Stay ahead of your peers

Earning an MBA can take your career in new directions

Diane Dierking

By Diane Dierking

Have you ever wondered what it takes to get ahead? Perhaps you’ve thought about going to night school to get an MBA. Is it worth it?

  “It’s never a waste to get an MBA. You never know what opportunities will open up,” says Brenna Mannell, a recruiter with Capstone Search Group in Des Moines, Iowa. In general, a candidate with an MBA is likely to get an interview with a prospective employer before a candidate without a business degree, she says.

Mannell specializes in placing candidates in manufacturing industries. She says the number of candidates who have an MBA is continually increasing, whereas the percentage of individuals whose job functions are aligned with their undergraduate degree is growing smaller.

Some argue that the value of an MBA depends on which school you attend. Mannell disagrees and says companies value the initiative taken by candidates to advance their education, no matter where they went to school.

Regardless of which program you choose, you can count on making a significant time commitment and saying goodbye to your social life for a few years. One engineer I spoke with says it took her two-and-a-half years to obtain her MBA by taking two classes per quarter. Some schools, like Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management in Evanston, Ill., place importance on students working as a group to complete projects. I remember one of my former coworkers who attended Kellogg talking about how much time he spent in the city on weekends meeting with his group.

The decision to pursue an MBA is personal and I’m sure many of us have had this debate. Of those who choose to go back to school, some engineers have definite ideas about why they want an MBA and what they hope to do with it.

One engineer I spoke with says she went back to school to help bridge her technical and commercial capabilities. The manager of the sales group she wanted to work for told her it might be difficult to get into the group without an MBA. As she progressed through the program, however, her interests developed beyond sales to a role that focused on business development and strategy. “While my company paid for my education, they were unwilling to offer me another job in the organization to meet my development goals or incent me to remain with the organization,” she says. So she left the company that paid for her education and found one that gave her an opportunity to use her business skills.

Yet not all who pursue an MBA have a clear idea of what they would like to do with the degree: Another engineer currently enrolled in an MBA program tells me he is pursuing the degree to advance his career and give him more flexibility.

Most companies who employ engineers and scientists have two career paths: technical and managerial. Employees who are firmly set on a technical path may see little reason to obtain an MBA. One such engineer tells me he sees no point in pursuing a business degree since his company affords him plenty of opportunity to do interesting technical work. In this case, you could argue the benefits of getting an advanced engineering degree.

If you are interested in pursuing an MBA, you may have to consider the financial requirements. Compensation policies vary from employer to employer. Some pay a percentage of the total fees, whereas others offer a fixed amount, which may not cover much if you choose to go to a top-ranked school. Either way, the policy generally requires that you maintain a C average or better.

Once you have decided to pursue an MBA, you may have to then convince your manager. Although some companies will compensate anyone who wishes to advance their education, others require approval by senior-level management.

Some companies also prorate the amount compensated if you terminate your employment within a set time period after completing your degree. This may require you to pay back part of what the company has already paid for your education. Either way, it’s yet another thing to consider when deciding whether to go back to school.

There’s no telling where your career will take you after earning an MBA. But increasing your career opportunities can’t hurt.

Diane Dierking is senior editor of Chemical Processing magazine. E-mail her at

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