Should You Do An MBA?

Every couple of months, one of my (usually techie) friends asks me for advice on an MBA. The form of the question itself varies (“Hey, what did you think of your MBA?”, or “Do you think an MBA is a worthwhile use of my time?”), but the underlying themes are the same: reassure me that this is the right, best, easiest, or most sure-fire way to get me more money, status, or success. Rather than handle these requests one-on-one, I figured I might as well post my thoughts here and save everybody some time.

(In the interest of full disclosure, I should mention that I was somewhat bitter with my own MBA program. Perhaps it had something to do with the 321% increase in fees. Or the 20% of my fees that went to pay the tuition of someone who was likely in no worse a financial position than I. Take my advice, as always, with a grain of salt.)

After a year in the workforce, I can’t say that the education provided by my MBA was especially insightful. While the program and its material certainly provide a framework for thinking about business problems (hint: everything can be expressed as a two-by-two matrix), if you’ve got a good head on your shoulders and can think in a critical fashion, then the MBA won’t hold many surprises for you. If your background is science or engineering, or you have a healthy appetite for reading and thinking, the MBA is a breeze.

That said, there are a few key things I learned in the MBA program that I will share with you:

  • Nobody can write to save their lives: It’s shocking, but most people simply can’t string together sentences in a clear, concise fashion while presenting a position on a given topic. Everybody has a weapon of choice that they wield mercilessly against the English language: run-on sentences, improper punctuation, improper capitalization, incorrect use of homophones (for example: there, their, they’re), and just plain bad grammar. My advice? Start a blog and write regularly – at least you’ll end up sounding more intelligent, even if you haven’t increased the amount of knowledge in your noggin.
  • Nobody can use a computer: Despite the fact that people my age were supposed to be the Computer Generation, I can assure you that this is simply not the case. Most of my classmates were hopeless with a computer. Nobody could use Word or Excel to their maximum potential to execute a task as easily or as quickly as possible. It does make one wonder: how much of the productivity “savings” promised by computing have been eroded by the overhead caused by operator error?
  • Most people can’t manage their time: Half the time, people in my class were running around like loons trying to get their homework done at the last minute. A little bit of planning and regular execution can go a long way. You don’t need an MBA program to learn this.
  • A significant proportion of the population can’t present to a group: Presenting is an art – it takes time to master, and regular practice. Did you know most people fear presenting more than they fear death? Sign yourself up for Toastmasters or an acting class. Half the battle is gaining self-confidence.

Looking at these weaknesses, I actually have a greater appreciation for my undergraduate engineering degree at SFU. The Engineering Science program at SFU specifically taught us how to present, how to write, how to interview, and numerous other life-skills that I don’t think most students obtain in their undergraduate degree, nevermind an MBA program. Special recognition is deserved by Steve Whitmore and Susan Stevenson for their efforts.

Despite my disappointment in my own MBA program, would I do it again?

As reluctant as I am to say it, I would have admit that even knowing what I know now about the MBA program, I would still do it again. Sure, the program doesn’t live up to its expectations. It’s certainly not the ticket to guaranteed success that it once was. But, frankly, if you’re looking to cross the chasm between one career and another (technology and business in my case), this is probably the best route. I’m not saying it’s the only route – you could always just pull yourself up by your boots and hope you get the right experience to get where you’re going – this one at least comes with a piece of paper that people can easily recognize.

That’s it, I hear you saying, a piece of paper?

Yes, if nothing more the MBA will get you a piece of paper that will allow an employer to more easily classify you when you apply for a job. You see, it’s not about being better than other applicants for a job – employers have little, if any, ability to discern between the resume of a good employee and that of a bad employee. If it comes down to you and another applicant of equal skill, and he has an MBA and you don’t, guess who gets the job? Unfortunate, but true. If you’re lucky, it’ll give you a little extra life experience, some exposure to people from other backgrounds, and some time to think about where you want to go in life once you’ve received your newly-minted MBA. And even if you’re bucking for an entrepreneurial life, an MBA is a nice backup plan to have in case your dreams of being the next Bill Gates turn sour.

On that note, it’s probably best to give some parting advice to those who still wish to pursue an MBA:

  • Know what to expect: The fact that you’re here means that you’re doing some research. That’s good. Talk to people from the MBA program you intend to attend. Try to find people from all different backgrounds to get a balanced view.
  • Prepare for a lifestyle change: Depending on the length of program, you could be in school for between fifteen and twenty-four months. That’s twenty-four months where you’ll probably put a lot of the rest of your life on hold while you attend school. Think about it. Talk about it with your spouse or significant other.
  • Understand the whole cost: People look at the price tag of a typical MBA and balk. But that’s just the beginning. Don’t forget books. And rent. And booze. And student fees. And the opportunity cost (you won’t be working, remember?). Taking the program is a serious undertaking, and you need to be prepared to carry it through. Otherwise, you’re wasting your time.
  • Understand why you want to do an MBA: I would recommend you don’t consider an MBA until you’ve got at least three or four years of work experience under your belt. You’ll need that experience to shape what you hope to achieve by taking an MBA. I would also warn against focusing on the short-term. You’re not going to step out of the MBA and be handed the CEO position. You probably won’t even know how to manage people. You’re going to be back to square one, just like when you came out of undergrad. The only way to avoid this disappointment is to have a game plan on where you want to be in five, ten, or fifteen years, and view the MBA as a minor detour on the road to your inevitable future success. If you have to, write a retirement speech to figure out where you want to go in life.
  • Do something new: When choosing a specialization in your MBA (if there is such a thing in the program you attend), try doing something with little or nothing to do with your undergraduate degree or work experience. Why pay for what you already know? If you’re a technologist, avoid IT or “e-Business” specializations. Nobody likes paying $20K just to learn HTML. This goes double for those with a commerce or business undergrad degee (in fact, those with such a degree should probably avoid the MBA altogether – nothing new to see here, move along).

And one last thing – all MBA programs are the same, as far as I’m concerned, in all regards except one: the network of alumni they offer. If there were one piece of advice I would give a prospective MBA student, it would be to heavily research the alumni network of the MBA program to which you’re applying. While the MBA programs themselves may not differ, the opportunities afforded by past graduates vary greatly and are probably the one thing that differentiate the programs and their ability to shape your future success. Choose wisely.

80 thoughts on “Should You Do An MBA?

  1. Brendon,
    Thank you very much for your blog, I have found it very interesting. I am a software architect with 10 years of experience and I am contemplating doing a 1 year MBA in 2010. My main reason for doing an MBA is to do a career shift from a technical position into business development (Tech Sales, Product Development, etc) or move into a different field such as banking.
    1) Based on your opinion would you say that an MBA is still worth the investment after 10 years experience? I am more focused on the long term career opportunity as opposed to any immediate salary boost.
    2) From the people that you know who did an MBA, how many were able to make a complete career shift? (i.e. move from Engineer into Marketing or Finance)

    Thanks in advance

    Shannon

  2. Dear Brendon

    Iam a Mechanicl Engineer having 2.5 yrs of expirence in Process Engineering , you sounded good but i wanna know if MBA is done from good College ( where placement is good ) in long run though it is just a piece of paper but will help in earning a better amount or not.

    So regular cource is adviable or corrospondence.

    Plz Advice

  3. i have done my engineering in computer science and have three years of experience as an HR Manager(Total different field from what i studies)i want to know whether it will be good to do MBA in HR now? if yes can i go for correspondence MBA as i have 3 years experience.

  4. hey people how can any other person tell u wether u should do mba or not, its like telephoning a person and asking him if u r hungry or not, if u can`t take ur own decisions then what good will be an mba

  5. hii brendon
    i read your blog and you explained everything really well and your service to other’s problem is really appreciable.
    i was thinking of mba but now i will go for work experience but i want to know is it necessary to do job only in the field you specialized or switching to any job would be fine?
    i also want to know is mba is the only course which will end you satisfied as everybody is into mba?

    thanks in advance for your answer.

  6. yo know what i’m reaaly relived aftr readng dis grt piece…
    i’ll b completng ma bcom aftr six months and am lot worried as wat to do next… nw i’ll stick to it that ..work for a yr or two if den neccry i’ll take dis course…

    am i right sir…

  7. @ashish – Good plan, although I might recommend you drop the IM/SMS lingo when writing in a public forum. Clear communication is a requirement not only for the MBA, but for business success in general.

  8. It’s a nice blog i have seen

    I have 7 years of experience in IT and done M.C.A .
    I am not getting good role and package ,so thinking about doing M.B.A , but not sure will it be right for me .
    Changing job frequently is not my cup of tea as i am married.

    Please suggest as i am looking to increase my earning
    capacity !

  9. Hi Brendon it was really nice to read your blog. Your critical analyses was great about MBA programme. I am working for UN since last 8 years and realised that I am kind of stuck in Natuaral Disaster Management, I want to work for eco-friendly and green business kind of programmes now, how much an MBA can benifit me to capitalize my work experience and help me to jumb the ladder? . Many thanks in advance

  10. Hi Brendon,
    I’m currently doing my engineering 2nd year. I’m interested in doing MBA and want to prepare for GMAT. What is your opinion..??
    Is it a waste of time to start GMAT prep now onwards..??
    Is experience that important ..??

  11. hi
    i want 2 do mba but dont now why
    even i am not sure that after taking admission in b school i will able 2 finsh my 2 year prog
    please help me out if u can

  12. Since this is the first site Google pulled up, I decided to take a peek… The insight is pretty neat, and I must say your outlook on not doing things which you’ve already learnt earlier in life is a bit different from what I’ve heard… Nice take on the subject. Oh yeah and its like more than 4 years since you wrote this, but it still holds a lot of value.
    Thanks

  13. Do you think it is likely to be followed in every case?
    I believe that expirience is necessary but when you don’t have option and you really want to prove someone that you are capable of doing good in life you do need to have a Post-Graduate Degree and as I’m from commerce background I’ve not many options left in my hand can’t go for fields in Science, Tech, Fashion, etc.
    A respected job?
    Where do we find that then?

  14. I think all are fools here…Brendon has given such a great piece of information and you still did not get it.loosers

  15. HI!

    I am having a experience of 3.5 years in software field. Is MBA a good option for me to switch my carrier? is it the right experience for me to think of switch?

  16. Thanks for sharing Brendon.

    Here are my thoughts:

    1. Seems that the MBA is primarily a tool for networking. The other “stuff” is just window dressing. Your post seems to primarily agree with this.

    2. Unless you are a trust fund baby or have a company sponsor, I think it is best to just find a school with value (state schools usually fall into that category).

    3. MBA is definitey a tool to help move into other careers. My undergrad and grad background was teaching. At this point, I am tired of the job, and want to move into the business world (very interested in supply chain management). So, its a good investment for me. However, if you are in a situation where you are not really learning something totally different , to leverage into a totally different field or industry, then I think it is best to pass on the MBA.

    Last thoughts: Who really wants to spend 12 to 24 months hanging out with Ivy League nerds (yes, they are nerds), when you can go to a “value” school like most Big Ten schools, and get a better overall experience and have less headaches in the process.

    And, I would highly recommend going to a school that values a solid work/life balance. The better the school, the more likely you are going to have classmates that are NOT as well rounded, especially compared to a state school, where the majority of students are middle class, hard working students, that don’t rely on their parents contacts when they graduate. Its more than academcis or making tons of money when you graduate folks!

  17. i have completed my graduation in arts.will it be good to do mba.and i dont have any work experience so what should i do?

  18. hello,

    I am a b.tech(c.s.) final year student. Its my final year so I have to decide what to do next. I am very confused what to do next. I am not very good in programming. I want to study further, don’t want to do a job now.My condition is very pathetic. I dont even know what I want to do(MBA or M.Tech). Can you please tell me what are the basic requirements to be an MBA aspirant. I really need help.

    Thanks

  19. HI

    I AM WORKING FROM LAST 6 YEARS, IN HOTEL INDESTRY AND CRUISES LINES . I DID MY HOTEL MANAGEMENT
    I AM EARING GOOD MONEY BUT NOT HAPPY WITH THE POSITION , IS IT GOOD TO DO MBA PROGRAM IS IT HELP IN CARRER.

    WAITING FOR POSITIVE COMMENTS

  20. Hey i a 1st year student of NLS Bangalore(Law School) but i come from science background and i cant forget my love for Maths and reasoning….
    I want to do MBA an future. So what r ur suggestions in this regard?

  21. “Do something new: When choosing a specialization in your MBA (if there is such a thing in the program you attend), try doing something with little or nothing to do with your undergraduate degree or work experience. Why pay for what you already know? If you’re a technologist, avoid IT or “e-Business” specializations. Nobody likes paying $20K just to learn HTML. This goes double for those with a commerce or business undergrad degee (in fact, those with such a degree should probably avoid the MBA altogether – nothing new to see here, move along).”

    Thanks for pointing this out, i must say, that this is a totally new view that i have across… everywhere people were like, ‘one must choose a spec by one’s undergrad background’ !

  22. Hi Brendon,

    Thank you for your very insightful and thought provoking opinions.

    What follows are my opinions and thoughts (for what they’re worth).

    I am a doctor and I am currently working towards my MBA. In my experience, and this is perhaps due to my age (I’m 30), going from a highly technical and specialized field to something as general as an MBA is challenging. This is something that prospective students need to consider, especially those seeking to transition from a technical background.

    I agree that the MBA is basically a piece of paper, and there are some in my cohort who are there purely for the testamur (mostly highly experienced managers). There is very little you’ll learn during an MBA that you can’t learn from one of the many management books available at your local Borders or B&N. In fact if you’re not in business school, chances are you can take the ideas from these books and implement them in your business sooner.

    For the record, despite what I’ve said, I would have no hesitation in recommending an MBA to someone, provided they know why they want to undertake the course of study.

  23. Hello..I am 48 and thinking of doing an MBA. Is it still worth doing MBA at my age. I work in a very small position in my office and I am hoping it will give me edge over the others. Any advices_ I have to do Distance Learning and while working full time.

  24. Brendon,

    Nicely expressed. Mostly everyone already knows what you said in here, but people want some one to reinforce their thoughts, that’s the way they find their support. I don’t think MBA would really help such people. It is not a bad thing.

    Some people are suitable for certain positions, everyone can’t be a manager. If you are happy with what you do, you should probably continue doing it. If you are not happy doing your job, most probably you won’t be happy even withan MBA degree. MBA is just a stepping stone which opens up few gates for you. Only if you have the burning ambition and fire in you to achieve something and have a concrete plan for yourself on what you want to do few years down the lone should you take the step of MBA.

    P.S: the author must be quite surprised by the no. of strange names in the comments section. Almost 90% of the comments are from Indians. Ha ha ha. LMAO

  25. Brendon,

    I have been working with an IT firm for the last 2.5 years. I am also confused whether to go for an MBA degree or not. The work I do doesn’t interest me anymore. So I thought of MBA as a run-away-from-your-job option. But I am not sure whether it would be appropriate. How can I be sure about the direction I should choose ?
    I want to enjoy what I do otherwise, according to me, it is worthless. Afterall we all are here to enjoy the life bestowed upon us and not suffer besause of our jobs.

  26. Ironic that his first point of advice was the use of proper English. Then 95% of the posters went on to torture us with brutal punctuation, spelling, grammar, and SMS speak.

  27. Hey Brendon,
    I have done graduation in BBA and i am confused to do MBA as many people suggest its scope is less now a days ? this degree is not worthwhile?
    My second question is -Is MBA is valuable only if you have other professional degress for eg Enginering or CA ,CS ?

    What if one want to do only MBA?
    Pls reply soon waiting for your reply

  28. As I mentioned in the article, the MBA isn’t especially useful for those who already have an undergraduate business degree. It’s simply more of the same, and likely in less depth than you received in your undergrad.

  29. Thank you so much for sharing this very interesting post.
    If I understood well, you performed a Master of Science (technology oriented) and further on you performed an MBA.

    The conclusions of your post lead to a career growth, either in short or long term. Is or was it the case?

    Thanks in advance.

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