To MBA or not to MBA? That’s Andy’s question

There’s a discussion going on over at brazencareerist.  Andy Drish is trying to decide whether to get an MBA or not.  His dilemma came about because his employer is offering to pay for part of his MBA and he’s finding that to be too good an offer to refuse.  Among the things that have been brought up in the course of the discussion are:

1. Whether or not he has enough work experience or will he be one of the youngest in the program – and feel that he cannot contribute as much as the more experienced students.

2. Are his two local schools the best choices?

3. How quickly should he aim to complete the program.

What I noticed was not being considered – and it was something I thought about when I looked into getting an MBA – is the opportunity cost.  While I was kicking the tires of local MBA programs in Sydney, something became evident early on.  In a labor market where everyone and anyone has an MBA, the degree no longer makes candidates stand out as much.  As a consequence the increase in pay is not as significant as it was a few years back when not as many job candidates had an MBA.  In a nut shell, I found the return on investment in an MBA to be questionable. 

That puts an interesting spin on things.  Ten years ago, getting an MBA was the no-brainer thing to do if you wanted to rise up the corporate ladder at a faster than average rate.  Today the answer is not as black and white as that.  In an increasingly diverse and complex environment, traits like entrepreneurship and resiliency are powerful commodities.  Neither of which can realistically be mastered in the comfort of an air-conditioned class room. Both are the result of living through real experiences and manoeuvring through real challenges.  As such, putting yourself on the line and starting your own business or taking time to travel and explore the world, are two experiences that will make you stand out from the pack.  Speaking for myself, I do not have an MBA.  I’m not saying that I never will get one, but I know that my experience as an entrepreneur has landed me jobs that I would otherwise not have been considered for. 

If it’s the knowledge that you’re looking for in an MBA program, today there’s so much information outside of the walls of academia that personally I do not see the need to sit in a class just for that.  As long as you’re making time to read quality material and to listen to pod casts, it’s possible to stay on top of the major trends in management, finance, accounting, strategy, change among other things.  Here are two of my favorite sources of information: Harvard Business IdeaCast and TED

‘What about networking?’ you say.  Sure it’s likely that you’ll meet like-minded go-getters and high achievers just like you in an MBA program.  But that’s not the only place where these type of people congregate.  If you have $50k to spend and the time to spare, I think you’ll be better off joining the most prestigious golf club, tennis club or sailing club in your area.  There, for even less money and more fun, you’ll get to meet the who’s who of the business world.  And even better than at a university, there will be a cross-section of people.  At clubs it’s likely that you’ll find more than just cubicle bound employees in their 20s and 30s like you looking to get ahead.  For example business owners, CEOs and other decision makers of a variety of age groups – who either got an MBA years ago or never got close to academia.  Another effective way to make good connections is through doing volunteer work.  The major perk is you get to support good causes while you meet people who may one day be key in your career. 

I’m not saying that MBA’s are dead – and that people should stop getting them.  Personally, I’m still open to the possibility that one day I’ll enrol.

However, I am asking people to look at an MBA degree for what it’s worth. I’m asking you to be open to other possibilities. An MBA is not a cure-all for career stagnation.  Other things like starting your own business, travelling and writing a book are also solid ways to breathe life into your work life.  If you do enrol in an MBA, I hope that it is for the right reasons.

I’d LOVE to hear your thoughts.



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