Strategy

The CEO Poll: Work experience first, then MBA

CEOs say young people should establish careers before getting MBAs.

Business leaders give the federal mini-budget high marks.

Young people considering an MBA should consider getting work experience first, say Canadian CEOs. When asked in a recent COMPAS Inc. poll what advice they would give someone finishing an undergraduate degree and thinking of doing an MBA, 66% of the execs recommended getting job experience first. “Experience is the real teacher; post grad is the polish,” said one CEO. “An MBA can be helpful after one has already established a career,” said another. Thirteen per cent recommended just taking the degree, and 8% recommended getting a degree in the same field as their undergraduate program.

The survey found execs think that MBA schools are not effective in developing a student’s interpersonal skills. Results showed non-MBA graduate students ranked 12% higher than MBA graduates when it came to working with people who have more practical experience but less formal education.

“MBA’s learn how to work hard,” said one respondent. “However they may develop bad habits regarding the ability to communicate effectively, and can bring a degree of arrogance to their chosen profession.”

Results between MBA and non-MBA grads differed only slightly in their commitment to hard work, written communication and business ethics, but CEOs ranked business graduates as having 21% more knowledge of finance, and 8% more in marketing and sales.

When it comes to the value of MBA programs, CEOs had varying opinions. “In my experience, MBA degrees are overrated,” said one. “It really boils down to experience and general aptitude/intelligence. As in any other field, some are good and some not so good. The degree does not make the person successful, although unfortunately the doors don’t sometimes open without them.”

One thing they agreed on was that the value of an MBA was considerably more if the student has worked beforehand. “MBA programs are not generally open to candidates without some years of experience,” said another respondent. “If they are, they aren’t good programs.”