The recession changed how a lot of businesses and schools view the debate over education and experience. While some argue that experience trumps all when securing a job, others point to the significance education plays in preparing an employee for the industry and new technology. Given that both of these points hold weight, how do you determine the importance of an MBA to your future?
Anthony Ferrier is Vice President at Innovation Strategy Spigit, Inc. in New York. Like many others, his initial interest in an advanced business degree was to quickly improve his earning potential. “Absolutely, [it] has been helpful,” he says. “For pretty much every role that I have gotten in the past 10 years, a master’s was listed as required or preferred. If you’re looking to work in a senior role for a Fortune 500 [company], which is where I have spent most of my career, it is pretty much table stakes.”
In the case of Pablo Flores, a senior research director at L.A.-based boutique marketing firm Axen Research, the impetus was a potential job switch. “Even though I did my undergrad in business management, where I was at in my life— working in agribusiness—there was no way out of it,” he says. “I was already boxed into the career that I had, so if I wanted to branch out, the only option was to get an MBA.”
The reality is an MBA holds value, especially since in today’s marketplace it is being more broadly applied. “Before, people would get an MBA just to get a financial job at Deutsche Bank or Merrill Lynch,” says Flores. “Having an MBA now offers different relevance within different industries.” Many schools are now offering industry-focused specializations within the MBA program. Flores points to MBA graduates who’ve taken their skills into education, marketing and healthcare.
But there are considerations when looking at the best time to pursue your degree. “It’s a full-time job without being paid for it. You go to school,” says Flores, “And then you do homework, group projects, reading and a bunch of things.”
Ferrier offers this advice for working people who are considering taking the leap: “It’s a big investment and you don’t want to waste that time and effort,” he says. “At the end of the day, honesty about yourself in terms of capacity for future career progression and direction is essential.” Adds Flores, “It’s worth paying attention to what a [person with an] MBA makes after graduation.”
From the employer’s perspective, the most compelling candidates combine education with experience. Jim Ryan is a staff manager in HR at the University of California in San Francisco. Ryan says he and his crew don’t just look at a résumé to see if the candidate has an MBA but also the experience behind it. “If you’re trying to make yourself a stronger candidate, it won’t help unless it augments your experience,” he says. “Let there be a natural flow to building your career.”
Additionally, both your work experience and class interaction can benefit you and your classmates, as your experience can provide valuable perspective on the topics you will address in class. Flores adds, “I would discourage anybody who doesn’t have at least three years’ experience in the workplace. What makes a strong MBA program is the quality of their students, and the discussions that you have come from what each brings to the table. If you don’t have enough experience to contribute, you should wait a little; you’ll be much better off.”