“Tact” is one of the most important weapons you will need in your “back to school” arsenal. You have finally convinced yourself that it is time to take a break from the corporate world to pursue an MBA; you have slowly accepted the reality of forgone wages and have even begun searching for a new apartment. But wait, when all is said and done, how do you break the news to your supervisor? I say, it depends. Different firms have different cultures – some firms have processes and contracts in place that provide the option for employees to take a leave of absence to pursue higher degrees, while many others don’t. Pursuing an MBA might also be a route for dissatisfied employees or career switchers, in which case your exit notice might not be received with fist pumps and celebrations.
Here are a few tips to guide you:
1)Who will be writing your recommendation? MBA applications have traditionally requested recommendations from current or former supervisors and colleagues, among other valid options. If your supervisor is writing your recommendation, it is only rational that he/she understands your future intentions and will keep tabs on your acceptance rate. If you trust your supervisor enough to involve him/her in the process, you should have no anxiety. Make sure you reassure your boss of your commitment to maintain the same standards of productivity till you leave. On the other hand, if you opt for either a former boss, college professor, highly secretive colleague or someone other than your boss to write your recommendation, depending on your impetus, it is only wise to hold off till the two week notice.
2)Relationship with your supervisor. Do you plan to return to the same company after graduation? If so, your exit strategy may impact your re-entry. Be careful to burn as less bridges as possible. Take the time now to make the right management and HR connections. Regardless of your future plan, remember that your supervisor/ colleagues become an essential part of your network.
3)Historical experience of former colleagues. Seek advice from former employees or friends who have left similar industries in pursuit of an MBA. They will most likely have a relatively accurate view of the best approach. Make sure your plan and timeline aligns with the company culture.
Coming from the consulting industry, analysts/ junior consultants are encouraged to pursue higher degrees. I involved my supervisor early in the process – taking the time to discuss my future aspirations, my MBA plan and the schools I was interested in attending. He was enthusiastic and agreed to write every recommendation I needed. Even though I started hearing from schools in March, I was not eager to make my final decision until I was certain. This bought me some time to hold-off on providing the final verdict to my supervisor. After which I was able to candidly discuss my exit strategy.
Whatever timeline you choose – Be tactful!
Oyinade Ogunbekun, Forte Fellow
Class of 2012, Olin Business School, Washington University in St. Louis