MBA Season: The Marketability Factor of Pursuing an Advanced Degree

Four key opportunities for professional advancement

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In this special five-part BlackEnterprise.com series, Daria Burke, founder of BlackMBAWomen, shares insider tips and insights on getting your MBA to upgrade your career. You’ll find out how to make the choice, leverage opportunities and maximize professional fulfillment in the job market.

Since the economic downturn of 2008, the choice to pursue an MBA has been hotly contested. With the economy on the rebound, MBA applications are on the rise according to Bloomberg Businessweek. And while it’s true that business school is potentially one of the greatest investments in your career you could make, you have to first understand if the MBA is right for you. After all, the return on investment can only be optimized if you fully understand the value proposition.

I pursued my MBA with the goal of redirecting my marketing career from professional services marketing and business development to brand management and product development in prestige beauty. I knew that making a career switch with no background in fashion or beauty might prove challenging, so I leveraged the MBA to make that transition. In 2006, I enrolled in the two-year, full-time MBA program at the New York University Stern School of Business.

“Getting an MBA doesn’t entitle you to anything – even if you pay [more than] $100,000 to get it,” says Nicole Lindsay, founder of DiversityMBAPrep.com and former admissions director at the Yale School of Management. “[However, it's] about opportunity. It’s an all-access pass to the relationships, knowledge and skills that can propel your career forward. Once inside you have to position yourself to seize the opportunity.”

A top MBA program will offer four key opportunities:

1. Career Flexibility

An MBA offers expanded career options. Whether you are seeking to enhance existing functional knowledge, shift from one functional area to another within the same industry, or change both function and industry, business school is a great place to develop or deepen subject-matter expertise. Many people leverage the MBA to reinvent themselves, establish a new professional brand and switch careers, typically without having to completely start over in terms of salary and responsibility.

2. Leadership Development Experience

Top MBA programs traditionally excel at preparing future business leaders through multi-disciplinary education, focusing on leadership and organizational management, creative problem solving, and finding one’s voice. More than ever, MBA candidates are pursuing careers that allow them to do well and do good, making a measurable impact on society in some way. Business school students (particularly those in full-time programs) have the opportunity to lead organizations and projects, engage high-profile business leaders and co-create their MBA education by helping shape curriculum and the overall student experience. While at NYU Stern, I led the Luxury & Retail Club, which allowed me to manage a team of peers, and through our efforts, help establish Stern as a destination for top luxury and retail talent.

3. Access to an Amazing Network

In addition to the career flexibility an MBA offers, much of the long-term value lies in the network. For students, the alumni network provides perspective on optimizing their time at school, on potential career paths and on general post-MBA life. Post-MBA, the network is part of your brand, facilitating future career moves and access to many senior executives who share your alma mater. Now that I’m an entrepreneur, I see the benefits of the NYU Stern network everyday.

4. Enhanced Earning Power

An added benefit of increasing your job prospects is increasing your earning potential. Post-MBA salaries often vary by industry and by function, but according to the Financial Times, female graduates of the world’s top business schools earn an average salary of $126,000 for and men from the same programs earn $136,000 on average. This is roughly 50% more than their pre-MBA average salaries.

Benefits aside, an MBA is not for everyone. While I’m a huge proponent of going to business school when it makes sense for you, I do not believe you should pursue it at any cost. It’s a controversial stance to take, but not all MBA programs are created equal. Many would happily take your money then struggle to support you as you recruit for the most coveted post-MBA positions. I find it more difficult to defend the ROI of a business school that isn’t in the top tier. Traditionally, top MBA programs serve as the most critical pipelines for producing business leaders. You can’t compete for those opportunities if you aren’t in the consideration set. I’m not saying that it becomes impossible, but if you choose not to attend a top business school, your options, access and network often become significantly diminished.

The first step is to evaluate your short- and long-term career goals. Where do you see yourself in five to 10 years? Do you already have functional expertise in your area of interest?

You must understand and be able to articulate (to yourself and others) the role an MBA will play in your long-term career strategy. If you studied marketing in college and are looking to transition to digital marketing, an MBA may not be the best use of your time and financial resources. Instead, you may want to seek opportunities within your company to develop digital experience. Or perhaps there are online marketing classes you could take to enhance the marketing knowledge you already possess.

Convinced that the MBA is right for you? #Soundoff and follow Daria on Twitter @DariaBurke.

Daria Burke is a marketing and brand strategist, public speaker, and founder of Black MBA Women. The former beauty executive also works as an independent strategic marketing consultant in New York City, helping luxury, beauty and consumer goods clients with a range of marketing initiatives. Burke earned her MBA in marketing and strategy from the New York University Stern School of Business and her bachelor’s degree in English literature from the University of Michigan.

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