Before starting my own company, I thought very seriously about getting an MBA. Over the past three and a half years, I’ve gone from being pretty sure I would get one, to being pretty sure I won’t. What changed were my goals, situation, and skills, not my perception on the reasons to get an MBA.
Over the past week I’ve come across two interesting blog posts on the question of whether to get an MBA. One is a post by Steve Blank that talks about the MBA as an entrepreneurial finishing school, and the other is a TechCrunch article about whether an MBA is a plus or minus in the startup world. Both are interesting reads (and also both interestingly mention the Master in Engineering Management as an alternative to the MBA, which is a degree I do have).
So here are the four reasons (the only four reasons) I feel anyone should get an MBA.
1 – To Build a Strong(er) Network
In many people’s eyes, this is the biggest (and sometimes only) benefit of getting an MBA. I tend to agree. A solid network is extremely valuable in any business, be it a startup, a consulting firm, or a large corporation. However it’s also important to remember that the quality of the network is directly proportional to the quality of the school, the jobs the graduates take, and the long term prospects of classmates.
2 – To Change Career
If you’re stuck in a career that you don’t want to be in, and it has a traditional stigma that makes it difficult to easily change careers, then spending 2 years studying general business, meeting new people, and spending a lot of time learning about new industries can be a great way to get out of a rut. For me personally, this was a very compelling reason after my initial start in the automotive industry, which was remedied by a move into strategy consulting then tech entrepreneurship.
3 – To Learn a NEW and Complementary Skill (that you want to use down the road)
An MBA can in face teach new skills, whether they are corporate finance, business organization, micro and macro economics, accounting, etc. For people that have studied or have been working in fields that are not very business related (e.g. teaching, research, arts), then these skills are very new, and often challenging. But it’s important that there is at least an initial plan to use these skills in a meaningful way. Maybe you’re a high school teacher that wants to start a business.
Many people who get MBAs are already fairly strong in the subject matter (i.e. business undergrads, strategy and management consultants, i-bankers), and thus the MBA degree has a perception of being relatively easy from a content perspective. This isn’t the case if all of the material is new to you. It’s like learning a foreign language if you had been speaking it at home.
4 – If it’s required for your desired career path
In some industries, an MBA is essentially a requirement to keep moving up, for example i-banking, consulting, or Fortune 500 high level executive. In that case, if that’s the career path you really want, then you don’t have much choice. The good news is that in many of these industries, companies will either pay for or re-pay the cost of the MBA, so it helps soften the financial blow.
If you’re thinking of getting one for any other reason, think hard about it.
I’ll write a follow up post about alternatives to getting an MBA, depending on your goals.