Do you have the right personality for the long-term benefits of an MBA?


When considering an MBA it is important to think beyond your short-to-medium term career aspirations, and try to assess whether your personality and skillset are well suited for the opportunities an MBA will provide in the long-run.

Assess your appetite for learning and change

For the same reason an MBA is not suitable for people who have very specific needs (e.g. you want to specialize in digital marketing), it can be an incredibly useful foundation if you expect to have a lot of diversity in your career.  The reality is that many MBAs suffer from a constant desire to learn and a fear of boredom. Not only will the time spent at business school satisfy these needs, it will often allow them to make regular changes throughout their post-MBA career. The generalist and transverse skills that an MBA provides are a perfect platform for future transitions. For this reason the true value of an MBA can sometimes only be assessed 5-10 years after graduation, and is driven much more by the personality and skills of graduates rather than their immediate post-MBA career objectives.  

Of course, there are plenty of other career paths that provide opportunities for learning and change, such as the entrepreneurship path. But in that path the learning will be much more hands-on and “hard skills” driven.

Think carefully about what kind of a leader you want to become 

MBAs are designed to prepare people for leadership positions. Hopefully this is not news for you. But there are plenty of people out there in leadership positions who don’t have an MBA, in particular in the so-called “middle management” roles. 

In another article we will cover some of the corporate drivers for a company to favour MBAs or not in leadership positions (link), but there are also different kinds of leadership positions that are suitable for different personality types. Some people apply for an MBA for career progression when in reality they would be more suitable for a different type of leadership role, that typically does not require an MBABelow are a few examples to illustrate.

MBAs in leadership positions are often required to make transverse, multi-disciplinary decisions that can have a significant impact on the company. These decisions are often based on information that has been prepared by others and on topics that they may have little to no “hands-on” experience. They need to be able to quickly analyze the situation and put it in context with the bigger-picture. They don’t necessarily have the experience to tell if a data point is correct but they can compare it with other data points from other functions or industries. They usually have to interface with various functions of the organisation, for which they rely on their ability to quickly form good working relations with people from various backgrounds. 

In contrast, take another group of leaders, those who have gone up through the ranks within a company or sector, starting off with operational roles and then gradually being promoted to where they are now, without doing an MBA. These leaders also have to make decisions, but they often can use some previous hands on experience in the area. They can tell quickly if a data point is wrong because they did a similar study 5 years ago when they were more junior. They usually know well the people with whom they interact on a daily / weekly basis, since they have been working with them for years or even decades. 

These two examples are polar opposites and there are plenty of hybrid situations in between. The point is to get you to reflect on which kind of leadership you would personally be more comfortable withIf you feel you would be more comfortable in the second position, then maybe you can achieve your ambitions without an MBA. If you are more interested in the first example position, then start applying now!

Here are some questions to help your reflection:

  • How much understanding and experience of a topic do you need before you are comfortable making decisions? Are you ok with high-level syntheses of information or do you like to understand things in depth first?
  • Do you often put your work in context with the bigger picture? Do you like to take into account considerations from other departments, functions or extra-company factors or do you prefer to focus on the immediate considerations of your own department?
  • How comfortable are you with data and lack of it? Do you like to include data in your decisions? If so how complete and validated does it have to be?
  • How good are you at building working relationships with new people? Do you get-on quickly with just about anybody or do you usually need time to build strong relationships with selected people? 

“Do not conclude from this that MBAs are only for extraverts. On the contrary, an introvert who wants to develop a network may find it much easier to build solid ties with people from other backgrounds if they spend 1-2 years studying, working and partying with them.”

Consider how valuable the MBA network would be for you

Schools often talk about the value of their network as a selling point for the MBA, but the truth is that value will vary greatly depending on the graduate. 

If you are in a career path that requires to build up a network of clients in leadership positions, then an MBA can be extremely valuable. For this reason an MBA makes perfect sense for consultants on track to become a partner, for certain finance career paths, or for certain family businesses.

However for general manager type roles, that network is likely to be less valuable. It can be helpful from time to time when you need to develop a new skill or enter a new market, but these are punctual benefits rather than career-long ones.

You should also think about how good you are at creating and maintaining networks. Are you someone who can keep a relationship going for years with someone without having an external reason to re-connect? Or are you someone who struggles to keep contact with people you no longer interact with on a regular basis? Do not conclude from this that MBAs are only for extraverts. On the contrary, an introvert who wants to develop a network may find it much easier to build solid ties with people from other backgrounds if they spend 1-2 years studying, working and partying with them.

Finally, for some people developing the kind of network you get from an MBA is invaluable from a personal perspective. You will build life-long friendships with smart people from all over the world and come out more open-minded and with dozens of potential future stop-off homes dotted around the world!

At mbackstage we do not believe that the personal network is on its own a valid reason to do an MBA, but we do believe that it is one of its greatest assets, and one that is difficult to put a price on.

Read on

This post is part of a series of articles to help you decide on whether you should do an MBA. Take a look at our other posts on the topic:

  • To MBA or not to MBA? – an introduction to the question (link)
  • Does my target company or sector require an MBA? (link).
  • Why many people you’ll speak to in your research will be biased about MBAs (link).