I can’t remember the exact point at which my interest in pursuing an MBA first arose. But I know it was sometime during my undergraduate years because I attended an institution that housed one of the best MBA programmes in the world, so I thought “perhaps someday”.
My school’s career services instilled in us the need to establish five-year objectives, which included ambitions for our first job followed, naturally, by graduate school. An MBA symbolised achievement and was “necessary” both to open doors and to complete my over-achieving academic career.
My undergraduate degree was a Bachelor of Arts, and subconsciously I felt like a fraud for working in finance without a finance degree. For some reason I believed that an MBA could erase this insecurity.
The first five years of my career flew by; I found myself earning more money than most MBA graduates I knew. I couldn’t justify the time and expense of more study. And when I looked at my college classmates who were now at top business schools, I found that they were partying and travelling most of the time. I though it was irresponsible to goof off and couldn’t see how that would benefit me. I had established credibility and was respected by my peers. I held no interest in switching fields or becoming a consultant.
My immature MBA decision
A GMAT preparation guide sat on my bookshelf unopened as I continued to defer my MBA decision. After five years I needed a break. I resigned from my good job and flew to South America to enjoy life before accepting my next role. I was earning good money and gaining great experience, yet I couldn’t shake the feeling that I lacked credibility without the degree. It did not matter who I worked for, or that I participated in large successful transactions. Immaturely, I believed that I was not legit as long as this item on my to-do list remained outstanding.
As my career progressed I earned a well-respected master’s degree specialised to my industry. But as I applied for new roles and spoke to recruiters, I realised that this degree was of little value in securing interviews. They wanted someone with an MBA. Eventually, after enough recruiters and leaders that I admired criticised me, I found myself taking the GMAT and applying to schools.
The younger the better
Perhaps to a large extent, it was my own insecurity that led me down the path of adding an MBA to my resume. I should have told those people to bugger off and focus on my competencies. But I did not, and in cowardice I joined the masses. I realise now that it would have been more appropriate to pursue the degree earlier, for example after I got back from South America. But I don’t believe in living life with regrets. I learn from my mistakes and move on.
Please do not misunderstand my message. An MBA is valuable early in your career, especially if you have a significant interest in changing fields and entering consulting. However, for someone like myself with more than 10 years’ experience, it was less a career enhancer and more an experience in which I got to laugh a lot and occasionally be a teenager again. If I sound angry or cynical, it’s largely because I spent a lot of money and time in order to be viewed in the same light as an associate who used to report to me.
There’s this implicit belief or understanding that an MBA will change your life. And for some it provides the confidence needed to start making those changes. In reality, only you can put yourself on the right path. The journey may be rougher or longer than you expect, but it will all come down to your own abilities and focus.
The Runaway MBA is an American financial professional looking for work in Asia. The views expressed are her own and not those of eFinancialCareers.