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Arrogant MBAs, Is an MBA Worth It, Jobs in the Down Economy

BNET's recent feature "What Now for MBAs?" sparked an interesting debate among BNET members on the value of an MBA and whether it helps your career, with some readers suggesting that MBA grads are over-rated and pompous.

As you might imagine, I have lots to say about all of this: what MBAs can do in this new economy, whether the MBA degree helps, and who are these people who think they walk on water because they have the degree? (One poster asserted that MBA stands for More Bad Advice).

MBAs in the New and Improved Economy
Yes, that's right -- I believe that the economic situation now is better than before. The past few years were not based in reality â€" they were driven by greed and ignorance. Everyone was driving overpriced cars and living in oversized houses, blissed out and ignoring the fact that they could not afford any of it. Now, the truth is out. Things might get worse before they get better (I am not an economist, but I believe they will get worse, with or without a stimulus plan), but they will eventually get better. And hopefully, there will be lessons that everyone, MBAs and non-MBAs, can carry with them. The MBAs who studied strictly in classrooms will now earn some battle scars, practical knowledge, and a dose of reality.

What can MBA grads do if they've been laid off, their business is dissolving, or their fat bonus checks have disappeared? They can certainly try to get another job, because there are still jobs out there. However, landing them requires a bit more creativity. The jobs might not be sourced through career management centers; networking, soul searching and unusual tactics will be important. As I said in a post earlier this week, hard times breed creativity and that is what I find exciting about our current situation. MBAs -- who are connected to each other and to potential investors and who know the basics of how to run a business -- are in a fantastic position to pursue something new or to start something from the ground up. So, I would suggest adding another research area to the feature package's list of finance, healthcare, social entrepreneurship and energy: brainstorming. There are ways to rebound, and I think many people will end up doing something more aligned with their interests because they are no longer just picking from whatever companies happen to be recruiting on campus.

Does the MBA Help?
I would not have built an entire business around helping people attain this degree if I did not strongly think it mattered. However, many people mistakenly think that an MBA is the golden ticket to whatever they want afterwards -- especially those who are going to a top school. They think, "If I can get X University on my resume, I'm set for life!" As with everything we pursue, from careers to relationships, there is no such thing as "set." Your success and fulfillment in the business world are dependent on what you do with the degree. To the person who complains that after the MBA he/she is still in a dead-end job, I would say that is not your business school's fault. It's your job to take your credentials, your network, and the knowledge you gained during your MBA program and go out and make the most of it. I cannot believe that knowledge, networks and alumni resources hurt someone's situation.

In fact, in these difficult times, a lot of schools are going the extra mile to help their alums. Just yesterday, I received an alumni email from Kellogg, offering a free "turbo job-search" workshop. This is in addition to free career counseling for life. If you're looking for a new job, or a better job, this is absolutely the time to leverage your MBA network. Contact classmates and alumni networks, set up informational interviews, and get moving. I laugh when I read comments about the MBA opening or not opening up doors. The degree does not open up doors â€" the person does. But an MBA can increase your muscle.

Are MBAs Arrogant Jerks?
Yes, some of them are. So are some chefs and athletes and rock stars. It is incredibly difficult to get admitted to a top business school, especially one in the top 10. Those that make it through are generally quite accomplished, have achieved a lot, and are pretty darn smart. Does this give them a right to be arrogant? No, but it does put a stamp on them that, like it or not, recruiters are often attracted to. It's ridiculous to say that all MBAs are a certain way and that, as a group, they are not as qualified to take on certain jobs. Top MBA grads, as a whole, are a very strong group of individuals. It's easier for a potential employer to take a bet on a grad from a top school, their pedigree, and the promise it holds. If a by-product of their accomplishments is arrogance, I dare say in these most challenging of times, employers might prefer that over a nice person who cannot help them solve their problems.

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