Few journalists have a career plan, but I developed mine over a decade ago with the arrival of the internet and the realisation that being just a writer was not going to pay well in the future. Mine involved working towards a Master of Business Administration (MBA) to expand my skills and enable me to explore other lines of business.

Of course, MBAs are not cheap and it took five years after moving to Dubai in 2002 before I was in a position to be able to afford to do one.

Concentrated models

I opted for a part-time course, as I needed the money and I wanted a well-established course in Dubai. I chose the executive MBA programme from Bradford School of Management. I also liked the fact that Bradford brought its lecturers to Dubai to teach us all directly in concentrated models – “learning from a distance rather than distance learning,” as the marketing academic said, hoping prospective candidates would laugh. We didn’t, but we got the point.

Bradford also has a good reputation: it is the longest-running executive MBA course in Dubai, is well-rated in various lists and has international accreditation, including AMBA (Association of MBAs), which was important as I am open to new opportunities around the world.

Doing an MBA ideally should consume about seven to 10 hours a week of study, reading, research and assignment work. You receive the textbook in advance for one module while preparing the assignment for the one before. You have to not only juggle your time, but also prioritise what you are studying.

I found that switching to the next module’s textbook broke up the inevitable torpor that arose from writing assignments. I couldn’t fall back on journalism; writing academic articles requires significant preparation and strict word counts, and academic focus meant that waxing lyrical worked against me. Clear English, critical analysis: this was the key.

One of the first benefits of doing an MBA was already presenting itself to me: it wasn’t about getting a better job, it was about doing my job better. I made a year-long personal development plan to enhance my networking to develop my career potential.

Halfway through my MBA, the global economic downturn occurred. Both my wife and I were made redundant within a month of one another, and our daughter was less than a month old. I needed to complete my management project to pass, but the requirement was that I do my project on a company in which I was gainfully employed.

I can better understand and analyse situations and can focus my time much more effectively than I had done before

Yet the MBA marks I had received so far reminded me that I was far more capable and competent than my self-doubts had decried. I now had skills and abilities that helped me to focus my job hunt over six months, combined with searching for freelance work and using the various skills and knowledge I had accumulated from the course.

I networked and made myself highly employable. It worked.

I was head-hunted to work in the corporate strategy department in a branch of Dubai government. Bradford helped me secure my position by writing that the work I had done to date would still qualify me for a postgraduate diploma in management and that I was more likely to achieve an MBA. I have been with the same organisation now for more than five years and have been promoted.

Doing my MBA has given me a much better and wider understanding of organisational strategy; its culture, structure, operations, politics and analysis. My organisation has to operate as a business and so my final management project made a significant and novel improvement in its strategic implementation capabilities and resulted in top marks. I had earned an MBA with distinction, a feat of which I am justly proud.

Viable career

I am now able to coach and mentor junior staff on techniques I have learned, and work with them to develop their capabilities. I can better understand and analyse situations and can focus my time much more effectively than I had done before. I am also less likely to waste my energy on projects and ideas that are unfeasible. It also means I still have a real and viable career as I plan its next stages.

I am obviously still a big fan of doing an MBA and I even support current MBA students at Bradford as I continue to enjoy mentoring and coaching, and intend to take my studies further.

An MBA is the right thing to do if you want to advance in an organisation by being better at what you do, or if you want to strike out and run your own business in your line of work rather than work for others. This last point is especially true as many professionals who set up their own practices suddenly struggle on many levels because they do not have the business skills, despite being more than competent in their work.

It stretches you, it pulls you out of your comfort zone and, above all, it makes you learn how to be better. Good luck doing your MBA.

Jonathan Howell-Jones graduated in 2011 with an MBA with distinction from Bradford School of Management in Dubai