Executive MBA Program and Career Overview

Updated January 23, 2023

Interested in a career as a business executive? Read on to discover all about jobs for executive MBA graduates, including salary and daily duties.

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Executive MBA programs create forward-thinking leaders who can adapt to a rapidly changing business world. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects employment in management fields to increase by 8% from 2021-2031, indicating faster-than-average growth.

Professionals can pursue executive MBA degrees to improve their leadership skills and management knowledge. As of January 2023, executive MBA salaries average to $124,000 per year, according to Payscale.

Executives oversee business strategies and activities for their organizations. Professionals with strong leadership skills often pursue these roles, which can provide opportunities to spark innovation and create change within companies.

Top-level execs work in nearly every industry and region, making the field a versatile career option. Executives can specialize their expertise to work in finance, marketing, IT, and HR departments, among others.

Discover online executive MBA programs, executive job duties, career outlook, and earning potential of executive-level careers with this helpful guide.

What Is an Executive MBA?

Harvard University offered the world's first MBA in 1908. Thirty-five years later, University of Chicago enrolled students in the inaugural executive MBA program to help working professionals maintain their family and career responsibilities while pursuing graduate education.

Business schools worldwide continue this vision by offering executive MBA programs to midcareer business leaders. Service-oriented professionals can prepare to lead teams in corporate settings, healthcare environments, educational institutions, and government agencies.

Consulting firms, technology companies, and accounting organizations often hire new MBA degree-holders, but other industries seek candidates with executive MBAs to provide leadership, management, business, and financial skills.

Some of the fastest-growing job fields include financial management and public relations management, along with most roles in the tech sector. Regardless of the industry, business professionals can find work in management, operations, marketing, finance, and more.

Typically, business leaders who earn executive MBAs continue in the same field after graduation and pursue more advanced positions. In some cases, however, graduates can use executive MBAs to transition their roles and industries.

Why Get an Executive MBA?

An MBA is the keystone business degree for aspiring professionals. A traditional program focuses on business fundamentals, while executive MBAs can help current leaders better understand the tools, technologies, and environmental changes of modern business.

By earning this degree, experienced professionals can position themselves for greater responsibility, new leadership roles, or higher salaries. Once enrolled, a degree-seeker can align their educational experience with their career goals by selecting a general executive MBA or a specialization. Benefits of earning an ecstasy MBA include:

  • Abbreviated Timeline: Students in executive MBA programs can complete their degrees in just over one year. Very few graduate schools in other fields compress their programs into such abbreviated timelines.
  • Career Growth: Research from EMBAC, an organization that centralizes information on executive MBA programs, found that 40% of graduates reported receiving a promotion. In addition, 53% of EMBAC's respondents said their responsibilities increased at work.
  • Increased Pay: Wondering how much an executive MBA makes? Executive MBA salaries are 13.5% higher than comparable undergraduate degrees, on average. Earning an executive MBA can allow graduates to pursue top executive positions and other high-paying roles in the corporate world.

Comparing Executive and General MBAs

Is an executive MBA the same as a general MBA? If not, which degree best suits aspiring business professionals?

In general, a traditional MBA serves younger, less-experienced students and applies a longer completion timeline. Executive MBA programs cater to midcareer professionals who need abbreviated time frames.

According to Payscale, when comparing executive MBA vs. MBA salaries, graduates with executive MBAs earn $30,000 more, on average.

Some executive MBA programs only admit applicants with 10 or more years of professional experience to their executive MBAs. The following table explores the similarities and differences between these two business degrees.

EXECUTIVE MBA

GENERAL MBA

Admissions Process

Sometimes requires a standardized test for admission

Often requires GMAT or GRE scores

Program Length

Students can typically complete the program in 12-18 months

Full-time requires about two years, which may stretch to 3-4 if taken part time

Student Demographics

Often return to school as professionals

Many have 1-3 years of experience

Pace of Classes

Courses usually run in an accelerated format

Courses often follow a traditional semester calendar

Tuition

May cost less as a shorter program, but cost per credit may be higher

May cost slightly more due to program length

Specializations

Less likely to offer many specializations

More likely to offer several specialization options

What To Expect From an Executive MBA

An executive MBA prepares midcareer professionals to pursue leadership roles in businesses, public agencies, and nonprofit organizations. In general, each enrollee takes about 60 credits in just over one year of study. Accelerated online coursework helps facilitate this compressed timeline.

An executive MBA applicant usually needs 8-10 years of professional experience and a bachelor's degree to receive acceptance. They may also need to show support from their employer since these programs can be both pricey and academically demanding.

The executive MBA provides an education similar to the general MBA but with more emphasis on general business management and fewer electives.

The MBA Admission Process

An online executive MBA candidate must possess a bachelor's degree, preferably in business or a related field. While prospective students benefit from strong undergraduate GPAs, executive MBA programs focus more on an applicant's background and experience than their grades.

Some schools require students to submit standardized test scores. Institutions may not apply a minimum score for acceptance, but they want to know if an applicant demonstrates academic potential. Some executive MBA programs do not require GRE or GMAT scores.

Once an applicant has submitted their transcripts, test scores, resume, and essays, they may receive an invitation to interview with the admissions committee. Before offering a place in the program, some institutions also expect each candidate to send a letter of support from their employer.

Popular Executive MBA Courses

Executive MBA programs usually combine a core curriculum with electives and at least one practicum course. Core courses cover topics such as leadership, analytics, and business foundations. While coursework varies in executive MBA programs vary among institutions, degree-seekers commonly encounter classes in:

  • Negotiation Strategies: Enrollees participate in mock events that address making deals and resolving disputes between organizations. Students highlight effective negotiation strategies in multicultural and multiparty settings. Topics include planning strategy, process management, and quality evaluation of negotiation strategies.
  • Growth Strategy Practicum: While completing their practicum, learners receive a first-hand look into the challenges faced by growth-stage companies. Each enrollee completes a study on one issue their host company faces.
  • Executive Perspectives on Leadership: In this course, learners focus on the factors relating to leading a multinational company in a changing global environment. Instructors combine lectures, readings, and case studies for students to discuss how to establish and manage transnational companies in the modern era.
  • Marketing Strategy: Degree-seekers delve into the theories and concepts that support decision-making in marketing. This course may include hands-on simulations that highlight strategic issues in modern marketing. In addition, learners discuss, analyze, and evaluate real-life examples of marketing strategy.
  • Responsibility in Global Management: Students explore the legal and ethical challenges of leading multinational, publicly traded companies. Topics include the fundamentals of ethical analysis frameworks and inconsistent interpretations of organizational responsibility. Learners also receive an introduction to the legal and ethical norms that guide the global economy.

How Much Will an Executive MBA Cost?

Many factors can influence program costs. For instance, the best executive MBA programs often charge higher prices, thanks to the prestige of their alumni networks. Online programs usually cost less than on-campus degrees, and public schools typically charge less than private institutions. In-state schools generally provide substantial discounts to state residents.

Most degree-seekers, however, do not have to pay the whole cost entirely out of pocket. Aspiring enrollees can access private scholarships, grants, government-backed loans, or teaching or research assistantships. Executive MBA students often work while attending school, which can partially or fully fund their programs.

These enrollees may also access financial support through their employers. Some companies pay a portion or all of their employees' tuition costs, provided that learners maintain strong grades. The following links provide more information on public and private sources of income for MBA students.

Jobs for Executive MBA Graduates

An MBA can help open the right doors to new career opportunities. Graduates can also command higher salaries across corporate sectors and industries. For working professionals with about 10 years of experience and a desire to advance professionally, the executive MBA can offer the education they need to succeed.

Business is one of the fastest-growing and highest-paying fields in the modern American economy. The BLS reports that management professionals earned a median annual salary of $102,450 as of 2021, and people working in business and finance earned a median salary of $76,570 -- more than the median salary for all occupations.

Public Relations and Fundraising Managers

Public relations managers create and distribute materials that build awareness of organizations' work. Fundraising managers perform similar work in the nonprofit sector, instead emphasizing donation management. Some positions require bachelor's degrees, but many employers prefer applicants with master's degrees.

  • Required Education: Bachelor's required; master's preferred
  • Job Outlook (2021-31): +8%
  • Median Annual Salary: $119,860

Human Resources Manager

These managers oversee organizations' culture and administrative functions. These professionals serve as a link between management and employees to help recruit, hire, promote, and fire staff. They also play a key role in strategic planning. Most human resources managers hold relevant degrees and several years of professional experience. Some companies also require these experts to earn industry certifications.

  • Required Education: Bachelor's required; master's preferred
  • Job Outlook (2021-31): +7%
  • Median Annual Salary: $126,230

Financial Manager

Financial managers prepare reports for top executives, help set financial strategies, and direct corporate investments. They work in many industries, but the finance and insurance sectors hire the most financial managers. These managers hold extensive business education and at least five years of relevant experience in preparation for their roles.

  • Required Education: Bachelor's required; master's preferred
  • Job Outlook (2021-31): +17%
  • Median Annual Salary: $131,710

Top Executive

Top executives hold titles such as chief executive officer (CEO), chief financial officer (CFO), and chief marketing officer (CMO). These professionals work in private organizations and public agencies along with nonprofit and educational settings. With its leadership emphasis, an executive MBA offers an excellent academic background for aspiring top executives.

  • Required Education: Bachelor's required; master's preferred
  • Job Outlook (2021-31): +6%
  • Median Annual Salary: $98,980

Executive Salary and Career Outlook

The BLS projects top executive careers will grow by 6% from 2021 to 2031. However, the demand for chief executives is expected to decline by 7% during this period. The BLS attributes this decreased demand to improvements in office technology and organizational restructuring.

On the other hand, demand for general and operations managers, another career grouped within the BLS top executive category, is projected to grow by 7% during this period.

Executives may have an array of job titles, including:

  • Executive director
  • CEO
  • Chief operating officer (COO)
  • CFO
  • CMO
  • Chief information officer
  • Vice president

Each executive role has different salary averages and expectations. Factors such as location, industry, education, and experience also influence executives' earning potential. In addition to salaries, executives often receive stock options or bonuses, which boost their total compensation.

Where Can I Work as an Executive?

Almost every company has executives, so these roles exist in every industry and region. However, salaries fluctuate across locations and sectors. Executives who complete master's programs — including executive MBA degrees — may earn more than bachelor's-level professionals.

Top Locations for Executives

California, the U.S. state with the highest population, employs the highest number of executives per state. Florida and Illinois also rank among the highest-employing states. The highest-paying location for executives is Washington, D.C., which offers an average annual salary of $290,560, with Hawaii and Washington state featuring similarly high wages.


Resources for Executives

Executives can benefit from joining professional organizations. These groups offer continuing education opportunities and certifications, which help executives develop their skills and stay abreast of the latest business trends and leadership strategies.

Professional organizations also offer networking opportunities, allowing executives to form partnerships with other businesses and recruit prospective employees.

Professional Organizations

  • American Management Association: AMA provides training and certification opportunities in leadership, HR, and project management.
  • International Organization Development Association: IODA brings together professionals specializing in organizational development. This group provides a place for executives, academics, consultants, and HR professionals to share leadership, talent management, and organizational development ideas.
  • The American Society of Association Executives: ASAE is a professional resource for association executives. The group provides training and learning opportunities related to fundraising, diversity and inclusion, leadership, and more.

Common Questions About Executive Careers

What are career executives?

Executives are top-level managers who oversee the operational and strategic activities of the business. Their responsibilities vary, but executives typically handle strategic planning, analyzing company reports, supervising other leaders or teams, and attending key meetings.

What are the qualifications of an executive?

According to the BLS, top executives typically have five or more years of professional experience. They also generally have at least a bachelor's degree. Many executives pursue executive MBA degrees or other graduate programs to obtain advanced knowledge.

What is the highest level of an executive?

In most organizations, the highest-level executive is the CEO. There are several other C-level executions, such as the COO, CMO, and CFO, which operate at the highest level in their departments.

What is the main role of an executive?

Executives primarily create and oversee strategies and initiatives to help the company meet its goals. This work includes coordinating with and supervising other senior managers and departments, meeting with investors or partners, and keeping a close eye on financial reports.

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