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, 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.

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