MBA or not?

I interview many candidates who find themselves at a career crossroads and are considering if an MBA will turbo-boost their employment choices and add some excitement and new challenges to their career focus. They say they find themselves in a cul-de-sac where their role has become routine, monotonous, repetitive and boring. They may find it difficult to break into management and express the wish to obtain new transferable skills which will create new job opportunities.

In my dual role as Executive Career Coach and Head Hunter I coach many students who are studying for their MBA and I also interview many candidates with or without an MBA qualification.

It is in that context that I would make the following observations and recommendations. It is difficult to obtain objective feed-back or advice in this area. Stats do not work. They tend to be bloated, selective and non-contextual. Any valuable analysis has got to follow the alumni  throughout their employment cycle to examine the staged impact of the qualification.

An MBA is not a flag waver. Students from world class universities may experience an immediate career hype regarding salary and status and they may become over dependent on this transient hype which in future years will wane.

I see many instances where the MBA student from the lower profile university surpasses their colleagues from the elite establishments.  They have ‘internalised’ their qualification and used it to develop new personal work skills which are relevant to the workplace. The longer you work means that the focus on experience becomes more and more dominant and educational qualifications become less of a determinant.

But beware of stats and league tables. They do not necessarily reflect the true value and role of an MBA. The elite Business Schools can attract the already successful and high earning candidates who can afford the fees and are seeking to add the kudos of the establishment to their CV. On exit they can have the pick of prestigious organisations who are on that particular ‘milk round’ The real test of an MBA qualification must be its sustainability and for stats to be meaningful in this context we must follow the progress of the alumni over a five to ten year period as a minimum value indicator. And from my experience of coaching many candidates from the whole range of Business Schools the results are mix and my research has prompted me to make the following conclusions.

Before you decide on an MBA or not, you should consider looking at the employment market.

The Employment Market

 Its Structure

There is a dominant technology focus which permeates all corporate activities. This focus has changed the workplace from being people centric to being predominantly task orientated. Culture as a corporate identity criteria has disappeared and globalization has opened markets and put pressure on prices and subsequently competition. We can buy a book online which has been printed in China and may be less than half the price of our local booksellers.

Technology has created a short-termist, fast-forward environment which has become populated with ongoing projects. Projects are, by nature, time definitional and prompt the need for a succession of meetings to execute successfully.


 Its Dynamic

 This described short-termism means that career ladders have rungs missing. Change is endemic and constant within corporate activities and no longer a separate factor.

Corporations planning for the future to identify trends now concentrate on the now. The rock n roll work environment means that if you cope with the now you will have the inbuilt flexibility to mange new development and trends.

This dynamic creates fluidity in the workplace. More and more adverts which I am currently writing for job boards are specifying a time limit. 12 months, 6 months or even 2 years are now commonplace as specified terms.

I can envisage a time when contracts will supersede permanent as the preferred terms of employment for the employer. But this flexibility works 2 ways. It also allows the employee the opportunity to experience a new working environment, the chance to keep up-to-date with technological advances and the advantage to establish more equilibrium when balancing work and leisure.

This constant need to upskill might suggest that it would be better to choose a vocational masters degree rather than an MBA which has more of a generalist focus. The contrary view is that most of our technical learning is gained from our first hand experience in the workplace. Being sent on courses has become a rare event.

The “Choice of MBA or not?” then must embrace this current trend at work and it endorses my original point of the importance of focusing on personal development in tandem with academic study. The universities we currently work with recognize this new approach to career planning and employ us to coach their students to develop their personal leadership skills needed for today’s opportunistic job market.

MBA –or not?

 Not, if you view it as a standalone, academic qualification. Yes, if you can concurrently merge it with personal leadership development coaching.

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