During the past ten years, many people have asked me whether it is worth doing an MBA. The problem with this question is that the answer differs from individual to individual. It depends on what you want to achieve by doing it.
So, how do I answer this question?
By asking them a question (the best defense is attack). Why do you want to do an MBA?
The responses vary from ‘I want to fast-track my career’ to ‘I want to make a career change’ and everything in between.
These are valid responses. At the same time though, they are not clear and specific enough to be able to make a decision whether it is worth giving up your job and investing 2 years of your life and $100K in tuition fees (without even mentioning living expenses and opportunity cost).
Same thing happen in business. How many times have we jumped to solutions without having done a proper diagnosis of what the problem is? Sometimes they work but most times they don’t.
- Specific: Where do you want to be in 5 years? In 10 years? Think of the job you would like to have e.g. vice-president in a mid-sized pharmaceutical industry.
The more specific your goals are, the better you will understand whether an MBA will help you achieve them.
- Measurable: Find out what credentials are needed for the jobs you want to have. Is an MBA a must-have or a nice-to-have degree? Does it matter where you do it? Is there another degree that might be more relevant?
Ask the people who make these hiring decisions what they are looking for.
- Attainable: Now that you know what type of skills, abilities and attitudes you need to achieve your long-term career goals, you have to do a proper self-diagnosis. Identify what experiences you already have and what you are missing. For the latter, think of ways how you can get them.
Note that in most cases there is more than one way to achieve your objectives. Friends and mentors can help you brainstorm options. In some cases, academic credentials might be the obstacle. In others, what you might need is relevant work experience.
- Realistic: A career goal is considered to be realistic if you are both willing and able to work towards making it happen. It doesn’t mean that the goal shouldn’t be challenging. On the contrary, the higher it is, the more motivated you will be.
Don’t assume though that an MBA from a top school will help you accomplish your career objectives. It will definitely open some doors. Success though will depend on your performance on the job – not your academic achievements.
- Timely: It is always useful to have timelines associated with your career objectives. You need to be flexible though because in life things don’t happen the way we plan. On the other hand, when we plan things, the chances of them happening increase.
Make a list of the skills and experiences you need to get to achieve your career goals, how you are going to get them and by when. Remember, the majority nowadays do an MBA relatively early in their career (after having 3-4 years of experience).
The bottom line: The most difficult part of the process is to find what you really want to do in 5-10 years. If you are clear about your objective, it is much easier to assess whether it is worth doing an MBA.
Korina Karampela is the founder of b4iapply, author, consultant and speaker. She has an MBA from MIT Sloan and has been a senior executive in the pharmaceutical industry. The b4iapply blog has been recommended by The Guardian for professional development.