What Is Your M.B.A. Worth?

Sharon Grandberry has been more than happy to aggressively compete for the career she wants. Even before she completed her M.B.A., the 29-year-old instructional design consultant for Delta Airlines in Atlanta crafted a long-term plan to distinguish herself from her peers by gaining key work experience while pursuing a dual degree—an M.B.A. and a master’s in human resources management. For Grandberry, getting the M.B.A. was not her top priority: She was more interested in obtaining the skill set that would help her overwhelm the competition.

“It’s important to position yourself in a market with sought-after, high-level skills that allow you to plug into all types of organizations when positions are eliminated,” she says. “Then you have to network and continue to build relationships with individuals who are in hiring positions, or who know others who can hire you.” Grandberry reasoned that human resource management skills are transferable among a number of industries, so she earned her degrees at the Keller Graduate School of Management, one of the nation’s top-rated schools in human resource management. While still a student, she gained key job experience and expertise by serving two years as an employee-training manager at Infistar—a small credit card services company—and landing a one-year stint as the e-training and development manager for Centennial HealthCare Corp. Those experiences served as catalysts for her current job at Delta where she develops online learning programs, holds workshop-style training sessions, and assists project managers in developing job functions.

“I’ve learned to be flexible, because sometimes the position you are in may not be the position for you,” says Grandberry. “You may have to get an extra certification or job skill so that you can fit into an emerging role at your firm or elsewhere.” Grandberry’s willingness to be flexible has helped her get the most out of her M.B.A. So how much is your M.B.A. worth? That depends on your reasons for deciding to get a Masters of Business Administration degree and your willingness to adapt to market conditions while working toward your ultimate career goal.

The M.B.A. has long been linked to career success in corporate America, but the recent three-year economic downturn has placed some nicks and scratches on the M.B.A.’s Teflon image. Layoffs have disproportionately affected experienced corporate middle managers, many of them M.B.A.’s who now find themselves out of work with few corporations willing to hire. Making matters worse is the increasing number of newly minted M.B.A.s flooding the market, adding to the competition for the few high-level jobs available during this period of corporate cutbacks.

“A lot of people are back in the job search market in ways they didn’t think they would be,” says Dr. Price Cobbs, president and CEO of San Francisco-based Pacific Management Systems, a leading management consulting firm. “Whether having an M.B.A. or going back to school to get an M.B.A. will be more advantageous [to a job seeker] is difficult to say because it depends very much on the specific company they are targeting, the