Telling Your Boss about Your MBA Plans

One of the biggest dilemmas for b-school applicants every year is how and when to break it to your employer that you are trying to go back to school full time.  Have you figured out your strategy in this area yet?

For high performers in the marketplace, announcing to your boss or co-workers that you will be leaving to go back to school can really rock the workplace environment.   Often, the announcement doesn’t surprise the boss, since after all, you’re a high performer, so it makes sense you would want to move up, move on, and take every opportunity to advance your career.  Even though it’s no surprise, however, b-school applicants have seen a wide variety of responses when rolling out the news.  Some bosses are intimidated, especially if they don’t have an MBA themselves.  Others try to put uncomfortable pressure on, in an effort to convince you to stay. 

Perhaps the biggest reason people avoid telling their boss, is due to the risk of not being accepted.

 If you try and fail to get into your target schools, you may be glad to keep your current job, but having told them you want to leave can leave things rather, well…awkward.

For workers who are unhappy at work or who are under-performing, dropping the b-school bomb can also cause trouble, but in a different way. Firstly, employers can use your potential transition out of the job as an excuse to go ahead and let you go immediately.  Doubt often arises about your commitment and they assume you will become even less engaged in your job if you stay.  Keeping you on while you wait out b-school decisions makes little sense when they could spend that time training a new person who will be sticking around.  No matter how much you assure someone you will remain focused on your job, the message can sometimes fall on deaf ears if they draw conclusions on their own.

In either case, deciding what to do about telling your current employer about your MBA plans is tricky.

Many business school applicants view telling their boss as too risky, and therefore end up missing out on one of the most important application components: getting a recommendation from your current employer.  Business schools like to hear from your boss because it’s generally considered the most current and unbiased view of your performance on the job.  Of course these recommendations can be very biased indeed, and only you know whether or not your boss would be a good source for recos. 

If you decide to keep your b-school applications a secret on the job, make sure you do so universally.

Don’t tell co-workers or friends at work about your plans and make sure you also explain to your target schools why you don’t want to use your boss as a recommender. It’s not uncommon, so don’t fret, but it’s also not ideal, so do it as a last resort.  If you do decide to get recommendations from people outside your current employer and you do end up getting into b-school, make sure you plan out a departure strategy which will provide an acceptable amount of notice to your employer that you are leaving. 

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