MBA: Why pursue a management degree?

Many people are unsure about why they should pursue a management degree. The decision to garner an MBA should be based on how it will develop an individual’s core strengths. Merely to gain bragging rights or make your resume stand out are not good enough reasons.

By Dwijendra Srivastava | Chief Mentor | IMS, Rajasthan Region


How useful is an MBA degree?

This is one question that I have been asked thousands of times by thousands of students in the last 20 years of my career in education industry. And my answer today will be the same as it has always been to all these baffled students.

‘It depends’

I know what you are wondering. Isn’t it a very subjective and vague answer? For that matter, it is not even an answer! But the fact of the matter is, that’s how it is.

It completely depends on the person. For example, if a person is handling a regular checklist oriented work where he is not expected to use a lot of reasoning but just follow the process. Or it might be that he wants to work in a field which requires very specific technical skills in a particular domain such as developing computer software, entertainment, treating diseases. It might even be that a person wants a relaxed ‘10 to 6’ work profile, then an MBA might not really be required. I would rather say that an MBA programme will not really help him in his work and growth.

The value attached to an MBA can never be questioned. The more important questions to be answered are –

  • How are you going to use this value to realise your career goals? 

Whatever you learn and experience in your MBA programme, you should be able to use it in the work profile you are handling. Also, you should be able to leverage the network or even the brand name (as an alumnus) you’ve created while doing your MBA.

  • Is your career goal aligned with your skill sets and interest areas?

You might want to work in the field of finance and would want to become a successful finance professional, but if math or number crunching is something that does not interest you, it will be very difficult for you in the long run. So it’s essential for you to introspect, find out your skill sets and interest areas, and look for a career path which is in sync with them.

  • What are your reasons for doing an MBA? In other words – what do you expect to achieve after completing the programme? 

‘I want to do an MBA because I want to be a team leader rather than being just a team member.’

This is not a good reason for getting into an MBA programme.There might be a lot of managerial roles where you might not even have a team. And if you land up in such a role, you would be very disappointed and demotivated.

Instead of this, a better reason would be, ‘I want to motivate people and coordinate with them to achieve overall business objectives.’

  • And most important of all – Will you really be able to achieve those objectives after your MBA programme is over?
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This is very critical to your success and has more to do with the specific MBA programme and its curriculum. So, if you want to be on the branding and creative side of marketing a product then the MBA programme you choose should have courses related to it. More importantly, the B-school should be able to provide you an exposure to these areas so that your learning can be well oriented towards your objectives.

Myths about MBA

Though there is a variety of reasons, right or wrong, for doing an MBA, there are a few general reasons cited by some students, which I feel are not the right ones.

  • I will get an MBA degree. It’s better than a plain graduate degree.

First of all, MBA is not merely a degree or a certificate. It’s a programme, which helps you develop certain skills and knowledge. The decision to pursue an MBA should be based on how it will develop your core strengths. Merely to gain bragging rights or make your resume stand out are not good enough reasons. While it does help to the extent when the minimum eligibility criteria for applying to a job is MBA, in the long run your MBA will help you only if your learning and experience during your programme has been really superior and relevant; more so, if you are able to utilise what you’ve learnt during the programme effectively.

  • MBA is the most happening thing and it’s essential for success.

If all your friends are doing MBA it does not necessarily mean that you too have to get into it. This herd mentality in many students is detrimental to their growth and achieving their long term objectives. As mentioned earlier also, your reason for doing an MBA is ‘your reason’ – it should be relevant to your career goals and your long term objectives.

At this point, I will also like to clarify that a good MBA programme provides you with certain skills and knowledge that are essential in handling and leading a business. However, it is NOT integral to success or vice versa. There are many professionals, business heads, top executives, company heads and entrepreneurs across the world who have been very successful without even seeing the gates of a B-school.

Should I do an MBA?

I remember, back in 2010, I had a 50-year-old student, who wanted to get into an MBA programme. He was also an entrepreneur who provided consulting to real estate companies and even provided complete project management solutions to a few small start-up clients. Now this is where the problem started. The new age companies have new working methods, systems, processes, technology and, above all, people with new thoughts.

The reason cited by this gentleman for pursuing an MBA programme was that he wanted to keep abreast with the changing times and learn the new age systems and methods in order to successfully implement the projects. I believe this to be a good enough reason for pursuing an MBA programme. However, let me also clarify that it was essential for him to map his expectations with the pedagogy of the specific MBA programme that he was targeting.

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Another student, who was working with TATA Power in the logistics department, wanted to move out of his mundane operations work and get into a more dynamic risk analysis profile in the finance domain, and apply numerical logic and decision making skills. There are two things that need to be analysed in this example –

  • The personality type and expectations were not matching the work profile.
  • The student realised what his skills are and therefore wanted to do something more dynamic to make better use of those skills.

In order to change his career track and handle the desired new work profile, it was essential for him to equip himself with the technicalities of that work, and hence, an MBA was essential.

In short, “I want to work in the field of finance”is not a good reason for doing an MBA since it is very general and broad. If you want to work in taxation or any similar field in the finance domain, then it’s better to be a Chartered Accountant, and an MBA might not really help much, but if you want to work in risk or portfolio management in the sphere of finance, then going for an MBA programme would make a lot of sense.

Hence my suggestion is, find out the right reasons for doing an MBA. For more clarity, the process flow for taking this decision should be something like this –

1. Find out your skills, your likes – dislikes and your strengths – weaknesses

2. Map these with what is required to take up the career of your interest and choice

3. Decide on a career goal and your long term objective

4. Now decide whether an MBA will be essential to achieve this

5. If the answer to the above question is yes, then decide about the B-schools and the MBA programmes that will be most suitable. Otherwise decide about the next course of action required to achieve it.

In the second part of the two-part series, we will talk about the benefits of a management degree.

The author is an alumnus of XLRI Jamshedpur, and Chief Mentor, Rajasthan Region at IMS Learning Resources. He has mentored and guided over 15,000 students to find successful career paths.