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On-the-job experience matters more than a mere MBA

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The tide is changing for MBA degrees which, a decade ago, used to be viewed as a great differentiator for people building a career. Today, the qualification is becoming widely accessible and, as a result, more job seekers are pursuing an MBA as a means to a career shift or advancement. Most of them, though, are disappointed by the fact that the cost and effort entailed doesn’t give them ready access to higher salaries, managerial roles, or fast-track promotion.

Undoubtedly, an MBA can be a valuable asset when you have reached a certain level in your career and want to keep climbing the ladder or expand your business network. It plays a significant role in “up-skilling” and can help in attaining management grade within a clear company structure.

Indeed, the general employability of MBA holders continues to improve. Around 92 per cent of business school graduates worldwide had found employment within three months of completing their course last year, according to recent data released by the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC).

However, not all MBAs are created equal. This is especially so when you are consider the range of programmes now available, the different modes of teaching, the diverse motivations of individual students, and the money invested.

In practical terms, we find that a lot of job candidates spend significant time studying MBA courses, but miss out on the work experience side. They don’t always realise that hiring managers often value on-the-job experience more than a business degree and theoretical knowledge. In fact, an MBA degree is rarely a pre-requisite for positions we recruit for at middle-management level and below. 

A good education doesn’t necessarily translate into a higher salary. Many candidates with MBAs seem to believe they will be paid more just because they have the qualification. In reality, any salary offer will be based more on work experience, projects handled and positions held, with formal qualifications a lesser consideration.

In general, an MBA won’t be a defining factor separating job candidates. An applicant with more years of relevant experience, strong presentation skills, industry knowledge, and the ability to “fit” the company culture, will repeatedly win out over a candidate who has an MBA and is “willing to learn”. 

Some people, just starting out, still tend to see the MBA as a career shortcut. They would be well advised, though, to calculate their prospects and the presumed ROI (return on investment) before committing a “fortune” to take a highly-touted programme.

The factors to take into account include the location of the school, the cost of tuition, internship opportunities, and the quality of the school’s alumni network. Each of these will affect their MBA experience and their future career path. Programme ranking lists can help prospective applicants get a good general view of each school is regarded, but no one should rely solely on such rankings when deciding which course to take. 

Nick Jones

Nick is Manager of Sales & Marketing team of Robert Walters in Hong Kong.

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