A friend of mine sent me a link to an MBA and asked me whether it would be worthwhile for her to pursue it. We went back and forth with series of questions until I could say anything about the degree being fit for her. Since this was about fourth time someone had approached me for advice in regards to their educational endeavors, I think it would be a good idea to assemble my thoughts in a post.
Find out exactly why you want to do it
Going after a degree with no goal in mind is a pure waste of money. Even Ivy League institutions can’t provide a career boost if there is a void in planning. From a practical point of view I can think of the following reasons that one would intend to move further in professional education:
- For fun and personal knowledge
- For vita enhancement (resume upgrade for career potential at other companies)
- For more money (degree will result in higher income)
- For career progression at current job
Let’s go through the above points one by one.
The love for the Education
Education for personal gain and interest is always a good idea and has no limits. So go ahead without hesitation if this makes you happy. I myself am a student at distant universities and at Coursera because I love to learn about various topics.
Career potential at other companies
I am a stern believer in the fact that employers never provide any kind of job security but we create them for ourselves. We all carry our own brands and it is our duty to keep our brand highly marketable. The more competitive, passionate and diligent we are the higher the job security we will create.
If the degree you are considering will add to your brand, then you should go for it. A rule of thumb is to do a hypothetical job search as if you were looking for new ventures and take note of the requirements for the kind of job you want. Use this info to come up with what sub-specialization you like to do in your degree work.
Degree will bring more money
Going after a new degree because it may increase your pay is very risky move. You should do a thorough analysis and ensure that your work performance and behavior are not the reason your career is stuck. The reason being the degrees never change your behavior or work performance but you have to do it yourself.
I have never hired anyone who has claimed that he or she is applying for a job because of more money. During interviews I look for passion, knowledge and attitudes, since these are the habits that will create your job security which will translate into higher income.
Bottom line: think twice before pursuing a degree just so that you may get more money.
Career progression at current job
Getting a degree for career progression at the current job depends on several factors.
The most important one is the career perception disconnect between employees and the management. Employees believe that they will have a better chance at proving themselves if their boss gives them a new role, position or promotion. On the other hand, Management believes that the employees who want it all will show motivation by taking initiative on their own and prove that they are ready for career upgrade by taking new responsibilities and doing things that are not even part of their current job.
So the crux of promotion is changing one’s daily activities for the job one wants and not limiting one’s work to the current job requirements.
The Target Job Requirements
You will need to talk to your manager in scenarios where you are not sure what additional responsibilities you can take on. Every good manager knows the answer to “what one has to do to advance in one’s career.” In most cases there is additional knowledge, responsibilities and work that are desired by the manager. The bottom line is that the manager should be able to give an idea of this “list” of things that he/she values the most and considers sufficient for career growth.
The Degree Decision
Once you have determined your target job requirements by either talking to your manager or by yourself, put all the information you gathered in the form of a list. Test your current skills against that list and check how many of them you currently have or don’t have.
You should go forward with furthering your education to fill in the knowledge gap if you find yourself lacking most of the skills.
You don’t need a new degree if you already have all the required skills. You only need to start using them and working hard.
Pursuing new degree is never a bad idea as long as we do it for the right reasons. MBAs can easily cost us $50-$60k and that level of debt demands thorough investigation. It is also worthwhile to examine ourselves to check if there is something wrong with our aptitude, attitude, will and skill. Degrees are meaningless if the problem lies within!