I often get asked about the merits of studying for an MBA.

In particular, senior managers often want to know whether completing an MBA will give them a competitive advantage when applying for those ever-elusive C-suite roles.

On one hand, having an MBA on your resume and LinkedIn profile can impress employers (especially if it’s from one of the top schools in the world).

On the other hand, an MBA no longer provides an automatic pay rise that is combined with a bump up a few rungs on the corporate ladder (like it used to in the 1990’s).

This means that in the past the answer to the question “is an MBA right for you?” would almost certainly be a resounding “of course”, whereas today a more intelligent analysis is required.


Factors To Consider.

Most MBA advice which you’ll come across will frame the discussion around the degree’s financial cost vs. return.

We must go beyond that. Your career is more than just a sum of pay checks you’ll collect over your lifetime; making career moves from purely a monetary point of view robs you of opportunities to experience deeper meaning in your job (and, I’d argue, makes you less money in the long run).

In a recent Harvard Business Review article Amy Gallo weighed in on the argument about meaningful work by suggesting that big career moves must be evaluated in the context of:


  • legacy (changes you want to make in the world)
  • skills (developing muscles which you intrinsically enjoy flexing)
  • freedom (lifestyle experiences you want to have)
  • culture (your alignment with beliefs and priorities of people who you work with )


I think that it’s a useful departure point for our purposes here.

What’s the point of studying for an MBA if it leads you into a job which you feel is irrelevant, doesn’t allow you to express the best parts of you, doesn’t allow you to live the life that you want and leads you to working in organisations which don’t share your deeply held values?


The 4 Main Pros And Cons Of MBA Study.

After you gain some clarity about what meaning you’d like to have in your career, decision to study an MBA rests on a few tactical considerations.

Below are some thoughts which I hope will allow you to flesh them out and make a sound decision.


  1. You will meet some already successful business people, who will have potentially beneficial connections.

You and your MBA classmates will obviously have to meet certain professional criteria to get onto an MBA course. The higher ranking the school, the higher calibre of the candidates tend to be.

This opportunity alone can be invaluable – if growing your network is a priority, an MBA can be an excellent means of creating relationships with like-minded professionals.


  1. You’ll gain a more rounded business expertise, enabling you to push beyond your “niche”.

You may be nearing the top of your game, but you might not have a clue about macro-economics. If you’re looking to start a business, learning about governance, financial considerations, financing might be top of your agenda, and it’s unlikely you’ll get the level of knowledge (or tutelage) on another course.

An MBA provides an opportunity to gain expertise you may well be expected to have in an upwards promotion or that you will certainly need, if starting your own business.


  1. An MBA requires a substantial, and unrelenting investment of both cash and your personal time.

This is where is gets tricky. Money isn’t everything, however it’s also one of your key leverageable resources. The other one is time, and an MBA will take a heavy toll on both. Rather than trying to “fit it all in” and hope for the best, be strategic.

How can you improve your personal productivity to offset the increased time demands? Will you need to abandon gym for the next few years? Create a hierarchy of priorities and be brutally honest with yourself about where an MBA fits on that scale.


  1. You’ll have to be OK with a career interruption. 

During your MBA study you very well may have to refuse career moves (perhaps overseas or in to time consuming project roles), that at other times would have been fantastic opportunities to gain varied and practical experience.

This is important, and probably a consideration I’ve experienced most from my years in HR and recruitment. I’ve spoken to many people who felt like they had to put their career on the backseat because of their desire to complete an MBA.

Having said that, I’ve also spoken to CEOs who have integrated their MBA into a mid-career break, which they used to re-energise, reassess priorities, gain clarity and take care of neglected parts of themselves.


Is An MBA Worth It?

In my experience, an MBA is not a pre-requisite to becoming a CEO. If your goal is to become a successful business owner, an MBA will only ever be a small part of your story.

However, I do believe an MBA can, and will, compliment a portfolio of practical experience, and could very well give you an advantage, at the time when you need it.


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