An MBA can provide you a great set of business tools that you can leverage and improve upon, throughout your entire career. However, an MBA isn’t for everyone and it won’t necessarily propel your career forward. If you are asking, “Should I get an MBA?” The answer is, “that depends?” But first, make sure that you are asking the right questions and you understand that there are too many lawyers AND too many people with MBAs out there. MBA programs are cash cows for Universities, eager to diversify their student base and expand satellite programs in nearby urban centers. The costs of MBA programs have risen 24% v/s a decline in MBA salaries (the Atlantic), and there are more of them out there. In 2010 there were more than 250,000 students enrolled in MBA programs, 100,000 graduates and 66% of all business degrees granted were MBAs. With the increasing number of universities of all levels of quality adding MBA programs, that means that there are more students and thus graduates of equal quality out in the workforce. And employers know it.
What kinds of expertise will I develop?
The answer is none. As in, Spinal Tap’s “Smell the Glove” album could be “none more black.” An MBA is a general business degree and 80% of all MBA’s share a common curriculum, no matter what kind or program or what area of specialization: e.g. project management, operations management, financial management, or marketing. That means, if you really need the deep skills required to be a financial ninja, go get a masters degree in finance.
An MBA should introduce you to a broad footprint of knowledge about current trends in business strategy and business models, and help you integrate the only 3 real functions that exist in any business: finance, operations, and marketing. An MBA can help you with the framework for managing these disciplines and help you develop the interpersonal skills to manage the resources and lead the experts in these distinct areas. An MBA should complement your existing skills and empower you with the critical thinking skills to ask “why?” There is a tremendous sense of freedom in NOT being an expert and tremendous leadership responsibility in asking the most important questions, and prioritizing the right challenges and opportunities that will have an effect on your company’s bottom line.
Who should get an MBA?
Now that you know that you won’t develop any kind of surgical expertise by completing an MBA, you’re probably wondering who should get one? This part is easy. Absolutely no one should go directly from an undergraduate program to an MBA program. Your investment will be wasted because an MBA builds on professional skills that you have been working on for at least 5 years.
Without a foundation of professional experience and increasing professional responsibility, you will miss the essential foundation required to get anything useful out of your degree. Sure, you’ll get an academic foundation and a piece of paper to prove that you earned your stripes, but you might struggle to link real-world problems to theoretical models. Most MBA programs are “practical” rather than “theoretical” learning environments with instructors that come from both academic and professional business backgrounds. Your colleagues are mid to senior level managers who are enhancing their knowledge and careers, rather than building them from scratch. You’ll be in a much better position to integrate and apply your knowledge with a little experience under your belt.
What skills will I develop?
There are three essential skills that you must develop upon graduating with an MBA. These skills will last the duration of your entire career. You don’t need an MBA to develop these skills, but if you leave without developing them sufficiently, ask for your money back.
You must be able to communicate your ideas:
As your career develops, you will be required to clearly communicate your ideas and suggestions to colleagues, clients, investors, and more. You will also be required to synthesize your thoughts down to what is absolutely essential in executive summaries and presentations and communicate objectives in terms of priorities and goals that are relevant for your business. You will be praised for your clarity and brevity.
You must be able to manage a project:
Your personal and professional lives will be filled with the need to manage projects that include everything from building websites, having babies, and sourcing candidates for your business. Your colleagues and family members will appreciate your ability to organize your thinking and group a complex project down to the necessary phases, tasks, and milestones. When you wing it, others can tell that you don’t know what you’re doing.
You must be able to read a financial statement:
If you’re an IT director or a Marketing VP, you still need to understand the key financial metrics shared by the c-suite. You should know what EBITDA is and what it’s not (Forbes). And you should, at the very least, understand how to read a profit and loss statement, and a balance sheet. You’ll be even better if you can suggest how to calculate your marketing ROI or the customer lifetime value of your target buyer.
Should I get an MBA?
There are only a handful of prestigious Harvard’s and Wharton’s out there that might earn the attention of someone with the keys to your career, but there are plenty of good programs which can provide you the intellectual discipline and the practical rigor to develop a set of skills that just might last a lifetime. If you do it, do it for the knowledge, not the paper. I did.