You often hear people say that when the job market is bad, it's a good idea to go back to school and boost your academic credentials.
I have disregarded that advice because I fear it might interfere with my TV watching, but many folks — whether employed or job searching — now seriously consider pursuing an advanced degree, particularly an MBA.
Before opining on the merits of such a pursuit, I figured it best to research the topic, and because there are no television shows like "Law & Order: MBA" or "How I Met Your Mother While Getting an MBA," I was forced to actually speak with someone.
That someone was George Andrews, associate dean of the evening and weekend MBA programs at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. Here's an edited transcript of our Q&A:
Q: What does MBA stand for?
A: (Awkwardly long pause) Master of Business Administration.
Q: I thought it was Making Billions Annually. Wouldn't that be more marketable?
A: That would be nice. We say "My Best Alternative" sometimes.
Q: (I chuckle, but am thinking: "Leave the jokes to me, buster.") But it can lead to making more money, right?
A: If you look at the spread between those with an MBA and those with just a college degree, it continues to grow over time. Companies are willing to pay people for that degree, for sure.
Q: Besides good connections and the title, what does a person with an MBA have that separates them from others?
A: An MBA provides you with so many skills you can use at your next job, and down the line. They come in and we open their cranium and we pour in all this knowledge on economics and finance and accounting. But there are also negotiating skills and things they learn about leadership. These are the things you'll hear people talking about 10 or 20 years from now.
Q: How important do you think an MBA is in today's working world? And don't say "very" just because you're selling them.
A: If you're only thinking short term and just looking to develop certain skills, there are cheaper and faster ways to develop individual skill sets. The problem is, every time you get to the next level and need another skill, you have to go back and learn those skills. At some point, an MBA becomes more economically feasible.
Q: How hard is it to get an MBA?
A: We make it hard, and we make it hard on purpose. I don't want anybody to come here and leave here the same person. We want it to transform you.
Q: Is there a way I could come there and get one without doing much work?
A: No. You're going to come and you're going to work very hard.
Q: Fine. I'll do the work. How long after getting the MBA before I get my BMW?
A: That's 1980 thinking.
OK, so maybe a BMW isn't guaranteed. But it's clear that if you have the drive (and the tuition money) to pursue an MBA, it'll give you a lifelong career tool kit.
For more on the efficacy of the degree, I spoke with Rebecca Homkes, who is (pace yourself while reading this title) a contributing faculty member at the London Business School and a research officer at The Center for Economic Performance at the London School of Economics and Political Science.
She and her colleagues have studied the impact of MBAs in workplaces around the globe and found quantifiable proof that the degrees make better managers, and better managers make better companies.
Homkes' research looked at more than 10,000 companies across 20 countries and measured their management practices on a scale of 1 to 5. When a company's management staff consisted of 10 percent or more people with MBAs, the company averaged about 0.5 of a point better on the five-point scale.
"The more managers who have an MBA, the better-managed the firm is," Homkes said. "That was across industry, across countries and across time."
There are a number of reasons for this, which go back to my earlier tool kit reference. Homkes said people with MBAs have been exposed to business from an operations side, a finance side and an accounting side — not the kind of exposure most get simply from work experience or an undergraduate degree.
Business schools also encourage people to work in teams, more closely mirroring life in the working world, so there are communication and collaboration skills that get carefully honed.
As I see it, the bottom line is this: Education is good. (I'm nothing if not deeply intellectual.)
You should carefully consider the reasons you might seek an MBA, as well as the costs involved. And you should recognize that not all MBAs are created equal — research the programs you're considering.
While the degree is by no means a necessity, it can be a boon, and it never hurts to expand your career horizons.
Of course, if you decide not to go the MBA route, feel free to give me a call. We can hang out and watch TV.
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