How Having an MBA Affects Your Career Prospects
ANYONE WHO IS PURSUING an MBA degree in order to change or accelerate his or her career should understand that it is a generalist degree, MBA professors and business school alumni say. MBA programs are not restricted to teaching a particular domain in business, but instead teach fundamental skills in a wide array of business fields, including technical specialties like accounting and more theoretical specialties like strategy.
Experts say the value of an MBA on a person’s resume depends not only on the industry and company where that MBA graduate hopes to work, but also on the reputation of the B-school he or she attended.
“There’s a huge difference in marketability of an MBA grad from an elite or top-tier university versus other business schools,” Kinh DeMaree, a recruiting executive in Silicon Valley, California, wrote in an email. “Not to say that someone from a program that isn’t as prestigious can’t be successful, but many of the most successful executives … are alumni from top programs. A big part of an MBA program is building a network, and access to future international leaders is priceless.”
Still, the broad scope of an MBA degree can be either an asset or a hindrance to your career goals, depending on what those objectives are, according to MBA professors and business leaders who hire MBAs.
“Somebody with an MBA has the flexibility of thought to be able to operate in that environment and see that,” says Scott MacDonald, the director of the University of Dayton’s MBA program. “So, if as a student, you want to have the capability of operating in lots of different companies and to be able to think in lots of different ways, an MBA opens up lots of doors for you, because now you understand lots of aspects of business. You bring a wider breadth of value to the firm.”
MacDonald says a company that hires an MBA recipient for an executive position often does so with the hope that the MBA holder will serve as a “conduit and bridge between departments,” helping different departments understand one another and work together.
“It’s a force multiplier, because rather than having everybody working on their own, pulling in their own direction, you’ve got somebody (who) really says ‘we can utilize and leverage everybody’s strengths and get us moving in the right direction,'” MacDonald explains.
However, some hiring managers at technology companies warn that MBA degree holders may have difficulty securing technical jobs where hard skills like programming or analytics are more highly prized than the soft skills that business schools are famous for cultivating, like leadership and teamwork.
Jonathan Poston, SEO director at the Tombras Group advertising agency, says he would prefer to hire someone with a specialized master’s degree in digital marketing over someone with an MBA.
In the tech sector, an MBA is sometimes a liability and not an asset, Poston says, which is why he switched from an MBA track to a master’s in entrepreneurship track when he attended business school at Western Carolina University.
Nevertheless, many MBA recipients say they are glad they pursued an MBA and confirm the degree has helped them achieve their career goals. Laura Troyani, founder and principal of PlanBeyond marketing agency, has an MBA from Harvard Business School, and says her MBA helps her to serve her clients better, because it has given her a strong, holistic sense of how a business operates.
“While I have over fifteen years of on-the-job experience as a marketer, my MBA means I can offer more than just marketing expertise to my small business clients,” Troyani wrote in an email. “With a grounding in other business areas like finance, technology and operations, I can anticipate how marketing activities can impact these other business areas and help my clients make more educated decisions.”
Although an MBA might not be the best investment for a person whose dream career is one rooted in subject matter expertise, it is a smart choice for someone who aspires to become a C-suite executive overseeing multiple divisions of a business, Troyani says. MBA programs teach valuable leadership skills, such as negotiation techniques, which are useful for any aspiring executive, she adds.
Troyani suggests the best way for someone contemplating an MBA to decide whether to pursue one is to find out whether individuals who have the job they dream of obtaining someday typically have an MBA. Someone who is contemplating business school who is simultaneously interested in the tech industry should think about what type of role he or she would want at a tech company and consider whether that role requires nontechnical leadership skills.
“If you want to manage a team of software developers, you really need to speak only one language, which is the language that you code in,” she says. “However, if you really want to be influencing business decisions (and) strategic decisions and the path a company will take or not take, then you really need to be able to talk with other senior leadership in the organization, and that’s not a software language. That’s a business language,” she says.