MBA – a blessing or a curse?

For the last 1 year and 4 months, I’ve had an MBA. However, I often find myself keeping this information close to my chest (unless I’m with fellow MBA’ers). People usually have to pry it out of me with a conversation that goes something like this:

“What did you do before this job in Singapore?”

“I was a management consultant.”

“Where were you located?”

“Texas”  

“So you moved from Texas to Singapore?”

“Uh….no….I moved from Texas to Massachusetts to Singapore.”

“Why were you in Massachusetts?”

“I was in business school.”

“So you have an MBA….where did you get it?”

“in Boston”

“Which school?”

“Uh…..[in almost a whisper]…harvard….”

“OH MY GOD!!!” (followed by a laugh that is usually either filled with mockery or fanaticism)

When an MBA is a curse

1. When people have unrealistic expectations:

Every time I hear: “You should be able to figure this out. You have an MBA.”, I just want to pull my hair out. Seriously? Just because I went to school studying business for a whopping 2 years, I can now solve all sorts of problems (such as predicting the weather or future political events?). A great perk about being young in your career is that you get to ask all the stupid questions without people thinking too much (unless they are really ridiculously stupid). However, with an MBA (especially from HAH-VARD), some people can be much less forgiving. As a result, often times you come in with a steep uphill battle, proving your worth and intelligence to meet some high standards.

2. When people don’t take you seriously:

On the opposite end, these are people that say / think: “Just because you have an MBA, doesn’t mean you actually know how to run a business.” These people discount the MBA heavily because you don’t learn business in school, you learn it through actually working. Therefore, those 2 years were a complete waste of money and time. Hrm…while I agree that most newly minted MBA’s are not ready to become CEO’s the day after graduation, most also don’t assume this position after school. To win over these people, I think it’s important to not only stress that you actually have pre-business school work experience (although these people usually discount management consulting as well, but that’s another story), but also to just roll up your sleeves and do some freakin’ great work.

3. When people think you’re stuck up:

This is the worst. Yes. Agree that some MBA’ers think that they are the best thing since sliced bread and make sure to communicate this loudly and clearly. They do so with comments like: “I work with morons.” or “So you work at a second tier bank?”. These select individuals are ruining it for everyone else. The other day, I went to an alumni event and met this alum who would only talk to my male companions because he thought they were the fellow alums. I guess he discriminates against women and non-MBAer’s?

When an MBA is a blessing

1. When you find yourself with some extra confidence:

In business school, it’s amazing how many execs and heads of state you could have access to. All of a sudden, you find the CEO of some Fortune 500 company in your classroom, and you’re asking him some question that (hopefully) sounds mildly intelligent. What happens is that you realize these people are just…people. During the first few weeks in my first job, I remember being terrified to ask the senior partner of my consulting firm a question. In client meetings, I was so timid, fearing whatever came out of my mouth would be gibberish. Engaging in intellectual conversations with high level leaders in business school makes you think that you can talk to anyone.

2. When you can develop and articulate opinions quickly:

This is particularly applicable for bschools that teach via the case method where a significant portion of your grade is participation.  When class discussions move fast and the room is filled with assertive ex-PE guys, you learn to quickly develop strong points of views and effectively communicate them. (You also learn how to adopt “power poses” to ensure the professor calls on you as opposed to the person next to you who’s about to jump out of her chair.)  I didn’t fully realize this benefit until after I graduated. In the business world, this skill becomes important in meetings where people with the most assertive and persuasive opinions heavily influence key decisions.

3. When doors are opened for you:

I reaped this benefit even before I received the actual degree. When I was job searching, countless alumni were willing to talk to me and help for no other reason than we went to the same school. Crazy, huh? But somehow it works. Now, I pay it forward as well, being as available and helpful as I can to others. However, this benefit doesn’t mean that great opportunities will descend from the heavens and land on your degreed lap. It just means you get pointed to the right (and sometimes wrong) doors and some doors may be left slightly ajar for you. Fully opening and walking through the door is still hard work.

Being young-ish in your career means your educational degrees still define you professionally. With more years and decades of experience, I think people will stop defining and viewing you based on your degrees and judge you based on the great work and reputation that you’ve built up. If an MBA can help you get a jumpstart to doing that great work, then that’s what matters.

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4 thoughts on “MBA – a blessing or a curse?

  1. Great, well considered post. I definitely think that the positives outweigh the negatives, because the negatives are all to do with how people perceive you (and to an extent, that is external to you, you can mitigate this by surrounding yourself with the right people and not taking others’ perception of you to heart). Whereas, the benefits will empower you as person and you should be proud. I don’t even know you and I’m very proud of you for your accomplishment.

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