Historically, the path to career advancement has involved dedication and standout performance in a single organization. An employee’s willingness and ability to tackle new challenges seemed like enough. Now, however, most industries are so competitive that candidates seemingly need to do more and more to land the promotions and other career advancement opportunities they’re eager to achieve.
Take Wendy Gratereaux’s story, for example. She’s now the director of marketing at TrueAbility, a cloud-based talent assessment company — but her path to that position wasn’t clear-cut. Years ago, it seemed impossible to move up professionally, but she knew she wanted more.
If your career aspirations involve high-level management roles, executive job titles or other advanced positions, you may find that your formal education (or lack thereof) will define you.
“I was stuck in this space of front-line worker with a ceiling of middle manager,” Gratereaux explains. “I knew I lacked that overall strategic knowledge that was required to move up in my career. It became clear that I needed to make big changes to reach my career goals.”
Gratereaux’s experience is not unlike that of other high-performing, educated employees who want to move beyond middle management but hit a wall. After researching schools and degree programs, she took the leap and enrolled in a Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree program. “I ended up leading the MBA Association and was awarded the ‘Most Outstanding Master’s Student in the College of Business 2011,’” Gratereaux recounts. She maintains today that this was the step she needed to get beyond the career plateau she was stranded on.
If you can identify with Gratereaux’s story and you’re in the midst of a career that feels stagnant, you may find it necessary to pursue advanced education in order to get noticed. An MBA may be the answer to your professional woes. Take a look at the four most prominent ways an MBA can help take your career to the next level.
Why the MBA Is a Game-Changer
Careers are about more than just jumping ahead to the next promotion or job offer. Rather, they are built over decades of progress, defined by the strategic risks you take and the unique opportunities presented to you. An MBA represents one such opportunity, and there are a few ways it can help you advance your career.
I believe having an MBA set me apart from the rest of the applicants, and I was able to land a good first job in the television industry, – Bob Bentz
1. It shows employers you’re worth the risk
Any time employers hire someone new, they are putting themselves in a vulnerable position. Hiring and training can consume ample business resources, and the cost grows even greater when employers realize too late that they’ve hired the wrong employee.
The more potential employers can understand about you as a job candidate from the get-go, the more confident they will be in taking a risk on you. Graduate-level degree programs, such as an MBA, make an immediate statement about who you are, your work ethic and what qualities you will likely exhibit in the workplace.
This rang true for Gratereaux. After dedicating herself to her MBA program, she noticed a change in the way she approached the workplace overall. “That experience changed the way I think with case studies, the impact of global issues and how economics influence markets,” she says.
Bob Bentz, president of the mobile-first digital agency Purplegator had a similar experience when he graduated with an MBA. “It was a difficult job market. I believe having an MBA set me apart from the rest of the applicants, and I was able to land a good first job in the television industry,” he explains.
While the MBA alone cannot guarantee smooth sailing in every business interaction, Bentz is still convinced it helped set him on a lucrative path. “Having an MBA doesn’t guarantee success, but it is a nice bonus that, in the employer’s mind, takes away some level of risk in hiring you,” he says.
2. It can help you make a big leap between industries
After gaining experience in a specific industry or type of position, it is hard to be viewed in a different light by hiring managers. You could be a high-performer, but corporate leaders may not be so confident in your ability to think broadly for the organization.
For example, an outstanding front-end developer may be eager to lead a marketing agency, but that will require a new skill set. Prospective employers may view the candidate’s skills as a developer as relevant and valuable, but they’ll likely ask questions similar to the following: Does he or she have the financial know-how to determine a departmental budget? Do they know how to analyze workload and human resources requirements to determine when to adjust personnel needs? Will they be able to account for the needs of employees who have never worked in their area of expertise?
For Gratereaux, an MBA allowed her to shift industries entirely to focus more on technology and strive for leadership roles in that realm. “I got on the cloud train because of my MBA credentials, and I rose quickly in the space by seeing things differently and providing intelligence to management,” she explains.
An MBA is one way to prove to employers that you have honed your ability to think critically about holistic business strategies — something that applies to all industries. An MBA can give you that initial opportunity to advance into executive leadership in an entirely different industry. Your career cannot grow across organizational tiers or industries until someone gives you that chance.
Pursuing an MBA could be your way forward. It can help you advance in your career and spur other professional benefits as well.
3. It gives you the soft skills to do your job well and build your reputation as an executive
By earning your MBA, you can develop attributes of strong executives while gaining a knowledge of concrete skills in marketing, finance and operations — skills that translate into a variety of work environments. The lessons you learn in an MBA program can help you earn a reputation for excellence in the field and ultimately be sought out for the good work you do.
The following are ways an MBA can help you build your skill set:
- You’ll develop critical communication and leadership skills that will allow you to motivate employees, delegate responsibility and communicate tactfully, even amidst disagreement. A strong executive leader recognizes the value of every individual in an organization and engages those team members in a positive and productive manner.
- You’ll learn how to foster strategic and entrepreneurial thinking that helps you identify market opportunities and barriers. This will help you implement processes that make a business scalable. Strength as an executive leader is built on the continuous pursuit of information that drives the business forward.
- You’ll expand the influence of hard data on your problem-solving process. You may have a gut feeling about what constitutes the right move for a business dilemma, but strong leaders know when to rely on gut feelings and when to lean on more specific information. They take a scientific approach involving thoughtful study and research.
These are the skills that Bentz has noticed in colleagues with MBAs, even years after earning his own. “Today, as a business owner, the MBA is still meaningful when I make hiring decisions,” he says. “Having an MBA tells me that the candidate understands all aspects of business and not just one area. It tells me that he or she will think like an owner, and that is always a valuable trait in a colleague.”
4. It sets you up for the long-term journey of career advancement
The term career itself is a long-term concept. An MBA may help you get that immediate promotion you’re looking for, but investing in an education is not about one upward move. It is about the journey. Earning an MBA sets you off on an entirely different course — one that builds over decades.
You could stay in your current position and refine your skills, but growth into managerial roles requires a shift in approach. You need to become known for your ability to develop people and organizations as a whole, rather than individual projects. These are skills not solely credited to MBAs, but the formal education helps launch the ship.
As a female in a technology leadership role, Gratereaux is now on a path she once found inconceivable. “I am with an established start-up as the director of marketing. I am navigating a new platform through unchartered territory. This would not be possible without the foundation of an MBA,” she says.
It’s also true that other organizations may take notice. You could end up with other executive job offers in industries you’d never previously considered. However, armed with the skills and knowledge gained through an MBA program, you’ll have the potential to become an asset for business growth and success.
For Bentz, the MBA he earned in the ’80s continues to pay off. “Three years ago, I was recommended to teach a graduate-level course in mobile marketing at the University of Denver. This opportunity would not have been possible with only a bachelor’s degree,” he says.
Ready to take charge of your professional future?
If your career aspirations involve high-level management roles, executive job titles or other advanced positions in your industry of expertise or interest, you may find that your formal education (or lack thereof) will define you.
Pursuing an MBA could be your way forward. It can help you advance in your career and spur other professional benefits as well. To learn more about the ways an MBA can benefit your future job opportunities, check out our article “Should I get an MBA? The key to your personal brand awaits”.