Updated 30 January 2020
When it comes to postgraduate study, the MBA (or the Master of Business Administration) is still a hugely popular option for those wishing to give themselves a professional advantage.
Often taking up to two years, the first part of the course offers core training across the fundamentals of business (such as finance, marketing and human resources) before moving into a more niche focus.
Choosing which specialization to focus on can be a tricky process – after all, your choice will not just determine what you study for the remainder of your MBA, but it can have an impact on your future career ambitions.
When it comes to choosing your preferred specialization, it’s important to consider what you want to achieve from your MBA as a whole. Are you continuing your study to improve your business knowledge, or are you using it as a step along your career path?
If you’re ambitious and you know what you want to achieve from your career, then it’s wise to consider how to fit your academic study into this plan.
Of course, it’s also wise to look at the wider implications of your study. Thanks to artificial intelligence and rapid changes in technology, we are currently experiencing a digital revolution – so you may want to consider what is taking place within your profession.
If you’re working in a human resources role, what is the impact of automation, and could this impact your career progression in the near or long-term future? Similarly, if you have finance experience, how could blockchain influence your learning?
Another factor you may wish to consider is your employment opportunities and salary. Whilst it’s not recommended to choose your specialism based solely on how much you could expect to earn, it is a valid consideration.
For example, those who choose to specialize in business strategy or entrepreneurship could find themselves at a competitive advantage during a time of change, whilst those who have chosen to study corporate economics or finance may have greater longevity thanks to their MBA qualification.
It’s also important to consider your personal interest and satisfaction levels. Choosing to study for an MBA is a serious decision, and if you’re investing your time and money into academia, you need to be confident that you’ll remain motivated throughout the duration.
We’ve looked at why each MBA specialization could be considered a good choice for both immediate and long-term success.
In a world that is rapidly changing, those who have an insight into how to turn an idea into a viable business are highly sought after.
If you choose to specialize in entrepreneurship, you can expect to learn how to develop the knowledge and skills to launch a successful start-up. You’ll spend time focusing on what challenges many businesses face and you’ll develop a deep understanding of what makes some businesses fail and others succeed.
If you think that entrepreneurship is the best MBA specialization for you, then you may be interested in a future career within a consultancy. There’s plenty of long-term scope in sharing your knowledge and expertise with others to help smaller organizations flourish and businesses continue to grow.
Specializing in strategy is a popular choice because it’s hugely transferrable and relevant to almost every sector, which could give you a greater competitive advantage within the jobs market.
When it comes to academic study, you’ll start to think about business development, risk management, consulting and other theoretical concepts that you can put into practice in a variety of situations and scenarios.
Strategy frequently focuses on the ‘here and now’, so those working in evolving professions (such as HR or marketing) may wish to incorporate strategic understanding into their day-to-day work.
This is a critical business skill required by leaders to help workforces come to terms with new systems and processes. As technology (and particularly automation) comes into force, business leaders must run effective change management programs before implementing new forms of technology or new ways of working.
There’s plenty of scope in understanding the psychology behind employee behavior and anticipating how new systems will be viewed by long-term staff members. As more businesses start to actively listen to their workforces, those with academic and theoretical knowledge of change could be highly regarded.
If you harbor ambitions to work globally, then international management is a popular choice. Understanding how legislation differs around the world and how cultural differences can impact on behaviors is key to success. Those who think that this is the best MBA specialization for their needs can find themselves welcome within the global jobs market.
During your study, you can expect to learn about critical business skills within an international context. You’ll understand how strategy and operations can differ between countries, even when working for the same employer.
This is a popular option for many MBA students because it opens the employment door to international recruitment. As more companies use technologies to allow remote working, the ability to work internationally will become increasingly common over the next 5 to 10 years.
A traditional choice, but nevertheless an area that will continue to be relevant regardless of changes in technology and personnel.
There are many different niches within the finance specialization; you could choose accountancy, global economics or managerial economics. Each has its own merits , and they can lead to career possibilities within corporate finance, investment banking or private equity (for example).
As we continue to get to grips with the impact of a global economy, those who have financial knowledge may be poised to benefit from better job opportunities; particularly as the world copes with the impact of political implications such as Brexit.
This isn’t just about people management; it’s about ensuring that the day-to-day operations of a business are strategically thought through.
These days, businesses are incredibly savvy about their operations – they know how to function effectively and run on minimal budgets in a bid to maximize profits. Therefore, operations management is a strong MBA specialization for those who want to work for large corporations. The job will involve logistics, supply chains and quality assurance.
As a specialism, this is still in its relative infancy, but we think that, like change management, it will move away from being a job responsibility through to a key specialism in its own right. Those who have this on their resume can expect to be ahead of the curve and ready for these anticipated changes.
Like finance, choosing marketing as your preferred MBA specialization is a traditional choice, but it’s also a creative opportunity that reacts to the growing influence of marketing on a business’s success.
In recent years, marketing has changed beyond recognition. No longer solely about promoting your sales messages, it’s now about creating brands and customer experiences, and helping to turn your customers into corporate advocates. It’s also about understanding your product and using available data analytics to make predictions and accurately track market trends.
Therefore, this function is becoming increasingly visible within the boardroom, as marketing managers take the step into C-Suite functions.
Those who choose to study marketing will explore these different facets, from audience engagement through to market research analysis.
We now operate in a digital world and that those with strategic knowledge of IT and computing will be at an advantage.
As an IT director, for example, you’ll be expected to manage and coordinate all activities relating to technical requirements, plus plan and introduce new systems that will continue to navigate your company’s anticipated growth. You’ll also be responsible for cybersecurity and data security practices.
IT has developed into a strategic function that works closely with both HR and marketing teams to incorporate big data. As a result, it’s now an essential role within both local and international workforces, providing greater opportunities than ever before.
This is another relatively new specialism but, thanks to changing consumer trends, will become increasingly popular over the next few years.
Today’s society places greater pressure on businesses to operate ethically and be environmentally friendly. Therefore, we can expect to see positions emerge for those who specialize in helping businesses become as sustainable as possible.
These roles will work closely with operations managers, marketing teams and HR departments to become a truly holistic department that considers the wider implications of the whole business.
Those who choose to study sustainability will develop a strong business understanding of environmental implications, with key areas including understanding environmental laws, decoding new manufacturing processes and understanding how different environmental policies can impact the bottom line.
Finally, business analytics looks set to become one of the biggest emerging MBA specialisms.
We’ve already mentioned that data analytics is a key part of operations management, marketing, IT and HR departments, but understanding what to do with that data is even more important.
That’s why companies are now recruiting data analysts and statisticians, who can use the data provided through HR and marketing systems to accurately predict trends – and develop a more strategic business function, thanks to the solid data evidence.
Automation and AI have led to the development of big data and, thanks to changes in technology, it’s now becoming more affordable and mainstream, even for small businesses. This means that opportunities are not just limited to international healthcare, engineering or corporate businesses, but are now open to almost any business in any sector.
We hope that these suggestions have given you food for thought when it comes to choosing your MBA specialization.
Of course, each school will have its own course criteria which will further impact your decision-making process, but we hope this article has given you an overview of how the jobs market is changing and how academia is changing with it.
If you have more questions about your MBA, make sure you read some of our recently published articles: