position they are vying for, and what the company is hiring the person to do.” Although an effort by the International Certification Institute to use an exam to “certify” M.B.A. degrees is seen as a first step to measure their effectiveness (see “An Official Stamp?” Powerplay, Feb. 2003), there is currently no way to accurately measure what an M.B.A. adds to a person’s income-earning potential or the effects it may have on his or her ability to advance into upper management positions.
Cobbs and other human resource professionals stress that the responsibility for making sure that your M.B.A. enhances your career is yours and yours alone. A recent survey of 1,247 M.B.A. graduates from 2001 and 2002 by the Graduate Management Admission Council revealed that most were satisfied that their degree helped them to increase their earning power and career options, improve themselves personally, develop management skills, and gain a desired credential. But there are no guarantees.
“I often encounter candidates of all races who believe that an advanced degree or experience at a major corporation entitles them to a job. That’s not the way it is,” says independent executive search consultant Kevin Martin, who operates Beyond-Search from Santa Fe Springs, California. He says that the economy has a lot to do with job market success: In fast-growing economies—such as that of the late 1990s—well-educated and experienced candidates will find jobs easily, but during recessions (in 1983, 1992, and 2001, for example) jobs are significantly tougher to win. “In a recession, no matter what your credentials, you have to prepare yourself to compete,” warns Martin, a point he says M.B.A. graduates often fail to consider (see sidebar, “Job Search Advice for the M.B.A.”)
For minorities, coming to grips with this reality can be especially frustrating given the barriers of racism that have existed and continue to exist in the marketplace. In spite of recent moves by some corporations to establish legitimate diversity programs, Cobbs states the obvious about the overall employment picture when he says, “The playing field is still not level.”
But Cobbs says the good news is that the M.B.A. can become a formidable weapon in leveling the playing field for African Americans. He says the M.B.A. tells an employer that an African American is “credentialed,” which makes a positive difference in some settings. More importantly, the degree improves a candidate’s competitiveness in an ever-changing economic environment. “In today’s world, there are few people who will be at the same company for 25 years. So getting an M.B.A. will help you be more competitive within your company and, when you leave, can make you more attractive to other companies,” he says.
Barbara Rudd, a former vice president of marketing for the National Black M.B.A. Association who earned an Executive M.B.A. in 1987 at Lake Forest Graduate School of Management in Lake Forest, Illinois, concurs. She stresses that the M.B.A. experience can be especially worthwhile for African Americans because, “Any advanced degree will set you apart from the rest of the crowd.” The