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MBA...the new BA

In today's ultra-competitive job market, job seekers and career-minded executives ready to take that next step must endeavor to stand out from other applicants. Even candidates considering a lateral career move may need to distinguish themselves to avoid taking a step backward in their career. The inability to accentuate attributes, knowledge and skills to a potential employer can stifle even an experienced, educated job seeker and present a significant barrier to career progression.

For example, just two decades ago a 4-year degree was considered prestigious and preeminent, a sure way for the ambitious professional to advance in his/her career path. Yet today, there is a higher percentage of candidates with Bachelor's degrees than ever before. According to a report published by Burning Glass, a considerably broad spectrum of job opportunities including those in management, administration, sales and other fields requires a 4-year degree at many entry level positions. As an example, just 25 percent of people employed as insurance clerks have a Bachelor's degree, yet nearly 50 percent of insurance-clerk job ads require one as of late 2014. Among executive secretaries and executive assistants, 19 percent of job-holders have degrees, but at least 65 percent of job postings mandate them.

These job seekers range from the unemployed who are actively seeking work to those with stable employment who may be considering exploring other options. When hiring managers begin accepting resumes for professional-level positions, the vast majority of candidates possess a Bachelor's degree. In the professional business world, it is commonplace to see resumes that include 4-year degrees in Business Administration, Communications, Marketing, or Accounting.

Higher Education has created the New Standard in Today's Professional Talent Pool

In recent decades, young students have been consistently encouraged to attend college. Many were told by parents that earning a Bachelor's degree was the only way to ensure a promising career path. Apparently, the students of yesterday (and especially today) took the advice seriously. In today's employment market, job posters have responded to an inflated supply of educated candidates by increasing the number of position openings requiring a 4-year degree. Burning Glass refers to this trend as credential inflation, or "upcredentialing". As of last year, their research found that 42% of those in current management positions held a BS/BA degree, but 68% of all active job postings required the degree. For business and financial positions, the figures were 51% and 72%, respectively.

Completing a BA/BS program is no longer a surefire way to separate oneself from the crowd. This has become increasingly evident even for early-career opportunities at the corporate level. Rather, the 4-year degree has become an expectation, perhaps even the standard, to be considered as a serious candidate for most professional / corporate career paths. The BA, which may have formerly separated potential leaders from the mainstream workforce, no longer holds such a prominent status. It has simply become the price of admission for an increasing number of early-career corporate positions.

In order to rise through the executive and managerial ranks with the proper balance of experience and education, more and more professionals are earning MBAs. In some cases, business students opt to remain in school and transition directly from the BA to MBA programs without any lapse in between. While a new MBA grad with little to no work experience might not realize many advantages immediately after graduation, many of today's students realize that earning their MBA will be critical to their long-term success. In the right career path, a young professional with as little as 5 to 7 years of experience and an MBA could find himself/herself on a fast track to a senior position.

Many MBA programs also offer a focus or specialty, enabling students with an affinity for marketing, finance, or economics to specialize in these areas and stand out even further from the crowd within a specific business discipline. According to data from Forbes, early to mid-career level professionals with MBAs earn between $70,000 and $90,000 annually, while those with similar experience and an undergraduate degree in business earn an average salary of about $54,000. This varies greatly based on discipline, as a financial controller with a 4-year degree in finance can earn as much as $88,000.

Is a Doctoral Program the Next Logical Step for Education Qualifications?

Undoubtedly, the MBA represents a new standard of excellence among career-oriented professionals. So, at what point do the educational benefits experience diminishing returns? Does this mean earning a PhD or DBA vaults the job candidate above the level of a candidate with an MBA? Some experts feel that’s not necessarily the case. At times, a PhD or DBA may be construed as excessive in terms of education. In actuality, the difference in value between the MBA and PhD/DBA programs exists in the practicality and purpose of the programs themselves. Doctoral programs, even those in business schools, are geared toward academic study, research, and publishing theory. Most MBA programs teach pragmatic, real-world programs involving teams, strategy, and project management. MBA students pursue new knowledge and capabilities that help them become better and more successful in their business careers.

In contrast, PhD and DBA programs focus on the methodology behind business school curriculum and why business programs teach what they teach. PhD and DBA candidates are prepared to conduct research and contribute to academia, so pursuing these degrees for the sake of enhancing one's resume in the corporate world might not add the desired value. Doctoral programs are designed to challenge seasoned business professionals who want to acquire the qualification as a researcher. In many cases, DBA and PhD candidates have a successful business career behind them and may already possess an MBA or MS, but now wish to complement their knowledge as a practitioner by becoming a scholar. A doctoral degree facilitates the move between the business and the academic world, enabling the recipient to contribute directly to the education of tomorrow's young business professionals. DBAs and PhDs are effectively broadening and extending their capability profile rather than deepening their existing knowledge base.

Recommendations for Success

It is important to note that MBAs and DBAs fulfill different purposes. Many recruiters and hiring professionals will agree that the two are not interchangeable, nor do they represent a hierarchy in the same respect as the MBA and the BA/BS. By obtaining a doctoral degree in business, students are trained to conduct research. In MBA programs, they are given the tools and capacity to become stronger business leaders and managers.

In summary, to those seeking to strengthen their resume and attain the optimal education status, pursuing an MBA could be the most practical choice. As a professional preparing for advancement to management, or simply looking to make a parallel move to a position with better potential, a Master's degree can be a great differentiator in the professional world. Many recruiters and hiring managers would agree that the Master of Business Administration (MBA) now carries the merit and distinction that the 4-year BA once did and that obtaining the right mix of experience along with the MBA is an optimal goal for career advancement. MBA graduates might also consider pursuing industry-specific certifications such as Six Sigma (Black Belt), Certified Property Manager (CPM), or Certified Public Accountant (CPA).

Resources:

"DBA Degree and the MBA: Differences." Difference: DBA Degree and MBA. N.p., n.d. Web. 07 Aug. 2015.

"Credentials Gap - Moving the Goalposts: How Demand for a Bachelor’s Degree Is Reshaping the Workforce." September 2014. Web. 11 Aug. 2015

(http://burning-glass.com/wp-content/uploads/Moving_the_Goalposts.pdf)

"Undergraduate vs. MBA Salary." Seattle Pi. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 Aug. 2015

(http://education.seattlepi.com/undergraduate-vs-mba-salary-2908.html)

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