisure activities on the other. Don’t remove this demand with a simple “I’ll find a way to handle it!” or “I know how to organise myself”. Instead, prepare yourself for sacrifices and if you can, identify the hard ones to deal with them first. For example, you used to play tennis every Saturday morning with your friend. Now you will be in class every other Saturday, so the logic would say: let’s move the session from Saturday to Sunday, right? Wrong! It will not work! Instead be prepared to cancel all your tennis sessions for the next 16 months. This is the ugly truth.

4. Do I have the necessary support?

On the graduation day, most participants say: “This is not my accomplishment, this is the accomplishment of my family. Without them, I could never do it”. And indeed, everyone close to you will be impacted and involved in the program. So talk to them, be sure they are aware of the emotional investment needed and get them on board before starting the process.

Don’t forget your company, because both your team and your boss will have to share your mental space with this demanding new occupant. So start creating an environment where you can find support and understanding when the hard times will knock at your door. If you see more obstacles then support, then maybe it’s not the right time.

5. Do I have enought experience?

The particularity of a further education program is that at least half of the knowledge is coming from the other participants and the exchanges you have with them. Real, ambiguous situations are often the focus, and the theory is only a starting point. To be able to build the overall picture and understand the subtilities of the cases and tools discussed you have to be knowledgeable of the professional environment complexity. The only way to acquire this knowledge is by direct contact and experience with it. Furthermore, the best way to learn for an adult person is to build on what you already know. So previous work experience is fundamental to get the best of your EMBA.

The underlining idea here is to go the extra mile and search beyond the obvious answers. To best way to avoid frustrations during and after the EMBA is to do a proper introspective work before applying to any program. Luckily for me, the result of the exercise proved that my choice for an EMBA and particularly the EPFL EMBA was the right one. Nevertheless, the real benefit came from the awareness of what I wanted to get from these 16 months and how to do it. It gave me focus on both the ongoing learning and overall on my career path. Thus frustrations were avoided, expectations fulfil, and the journey became my journey, a life-changing one.