The MBA: Boon, blah or burden?

DEAR JOYCE: I have a bachelor's degree in computer science. After five years on my job, I am debating whether to pursue a master's in business administration degree. I ask because I've seen articles asserting that the MBA is a relic. What would I learn in business school? -- T.T.

You would learn to manage people as well as direct business activities. Popularity of the MBA degree cycles up and down. Every decade or so, MBA education is dismissed as excess, dated and too expensive, and MBA recipients are derided as being too full of themselves and too tough to manage. Debates on the value of the MBA continue to flourish.

Decision factors to keep in mind:


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-- The MBA is a boon when your career plan requires it.

-- The MBA is a blah when it's stunningly pricey but fails to fuel your career.

-- The MBA is a burden when it brands you as overeducated with unrealistic pay expectations for the career you seek.

CHOICE OF SCHOOL MATTERS

Choose the most prestigious B-school you can wrangle. That alone will embellish your future job searches, plus you'll make lifelong networking connections with bright young professionals around the world.

Research broadly, including a review of these two excellent articles:

-- "If MBAs are useless, we're all in big trouble" by Todd Tauber at Quartz.

-- "How to Tell If You Should Get an MBA" BY Suzanne Lucas at CBS News (http://www.cbsnews.com)

DEAR JOYCE: A couple of months ago I read your column about job hopping being harmful to one's career. I get it. But I've got a serious problem. After a rigorous job hunt, I started my first full-time job six weeks ago. Already I have a sick feeling that I've made a horrible mistake and that I'm going to suffocate in this job. I need to quit and come up for air. What now? -- L.C.

So quit before your employer wastes more training funding on you. After a high beam search, some letdown is not uncommon. But when you've made a whopper of a wrong choice, you may become physically ill if you don't get out. Tell your employer the truth, that it's your fault and comment that it's not fair to the company to compound a serious mismatch of your talents and the job's requirements.

Even if the position was misrepresented to you, by assuming responsibility you have a chance to look almost as good going away as you did coming in.

Try to avoid compounding your initial screw-up with a second lame finish, but scoot now while your job hunting skills are finely honed.

DEAR JOYCE: I don't know if professional certification is worth the time or money it costs. What will certification do to promote my career? --E.J.S.

Zip -- if it's a phony for-sale certification offered on the Internet where cash is the essential requirement.

But when a specific certification enjoys recognition and respect in its career field or industry, professional certification can put stripes on your arm and stars on your shoulder.

SHELF LIFE

In business, certification has its strongest appeal in your early career -- the first 12 to 15 years -- as a tool to control your earnings environment. But certifications lose their luster at the vice-presidential level and above. That's because certifications laser in on specific skills, while executives are more concerned with the big picture.

But for some career fields -- such as consulting, technology, medical and legal -- professional certifications never lose their worth as income boosters, especially for those who hope to work internationally.

GETTING CERTIFIED

The certification credential may be a license awarded by a state board, such as the familiar certified public accountant (CPA), or a designation awarded by a professional organization, such as accredited in public relations (APR).

The certification distinction applies equally to various validations, such as "registered," "accredited," "chartered," qualified," and "diplomate."

More? Look up "professional certification" in Wikipedia.org.

(E-mail your career questions for possible use in this column to Joyce Lain Kennedy at jlk@sunfeatures.com; use "Reader Question" for subject line.)

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