Should You Put A Second MBA On Your CV? Here’s How It Can Help

When Neha Sharma (identity protected) was an associate at Goldman Sachs, she got her first MBA from India’s prestigious Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad. “I thought I was done with school and it would help me get promoted to vice president in a few years,” she says.

It didn’t.

After years of watching others get promoted over her, Neha realized she needed new skills to move up the ladder. She went back to school, this time to INSEAD, where she graduated in 2020 with her second MBA. She moved to her former employer’s New York City office and was Vice President within two years. First time’s the fancy, second time’s the charm. Or is it?

‘Why get the same degree twice?’ is a question many people ask when you tell them that you are keen to consider a second MBA. The question is not invalid. An MBA is an MBA, and why would someone ever consider getting it twice? Granted, the MBA of today is probably a different degree, and much more technology-oriented and future-facing than even the MBA from just a decade ago. Still, would you do the entire program again just for a few courses?

If you’re in the second MBA boat, you’re probably stuck between conflicting thoughts. You dread taking classes that cover topics you’ve already studied, and even spent years mastering in professional roles. When you first began work, you imagined that the MBA you already have would be enough. Having an MBA doesn’t guarantee that you will always beat your peers at work, though. In fact, it is not a given that you’ll do any better than if you didn’t have one.

The decision to go back to business school is not one that should be taken lightly. There are the obvious questions: How much would it cost? How long would it take? But perhaps more importantly, there’s the question of what you’ll get out of it. After all, a second MBA is not a must-have. It is a carefully considered investment. Will it pay off in a career sense?

If you’re considering another degree because you don’t think your first one was sufficient, or if you’ve just been thinking about adding this credential to your resume – here’s how a second MBA can help.

It can help you change career tracks

When you were getting your first MBA, you may have been envisioning a specific path for yourself. Your career goals may not be clear when you begin your studies. The first few years of your career can be an important time for self-exploration as you determine what type of work excites you most. Students who discover their passion after they begin work often choose to go back and earn an MBA focusing on that interest area so they can accelerate their growth within it.

As you enter the workforce, though, you may find that your first degree isn’t providing you with the options you thought it would. Or maybe an unforeseen circumstance – such as the elimination of your position – has forced you to reconsider how your skills can be applied in another field. In the business world, there can be a temptation to keep pushing forward, hoping that your current skills will sustain you in the future. But sometimes, taking a step back is the best way to move ahead. For example, someone who got into technology project management right after an MBA may want to move to a more exciting, contemporary technology area, such as product management in the AI or analytics domains, and may look for education to get the right skills to make the shift.

Sometimes, the shift isn’t even to a related function or industry. Nigel Brown (identity protected) worked as a risk manager for 3 years in a British consulting firm before deciding to call it quits. “When I began, the work was good, and the money was great, too. The money is still good for someone my age, but I quickly became bored of implementing the same rules and checklists over and over again”, he says. He is heading to a top-3 UK program this year, seeking a change to consumer marketing. He knows that the 4 years he spent in risk management probably won’t get him much leverage with future employers, but it’s a cost he is happy to pay.

It can give you a more powerful and more intentional network

As you progress through the career ladder, you soon realize that it’s not what you know, but who you know that can matter more. If your first MBA was earned at a time when you had little experience, the networks you formed then may have been more on familiarity than intention. The upside of going back for another MBA is that this time, it can give you a more intentional network than the one you had earlier. “As an MBA student with little experience during your first MBA, you’re thinking about coursework and extracurriculars,” Neha says. “You’re trying to establish your identity but haven’t necessarily honed in on what exactly it is you want to do.”

A second MBA is a great way to increase the breadth and depth of your network. You can meet like-minded individuals from around the world, who are interested in the same field as you are. This can provide an essential element for career mobility: access to people with experience in many different industries and companies/organizations.

It would also be easier to get some help from them if they have been working in that particular industry for a while. In addition, it will be easier to contact them because they are studying in the same program as you. This can significantly increase your chances of getting a job in that area of expertise after graduation, especially if your career goals have changed since getting your first MBA.

While the first MBA gives students access to an elite professional network, students who enroll in a second MBA often do so with the intent of gaining access to new networks within different industries or countries. This is why many international students take advantage of multiple MBA programs to gain access to contacts around the world. For example, many Asian students seek a second MBA to build a network outside their home countries and cultures, and these networks are often critical as these professionals look to grow from essentially regional or local roles to more global ones.

If you’ve already earned an MBA, then going back for a second one can help you expand your network into new areas and industries. If you’ve already worked in one industry, but are looking to switch to a new one, then getting an MBA at a top school can help open doors for you. For example, some MBA graduates may have long-term goals to be entrepreneurs, but they know that the network and the visibility that a second-tier MBA program provides may not be enough for them to raise funds, woo investors, and scale the business through their existing networks. For them, a second MBA can be a great choice.

It can give you access that may be difficult otherwise

It’s often said that a top MBA can open doors. Well, a second MBA can open the doors that the first one couldn’t, especially if there is an appreciable brand difference between the two programs. In India, for example, many professionals choose to get an MBA right out of college, partly because that’s the norm, but also because most top employers require an MBA even for junior management roles. Often, these professionals feel the need to get another MBA from a top school, especially if the first one was from a low-ranked program.

People also seek a more prestigious MBA because their target firms of choice (e.g. MBB firms for aspiring consultants, or bulge-bracket investment banks for aspiring PE/VC hopefuls) may recruit a lot of graduates from their target programs. In India, getting into a Big Tech firm is much easier if you are a top MBA graduate. Graduates of lower-ranked schools may not be recruited by these firms at all. MBB firms, for example, are known to specifically hire graduates of a limited number of top programs in the country.

A second MBA can convert a decent regional career into a blazing global one.

If you are in an industry that requires frequent relocation for work purposes or if your company is known to move its top talent around the world, then an international MBA makes sense. An international MBA will also open doors for you in case you want to work abroad.

“I worked as a software manager for 7 years before considering an MBA again”, says Abhishek Sharma (identity protected), a software professional who’s headed to Kellogg this Fall to be a product manager. “I’ll use the Kellogg MBA to fortify my marketing skills and make the move to product management with Big Tech companies in global roles. Accomplishing the same thing by getting a Big Tech role in India and then trying to go global would take several more years, if it happens at all”.

It can help you develop new skills, especially in newer business areas

This one might be more relevant for people who got their MBA some time back (mid- career or senior managers) or those for whom their first MBA was a fundamental degree, focusing on the basics of management, and not enough on leadership and the emerging aspects of business.

In the last decade itself, business has probably changed a lot more than it did in several earlier decades. Technology has impacted every industry, and today, finance professionals that do not understand blockchains and cryptocurrencies, and brand managers without a solid grasp on marketing analytics will find it difficult to not just progress, but even excel in their current roles.

This may be even more true for people who got their first MBA with limited experience. At the time, they probably did not have a great idea of the courses they should take to build a fantastic career in their domain of choice. For example, sales professionals may want to take courses on brand building and new product development to grow as a marketer now. Similarly, finance professionals may want to take more courses focused on digital finance or decentralized finance.

On the other side of the spectrum could be mid-career managers, who are now considering a mid-career second MBA as they knock at the cusp of leadership roles. For them, the focus could be to redefine their skills and forte and align them more to strategy and leadership than functional excellence.

A second MBA isn’t for everyone, though. All this said, the second MBA isn’t something you dive into headlong without considering it deeply (probably even more deeply than you did your first MBA). People who want a second MBA simply to earn more money may be disappointed – more education may not always translate into higher earnings, especially in the same country. Similarly, those who believe that a second MBA will ‘strengthen their profile’ without defining how, may often be in for a disappointment. There are industries and roles (e.g. operations leadership or technology program management) that may look more for skills than brands on your resume, and unless you identify specific gaps that the second MBA can help you fill, it may end up as just another (expensive!) degree.

A particularly poor reason for a second MBA is running away from a certain job, industry, or even region. While there could be valid reasons for wanting a change, simply assuming that getting into something different will put your career on the fast track can be a myopic way of approaching your career. It is entirely possible that your career stagnation stems from causes that another MBA just cannot fix, such as the state of the industry you wish to work in, or the desire for greater work-life balance. Do not assume that simply making a change will lead to progress.

The best candidates for a second MBA are those who are looking to change careers, or give their career a boost that can be obtained through a more powerful brand on their resume. For these reasons, a top 20 MBA graduate usually has little to gain from another MBA, as the incremental benefits are minimal.

The second MBA allows you to start fresh and gives you the skills necessary to move into more senior roles within organizations. This “fresh start” is especially useful in highly technical industries such as engineering, where it can be difficult to break into more senior management roles without a well-known MBA brand from your country of residence on your resume.

Rishabh Gupta is the partner at GyanOne Universal, an MBA admissions consulting firm in India.

Questions about this article? Email us or leave a comment below.