March 15th, 2012 | 3:27 pm

Pursuing an MBA: When it’s Appropriate and When It’s a Pass

filed under Back to School

HurryContributed by The Runaway MBA

I can’t really remember when I decided that I wanted a MBA. In college, I believed that it was the next step after my first five years of work. However, my career progressed because of what I achieved. My salary was quite high without the degree. I could not see how derailing up to two years of work experience plus the investment of a small house could lead to career advancement. When I heard the word “MBA,” I saw professionals that were overpriced, inexperienced, and ungrounded.

With the onset of the financial crisis, my career stalled at the Vice President level. Although times were difficult, there were meaningful roles to which I was being passed up for. I lost track of the number of times in which I was told “But you don’t have a MBA.”  I examined the biographies of over 500 CIO’s, and of all the leaders that I admired; all had earned an MBA or JD from a leading institution. “Could there be something to this?” I thought. I gave in, applied, and enrolled.

So what really is a MBA?

The MBA experience is a cross roads of classes, industries, and people. The ultimate goal is to land a better job than before and learn a little along the way. There’s this implicit belief or understanding that a MBA will change your life. For some the MBA provides them with the confidence to start making those changes. But in reality, only you can make the changes needed to set your life in the destination of your choice.

Applicants lose sight that a MBA is an investment in one’s education. Will this investment of time and money provide the appropriate direction to further a career or knock a task off of their “to do” checklist? Before submitting their deposits, most candidates are not truly honest with what expect from this experience – a job? Friends? New perspective?  Everyone wants a job in the end, but many fail to map out their goals and focus on a strategy to pursue them.

When is it worth it?

Unfortunately, it seems that pursuing an MBA is the only acceptable “time off” in the United States – which is a shame. We are expected to go between roles nonstop without taking the time to think to ourselves “Does this make sense?” I remain skeptical about the process, but I will acknowledge that there are certain circumstances in which an MBA makes sense.

  • Do you want to transition into a different role in consulting or banking?
  • Are you an analyst in banking, PE, or consulting and need time off?
  • Are you within five years of your career and want to switch industries?
  • Are you within five years of experience and need help finding a direction?

If you answer “yes” to any of these questions, then start to apply. An MBA is very valuable as early as possible in one’s career because it adds credibility to develop relationships with little experience. An MBA serves as an excellent bridge if you want to change fields, particularly in the financial or professional services.

What is often lost sight of in the process?

In navigating the landscape it is easy to lose focus when there are many choices. Many candidates lose focus of their initial motivation out of fear of rejection.

But here are my necessary questions to ask the schools that you seriously consider:

  • Is their academic depth within your own interests? Are faculty members liked by students and respected professionally by peers?
  • Are alumni supporters of the program – will they spend time talking to students offering advice? Interviewing? Contributing to the endowment?
  • Are career services resourced and supportive? Will they do actively recruit companies to employ their students?

Am I happy with my decision to have pursued the degree?

For me, the MBA degree was an experience that came with a tremendous cost of money and time away from my industry. I lost sight of determining my return on investment for the thrill of another degree and resolving my own insecurity.  In a competitive value-seeking environment, employers want people who can hit the ground running. Employers like that I have a MBA, but don’t seem to care when and how I earned the degree.

I am giving myself five years before I answer this decision. I want sufficient time to pass to allow my relationships to develop. For now I continue to keep my head high, network, and stay focused on pursuing opportunities.


  1. Beth Robinson

    For others reading this post and thinking about an MBA then please remember that there are other options to taking two years off.

    There are online programs, many AACSB accredited (like the ASU program where I earned mine), part-time programs in various styles, and executive MBAs designed for more senior folks. All are designed for working professionals and many you may be able to get financial assistance for from your current company.

    There are industries where all but the last will be viewed more dimly than a full-time “time off” MBA and I know this blog is more focused on finance than my own world of manufacturing. There are some other trade offs in terms of networking.

    For myself, earning my MBA was a signal of proof that has helped me in transitioning from a R&D lab job into technical sales, and technical service, and eventually, I intend, into product management.

  2. Cecile Peterkin

    Great article! Most considering an MBA normally think abut the financial gain. I will pass this on to my clients that are considering pursing an MBA.


  3. Jen

    Dear Runaway MBA,

    I am interested to know if you ended up doing one full time, part-time, online and did you target certain schools (based on rating etc). In your experience, the fact that employers like that you have an MBA, do you think its the qualification itself, or the specific school where you did.

    I really like the article. I debate whether to get an MBA or not a lot

  4. Stephanie Ta

    Dear Runaway MBA,

    This is an interesting post and of course, choosing (and applying to!)an MBA is always a difficult process and each individual has a different situation : a black and white answer about whether to enroll in an MBA is simply not possible.

    I invite everybody who is interested in getting an MBA to check our website We are a virtual MBA assistant, empowering you with the news, expert advice, and educational and networking opportunities you need to succeed! Our goal is to connect you with the right people, and guide you through every step of the MBA admissions process.

    You can post your questions to our Facebook page We have industry experts working with us and close relationships with Admissions Directors sharing tips.

    Hope this helps!

  5. anonymous

    Dear Runaway MBA,

    Quick question, where did you pursue your MBA?
    I’ve seen your article in a number of places online, but can’t get any more information on the program you actually went to.

    This isn’t to disparage, but honestly, more details re where you actually did your MBA would be helpful.


  6. VC

    Dear MBA,

    Thank you for informing people about the timing of completing an MBA. I really enjoyed reading the above article.

    I really enjoyed my career during my time working in the UK. But my visa had expired and i have bed living here in Switzerland for nearly 12months in a few days time.

    Moving to a different country is hard without prior experience within their country or being sponsored by a company. After 8months of applying for work in Switzerland and not getting any interview. I decided to enrol in completing my MBA to fill in the gaps for my cv but to also advance in my careers or stay at the same level as when i left the UK. During my 6 years of work experience i worked for global international professional services and investment banking firms. Since starting my MBA I’ve had a few interviews with companies but i will need to start from the bottom and could potentially be at a manager level or seniors manager level in 2 or 3 years time although i have theory experience in Switzerland i do not have working experience here in Switzerland. Therefore i will need to start from scratch.

    In attending the first 2 of my subjects i felt that this can be some of the subjects can be learnt whilst doing your work or next networking with the various department in your firm to get a clearer understanding.

    Coming to my conclusion i wanted to address that you do not need to rush into applying for an MBA. If you are wanting a career change then maybe have a look at short term study to get you upskilled in the area in which you what to move to. Network with people who are already doing what you want to do via social media’s. Shadow someone and see what they do and see how you can transition to their division. Companies or hiring managers love experience and loves that whoever they will hire is confident to be able to do the job and hit the ground running. So please consider all the your factors before spending alot time, effort and money into completing an MBA.