The admissions department of my MBA school called me recently and asked if I would attend a reception for the new batch of prospective and accepted students. I responded to the request politely: I could not come.
After all, if I did show up, I would not be able to provide romanticised answers that were needed to bait and hook the next intake. I would be the tofu-eating fisherman who had gone vegan, telling them to stay in their jobs and chase their professional dreams by building up their professional experience.
Here’s what I would have said to the most commonly-asked MBA questions.
What was it like?
Imagine you are a rubber band wrapped around a set of papers. Every day you keep holding together more and more pieces of paper. You become bigger and yet do not snap. You simply lose elasticity over time.
How do you describe an indescribable life experience that only the people who join you for the journey can understand? With a song, joke, a photograph? Along the way I did have fun and laugh. The memories are too numerous and too extreme to understand for those who never experienced life inside the MBA bubble. But they were expensive memories. It was an expensive bubble to live in.
Are you glad you did it?
I hope that in five years I will be much happier for the experience. But for now I am left with more questions than I had when I first started the MBA, a hangover not caused by alcohol, and about US$100k of debt which I have no means of paying off months after graduation.
Do you have any regrets?
Yes, I spent two years of my life and a lot of money on an “experience” that could have been replicated with a passport, backpack, Lonely Planet travel guide, and dramatically less cash.
In my return to the real world, I now recognise that what counts most to employers is your work experience. In a competitive value-seeking environment, firms want people who can hit the ground running. When companies hear “MBA”, they assume you are overpriced, inexperienced and ungrounded. These stereotypes are courtesy of your predecessors from the years of economic boom.
How has the degree helped your career advancement?
After many bottles of wine, I have come to terms with the fact that I am now “devalued” in the work place. I am no longer taken seriously by serious people who used to respect me for my work ethic and capabilities. I thought the degree would increase my value as a candidate in this increasingly competitive job market, but two years of work experience in a difficult environment would have been better. Two years of paychecks would have allowed me to afford a life that’s now indefinitely on hold.
So to improve my chances of returning to work, I have changed strategies. I am no longer a recent MBA graduate. I am someone with significant experience in finance. I only mention my degree once the recruiter starts checking whether my candidacy satisfies the job requirements. I hide my very expensive degree and pitch my old self.
How do you feel?
Most people expect me to provide a sunny-faced response, alluding to ambitions of conquering the world. But in reality I am bitter and angry. I am to blame for the path my career has taken. I fell in love with the glossy MBA brochure. I told myself that it was important to check off the MBA box on my “to do” list. I made the decision to hide from the real world. I applied, enrolled, and wrote the cheque.
If I could change anything, I would have taken the money and invested it into starting a business. I still want to do this, but now I need to wait until I pay back the loan and replace my savings. My ambitions are sitting on the sidelines, and I live with the notion that I have let myself down. There is nothing worse than sitting on the sidelines when all you want to do is play in the game.