Do You Really NEED an MBA?

I recently held conversations with a brilliant engineer from India.  He has a PhD in Electrical Engineering and has a dream of moving into a management position.  Don’t be shocked, engineers do this all the time.  He thought that the MBA would be a requirement for getting into such a position.  I wasn’t surprised by this, he is an engineer after all, and management isn’t his forte.  I asked him to consider a few things before he made his decision to earn the MBA.  Here’s what we discussed.

Is the MBA required for management positions?  This question is a little higher up than his specific situation but it is imperative that MBA potentials understand the requirements for the positions they seek.  To illustrate my point, I went online to several job sites, like Indeed.com, and pulled up several management job descriptions to assess their academic requirements.  Here’s what we saw.

VP, Operations Support

  • Bachelor’s Degree
  • 7 years of experience in Product Supply
  • 3 years of experience forecasting, planning, supply chain metrics, Lean/CI, Six-Sigma

Regional Vice President

  • Functional Area: SA – Sales/Sales Support
  • Experience Level: Mid-Level
  • Required education: Bachelors Degree or equivalent experience

CEO and President

  • Education Requirements: No requirement

Sr Vice President – IT

  • Education: Bachelors Degree (four year college or university)
  • Experience: 4 to 10 years experience

On and on this went.  Most management jobs did not require an MBA.  The jobs we saw that mentioned the MBA stated it as a preference or as desirable, not a requirement.  In those cases where it did appear, the experience requirement was more significant (such as 12 years relevant experience).  These listings, and many others, clearly illustrate the need for MBAs at mid and senior levels.

Does your management have an MBA?  In determining whether an MBA would help your career in your existing company, it’s useful to assess the background of your current management.  How many of your leaders have an MBA or an advanced degree?  I would suggest that in most cases, the upper echelons are not highly educated professionals.  Most have been in business for some time, however.  If your management doesn’t have advanced degrees, they most likely won’t see a great deal of value in it at their level.  Experience will trump everything else.  Why? Because it’s the value they can provide easily.  I would never place a high value on a characteristic I don’t have.  I would be ruling myself out of my own job.  So take time to understand what your leaders consider to be important.  Otherwise, you’ll stress yourself out over a credential that won’t help you much.

More isn’t always better.  If a bachelor’s degree is good, then a master’s degree or PhD has got to be better.  This is what many professionals believe.  If I can’t get opportunities with a bachelor’s degree, then a master’s degree will certainly bring them to me.  Really? This isn’t logical thought.  There are industries that require advanced education but most don’t.  When you earn an advanced degree, you do put yourself in a unique group of professionals (who all have an advanced degree), all of which who are seeking opportunities at the upper end of corporations where there are much fewer opportunities. Don’t forget that many of those positions are already filled by professionals with less education and aren’t interested in giving their position up.

Will your performance suffer?  Earning the MBA takes time and energy.  For most of us, we’re already too busy and taking on the burden of classes and homework pushes our boundaries.  If you’re working full time and earning your MBA, it’s important to understand that your daily job performance can suffer.  You’ll get tired and become more focused on your school work than your job.  People will notice the change.  At first, it will be okay as people will understand your new challenges.  But after a while, their memory will fade and even though you’re working twice as hard as everyone else, you could be seen as an average or even below average performer.  It’s not fair but then again, you are being paid to do a particular job.  Balance is critical.  Make sure your management understands your situation before you dive into it.  Ask your coworkers to watch your performance and let you know when you show signs of an imbalance.

Who wants your MBA?  The biggest challenge you’ll run into as an MBA professional is finding organizations that truly value your educational credentials.  There are companies that do seek out MBAs, but they are usually tied to particular universities.  Consider the big 4 consulting companies.  They chase the graduates from top tier programs.  Not because they are smarter but for the brand power their MBA credential carries.  For example, I’ve worked with many Harvard and MIT graduates and I don’t think they are any smarter than anyone else.  But when you mention they are a Harvard or MIT graduate, people go crazy, as if they have superhuman powers.  Now, for all of those graduates of lower tier programs, you won’t get this reaction, especially from major companies.  The good news for you is that there are companies who do need the skills MBAs possess.  You have to identify what companies need and then create your value proposition, which includes tangible proof that you possess those skills and have used them to create success.  This type of analysis requires some serious networking inside of companies to understand how their management works, what skills they need, how you can become their beacon of hope and position yourself as the only viable candidate.   But I figure if you can afford two years to earn the MBA, you can certainly afford the time it takes to find the right position.  Just don’t get in a hurry and settle for something less.

If you’re asking yourself if the MBA is right for you, take time to consider these questions.  The MBA is just a college degree.  It’s a tool that you can use to improve your career.  It bestows no guarantee of success.  In fact, many colleges are struggling to improve the MBA’s value proposition to students because graduates are finding many of its promises to be empty, void of the ability to make their dreams a reality.  Universities sell too much and students expect too much.  The MBA can be useful in building a career, just take the time to understand how and where to use it.  Getting an MBA to simply possess one will only leave you with a big student loan….and who wants that?

If you’re really sold on the idea of earning an MBA, you should check our ebook “The Joy of an MBA.”  In this book, MBAs share stories of how they used the MBA in their career.

A One-Day Career Building Plan

Everyone struggles with finding enough time to work on their career, especially when they already have a job.  But that doesn’t stop us from doing a few activities when we can.   Just walk around the office and watch people.  You’ll see some looking for jobs while others may be building their networks on LinkedIn or Facebook.   We just can’t seem to stop thinking about our situation and how desperately we need to improve it.  So, each day, we make small attempts to create new opportunities for ourselves.

The problem is that this process takes a long time, and after a while, the daily miniscule progress will begin to weigh heavily on our motivation and reduce our job satisfaction.  The good news is that there is a way to break this monotony.  The answer is….a single career day.  Have you ever taken one day out of your busy schedule to dedicate to promoting your career goals? I’ve done this for years and it’s a great way to recharge your enthusiasm for your career.  You just simply take a day away from work and focus on activities that further your goals.  One day of intense focus on your career goals can do more than 3 months of those miniscule activities you do during the normal work day.

Here are some of the things you can do during your CAREER DAY.

Training/Seminars.  This should be done in-person, as it also provides the benefit of networking and interacting with new people.  This training doesn’t have to be on the skills you use at work.  It can be something totally foreign to you, but it does need to be something that you have a passion for.  Ideally, the training is something that gets you engaged in an activity.  Most professionals will target activities like interview training, personal branding classes, leadership development, etc.  However, you shouldn’t limit yourself to these normal activities.  I had a client who always wanted to be a singer.  So I suggested she take a voice lesson to see how good she really was, or at least get an opinion from a voice coach.  You see, most of us have dreams that are different than what we do in our day job, yet we never really evaluate the alternative path we really want to take.  That’s madness.  Determine your passion and find a way to spend a day evaluating that potential path.  It could save you a lot of time or it might just give you that nudge you need to pursue that dream full time.

Networking events.  Sure this one sounds a little lame but I really enjoy events.  If you’ve ever wanted to hone your skills in introducing yourself, selling yourself or showing off your expertise, events are chock full of people you can practice on.  You can walk into the event with the mindset that it really doesn’t matter if your techniques don’t work perfectly.  You’re experimenting to learn how to influence people.  In fact, I usually take a notebook and capture notes on how people respond to my methods.   The fun part is that it’s an event for learning so there’s no pressure to perform at any particular level.

Mentors.  Some professionals use mentors.  The more successful ones use many mentors and take time to visit them.  Taking a day to connect with people who can give you advice on how to proceed with your career is extremely helpful.   Mentors don’t have to be in your organization.  It’s often useful to have mentors who are familiar with your company but not in it.  They can provide a unique perspective on the workings of the organization.  One of my clients would establish mentorships with high level professionals from outside companies  that had influence on his company.  These included vendors, customers and partner companies.

Planning.   Some years ago, we developed a team-based approach to career development.  It is a very detailed method for building your own career support team that helps each other identify and achieve their own goals.  It’s called the Blitz Approach and was published in 2008 in our book, Blitz The Ladder.  The Blitz team members get together ever so often to discuss their plans and figure out how to implement them.  These meetings are very motivational as you realize that you have a team of people dedicated to helping you become a success and….you identify some actions for you to work on.  Your career needs constant nurturing in a society that seems to revel in change.  You have to put a lot of intentional effort and energy into your dreams.

Most professionals feel they have talent; that is, special skills that warrant a higher level of success than they have obtained.  The problem is that they think someone will see their amazing abilities and give them that opportunity they’ve been waiting for.  Strangely enough, people will sit in the same job or company for years waiting.  A successful career isn’t for the weak hearted.  Those who wait get a job for the rest of their life.  For those who want a successful, exciting and rewarding career, well, that path requires some serious effort over a long period of time.  And, long periods of time require lots of motivation.  Of course, you have to take all of this one day at a time.  So, make sure you take a day to really focus on your dream.  Do something that totally encompasses that dream.  Enjoy it.  Revel in it.  It will make you want to take more career days for yourself.

An Interview with Dr. Business: Professor Robert Donnelly

Recently, we’ve been asked by our clients to share more on entrepreneurship.  Typically, we promote a lot of discussion on the MBA and general career advice.  Now, we’re adding a little more for all of you overactive professionals who want to do their own thing.  Yep, Entrepreneurship will be part of our discussions here on the Blitz Blog.  We’ll soon be adding a column, called Ask Dr. Business, where you can ask Professor Donnelly questions for yourself.

To kick this off, we decided to provide a short introduction to Professor Donnelly and ask him a few questions.

About Professor Donnelly:

bobProfessor Donnelly is an author, educator, and brand builder for businesses and individuals. His latest book, Personal Brand Planning for life, and his earlier tome: Guidebook to Planning – A Common Sense Approach, are both available on Amazon. Professor Donnelly has been teaching in MBA programs for over 20 years now and concentrates on Entrepreneurship & Innovation, and Strategic Brand Management. Prior to academia he held senior management positions with IBM, Pfizer, and EXXON, and was the CEO of the North American subsidiary of a Dutch multinational firm. A prolific writer he was the Editor of the Entrepreneurial CEO column for Chief Executive Magazine for many years and still writes for CE. His columns and blogs appear frequently in the global entrepreneurial space.

Here’s my interview with Dr. Business.

Todd:  From a career consulting perspective, we are seeing a lot of MBAs move towards entrepreneurship.  Why do you think this is happening now?

Professor Donnelly:   Due to the uncertainty of long term careers in corporate America brought on by continuing advances in technology coupled with the implications of Big Data and Predictive Analytics, MBAs are naturally attracted to take advantage of their education and experience to become entrepreneurs by utilizing their skills to contribute to developing customized solutions to new problems emerging in the new world of work. Every semester several of my MBA students implement the business plans they developed in my course to start new businesses.

Todd:  Is transitioning from an MBA mindset to an entrepreneurial easy?  What are some of the challenges professionals will face?

Professor Donnelly: The biggest challenge is taking risks, which are the epitome of the entrepreneurial mindset. Professional managers are risk averse by nature and have become enamored with the safety net provided by the typical corporate umbrella. This false sense of security represents a safer place to be than venturing out on their own where their success or failure is based solely on the decisions that they have to make themselves. Secondarily, they have to have a passion for what they are doing and make the time commitment required for success. This is far different than a corporate situation where decisions are often made by others and you can go home at 5 o’clock without a worry about tomorrow.

Todd:  We know most universities don’t provide entrepreneurial classes.  Where can students and graduates go to get some real advice on becoming an entrepreneur?

Professor Donnelly: It’s unfortunate that entrepreneurship is often an elective, and courses on personal branding are few and far between, if available at all. Entrepreneurship can’t be gleaned from a textbook. It has to be studied by following the now well worn path of successful entrepreneurs. Every business starts with a solution to a problem. Peter Drucker, the guru of management, said “the purpose of a business is to create a customer, and the job of the leader is to grow the value of a customer.” Just think about the problems that you have all day every day. Each one of those problems represents an opportunity to devise a solution. Shake Shack started with a food cart in a park in New York fourteen years ago and just had an extremely successful IPO. The challenge is to implement a better, faster, cheaper solution – Uber, Zip Car, The Swiffer, Tide Spot Stick, whatever.

Thanks, Dr. Business, for sharing a few moments with us.  We look forward to your column on this site and bringing a unique perspective to entrepreneurship to this blog.

So what questions do you have for Dr. Business?