Should You Get An MBA? The Questions You Need To Ask
Sound familiar? You’re not alone. Last year, over 238,000 professionals took the GMAT. And you can bet nearly as many contemplated taking it. For many, an MBA is the panacea for whatever ails them professionally. Stuck in a soul-sucking, dead end job? Get an MBA. Looking to enter consulting or investment banking? One word for you: M-B-A. Dreaming of a big paycheck where people take you seriously? Then head on back to b-school.
But is an MBA really the best move? Will your six-figure investment yield a seven-figure return? Does adding MBA to your resume automatically open doors? Those questions were recently posed by Ed Batista, an executive coach and instructor at the Stanford Graduate School of Business. In a post on The Harvard Business Review, Batista shared his thoughts on an MBA’s value when it comes to content mastery, job prospects, and networking. More important, he included questions for prospective MBAs to ask in these areas.
Batista, himself a Stanford GSB graduate, carefully points out that you should first determine “whether your expectations for an MBA are aligned with what the degree will likely do for you.” And that’s particularly true of the curriculum. Decades ago, according to Batista, business schools emphasized hard quant skills like finance and operations. However, such knowledge has become “standardized” and can easily be soaked up from texts and MOOCs. As a result, b-schools have shifted to areas like leadership and interpersonal skills to differentiate themselves according to Batista.
“Business schools have realized that it’s not sufficient to provide quantitative and analytical training,” Batista writes, “because within a few years of leaving school (or even immediately upon graduation) their alumni will add value more through their ability to lead and manage others than through their talents as individual contributors. And effectiveness in these more senior roles requires an entirely different interpersonal skill set.”
As a result, Batista encourages prospective MBAs to weigh these four questions when it comes to a school’s curriculum:
- Do the MBA programs I’m considering provide practical leadership and management training?
- How well-established are these courses? How much support do they have from the school? How much support do they have from the surrounding community?
- What do alumni say about their experiences in these courses? How have they benefited from this training?
- And what alternative means are available to me to develop these practical skills?
Batista points to the value of an MBA as another factor to weigh. He notes that “no career paths absolutely require an MBA,” adding that there are many senior people in general management roles, in consulting and even in financial services who don’t have an MBA—so don’t assume that the credential will necessarily serve a meaningful purpose in your chosen field.” However, drawing from his own experience, Batista admits that an MBA has given him an advantage in both his teaching and consulting careers. “New students feel more comfortable knowing that I’ve been in their shoes (albeit 15 years ago), and prospective clients trust that I understand the complexities of their world and the challenges they face.”
Even more, Batista observes that an MBA doesn’t necessarily mean the same thing to different people. And that’s particularly true about the program you choose. “…the nature of the signal being sent,” Batista argues, “depends on the specific MBA program’s reputation, and this is not simply a matter of prestige. Harvard, Stanford, and Wharton routinely top lists of U.S. business schools, but they also have a reputation for entitlement and arrogance. While some firms seek out graduates from elite schools, others avoid them out of a concern that they will be difficult to work with and disruptive to the established culture.”
Thus, Batista encourages students to ask these four questions when evaluating a prospective school:
- What market am I in now? What markets might I seek to enter in the future?
- Who’s interested in my services? How might this change if I had an MBA?
- How are MBAs perceived in these markets? What signals does an MBA send in these markets? What stereotypes (both positive and negative) might I face as an MBA?
- What is the specific reputation of the MBA programs I’m considering? How are these schools and their alumni viewed within my desired markets?
Finally, Batista reminds readers to factor alumni into their decision-making. For starters, students often rise to the level of their peers. The better your peers, the more you’ll learn, especially, as Batista notes, “MBA students often learn as much from their peers as they do from faculty.”
Beyond the program, fellow alumni often comprise a healthy slice of their peers’ network. And this can open up (or curse) students to particular locales or industries. With that in mind, Batista also advises you to consider these questions when evaluating an MBA program:
- What do I know about the students at the MBA programs I’m considering? Are they like-minded peers? Do I see myself learning alongside them?
- What do I know about the alumni networks of these programs? How active are they? Are they concentrated in geographic areas and professional fields of interest to me?
- What support does a school provide to its alumni network and to individual alumni? Do alumni return frequently to participate in events and activities at the school?
Alas, Batista wasn’t alone in writing about the b-school experience in The Harvard Business Review this week. Michael Schrage, an MIT researcher and adjunct faculty member at the school’s Entrepreneurship Center, recently shared some lessons he gained from teaching professionals in the school’s executive education program:
- “If you receive any kind of professional development, it has to have immediate impact on your organization. The course content and curricula need to clearly connect with what matters to your colleagues, clients and customers.”
- “Revolution and new paradigms weren’t top priorities for my mid-career students. The primary opportunity was revisiting the fundamentals of everyday projects and processes. Instead of starting from scratch, my students sought innovative ways to leverage what their organizations were already doing.”
- “Seeing and doing something different is the essence of new capability creation. But those differences need to be credibly measured. How do those differences make us more efficient or effective? How might our customers or clients experience that difference? It’s one thing to claim a new capability; it’s quite another to rigorously measure it. Serious executive education students are always looking for new ways to measure impact, influence and improvement.”
For additional insights from Schrage, click on his link below