How To Choose An MBA Specialisation – Tips By An IIM Calcutta Student

Joining an MBA is only a step towards your dream career. What we may not give as much thought to is what to choose within and after an MBA. While most reports in the media or society see an MBA as an end goal, students know that it is just a start. We have to make 2 major choices. Firstly, we choose which stream of MBA to specialise in. My college does not have any streams to choose from. But most do. These include marketing, HR, operations, finance etc. Let’s first address how to figure this out:

  1. Figure out what you like: This seems rather obvious advice. But often in the constraint of time, we take into account only money, future prospects and societal perceptions while forgetting what we ourselves may prefer. While this is not the only factor, this is a very important one. Syllabus of each would be readily available online. Go through blogs by people. It is about taking up a field that you would be comfortable with even after several  years
  2. Talk to seniors/alumni: What better than to hear it from the horse’s mouth itself. They were in the same position as us a few years back. You can ask them things that you wouldn’t find on websites or would be hesitant to ask company officials. It is also a source that is easily available. Indeed, we often end up under-utilising our network when it can prove highly useful. LinkedIn and Facebook are also a great way to connect. Even if you do not know anyone, following the social media accounts of colleges in mind will give you access to names
  3. Future prospects: Be it the career growth or money earned, it is best to have a clear idea of what the stream will involve. Entering any career or stream is a big investment and hence makes sense to be sure of where it leads us later. We may well quit the stream 3 years later but that should be out of changing career choices rather than an ill-informed decision earlier. Tap into family friends and relatives here, people who have worked in a sector for a long time
  4. How a college gels in with your preferences: It is not of much use to know that finance is where you want to be and yet end up in a college that does not offer good finance opportunities. Choose your college keeping placements of that particular stream in mind

Secondly, we choose which sector to work in, post-MBA. This could be consulting, finance, marketing, general management, operations, product management etc. Choice of sector plays a crucial role in career success ahead since unless one is truly into it, career growth may slow after a point. One method to choose so is to base it on 4 factors:

  • Uniqueness: Eventually, an assured recipe for success is to move into a field that very few people are proficient in or one that naturally has fewer roles. For instance, within Finance people often prefer the front end roles over mid and backend ones. In the senior bracket of consulting, people who have specialised in a sector often call the shots. So when choosing a sector, chart out a probable future for yourself and see how you’re unique your job profile may get over the years
  • Valuable: A sector may be unique but may not be very valuable to society. A classic example that I once heard at a seminar was that of a person who knows how to write a famous prayer on a small grain of rice. Very unique but would never be seen as very valuable, monetary or otherwise
  • Skill: If you wish to get to the top of a field, you will need to be really good at it. Of course, one may start without any initial skills. Genuine perseverance may help you develop requisite skills. But aptitude for the field would help quicken your journey to the top. For example, finance does invariably involve a comfort with numbers and willingness to spend hours on Excel
  • Liking: There is a significant difference between this point and the previous one, more so in the society that we have grown up in. Often, we end up studying and developing skills in a field that we may not really enjoy. So at this point, it is important to choose what we genuinely like and see that there is no serious dichotomy between our liking and skill set

Taking these factors in mind, make your decision. How much weight one allows to each factor would differ from person to person. You can develop a scale of 0-5 for each factor. Then take the weighted sum of all to see which career may suit you the most. With the right specialisation and sector, you could kick-start your career on the right note.

All of this comes with a rider. No choice made can be perfectly correct. One may choose to specialise in HR but realise over the course of an MBA that Finance truly appeals to them. In such a case, make the necessary corrections that your college may allow. Do courses, live projects and certifications on the side to build up your profile accordingly. A late realisation may mean a slight delay to your career. But better late than never.

All the best with your choice making!

Niranjan Jha

More than anything else, it is stories that I am captivated by. It could be about cops, animals, Test cricket or Colonial India. Reading, writing or listening to stories livens up my day. I am looking to help people out with their career decisions and MBA options. I am a chemical engineer from IIT Bombay and entered IIM Calcutta immediately after that. I am from Bangalore. I am currently a member of the Student Team at InsideIIM.