Rommil Santiago: eCommerce, Marketing & Management

The MBA: The most-important least-important career move you’ll ever make

It’s that time of year again: MBA bashing season. Every semester, a handful of articles are released claiming that MBA programs are worthless, are not needed, or are not worth the money. Also, like clockwork, countless people still ask the same question, “Is an MBA worth it?”

It depends
There is no shortage of opinions on this from thought leaders, entrepreneurs and analysts. Answers range from, “You get what you put into it” to “They teach you how to be unimaginative”. You can find economic arguments, applicability arguments and even finding-your-purpose arguments. Well, having just finished my MBA part-time in Montreal, this is what I think about doing the MBA: It is the most-important least-important career move you can ever take.

Those of you familiar with Mad Men will recognize that this line is essentially paraphrased from something Don Draper said. I like to steal from the best. But plagiarism aside, I truly believe that an MBA, while helpful, should never be considered a priority over other things like gaining exposure and a reputation for doing your job well and being able to step up to the plate consistently. An MBA should never be seen as validation that one has developed people skills, expanded one’s network or strong presentation skills. While the MBA is definitely a way to gain these kills it is not proof that one was able to get the horse to drink.

It’s a spotlight on your career
In the end, most employers don’t care about grades (maybe consulting agencies but I’m talking about companies here) or degrees apart from seeing them as a sign of being able to focus on an academic goal and reaching it. The fact is, most programs are full of flag-bearers, slackers, and dynamos - and fortunately/unfortunately what role someone played in the program is never indicated on any diploma or transcript. (For the record, I’ll always be remembered as the guy that did that thing last semester. Never-mind, inside joke.)

Above all else, those three letters merely signal the desire to advance and not necessarily the ability to achieve. So unless you have a proven track record in the work place, having those three letters does little else other than increase your starting salary a little.

Don’t get me wrong
It may sound like I’m not a proponent of doing an MBA - this is the furthest from the truth. My degree has taught me a lot - though most of it cannot be found in any course outline. Because I did my degree part-time, while raising a new-born and switching jobs, I learned to prioritize, manage my time and get things done when I promised. Because of all the group work in the program, I learned to recognize and work with many personalities and spot arguments not worth following the rabbit into the hole for. And because I was an older student, I recognized the value of never burning bridges as I realized that the student with the lowest grades has just as strong a chance of becoming my future boss as the class genius. But those are some of the lessons I learned from my unique perspective. There are countless others that the program can help teach.

Do it with purpose
If I could do it all over again, or if I had to give a new student any advice - I’d say this, do it with purpose. An MBA is too much work to go into with the goal of just finding yourself. It’s also far too expensive to do just for awards and recognition. There are just too many other, more efficient ways to achieve those goals.

Know where you want to go. It doesn’t matter if it changes every other year just as long as you truly believe in that goal and your ability to get there. Know this deep down and an MBA will do wonders in helping you get there. But if you do it without a purpose, at the end of the degree, unless you already have a job you love, you’ll end up being disenchanted and frustrated. And believe me, you don’t need an MBA for that.

Focus on the things that really matter first
An MBA alone won’t get you that six-figure salary (not that money is everything). An MBA alone won’t get you hired as a CEO or qualify you to be a successful entrepreneur. An MBA alone won’t make you a super parent either. All this, and the rest of the good stuff in life come as a result of hard work and overcoming challenges in the real world; from nothing less than numerous failures and learning from hard lessons. When you have revenue targets, or a huge merger, or a crying two-year old to deal with - people won’t care whether you have an MBA. They’ll only care if you can bring it. So focus on being as good as you can be at all you care to be good at and the MBA will open a lot of doors for you. Just remember that it’s still up to you to blow those doors off their hinges.

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