HR Execs Make The Case For The MBA

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Since the 2008 economic crash, MBAs have truly made progress. They’ve evolved from scapegoats to punch lines. Few pundits consider MBAs to be dangerous anymore. In the startup world, some wonder if the degree is worth the money – or even relevant. In Silicon Valley, founders and engineers grouse that MBAs ‘can’t code, can’t sell, and can’t follow.’ In popular culture, they’re depicted as know-it-alls.

Forget the baseless caricatures. If you graduate from a top-tier program, you can expect to earn $130,000 or more to start. Even graduates from programs like Delaware or Texas Tech are commanding $80,000 out of the gate. Best of all, as GMAC noted in its May survey of corporate recruiters, 92 percent of American companies plan to hire MBAs in 2015. Globally, that number has jumped from 62 percent to 84 percent over the past five years.

That’s not by accident. And a recent report by Molly Greenberg , the community content manager at MBA@UNC, explains why. Reaching out to 24 human resources executives at companies ranging from HubSpot to KPMG, Greenberg asked a simple question: “Why does an MBA give candidates an advantage?”


Kenan-Flagler's Molly Greenberg

MBA@UNC’s Molly Greenberg

For many hiring managers who responded to Greenberg, an MBA reduces risk. It certifies that candidates have mastered the basics and can think strategically and act purposefully. For example, Michelle Denman, senior vice president of human resources at AppSense, believes an MBA confers “a certain amount of credibility” on candidates, particularly in areas like “basic financial acumen, marketing principles, and a general understanding of how business works.

At the same time, the MBA experience itself has equipped graduates with tools and intangibles that can be applied in any context. “MBA candidates have experienced rigorous academic programs, project work in a team environment, internships with industry leaders, and, in many cases, international business experiences,” notes Tisa Head, executive vice president of human resources at Navy Federal. “All of these experiences, in and out of the classroom, develop critical thinking, problem solving and team-oriented skills that enhance their overall business acumen and provide advantages in a very competitive job market.”

Even more, MBAs reflect a candidate’s commitment to learning, says Frank Hockmuller, human resources consultant with Roche Diagnostics. “First and foremost, great leaders lead themselves. An MBA, master’s or Ph.D. is a testament to an individual’s dedication toward excellence. From a hiring perspective, it is also an indicator of what an individual may be capable of achieving.”


These days, companies are seeking employees who can see the whole picture, not just operate in their own silo. And that’s one area where MBAs excel, according tp many human resources executives. “In order to be able to scale a company in innovative ways, one has to fundamentally understand the nature of an organization and be able to tie in all the components of a dynamic environment,” believes Anita Lim, human resources lead at Instart Logic. “An MBA will give a candidate a holistic overview of the business world and put them in a position where they can be a valuable asset to the company.”

Edelman's Travis Kessel

Edelman’s Travis Kessel

And this mindset gives MBAs a deep advantage, notably in areas like thinking “strategically and globally,” adds Build-A-Bear Workshop’s Darlene Elder. That helps them in two ways. First, as Edelman senior vice president of recruitment Travis Kessel points out, an MBA makes it easier for employees to better understand clients. “Candidates with MBAs often have the best understanding of the business behind the business. That behind-the-curtain perspective makes them more effective consultants for our clients as well as uniquely useful internally as our organization evolves. As the needs of our clients diversify, a holistic perspective on not only how to best amplify their work, but how to approach the work itself, is becoming more and more valuable.”

Even more, MBA training gives candidates a greater self-awareness that can prove invaluable in leadership. “Candidates with MBAs tend to have a broader set of skills that enable them to address business needs with a more comprehensive understanding of how their actions will impact the organization,” observes Erin Anderson, senior vice president of human resources at 2U.

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