MBAs work beyond the core to boost job chances

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You said you would bring wine to the party, and are now staring at rows of bottles in the supermarket, completely confused by your choices.

Recent MBA grad Dominic Blank and his business partner Joseph Sheahan, who met as classmates in the University of Illinois at Chicago’s entrepreneurship program, are here to help.

“People don’t know how to choose wine, and they are often buying it in the grocery store, so they just buy the cheapest,” Blank said. He and Sheahan have developed a digital sommelier program, “Savvo,” that operates off a free-standing iPad station set up in store aisles. Now being tested in several area grocery stores, Savvo gives wine buyers suggestions based on their price range, preferences and what’s actually on the shelves.

“So far, we have increased [in-store wine] sales by 11 percent,” said Blank. He attributes part of their initial success to UIC’s Master of Business Administration (MBA) Tech Ventures course, which partners students with UIC scientists whose inventions have commercial potential. Together they develop business plans and pitch their plans in competitions.

The program, said Blank, “forces you to be an entrepreneur. I would not have met Joe, or investors, and would not think about business the way I do now, without it. And I certainly would not have the network I have.”

UIC’s Liautaud Graduate School of Business requires that students take classes in at least one of 11 areas of concentration after their core courses, said Mary Clark, an assistant dean. That’s a typical course of study at many business schools, offering students the chance to increase their marketability with a specific skill set.

“Students believe it is more important now to show a degree of expertise in the field they choose,” Clark said. “Especially if they are doing a career change.”

Areas of concentration help MBA students focus on areas that show high growth, or that meet their own interests.

DePaul’s Kellstadt Graduate School of Business, as an example, offers 37 areas of concentration for its 1,800 students.

What path to choose, said Catherine Moser, associate director of Kellstadt, “depends on their past experience. Broadly speaking, a concentration is a good idea, especially for a person who has just a few years of work experience or who is looking for a change in career.”

Students with more work experience who are planning to stay in the same career field might look first at a general MBA, she said.

While MBA schools typically have elective credits built into the program, students who opt for multiple concentrations might take longer to graduate. Many schools also offer joint and/or dual degrees, and those also tend to take longer.

Because these are important and potentially costly decisions, says Moser, “Meet with your career center early and often. Engage with us early, there is a lot of assessment and conversation needed to discover what you are interested in, and what your goals are.”

If you are good at math and love working with data, you’re in luck – the analytics field is hot, hot, hot. Some fields of analytics, Moser said, “have more opportunities than there are students.” Analytics is a broad field that covers a lot of disciplines, she said, but generally helps organizations make data-driven decisions.

Often, entering students try to aim for “hot” concentration areas like analytics. Other specialties where students tend to get hired quickly at good salaries are: finance, information systems, entrepreneurship, real estate, supply chain management, accounting, international business and marketing.

Health care-related degrees are also producing in-demand graduates, according to Dr. Joel Shalowitz, director of Health Industry Management at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management.

Within Kellogg’s health care-related MBAs, students can focus on providers (such as hospitals), suppliers (such as pharmaceutical companies or developers of medical devices) or insurance. A student interested in pharmaceuticals would be likely to take classes in marketing, health care and strategy. Those studying venture capital and health care would take classes in finance, health care and strategy. Those pursuing hospital administration careers would study operations, accounting and health care.

Northwestern’s half-term (five-week) classes enable students to take even more subjects.

“We have paired certain courses,” Shalowitz said, “for example, one (five-week) course on health care quality and another (five week course) on health care IT. So you can get a full quarter of credits by mixing and matching credits that are appropriate.”

For many students, developing a specialty within an MBA program is as much about who they meet during the process as what classes they take, and a business school’s alumni can help lead the way.

That was key for Jordan Myers, 26, who just earned his MBA from DePaul with a concentration in entrepreneurship.

“DePaul encouraged me to network in every way,” he said. He met his new boss, who is also a DePaul alumnus, through a university event. That enabled him to get a job before he even finished his MBA, and he is now doing business development for a fast-growing new Chicago company.

That is true as well for Kellogg students, Shalowitz says.

“It really is like joining a fraternity or a sorority,” he said. “We have a separate database [of alumni] in health care. If you meet someone from Kellogg, it’s like finding a long-lost relative.”

Kay Severinsen is a local freelance writer.