Written By
Max Brown

09.20.17

Should I get an MBA?

As recruiters, people often ask us about the best ways to develop their skills to make them more marketable for the next step in their career path. One of the most common contemplations amongst rising leaders is whether or not to get an MBA.

To be or not to be an MBA

There are three main reasons to obtain a graduate degree. The first is to gain skills and knowledge that will make you better at what you do, such as learning big data architecture or creating a financial model. The second reason is to add an extra level of status and credibility to your resume. For example, being able to add a Wharton MBA gives you a level of legitimacy when applying for a job or pitching a potential investor. The third is for the network, which some Business Schools are famous for. You can think of these three reasons most simply as:

• What you know
• What people think you know
• Who you know

And while ideally a graduate degree would increase these relatively equally, that isn’t always the case. With the growth of certification programs and the rise in education costs overall, it’s more important than ever to ask yourself: what is the next step in my career, and what will really help me get there?

Full time vs part time

If your company is going to pay for 100% of your degree, then definitely go for it. Just read the fine print on how long you have to stay with that company afterward. The ROI becomes more important if you have to pay for it yourself. For instance, if you’re working for a company that requires an advanced degree to move up another layer in the company, and especially if the people in the level above you all have MBAs from the same school, then yes. The status and the network that comes with it make it worthwhile. In this situation, a part time MBA makes sense, because you keep the job and apply the learnings of your various classes.

Conversely, if your goal is to change jobs or industries, an MBA can make a lot of sense, but only if you go full time. This is because when you go part time you don’t build as many personal connections, and you have little time to attend lunch and learns and other free seminars that take place during the work day. If you’re going to change industries, you’ll want to form connections in those industries to make that industry hop.

Big company vs small company

If you plan to navigate a career in large corporations, and an MBA is a requirement for you to advance into the ranks of management, then an MBA makes a lot of sense. If your career is focused in smaller organizations, it’s good to contemplate why you’re earning an MBA. Does it help you move to the next level? What is the expected career progression for you, and is your current company the one you ideally want to stick with? For a family business, an MBA can help someone in a succession plan to eventually take over the company. If, however, you are in a very small company with limited advancement opportunities, then spend some time thinking about how you want your career to look over the next few years. This will help you focus your efforts, decide which type of program is right for you, and maximize your ROI.

Entrepreneurship

For people who want to be entrepreneurs, spending two years learning can be enticing, especially if the school they’re considering is directly connected to an accelerator or incubator. And if money is no object, then the right program can help you form connections and find other founders and early employees. However, an MBA does not guarantee success. And 2 years in an MBA program may put you 2 years behind entrepreneurs who spent that time instead grinding and building their company.

In today’s market, if you want to be an entrepreneur, the best thing you can do is start working on your company and product. If you need a specific skill, you can use a coding academy or a bootcamp as a cost effective way to gain applicable knowledge. Whether or not you have an MBA, you will still need to learn the same lessons first hand about running a company, securing funding, project management, and managing the people you hire. With the rare exception of someone who’s graduated from the same school, angel investors especially only care what you’ve done, what the traction is, and what you’ve accomplished at successful companies. However, if you want to leave the entrepreneurship life, and you want to go in house to a large firm, then the full time MBA can absolutely help you transition to the corporate world.

Career pivot vs “I just want to make more money”

Lastly, I want to address the worst reason to go get an MBA: “I just want to make more money.” An MBA can be a great tool to achieve success and take your career to the next level, but it’s still only a tool. If you really have no idea what you want to do next, take some time to research your options. Meet with mentors, talk with friends or family members, and connect with MBAs from the programs you’re considering. If you’ve been working in finance for 5 years and hate it, do the legwork to figure out what your options are. It could be an MBA will be a great tool for you to make a career pivot into something that excites you, like consulting or operations. Or it could be that there is something else you’d rather try first.

In short: be strategic. There are many good reasons to get an MBA, and a whole lot of bad ones, so it’s best to focus on where you want to land after you graduate and focus your efforts into achieving that goal from day one on campus.