Should You Get An MBA?
Maria |
May 4, 2022

It takes money and intelligence to get an MBA, but more than that, it takes passion and patience. Because, after all, it’s all worthwhile; it can help a professional advance in their career, earn more money, and enhance their position. Many businesses demand an MBA for certain management or leadership positions, and having an MBA can provide the skills and information needed to start a new firm.

But the question is, really, why should you pursue an MBA in the first place? Or do you think you’ve got what it takes to get an MBA?

Episode Transcript

[00:00:07.150] – John

Hello, everyone. This is John Byrne with Poets and Quants. Welcome to Business Casual, our weekly podcast with my co host Caroline Diarte Edwards and Maria Wich Vila. We’re going to talk about not something that is out there and people are wondering about it. And there’s two pieces to this puzzle. Let me get to the first one. Should you get an MBA? What questions should you actually ask yourself to help you determine whether or not an MBA makes sense for you? That’s part of it. The second part of this puzzle is let’s say you’ve been admitted to an MBA program, but your boss just gave you a promotion or increased responsibility or really compelling assignment. Should you still go or should you stay? We’re going to talk about these two related issues with Maria and Caroline. And I guess the first thing I want to ask Maria, let’s say, is what are the questions you should be asking yourselves to determine whether or not an MBA is a good investment and a good move for you?

 

[00:01:10.220] – Maria

I think it’s very simple. What am I hoping to get out of this degree? What is my end goal? Is my end goal to change into a new career that I wouldn’t otherwise be able to change into? Is it to move up in my existing career, whatever that goal is? In some cases, the goal when I talk to people, it’s frankly, that they want to emigrate from perhaps a country with a more developing economy. They want to emigrate to a place with a more developed economy. When you really dig down, you really have to dig down into what are actually my motivations. Right? Is it just because I want to move to the US, which is a perfectly valid reason for wanting to do something right, by the way. But you really need to ask yourself, okay, first of all, what is it that I actually want from this? And then make a list of all the different ways other than the MBA, I might be able to get that. So, for example, if you currently work in a specific industry and you want to move up in that industry, you might very well be better served by simply attending industry conferences, for example, and networking and meeting lots of people within that sort of little universe where you work.

 

[00:02:14.720] – Maria

And that might help your career just as much, if not more than getting an MBA. So depending on what your goal is, Conversely or similarly, if your goal is to emigrate, maybe don’t look at the US schools only. Maybe look at Canadian schools. Right. Canada anecdotally has much friendlier immigration policies. So if that’s your goal and you’re like, well, I might want to move to Seattle. Like, if you’re willing to move to a place like Seattle or Boston, Canada’s, in terms of climate, pretty similar. So really ask yourself, what is it I want with this degree? Because then what happens is that if you actually get in and when that deposit is due, you won’t suddenly get cold feet writing that deposit check.

 

[00:02:55.020] – John

Yeah, that’s true. And then there are certain professions, of course, or careers where an MBA is pretty much required. This is particularly true in high level management consulting, strategic consulting. This is true in many cases in terms of product management jobs and technology. This is also true in many finance jobs. Caroline, what do you think the questions are that should be asked of a person?

 

[00:03:22.550] – Caroline

So as regards of being required, I think that’s less the case than it used to be. I think in the past it was really an essential step if you wanted to rise up the Echelons in consulting or investment banking. And that is less the case now. There are more options for people to climb the career ladder and come into those careers than they used to be. I think that it’s less the case that someone has to do an MBA because it’s expected of them by their employer and not necessarily because of their own motivation, which I think is a good thing. Right. It’s a very personal decision about your short, medium and long term future. So it should be something that you want to do rather than you’re doing it because it’s a hoop that you’re expected to jump through by your employer. But the critical question is Maria says, really your career goals, what do you want to do? And I think people need to kind of map that out. And I think too many people start going down the road of applying to business school thinking, okay, I’m not very happy in my current job.

 

[00:04:31.230] – Caroline

It’s not really the right thing for me. So I know I want to do something different, but I don’t know what that is. And so I’ll go to business school and figure that out. And it’s better to invest some time and effort in figuring out the answers to some of those questions before you start the application process and figure out what would be your ideal job post MBA. How do you see your career evolving in the medium term and the long term? Because that’s an important thing that you need to communicate to business school. And so you’ll just be a much better prepared candidate if you have figured that out sooner rather than later. And you can fudge it in the written application.

 

[00:05:12.010] 

Right.

 

[00:05:12.330] – Caroline

Because often there’s a very short question that you have to respond to about your career goals if there’s a question at all. But you can expect to be grilled about your career vision at the interview stage. The clearer you are and the more research you’ve done, the better you will come across as a motivated candidates because given the choice and admissions committee. And I’ve seen that when I was the admissions committee, given the choice between two very similar candidates, someone who is able to articulate clear career vision and what they want to get out of the MBA is going to get preference over someone who’s wishy washy about their career goals. And that’s true even though the school knows that a lot of the students will go through a change of heart while they’re on the program.

 

[00:06:03.940] 

Right?

 

[00:06:04.280] – Caroline

So a lot of people do change their career goals when they are studying and they’re exposed to so many different opportunities that they might not have thought about before. But what I’ve seen at NCR is that students who come in with a clear vision of what they want to do, even if that completely changes. Right. Even if they end up doing something totally different at the end of the day, that ability to sort of think through logically, what are my skills, what am I good at? What would suit me? And figure out a vision that relates to that? Even if they change that vision, that ability to articulate that and think through those logical steps will stand them in good stead. And they’re more likely to sort of recalibrate and figure out another plan that makes sense versus someone who’s kind of wishy washy and torn in lots of different directions and tempted by management consulting, but also banking and thinking about starting their own company. And those people often end up being very scattered on the MBA program in terms of what they choose to study in the electives and so on, and sometimes don’t do so well in their job search.

 

[00:07:15.770] – John

And the truth is, a lot of people who graduate from an undergraduate program, no matter what discipline it’s in, and let’s just say for the sake of discussion, it’s engineering. You may go to engineering, you find that the job is quite narrow and you’re less challenged by it. Three to five years in and you’re thinking about, okay, what would I like to do that might be engineering related, but put me at a higher intellectual level where I’m thinking about and solving bigger challenges that are more meaningful. And that’s why many engineers go get an MBA, because they don’t want to stay in those narrow engineering jobs. And I think it’s also true of people who by accident, you fall into something that you really didn’t want out of undergraduate school, and now is your chance to say, okay, I think I do want something else. And that MBA degree is the ideal way to transition into a new career. So for people who are like that, I think that’s a helpful thing because you need to think about, okay, what are you going to get from a business education above and beyond, a higher starting salary or a different job?

 

[00:08:33.970] – John

And we often think of getting the MBA because I want to work at X company and I want to do X instead of, okay, what kind of knowledge are you going to gain? What kind of skills are you going to gain? What resources will degree give you that will make you a better professional and a better person not only immediately after graduation, but through your life, meaning you will more likely find the thing you really want to do as opposed to things you can do and might be willing to do but can’t put your whole heart and soul into it. Isn’t that another part of the equation? One of the questions that you should ask yourself beyond the money, beyond the first job I’m going to get, how is this going to set me up for my life and how is it going to enrich my professional, even my personal life?

 

[00:09:29.150] – Maria

Yeah, I think something that sometimes gets lost in the crazed arms race of admissions is that people sometimes don’t realize at the end of this you actually go to school, you take classes and you learn things.

 

[00:09:42.480] – John

How about that?

 

[00:09:43.750] – Maria

It’s so weird. And so I think sometimes people lose sight of that. And I think it’s interesting that when you anecdotally hear some people who say things like, well, I don’t know if it was really worth it. Frequently those are folks who sometimes had taken business as an undergraduate major. And so for them, I can understand, well, there’s obviously going to be some repetition. Obviously the MBA level, perhaps courses would be at a higher level or they would be more strategic versus focusing on execution. But I do think that there is something to be said for the education. And again, if you look at one of the things I really urge people to do is to really look at what are the classes you think you’re going to want to take, especially the electives. Does the school you’re interested in even offer these sorts of electives you find interesting? And a lot of the syllabi for these electives is available online. So click on are you going to be learning stuff that you actually want to learn? If you look at the syllabus or if you look at the curriculum and you say, I don’t know, I don’t know, accounting, finance, I mean, the only thing I really want to learn is marketing.

 

[00:10:43.350] – Maria

Then maybe a broad based business degree isn’t for you. So I do think that there is value. I think for many of us, those of us who very much appreciate the fact that we got the MBA, we actually went there to learn, shockingly enough. But if you don’t think you’re going to grow or benefit from the actual classroom environment, that could be another reason to reconsider.

 

[00:11:06.770] – John

Yeah, definitely. The other thing you’re going to gain, which we’ve talked a lot about over the past, is the network, the relationships with people who are like minded, who are ambitious, who are as smart as you are, or smarter, who take their professional careers very seriously and want to pour a lot of themselves in those careers and expect a lot from them. And you may not have had that experience at the undergraduate level. And you may not have that experience three to five years after your undergraduate degree, where you may be one of many, all of whom are pursuing different interests in different paths. And I think a lot comes out of the relationships you get out of the business school. And that’s another consideration, don’t you think, Caroline?

 

[00:11:58.080] – Caroline

Yes, absolutely. And I think it’s something that people often underestimate as the value of what they’ll get out of the program, because in the long term, actually, the value that you will continue to derive 1020, 30, 40 years down the line will be the relationships that you’ve built in that network that enables you to open doors that might not otherwise have been opened. Right. And it gives you the ability to potentially reinvent yourself. And I think that’s an important consideration, that there’s so much uncertainty in the economy today. We hear talk of how people entering College, so many of them will go into jobs that don’t even exist right now. Right. So the job market is changing so rapidly that none of us can anticipate what the careers will be for people coming out of business school and as their careers evolve over time, further down the road. And so in that context of uncertainty, having equipped yourself with a good education as well as a great network of people who are in a lot of different industries and will do very well in their careers and can help you in the future, that’s so important.

 

[00:13:11.150] – Caroline

So it’s important to think about the makeup of that network. Where will that network be geographically? Is that relevant to you? Right. If you’re looking for an international career, what are the international programs like London Business School or in CIAD may be the best option for you.

 

[00:13:26.800] – Maria

Right.

 

[00:13:26.980] – Caroline

Because that gives you a great network of people around the world. But if you are focused on tech companies and high tech or venture capital, then probably going to one of the schools in California where most of the network, most graduates stay on the West Coast, that will bear more fruit in the long term. So I think it’s important to think about the composition of the network and what’s going to be valuable for you in the long term.

 

[00:13:55.190] – Maria

And you know, Carolyn, I would love to jump on something that you said that I think is really valuable. You just use the term to reinvent yourself. And I think that that is a really valuable point, because in business school you are going to be exposed to people who have worked all over the world in every industry Imaginable. You’re going to be covering cases in class about every industry industry you never knew anything about, Pharmaceuticals, real estate, manufacturing, everything. And I think that’s a really great point, especially for a certain subset of high achievers who make up a large number of the MBA applicants. These are people who have been on sort of like this predefined escalator of success. Right. Like the goal is to get into a great College. So I’ve done that. Okay. What’s the next goal that gives me validation? It’s to get into one of these banking or consulting firms. Okay. Now I’ve done that. And then I think it reaches a point where it’s sort of like, okay, so what’s next? Like, I’ve done everything I was supposed to do to be, quote, unquote, excellent, to be the best. And I think for some people, some people love consulting and they stay in it forever.

 

[00:14:56.840] – Maria

And frankly, those people probably should. Maybe they don’t need to get an MBA. They’re probably better served by spending those two years still at the firm. But I think for people who maybe have just been with their Blinders on, just like, okay, I just need to keep going up that escalator that predefined escalator what defines success. And then if for whatever reason, you’re like, well, maybe this isn’t what I want business school. I mean, in terms of those two years, I hear a lot of people who don’t like the degree saying things like, it’s too whole or well, INSEAD out, of course, as a more compressed timeline for those who are more mature and more intellectually able to handle changes at a faster pace. But people will often say, oh, it’s two whole years, but there’s no other way to learn about so many industries at once in only two years. Right. If I work in consulting and I think, wow, the biotech field just seems really cool in this genetic cancer treatment. If you try to get into that field and then you spend two years there and you’re like, well, actually, this isn’t what I thought it was going to be.

 

[00:15:52.760] – Maria

There’s really no other way to get this broad of a sense. You’re not going to be able to talk to as broad as a variety of people as well. In terms of what does it really mean to work in entertainment, what does it really mean to work in real estate, et cetera, et cetera. So I think that’s a really excellent point that you made.

 

[00:16:11.660] – John

The other thing is you need to know that you’re going to be willing to invest the time and the money to do the degree. One of the things that Maria and Caroline and I do before we get on and record this is have a little pre session where we have a conversation about some of the points that we want to make. And in that pre discussion today, both Caroline and Maria were talking about recent clients that they’ve had who’ve been admitted to top programs, but are now having doubts, doubts about whether or not they really want to spend the time or the money to go and get an MBA after having gone through this entire process, which is pretty laborious to get into a really great business school, particularly an M seven school how do you know that you’re willing to invest the time and the money with regard to the time?

 

[00:17:07.640] – Caroline

As Maria said, sometimes people hesitate about the two years. I think something that’s important to keep in mind is that time will go much faster than you anticipate.

 

[00:17:17.590] 

Right.

 

[00:17:17.900] – Caroline

So it’s an intense experience in MBA, and two years is not a great little time out of an entire career. It will go much faster than you think, and obviously more so. If you do a one year program like yet, it really goes by in a flash. So I would encourage people to not hesitate because of the time factor. Right. Because in the long term, I don’t hear people regretting having taken that time out of their careers. It will go by very quickly. And the vast, vast majority of people really feel the benefits of that in the long term. And also time wise, I’ve seen that with candidates who want to decide they want to defer, right now is not the perfect time to do my MBA. I’ve just got a promotion, or my employee doesn’t want me to leave, or I’ve just got a great job offer. And when I was in Seattle sometimes have conversations with admitted candidates who want to defer for professional reasons. And it’s important to keep in mind that there is never a perfect time to go off and do an MBA. The very nature of MBA admits is that you are successful and opportunities are coming your way and you just have to make a choice.

 

[00:18:41.540] – Caroline

Right. And that’s definitely the case right now, especially in the US. There’s a strong job market. People are getting promotions, people getting exciting job offers, people are getting pay increases. And so it seems like the opportunity cost is higher going off to business school. And I think it’s a shame when people decide, okay, I’m going to defer it, or maybe I won’t go now. Maybe I’ll reapply. You just need to make a call about what is in your long term interests, not what is in your short term interest. And have faith that you will have great opportunities coming your way when you graduate as well. So it’s not as if you’re damaging your long term prospects by on the contrary, you’re actually going to be opening more doors more than you can imagine. So we definitely see that right now, people hesitating to go after business school, hesitating to apply because of the strong job market. But as I said, I think it’s really a shame. You need to take a long term perspective on what is going to have the most value for you.

 

[00:19:50.040] – John

And generally, people who do defer or choose not to apply at all now end up not going I mean, the window of opportunity tends to start to close.

 

[00:20:03.230] – Caroline

Yeah. They start to hesitate and they defer. And a lot of people who defer don’t ever go to business school. So sometimes they’re kind of kidding themselves that they will go later, but they’re not.

 

[00:20:17.730] – John

So taking that long term view, I think, as you express, is really super important here because it’s not about for a lot of people going to be about, okay, I just got the promotion. It’s really good. I’m going to make more money. And now the value equation has changed. But that’s now, that’s not five years from now. That’s not ten years from now. And that’s what you really got to think through. Now, Maria, you were mentioning the story that you had a client recently who was accepted into an M seven school after a lot of effort and work and is now questioning whether or not that person should go.

 

[00:20:55.350] – Maria

Yes, indeed. And I think another sort of bit of advice that I would add to what I said earlier is also, like, once you’re thinking about what is it I want from this degree? Also write down a list of schools that you would be delighted to attend, because I feel like sometimes people get into that dream school and they say, oh, if only I could get into school. I love them. They’re perfect for me. And then they get in and all of a sudden they’re like, well, I don’t know. They didn’t give me enough of a scholarship or maybe I could get in somewhere better, right? It’s like I don’t know if you have someone who like a friend who is always developing crushes on people and then they start dating their crush and they’re like, oh, well, I don’t know. He’s not that great. And you’re like, come on. Like all you’ve talked about for the past seven months is how much you want to get into the school. And I’m so insecure and I’ve got so many questions and what do you think about this and how should I phrase that and which story should I choose?

 

[00:21:46.250] – Maria

And then it’s like, oh, Congratulations, you got in and I’m so happy for you. And then they’re like, well, I don’t know. So first of all, make that list of schools that you would be delighted to go to. And by the way, if you’re not excited at all about going to a school, then don’t waste your time applying there. But yeah. So it’s funny because now as we are starting to sort of get into the post pandemic world and jobs are booming and salaries are booming and so people are reconsidering it. I do think, as Caroline said, it’s a long term. It’s a long term calculation, right? What goes up must come down. So for every person who right now is saying like, oh, man, the economy is great and I just got a huge promotion and I’m making so much money. Well, guess what? Like, there were people who thought just like you. And then March 2020 came around or the housing crisis in 2008 came around. You have to ask yourself if I think the value of the MBA is such that I am going to learn enough and become a stronger manager person leader as a result.

 

[00:22:46.010] – Maria

Then this will allow me to weather those storms that are coming in the long term of my career. Because the only thing that’s certain is that there’s going to be more uncertainty in our lives right now. Salaries are great, but two years ago, everyone was getting laid off. So those cycles of boom and bust are just going to continue forever. So I just think once you get in, then it’s like, oh, never mind. Now I’m too good for this school. Like, oh, my gosh, really? Maybe make a little note to yourself that you can refer back to at the end of things and say, oh, actually, that’s right. I really did love this school. This really was my dream school. And I’m okay with making that payment, and I’m okay with the fact that they only gave me a $50,000 scholarship or whatever.

 

[00:23:35.550] – John

That is so true, because you don’t know what’s going to happen 510 years from now. And the research shows that those with graduate degrees have far lower unemployment, are likely to be laid off than those with just undergraduate degrees. That’s one piece of research that’s absolutely certain. The other piece here. And this is a question I ask every Dean these days. What are you doing to make sure your MBA graduates are not unemployed by a computer algorithm? And I’m going to tell you that as artificial intelligence and machine learning will become a bigger and bigger part of the professional world, and they already are, but they will become much bigger. There are going to be many people who are at risk. And I actually think that an MBA degree that gives you that network and that trains you across all the different disciplines and really allows you to Hone your leadership skills, which a computer algorithm can never do. Meaning working in dynamic and diverse teams and leading people and motivating people. It’s something a robot or AI won’t be able to do. These are going to be essential to you in the future to make sure that you are not replaced by a computer algorithm.

 

[00:24:57.090] – John

And that’s the long term game that you should be playing, not the short term game. I think you two agree with me on that, right?

 

[00:25:06.210] 

Absolutely.

 

[00:25:08.490] – John

All right. So there we have it. We give you a bunch of questions you should ask to determine and help you decide whether or not an MBA is right for you. And for those of you who have been admitted to an MBA program and you’re having doubts because your employer is dangling a promotion or a raise in front of you, just remember this, okay? You need to invest in yourself. The brand is you. You can’t depend on your company in the future to look out for you. You’ve got to be on your own and your own. 2ft and one of the things that we’ve learned in the last quarter of a century, if not the last half century, when major layouts were occurring and professional employees were being thrown on the street by the tens of thousands in the 80s, is exactly that. You’ve got to be your own manager of your own brand. You have to invest in yourself. You have to bring your skills up to a high level so that you are highly desirable in the world of work. That’s one thing we know for sure. So when you’re thinking about, okay, I’ll take this promotion and I’ll defer likelihood is you’ll never go back or you’ll take the promotion and turn it down completely.

 

[00:26:21.900] – John

The opportunity to go to a great school, you probably won’t go back. And if you do, you have to go through this process all over again, and you may find it very difficult to get into a great school again. All right. I hope this is helpful to all of you out there. Oh, wait. I think Maria has another point to add.

 

[00:26:40.410] – Maria

I just had one final thought that occurred to me that I think speaking of the timing, the time will never be right. It’s very similar to the decision to have a child. Right? There’s no great time to have a child. There’s only less painful versus more painful times. And I think it says if you’ve decided at some point that let’s say having children is something you want to do, you kind of just have to take the plunge at a certain point and go for it. And yes, the decision to have a child will come at a significant cost that those who don’t go that route do not experience. But some people end up thinking that it’s worth it. There’s also a window that closes right after a certain point. If you’re three years out of College, maybe you can say, well, I’ll wait another year or two, but after a certain point, you can’t go back. You really can’t. And so I think, again, if you think about the long term of your life, then just sort of think about like, okay, would I rather have this degree or would I rather not? Would I rather have a child or not?

 

[00:27:40.820] – Maria

And similar to having a child, there is no right or wrong. People have very happy, very fulfilling, very wonderful lives with children without children, with pets, with children and pets with neither. It’s just about figuring out what you want and what’s best for you and not what your coworkers are telling you or your fellow, your frat brothers on Wall Street are telling you or whatever, listen to what you want and then follow it. Although I do think the MBA is expensive, it is still less expensive than having a child. So caveat on that. But I think that’s maybe I don’t know if this is a useful way to think about it, but it just occurred to me right at the end. Thank you an MBA. Sorry it involves a lot less diaper.

 

[00:28:29.690] – John

And since all three of us have children, I can say that there are probably times when we have at least a little bit of remorse here and there during the temper tantrum or during a time when your kid is sick and you’re feeling awful for them. You’re wondering, oh, my God, is this worth it?

 

[00:28:49.610] – Maria

Like I said, it’s a painful it’s a decision that comes with a cost.

 

[00:28:55.110] – John

All right. This makes the MBA a really easy decision for all of you out there. Clearly. Go for it. Hey, this is John Byrne with Poets and Quants listening to Business Casual our weekly podcast with my co host, Carolyn Diarte Edwards and Maria Wich villa.

 

Should You Get An MBA?
Maria |
May 4, 2022

Maria

New around here? I’m an HBS graduate and a proud member (and former Board Member) of AIGAC. I considered opening a high-end boutique admissions consulting firm, but I wanted to make high-quality admissions advice accessible to all, so I “scaled myself” by creating ApplicantLab. ApplicantLab provides the SAME advice as high-end consultants at a much more affordable price. Read our rave reviews on GMATClub, and check out our free trial (no credit card required) today!