If you would have posed the question: “Do I need an MBA to be an executive?” twenty years ago, the answer would have been a resounding “yes”. These days, the answer isn’t quite as straightforward, and you’ll probably find just as many executives saying you do as you’ll find saying “don’t bother”.
The reason? Quite simply, the rules have changed. In fact, the number of CEOs who hold MBAs has actually decreased in recent years. Why is that?
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The most important consideration in the question of whether or not you need that MBA is, of course, you! To really get at this question, you need to know where you’re headed, and the potential benefits that an MBA would create for your unique career path. If you plan to stay in an industry like banking, you may find that tradition dictates that executives hold master’s degrees. A lot of tech firms, on the other hand, are a little more lax on those kinds of requirements and tend to focus more on what you can do and what experiences you’ve had.
You also need to take a good, hard look at what you actually learn and gain in business school and compare that to the skills and experiences that you’ll need to be successful in your desired role. You’ll likely take courses in finance, accounting, marketing, strategy, leadership, human resources, IT and entrepreneurship. Do a search on Coursera (for example) and you’ll find courses on every single one of those subjects. If you had a need to enhance your knowledge base in any one topic – hundreds, if not thousands, of books also exist on every single one of those topics.
There are, however, elements of an MBA program that you may be challenged to replicate. These benefits tend to be more indirect, or intangible, and include networking opportunities, leadership opportunities, strategic thinking skills, and, quite simply, the added credibility that an MBA offers. These can represent big advantages in the job market, so you need to determine whether or not you can compete well without them. (You may be the type of person who is quite capable of networking on your own.)
So, do your research and find out what the expectations are in your industry. Then research potential programs and figure out what it will cost you to pursue an MBA. Factor in all the costs – tuition, books, the opportunity cost of sitting out a year or two at work (if you decide to pursue a degree full-time). Do a cost-benefit analysis comparing the benefits of earning an MBA to those costs. The decision of whether or not you need an MBA is a unique and personal decision, and not one to take lightly! Good luck!