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A rant on professional credentials

The other day as a job interview was wrapping up I was asked, “how would you feel about getting your MBA?” My response was along the lines of, “I consider myself a continuous learner and am always open to acquiring new hard and soft skills, gaining new perspectives and building new relationships. When it comes to formal education though I need to say ‘I am not sure and would need to talk through it more with you to decide’”.

As I’ve thought about it I suppose the question I should’ve asked was, “are there certain skills you think I might be lacking because I am open to hearing that and working to fill that gap?” If a second-round interview happens I would be interested to ask because from my point-of-view, I see most of the things such a program would give me as able to be found in books, videos, projects, conversations with those experienced at it and more as alternative channels.

Since I could then and still feel myself being a little difficult, I wanted to try and gain an understanding of what I might get from it from a university’s perspective. I asked Google and coincidentally as I typed into the search bar “what do you get from”, it autofilled “an MBA”. Seems I’m not the only one who wants to know. A blog piece from Berkeley’s Haas School of Business appeared citing 16 benefits:

  1. Increased self-confidence

  2. Credibility

  3. Transferrable skills

  4. Curiosity

  5. Strategic thinking

  6. Better communication

  7. Self-discipline

  8. Better time management

  9. Broader worldview

  10. Network of colleagues

  11. More job opportunities

  12. Differentiation as a job candidate

  13. A re-energized career

  14. Higher income

  15. Better management of personal finances

  16. Increased creativity

To gain these 16 benefits from Berkeley costs a student about $120,000 (about $5,000 less than Wash U in St. Louis). Knowing several people who have gone through rigorous MBA programs, I have heard many speak highly about the value of the network (#10) they gained. I agree that a strong network of people to bounce ideas off of, learn from, get connected to opportunities through and stay connected with over the years is powerful. Having recently finished Leadership St. Louis, I can vouch for how connected I feel to that group but that nine month opportunity cost my company only $5,000.

When it comes to #14, MBAs tend to earn a higher income, I cannot argue with what the research says but my question would be, are the MBAs prepared to do something that I am not or are these merely jobs restricted to people with masters level degrees?

Every benefit other than the higher income threshold, including the “network of colleagues”, can be gained in other places, learned in books, practiced with colleagues, friends and people in after-work obligations.

#15 might be true but I also found a bit humorous. While I follow that you might be able to better manage your finances after financial classes, I believe it’s important to point out that gaining this competency through the program requires one to spend $120,000 as opposed to checking out a book or perhaps trying out one of these 13 free online classes. Since I don’t have an MBA my math skills are obviously inferior but I’d wager you’re over-paying for “better management of personal finances".

Look, school is great. I really enjoyed it. But I am increasingly skeptical of the value of different credentials because I believe programs tend to be over-built and longer than necessary to defend institutions making the money off of them that they do. Berkeley’s MBA class size is now 291 people. If there were no scholarships and of course there are, that would help the school capture $35 million from that one class over the course of their two years. I imagine a school the caliber of Berkley has some extremely high caliber teacher and students. It’s just the case that in today’s modern era, why shouldn’t people be allowed to take one class rather than have to sign up for two year’s worth?

To bring this full circle, I believe employers should encourage and expect their people to push themselves in various ways. We keep our competitive edge by trying new things and going beyond where we currently are. What I am suspicious of and welcome the chance to discuss is, are there ways they want me to get smarter or is the underlying desire the credential so that clients can be shown their people are smart? I love the former and think the importance of the latter is declining.

Go Forth Boldly


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