mba.jpgI got a tweet recently from @MichaelCTak that got me thinking:

what do think about getting your MBA these days for the working prof[essoinal]?

I often get asked about the merits of an MBA but the question typically comes from someone already working in the business world. Many people working for corporations often see an MBA as a good way to help them climb the ladder, but MichaelCTak, who I found out later is actually Michael Tak, works for a social services supervisor for a government agency in Georgia and wants to leave his government and non-profit background behind and go into business.

The question on Tak’s mind was whether an MBA would help him make the transition easier? And he also wondered if getting an online MBA in particular was as worthy as the in-school variety?

Given the cost of an MBA these days ranges from $40,000 to $100,000, it was a good idea to ponder these questions before spending the money on something that would add a line or two to his resume.

“I don’t have a business background, my degree is in Public Health and work experience is in social services,” Tak said. “I want to get out of government and non-profit and into business probably at the retail level.”

It’s seems like a no brainer that an MBA for Tak would give him some credibility, especially in this competitive job market. But is it really worth it?

I asked for input from executive recruiters Salveson Stetson Group, and got some great insights:

jtouey-2.jpgJohn Touey, principal, believed he would get the credibility he needed to enter the private sector. “Those executives we have seen who have made successful transitions from non-profit to for-profit have been able to demonstrate how they have been able to apply fundamental business principles to the goal of achieving her/his organization’s mission. An MBA certainly helps in this regard, particularly in combination with the strong mission and values drive orientation that most non-profit leaders possess.”

On the credibility of an online degree, what I found in my research wasn’t very encouraging.

According to a survey by Society for Human Resource Management, 49 percent of human resource professional think a traditional degree is better than a cyber one. And 43 percent said online degrees were more acceptable from job seekers looking for entry level posts.

This doesn’t mean they aren’t hiring candidates with online degrees.

* 79 percent of organizations have hired job applicants with online degrees in the last 12 months, the poll found.

And where you get your online degree is also important.

* 64 percent said they use certain schools’ reputations with well known online degree programs to ascertain applicants’ online degrees.

One factor that may help applicants with online degrees is it’s getting harder to tell whether a degree was gotten by going to an actual class in a college, or by sitting at home in your pajamas. About 15 percent of those polled said it was hard to tell by just looking at a resume.

“It’s becoming harder to distinguish the online degree because some online degree programs are adding physical locations, and traditional brick and mortar schools are adding online programs,” said Mark Schmit, director of research at SHRM. “Not only is the industry going through an evolutionary period, but it is making an online degree more acceptable by creating a mix of class and online experience.”

As for online MBA’s specifically?

“Certainly we would give the degree full weight when compared to a classroom based MBA,” said Salveson Stetson’s Touey “However, I think that the ability to interact and network in a classroom setting with other professionals with different backgrounds is of great value to an executive who has primarily spent her/his career in non-profits. That exposure is diluted in an online setting. When I ask non-profit executives who have made the transition how they got their first job in the private sector, invariably the answer is that networking contacts led them to the opportunity.”

And that’s really the bottom line, even if you decide to get your MBA. Networking will be a critical piece of the career pie as you transition to the private sector. So you shouldn’t just disregard your government or nonprofit experience, or the contacts you’ve developed.

UPDATE:

After my post came out this morning, I got an email from a management professor at Pace University, Bruce Bachenheimer. He shared a video clip of Salman Khan, known as the “Messiah of Math” who discussed how an MBA helped the entrepreneur who said he initially wanted it so he wouldn’t be “pigeonholed as a quantitative-engineering guy anymore.” Khan spoke at the Pace Pitch Contest last month:

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