MBA Promotion: How a B-School Degree Can Help You Advance

·5 min read

If you are pursuing an MBA degree because you think that education will help propel you into a fast-track career and improve your odds of becoming an executive someday, you're not alone. A desire for promotion is the norm among graduate business school applicants.

A recent survey of prospective MBA students revealed that 55% of individuals who indicated that they planned to seek spots at B-schools in their home countries in fall 2021 said they were motivated by a desire for a pay raise. That survey, administered by the Graduate Management Admission Council, also showed that among such "domestic" MBA applicants, 46% aspired to manage other people and 44% hoped to secure a senior leadership position in the future.

[Read: Is an MBA Worth It? How to Decide.]

Lifetime earnings statistics for MBA alumni demonstrate that people who obtain MBA degrees tend to earn significantly more money than their peers without those degrees.

A Poets & Quants study on the long-term payoff of an MBA degree revealed that MBA alumni of three extremely prestigious and selective business schools usually earned more than $8.3 million during the 35-year-period after they received their MBA degree -- roughly $5 million more than those who possessed just an undergraduate degree.

Although the wage premium enjoyed by MBA alumni correlated with the ranking of the B-school they attended, MBA grads from nonselective schools still generally benefited financially from their investment, according to the study, which Poets & Quants commissioned from PayScale, a company that collects and analyzes compensation figures and publishes reports on trends revealed by salary data.

Graduate B-school admissions experts caution that earning an MBA degree does not guarantee an increase in professional responsibility and authority, nor does it automatically lead to greater earning power. Attending an MBA program is one of multiple viable approaches to improving a personal brand and becoming a more marketable business professional, experts say.

What to Look for in a B-School if Your Goal Is to Move Up

MBA hopefuls who are hoping to acquire a higher job title in the industry that they presently work in should carefully assess whether it makes sense for them to leave the workforce entirely to attend a full-time MBA program, MBA admissions experts advise. In many cases, someone who enjoys his or her occupation and is performing well may wish to stay employed while going to B-school; for that person, a part-time or executive MBA program may be optimal, experts say.

[Read: See Which MBA Programs Lead to the Best Return on Investment.]

Another factor for MBA applicants to consider, according to admissions experts, is what type of professional development they hope to gain through business school.

Why an MBA Could Increase the Odds of a Promotion

A key benefits of an MBA degree, experts say, is that it cultivates hard and soft skills that employers value.

Noam Wasserman, dean of Yeshiva University's Sy Syms School of Business in New York, explains that workers often hit a wall in their career trajectory if they have a significant amount of technical expertise but lack leadership, interpersonal and teamwork skills.

"A lot of times one of the key things that you are doing that gets harder and harder as you move up in an organization is the difficult conversations stuff, the things that you could have punted over to someone else when you were lower down in the organization, that you could have avoided," Wasserman says, noting that strong communication skills are a must for managers.

MBA students who are highly competent in a particular area of business, such as accounting, can expand their skill set in a way that makes them more attractive for high-profile leadership roles, according to MBA faculty.

Gerardo Okhuysen, a professor of organization and management at the University of California--Irvine's Paul Merage School of Business, says MBA students gain an appreciation of how all the parts of a company fit together, which gives them the wide-ranging perspective necessary to oversee multiple divisions within a corporation.

"In addition, an MBA teaches them how to enhance their contributions by working effectively with others, leveraging collaboration," Okhuysen wrote in an email. "These are the primary ways in which an MBA helps students accelerate their career within their profession, because they can begin to take on more complex challenges at work as they learn about the different parts of business."

Another benefit of graduate management education, according to B-school academics, is that it bolsters problem-solving skills. "Most companies want managers and leaders who have an ability to understand complex issues: change, disruption, growth," explains Kimberly Hollister, dean of Montclair State University's Feliciano School of Business in New Jersey.

Hollister suggests that because earning an MBA degree demands initiative and discipline, employers often view the credential positively.

[Read: Hot Jobs for MBA Graduates.]

Analytical skills gained via an MBA degree are valuable in the business world, she says. "Almost all decisions in business are being made based on data at this point, since we have so much information," she emphasizes, noting that it's important to know how to gauge the credibility of data to avoid relying on false or misleading statistics.

Heidi Pozzo, an MBA alumna of the Rice University Jones Graduate School of Business in Texas, says the B-school experience involves constant networking, since students frequently collaborate with their classmates while completing assignments.

"If people are leveraging their network well, it can lead to opportunities in the future," Pozzo, founder of Pozzo Consulting, wrote in an email.

"There are gaps in knowledge that get rounded out through the MBA program," she says. "And it is a way to challenge ideas and learn from others what worked well and what didn't in their companies."

Tracey Mullen, the CEO of Abveris, suggests that earning an MBA degree helped her take charge of the antibody discovery company faster than she would have otherwise.

"I attribute a big part of my advancement to my MBA; while I would have eventually gotten to where I am now with additional time and experience in industry, I believe my additional education accelerated that advancement," she wrote in an email. "I would highly recommend an MBA program for anyone interested in learning how to make more informed decisions for their organizations."

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