As a recent MBA graduate, I have the fortunate experience of having the degree fresh in my mind. I interacted with a variety of people over the last two years with various experiences, strengths, and weaknesses. I went to The Ohio State University for my MBA, but have many friends who received their MBA from schools ranging from a top 5 school to University of Phoenix. I run a business and am looking at different career opportunities and wondered, "does an MBA certification make sense?"
I am a web technologist at heart and the MBA doesn’t appear to carry much weight with hiring managers in the IT field. Most of them seem to appreciate it, but it doesn’t seem to add to the scorecard in the hiring process. With such a large number of MBA graduates each year and a wide disparity in the education they receive, does it make sense to certify MBA grads with a standardized exam? Will this give employers a method to objectively review candidates?
We all know every MBA is not the same. You get a different experience depending on the school you go to, whether or not it is online, if you go full-time or part-time, and even the groups you are placed in (or choose). Some of the most intelligent and creative guys I know that went for an MBA did an online MBA one due to circumstances in their lives, however, these still are some of the most creative and intelligent business people I know. Would an MBA certification help them get ahead?
Why Get Your MBA?
In determining whether or not an MBA certification would be helpful, let’s look at why people receive an MBA. People typically fall into one of these categories: career change, ladder climb, or status changer.
Career Change: many of the people I met (especially the full-timers) attended MBA school to seek a career change – and not only a small career change, but a 6-digit salary career change. Career change is a great reason to attend MBA school, in the time you are there, you can focus your MBA on classes in your target career. I am a partial career changer, I have focused my job search on web marketing which is distinctly different than my IT/Infrastructure background (other than That Network which has a nice web marketing component to it).
Ladder Climb: the second reason many people attend MBA school is a ladder climb. Maybe their job requires an MBA (think Finance) or perhaps if they get one they will be able to climb the corporate ladder at their place of employment. This is a common reason for part-timers attending OSU and an MBA certification would probably be less helpful for them.
Status Changer: the third reason many people attend MBA school is change their status. Perhaps they own their own company and see it as a benefit when working with partners or when seeking funding. Some people (believe it or not) just attend MBA school because they can and want to achieve it. Others just want to enhance their resume, so they go to MBA school and spend $50,000 on a new line for their resume.
The career changers could see a benefit in achieving their certification, but most ladder climbers and status changers have different goals and so may not see an MBA certification as valuable.
Quality of the Certification
The largest MBA certifying body is the International Certification Institute with their Certified MBA. The Certified MBA is a standardized exam offered to test MBA students on a variety of core curriculum topics. Potential employers need to not only know the Certified MBA exists, but also appreciate its content and purpose. If they do not value the CMBA, it will not be useful to graduates. The best way for this to occur is for hiring managers (senior company management) to understand and appreciate the value – to achieve the certification themselves. One of the ways the CMBA could achieve this acceptance is to approach companies who are thought leaders in management and certify their management team.
I agree with the premise – with the tens of thousands of MBA school grads each year, currently an employer has to rely on MBA rankings and their recruiters to determine the best schools and graduates. This creates a tier of schools which produce scores of quality graduates, but without a perceived quality. Achieving a certification would standardize the level of the graduate and give companies a good baseline for hiring.
However, an MBA is different than traditional certifications such as IT certifications (MCSE, CCNA, etc). An MBA is a degree and achieving it is a milestone for many in their careers. Unlike IT certifications (which many IT organizations require), the MBA is a college degree and it combined with your experience produces a quality candidate. Standardizing through a test would give the impression that a degree from Wharton can be the same as a degree from UPhoenix, depending on the graduate. MBA school truly is an experience and a standardized test cannot test lessons learned in an eight hour team session while writing a 60 page strategy paper. An MBA certification might help set you apart from other candidates, but the MBA itself should set you apart.