Is an MBA Worth It? 1-Year Post-MBA Reflection

In early 2012, when I was working as a biomedical researcher at the National Institutes of Health, I decided that I wanted to get an MBA and make the transition into the business side of health care. That was almost 5 years ago. Now as I pass my 1-year mark after getting my MBA from Duke, I decided that it is a good time to do some reflecting and see what the MBA has done for me so far.

Is Getting an MBA Worth it?

If you have been following blog, you already know that I have been very thankful for the 2 years I spent getting the Duke Fuqua MBA. In fact, I wrote about it here while I was still a 2nd year student at Fuqua. Here are some additional thoughts on the value of the MBA.

Was that MBA Finance/Operations Course a waste of time?

When I was sitting in my first year finance class – I often thought to myself – when the heck am I going to use all these financial models? (I’m sure the finance folks also felt the same about marketing courses) Now, after a year after graduating, I realize that while I will probably never use all of my non-marketing skills gained from the MBA – quite frankly I have forgotten all but the most fundamental – they have been absolutely critical in my ability to lead and execute cross-functionally.

I can guarantee that you will be interacting with people in finance, operations, analytics, and human resources in your 1st year after the MBA, regardless of the industry you go into. This is why it is critical to know what each function does at a basic level and be able to speak their language proficiently. You want to go into market planning, budget, inventory management, and talent acquisition meetings prepared to contribute and lead.

If you ever wonder why the first year MBA curriculum covers the same courses in virtually all MBA programs, that’s why – they exist to prepare you to work cross-functionally – something that is essential in building a successful career in business.

Value of MBA Alumni Networks are probably over-emphasized

A year after the MBA, my view on the value of alumni networks is split. On one hand, it creates an immediate connection with someone you don’t know; on the other, having a vast network of alumni doesn’t really offer any tangible benefit.

At the end of the day, it’s your character, business acumen, and ambitions that drive people to you – not the school you went to. While having a robust alumni network is great, I think most street-smart folks recognize that it is an artificial construct. In other words, business has no barriers. For example, when recruiting or looking for a partner, I don’t care which school you went to or what we have in common, I simply want the best.

The Duke Alumni network is both the first and last place I’ll look for people. It’s the first place I’ll look for an unfamiliar industry where I don’t have a lot of contacts – it’s also the last place I’ll look for an industry that I am well established in. My advice to folks – treat alumni networks as a secondary metric when choosing between programs. It probably won’t matter.

It’s the soft skills that count after the MBA

Guys and gals, if there’s one thing you take away from this blog post, is that soft skills are the ones that make a difference in career progression. My recommendation is to only take a maximum of 2 courses on each functional area during the MBA. 

For example, don’t take more than 2 finance, accounting, or supply chain courses, etc. What you choose is your business, but what I’m saying is that this allows you to get a breadth of experiences during the MBA, and I’m trying to convince you to spend more time on the softer skills.

Skills like communication, human talent management, leadership – while don’t sound great compared to [insert totally complicated finance course] – matter more IF you want to go from individual contributor to leader.

Think of them as long term investments. You won’t need them right away after the MBA, but they are critical to long term success. It’s like saving for retirement, you don’t want to turn 55 and start contributing to your 401(k) – you want to start building up early – just like with the soft skills.

I think most MBAs will establish their reputation for being smart and analytical relatively soon after graduation – this is to be expected. However, what I’ve found that really makes a difference in my work is my ability to communicate effectively, lead my matrix team, and manage my relationship with leaders and peers.

Was the MBA worth it?

Absolutely. One, I realized how much I loved being in business. Two, the Duke MBA allowed me to make the most efficient transition from a non-traditional background into marketing. Three, the learnings have been amazing.

Let me talk about my last point some more. As I mentioned before, don’t think of the MBA as a degree, but more like a blueprint for career development in business. I genuinely don’t think that I could be learning at the pace that I am today without the MBA. The MBA showed me what good looked like, and helped me narrow in on exactly what I wanted with my career.

Return back next year for my Year 2 post-MBA reflection, or subscribe to get it delivered into your inbox.


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