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Companies, employees must discuss post-MBA expectations

Houston recruiter Mike Kahn likes to joke about putting up a kiosk outside MBA graduation ceremonies this time of year so he can hand out business cards to newly-minted midcareer graduates as they pose for photos with their families.

Employees who returned to school to get MBAs or other master’s degrees worked hard, and they want a return on their expensive investments, said Kahn, who specializes in human resources staffing at the Lucas Group. But some of the graduates get frustrated because their companies don’t recognize the new skills they’ve acquired.

“I get so many calls,” he said, that start with, “ ‘I got my degree. I really want to do something with it. Nothing has changed here.’ ”

A recruiter’s opportunity, however, can also serve as a warning to managers about the importance of launching a conversation on what’s next before it’s too late. Or serve as a reminder to employees working on advanced degrees that they can kick-start the conversation, too.

It can be as simple as mapping out a plan, said Kahn, who said a talk should start at a minimum within a semester of graduation. Find out what drove the employee to get the degree, he said, and what the employee wants to do with it.

One of the biggest frustrations of the students in the executive MBA program at the University of Houston is that they spend time and money building skills, but employers don’t see them as different in any way, said Jamie Belinne, assistant dean for career services at the C.T. Bauer College of Business.

It’s like a child who has grown up, but the parents can’t quite seem to see him or her as an adult, she said. They’re comfortable with the way things are.

It’s especially common in health care, she said. An employee may be a nurse or diagnostic technician, but after getting an MBA, the employee wants to go into health care administration. But the hospital doesn’t want to lose the nurse or medical tech. If the employee can’t move within the company, however, the health care provider – or any other employer, for that matter – runs the risk of losing a frustrated worker.

“You would think human resources would be sitting down and trying to figure out a way to cash in on the learning,” she said, especially if companies have made substantial investments, whether it’s picking up part of the tab or giving employees extra time off for their studies.

Jeanie Oudin estimates that about half of her colleagues in her MBA program at Rice University ended up on the job market when they realized their jobs wouldn’t change much, despite committing nights and weekends for two years to get their graduate business degrees.

Luckily, Oudin, who graduated last month with her MBA, never had to even consider that possibility because her employer took an active role in discussing early and often how her role would change with her new degree and skills. Oudin was a research analyst for the energy research firm Wood Mackenzie when she began working on her MBA two years ago. It was during her semiannual reviews starting last fall that she and her manager began discussing how she’d like to use her new skills, and in December, she applied for and received a promotion to manager.

Earlier this month she was promoted again, this time to senior manager. Oudin is also working on a project to streamline the way data is delivered to clients, which include oil and gas companies and financial institutions.

Oudin credits her manager with helping to guide her advancement and recognizing how her new skills and passion for finance, innovation and strategy could benefit the research firm and its clients.

To jump-start the conversation, Belinne teaches her students in the executive MBA program how to negotiate new job duties. The program is geared to mid-career professionals with at least seven years of experience. Sometimes it’s a matter of rebranding yourself, Belinne said. If you have a good manager, you can point out your newly developed skills and suggest how you can use them.