Do you really need an MBA to fast track your career?
You have done your Undergrad degree and have started working in a company. Earning an income for the first time in your life is a definite high. But you have aspirations of reaching the upper echelons of the corporate world and you wonder what you should do to get there.
You are told that just graduation is not enough in the long run – a postgraduate degree (ideally, an MBA) will help you stay competitive in the world of cutthroat competition. MBA programs are not cheap and therefore cost is a moot consideration. Letting go of your steady salary is never an easy decision.
On one hand, you hear about successful MBAs earning astronomical sums of money but yet, on the other hand, you hear about the whole bunch of people who have done very well without any fancy degrees. Some of the heroes of the corporate world never went to or completed any postgraduate degree – Steve Jobs; Mark Zuckerberg; Larry Ellison, Michael Dell, etc.
And then for some, its all about the pleasure of learning but now there are plenty of online courses and MOOCs available to enhance your learning at your own pace without having to leave your job. The world is changing so fast every week and determining what is the right thing to do is difficult.
Do you really need an MBA to fast track your career?
At the end of the day, there are no right or wrong choices that apply to everyone. It does become a matter of individual’s choice basis their current circumstances and thinking. Here are a few points to consider as you go about making the decision.
1. Competence counts more than a degree
Success in the corporate world is driven by your ability to deliver results; your ability to work with and influence people; your communication skills; your attitude and hard work. A degree may help you get your first few jobs but eventually, it’s only your competence that builds your resume creates your brand and gets you the promotions. Most of the major companies in the world have a competency-based hiring process for every job.
Building these competencies are a personal effort that can be done on the job. So whether you chose to do an MBA or not, the journey of building on your competence is a life long effort that should continue and will determine your success.
2. Generalist vs Technical Expertise
MBA is a degree of general concepts on how to run a business which can be learned anyway. MBA teaches you concepts to be a generalist. We all know enough entrepreneurs or corporate big wigs who have become very successful in what they do without an MBA degree.
You can’t, however, expect to learn on your own how to treat a patient or send a rocket to space. Even if you think you can, you won’t be allowed to do this without a proper degree or certification. More and more companies like Google and Facebook are looking for flat organizational structures and the age of general managers seems to be diminishing. If you bring some specific skills to the table which is valued by the company, then you are in a great position.
Generalist is increasingly becoming a cost and companies will increasingly get towards avoiding them. Generalists can be replaced with current employees demonstrating the right competence who could be trained further on other general management concepts. You should think about building an additional technical skill in your postgraduate program which will complement your competences. Then you become very valuable for a company. There is a whole range of areas of specialization available like economics, statistics, big data, analytics, law, etc which one can do after a regular undergraduate degree.
3. Financial payback
MBA programs are not cheap. A typical program in India costs somewhere between Rs.5 Lacs to Rs.20 Lacs. Overseas programs can go anywhere near Rs. 1Cr. So one does wonder whether your incremental earnings net of tax from such an investment is justified. The mathematics behind such a calculation is easy to figure and you can see what you will need to earn post such an expense to return a positive ROI for yourself. You can also see how long it will take before you recover the cost of the MBA.
Imagine if you invested Rs. 1 Cr in Paytm instead of an MBA in 2008, you would be worth Rs.200 Cr. Of course, every decision has a risk and return as well as a choice of learning, so it is a personal choice you make.
Read: When an MBA is not Worth
4. A big brand degree definitely counts
If all the above, sounds like I am completely dissuading you from doing an MBA, then I want to correct it. An MBA from one of the top schools always gives you a great platform. An MBA degree from Harvard, Wharton or IIM opens many more opportunities for you than if you didn’t have that degree. What you do with the opportunity is still dependent on point no.1 above. But nevertheless, even getting yourself to have a shot at glory is not easy and so a degree from one of the top institutions is always worth it.
The financial payback will always be positive in the long run as long as you do your bit to keep learning and building your competencies.
Think about it and make the choice that resonates with you. Once you commit to a choice, give it your best shot and focus on building your competence. An expert counselor can help you flush out your thoughts. We at Stoodnt are always happy to help.
Author: Vijay Raghunathan
Vijay has over 25 years of senior leadership experience across companies like American Express, Standard Chartered Bank and Blow Plast. He has also been an entrepreneur having founded 2 payment startups. He has an MBA degree from IIM and also done a Certificate Programme in High-Performance Leadership from Cornell University. He has been providing career counseling for young professionals for over a decade and has hands-on experience of helping kids through the college admissions process in India, US, and the UK.
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