The Five Worst Reasons To Get An MBA

I could use your advice. I am 27. I got a BA in Marketing because my parents pushed me hard in the direction of business and I didn’t really know what to major in. I didn’t love my program but my college isn’t known for its undergraduate business courses.

However, they have an excellent MBA program. I got my degree five years ago and I’ve had one decent job and two pretty awful ones since then.

My first job came from a referral from my Stats professor who also consults with a biotech firm. They hired me in as a Business Analyst and I loved that job, but they moved the position to their headquarters in New York.

I could have taken a job in Client Support at the same firm but I didn’t see any reason to take a step back. My manager got me an interview at a temp firm that our company worked with. I took the job at the temp firm and it was horrible.

I lasted seven and a half months at that job. One of my clients at the temp firm hired me into the job I have now, which is better than the temp firm but not that great.

In my current job I manage a client database which is just as boring as it sounds. My manager is okay but the office atmosphere is oppressive. No one likes it here and it’s hard to get through the day.

I’m thinking about going back to my alma mater for an MBA which would qualify me for higher-level jobs. I got good grades in high school and my undergrad program and I’ve been active with my alumni association so I’m pretty sure they would accept me.

I would have to take the GMAT but my roommate just took that exam and I have the study guides which I’ve been working through. Is it a good idea for me to go back to school and get my MBA?

Thanks in advance for your help!



Dear Riley,

Many people are asking the same questions you are. Is my path the right path? Should I go in a different direction, go back to school and vault myself out of my current, unexciting situation?

There are plenty of good reasons to get an MBA, but saving yourself from a lousy job is not one of them. You didn’t choose your undergraduate major. Your parents chose it for you. You stayed in the program and graduated from it.

During the four years of your undergraduate education, did you ever decide “I really like business. I’m glad I chose this major!” or consider shifting to a different program?

Choice is the key. Taking steps is the only way to grow your muscles. As I read your letter I looked for points along your path when you made a decision for yourself and acted on it with conviction, and frankly Riley, I couldn’t find any of those.

Your parents chose your major and your professor made an introduction for you. When your first job went away, your manager opened doors for you at the temp firm. A client rescued you from that shipwreck. Now you’re unhappy and you’re thinking about going back into the womb of college, because you know how to get good grades. Do you see the pattern?

Your professional life will begin when you decide what Riley wants and you take a step out of your comfort zone to get whatever you seek. Going back to school to reboot a slow-to-get-started career is a horrible idea. An MBA by itself can’t get you a job or even a job interview.

What an MBA will do for you is put you into contention for higher-level jobs than the ones you’ve had so far. Who will you be competing with for those jobs?

You’ll be up against other MBAs who know why they chose the path they’ve chosen. That’s a very important part of an MBA’s story — maybe the most important part of all.

They’re applying to B-schools now to pursue their dreams, not to escape back into an academic world that was more comfortable than the harsh working world can be.

Here are five good reasons to get an MBA:

You’re passionate about business and want to explore that passion working for someone else or starting your own business.

You have a big idea you want to bring about, and you want to use the structure of business to do it.

You’re excited about one or more aspects of business – finance or marketing, for instance — and want to learn more about the theory and practice of those topics than you can learn on your job.

You’re looking ahead at your path and zeroing in on higher-level jobs that you’d like to pursue — jobs that require an MBA.

You want to understand the philosophy, strategy and mechanics of business so that you can use that knowledge in your career, whether you stay in the business world or not.

These are forward-looking goals. Here are the five worst reasons to get an MBA:

Your career since undergrad is disappointing and you want a do-over.

Your parents said they would pay for the MBA, so why not?

School is easier than work.

You want the MBA to fix you up and make you presentable to employers.

You don’t know what else to do.

I teach career strategy to MBA candidates. On the first day of class I have them make a list of names. I ask them to list the names of people they know who have MBAs and aren’t working in MBA-level jobs or anything close. The students always have stories about people in that situation.

There are MBAs working as customer service reps, probably even in your old company. There are MBAs working as toll collectors and telemarketers.

Maybe there’s an MBA in your future but if so, you’ll come to that realization after a lot of careful reflection on your path so far and your path going forward, not frustration with your current job and a general sense of “what now?”

The stage of reinvention you are traveling now is called The Desert. It’s a tough place to be. There is no quick fix. The trudge through the hot sand provides the learning. Look inside yourself and ask “What am I good at? What did I love to do when I was little?”

Get those answers out, because as hard as it is to make your way through The Desert of Reinvention at age 27, it’s that much harder when you’re older and feel stuck in a career path you never chose.

All the best,

There is nothing wrong with working as a toll collector or a telemarketer if it suits your life plan, but you understand my point: an MBA is not a golden ticket to Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory of Business Fame and Fortune.

B-school is an academic program and a rigorous one at that. You will work hard and spend a lot of money on the program, so you’d better have a better reason for being there than “My roommate has the GMAT books and I’m pretty sure my old college would accept me.”


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