Countless debates on this topic with opposing views on both sides. I did an MBA. And if I could go back, I would have done it again. But it is not for everyone and not for every situation.
The first question you need to ask is why you want to do it?
- Is it required by your employer (current or future)?
- Do you want to get a top brand which can open doors?
- Learn about business/management, and switch your career into business?
- Change your business career trajectory?
- Network? (or find a spouse?)
- Take 1-2 years off to take some time off, recharge batteries, have fun, and reflect on life?
Business school can fulfill all of the objectives above, some better, some worse. Lets take them one by one.
Is it required by your employer (current or future)? Certain employers (esp. consulting – worldwide; private equity – mostly US, less Europe; some general management roles/’leadership programs’) will generally want you to do one. They believe you will get new skills, mature more, establish helpful contacts, and strengthen your CV (which is helpful esp. in consulting when they want to pitch you to clients). Investment banking (if you are already in the industry), hedge funds, and entrepreneurship roles will not recommend it – and very likely frown upon candidates with an MBA. They believe it is a waste of time and you learn much more ‘on the job’ than in the classroom.
Do you want to get a top brand which can open new doors? One of the best reasons to go to b-school in my view. I came from a small village in a small country, having studied at a non-branded university. I have tried applying to finance jobs in London directly, but my CV never made through the screening mechanisms (often automatized) without one of the top ‘target’ schools. I did my MBA at INSEAD, one of the leading schools in Europe, and managed to get an internship and then a full-time job at Goldman Sachs in London. I doubt I learned something that made me a better candidate during that one year. But I ‘rebranded’ myself and got noticed more easily.
Learn about business/management, and switch your career into business? Business school is great for learning business fundamentals for people coming from other areas (law; medicine; engineering; public sector; non-profit..), wanting to switch to a business career. You will get the basics of the main disciplines, maybe find out what you are interested in, and be able to reposition your career. What about if you studied business or worked in a business role before? There are probably faster (and cheaper) ways to broaden/deepen your business skills… There may still be valid reasons to go to a b-school, but this would not be one I would rely on.
Change your business career trajectory? Business school is great for repositioning your career within business. You may be an HR person in telecom, wanting to move to a management role. Or a retail expert, wanting to move to tech. Business school makes the switch easier, as you have an opportunity to establish your network in the area you are interested in (there is a pretty good likelihood there will be someone in your class who did your dream job before) and meet companies as they come to recruit on campus. Going back to the Cube concept (see one of my earlier blogs), it is usually recommended to keep one/two area(s) of focus/expertise (sector/function/region) and try to change the other one/two. It is not recommended or likely to try to change all three axes – there is lot of ‘execution risk’ involved – you may not like what you are changing into, and it will be harder to land your dream job, as you are not bringing specific knowledge/expertise to the table.
Network? Great opportunity to meet new people, who come from different backgrounds, will go to different roles in different countries all around the world, and are likely to be equally motivated/driven as you are. I am leveraging my business school network on a regular basis – and that’s not only my classmates from the same class, but also the broader alumni network you get access to. When I moved to London and later to Silicon valley, I checked who from INSEAD is living in the area and doing something similar/relevant for my job, and started meeting people for coffee. In addition to the potential career benefits of meeting new people, you will likely also establish friendships for life (and maybe even find your spouse – which brings us to the next reason for b-school..)
Take 1-2 years off to take some time off, recharge batteries, have fun, and reflect on life? You are unlikely to be disappointed if this was your goal. You may have worked 80-100-hour weeks before and had hardly time to wash your laundry – now you are going (back) to a more relaxed schedule with a couple of classes per day, and lot of ‘social activities’ every night both on and off campus. You will meet lot of new people, have time for your hobbies, travel, read, and do things you haven’t had time for since college. Top b-schools usually have grade non-disclosure policy (unless you are on the dean’s list, which is often top 10% of students), which means your future employer cannot ask you why you had that B- from accounting and you are applying for a finance job. Time to have fun!