5 Types of underperformers who get an MBA

Business school applications are due at the beginning of January. Now is the time to withdraw your application.

Because you should not go to business school. If you want to start a company, you should start a company. And if you want to climb the corporate ladder you should do that. An MBA does not help you with either of those goals.

An MBA gets you into middle management. If you’re a strong performer you get into middle management faster by working than you can by taking two years off of work to get an MBA.

If you want to be an entrepreneur then go be one. Entrepreneurship is about being scrappy, cutting corners, and figuring out new ways to do things. If you think you need to go to school for that then it’s a sign that you’re not cut out to do it.

This is not controversial stuff I’m saying here about business school. Yet every year people apply. In most cases the people who go to business school are essentially announcing they are failing in their work.

Here are five types of underperformers who go to business school.

1. People who work with morons.

Did you ever hear the expression “A players work with A players?” The other truism is that A players don’t encourage other A players to get MBAs. If you are a high performer then no boss would encourage you to leave and get an MBA. Because they want to keep working with you. So they’d promote you instead – without the MBA.

If you are due for a promotion and your boss says you need an MBA to move up, your first thought should be “my company sucks.” Because an MBA doesn’t teach you anything you can’t learn on the job or teach yourself as needed. If you absolutely have to get an MBA to move up at your company then get a mail-order MBA from a terrible school that requires very little effort.

And god help you if you’re at a company that is paying for you to get an MBA. That just means you are stagnating and they need to give you a carrot so you don’t leave. If you were not stagnating they’d never want you to spend extra time away from work getting an MBA – they’d want you to spend more time at work and they’d compensate you highly for that.

The bottom line is that people who are doing an amazing job in their career don’t stop to get an MBA.

2. People who can’t count to ten.

The only real reason to go to business school is for networking. And the only networking opportunities that could possibly be worth the price of an MBA are the top ten programs.

These programs are tough to get into because they are sifting. They take only the people who get high GMAT scores and have a work history that displays diligence and strategic focus. So you not only have good people to network with at these schools, but you get a seal of approval that you are likely to continue performing well at work.

So absolutely do not get an MBA from a second-tier school. Look only at the top ten. Maybe there is disagreement about which MBA programs are in the top ten. But if a school is never on any top ten list then it is not top ten. And just because a school is top ten for online sales or whatever crazy irrelevant specialty they have, does not mean it’s a top ten school.

3. People who ruin a good story.

A resume is a story. The best resume writers can rewrite a resume to make it look like you are ready for your dream job. This works because the job that best suits you will naturally arise from your work history even if you have a weird work history.

The story is inextricably ruined if you go to business school to avoid the real world. So, for example, if you take time off to raise kids, you are better off saying that than trying to hide it by saying you took time to get an MBA. Because your career choices do not require an MBA so why would you take time off to get one? You look like a poor decision maker. Whereas there is a logical, respectable reason to take time off to start a family, so you look like an effective planner.

If you get an MBA to make your job hunt easier, you will likely find yourself qualified for the same jobs you were qualified for before the MBA. Which means your resume will show the story of you interrupting your career to get an MBA that did not make a difference in your career. You look like you don’t understand how the business world works.

4. People who can’t close.

In adult life we are all in sales. You have to sell yourself to get a date. You have to sell yourself to get an apartment. You have to sell yourself to get a job.

Most people feel uncomfortable selling themselves. Offering up a value proposition feels slimy, and trying to be a closer when the product is you is nauseating for most people. But that doesn’t mean you should go back to school.

Think of it this way: If you can’t stand trying to convince someone to give you a lease do you go back to school for the grad school housing? If you can’t stand dating do you go back to school and hope there’s a visiting professor who dates students?


So why would you go to grad school because you hate job hunting? It’ll be the same when you graduate. You’ll still have to sell yourself. The school won’t sell you – you’ll still have to sell yourself. Nothing changes except that you are older and you have more school loans.

5. People who are uncoachable.

No one with success in business will tell you that you need to get an MBA. If you are competent at work then during the two years of school you can move up in ranks to wherever you’d have theoretically been after graduation.

Coachable people listen to other top performers. Uncoachable people cannot get a top performer to talk with them, so they sort through bad advice.

The advice you read online about business schools is from sites that have business schools advertising. For example, executive MBA programs are geared toward people who are mid-career and panicking that they are not going to make as much money as they thought they were. The executive MBA gives these mid-career professionals a way to believe they can do something to change their career trajectory.

Of course you cannot. Wherever you are at 40 is where you will be. Which means getting to the top in a career is a race, and you probably don’t have time to screw around in am MBA program. If you want a shortcut to getting ahead, skip the MBA and just go to Graduate Monkey to learn how to ace the aptitude tests that employers most often give.

The New York Times points out that MBA programs struggle so much to stay relevant that they now teach current events like kneeling football players and predator film producers under the guise of business ethics. And this is the problem with all of the MBA curriculum: intelligent business conversation is not exclusive to business school professors, and may actually be in spite of them.

If you think you’ll be really good in the business world, the first test is if you can you get a good job without an MBA. If you can’t do that, you don’t have the stomach for the competitive environment.

And if you think you won’t have deep conversations about business ethics without paying money to do it, then buy a subscription to the New York Times. It’s a lot cheaper than business school.

60 replies
  1. James S.
    James S. says:

    I got my MBA as part of a graduate program that prepared people who did not have an undergraduate degree is business-related subjects (I was an English major) to sit for the CPA exam. It was also kind of a reboot for me, as I transitioned genders during the early part of my professional life.

    I think doing the program did help me get a job with a public accounting firm, which I don’t think I would have been able to get with my English degree and years spent in retail. It was a short 18 month program with a paid internship, so time spent out of the work force was minimal. I also liked being back in class, which I understand already marks me as less than wise in the Penelope Trunk world.

    I have read your blog for years (years before I started my MBA) and have never felt compelled to comment on a post. And this is not the first post I have found fundamentally insulting in some way, especially given the number of posts which hinge on gender dichotomies that, as a trans person, I can find a bit tired.

    I appreciated the guidance provided by a structured MBA program like the one I attended. While it would be ideal to be the relentless entrepreneur often portrayed in this blog, I think it is also okay to realize that we will not all be that. Underperformer? Perhaps. Human? Definitely.

    • Write My Coursework For Me
      Write My Coursework For Me says:

      Business college applications are expected toward the start of January. Right now is an ideal opportunity to pull back your application. Since you ought not go to business college. On the off chance that you need to begin an organization, you should begin an organization. What’s more, on the off chance that you need to climb the company pecking order you ought. A MBA does not help you with both of those objectives.

  2. I’m good, thanks.
    I’m good, thanks. says:

    I agree with the previous poster.

    My 33-year-0ld son has a great job as a heavy civil engineer in San Francisco. He chose to go to Cal-Berkeley for his MBA at night so that is a three-year program. He’ll graduate this May. He is still working while getting this degree—a concept you don’t seem to know about.

    He already has a Master’s from Stanford in Civil Engineering.

    He seems to be performing quite well at work getting promotions (next is VP), and doing interesting work around the world.

    More importantly he has a full life skiing with friends; doing triathons; dating a fantastic young lady; attending concerts, museums, and theatre.

    Plus, he just bought his gorgeous condo for 1.68 million in cash. My husband and I couldn’t afford that, and we are pretty well off.

    These kinds of sweeping judgemental statements you write are ridiculous. Do you have any experience getting an advanced degree while working? It is totally different than what you are writing about.

    I’m a college dropout, but I did homeschool my children and they turned out pretty well. The other is a law prof specializing in white collar crime after practicing for about six years.

    My husband has a Ph.D. I worked at a grocery store to help pay for his tuition (what the scholarships didn’t cover), and I’m very proud of my contribution to the success of my family and myself. My personal growth has been a wonderful experience where I don’t try to tear people down for their decisions.

    Life is full of decisions. If your decisions work—OK, but the decisions you have made would be totally wrong for me. I’d be very unhappy in your situation and with the life decisions you have made.

    I don’t stereotype people.

    • jessica
      jessica says:

      Getting an MBA is waste for a lot of people. It doesn’t look like it’s a waste for your son. Your husband and yourself made great decisions, and it also looks like your kids are following in your path and doing better (as they should be!).

      I know many people getting MBA’s outside of work, but it is with strict purpose (to go from VP to global controller, to join the executive team on a public company (where credentials matter), etc. Your son, in his quest to attain VP or qualify for VP at another org has understood he needs his MBA in comparison to other candidates. I’d say that is the case for most engineers moving into corporate management. So, your son is getting it with purpose. That is the difference Penelope is talking about. An MBA on its own won’t solve much.

      I agree with P that a top 10 school makes the most sense, and the network really has more to do with socioeconomic status. I know a billionaire that went back for his exec MBA, because although he was a successful entrepreneur he recognized he lacked math skills. These types are exceptions, though.

      • Leslie
        Leslie says:

        If this billionaire lacked math skills maybe those are overrated. After all, he is a billionaire–but of course that might not be enough for him, as new goals appear more interesting. Maybe he has a burning desire to solve quadratic equations. He could probably learn about those at Khan Academy which is free.

  3. Bonnie
    Bonnie says:

    Dear P,
    I’m a Long time reader, first time poster. This article is so on the money!!! You have such insight and I applaud your brave stance in telling the truth. I have a crazy resume, and a couple years ago got an amazing dream job that I am not qualified for on paper but I got it by having the grit and “sell-yourself” skills that you have described. To date I am still succeeding at it!! But I always wondered if getting my MBA would have helped or still help me go further and you have completely confirmed that it would have been/still would be a waste of time. So thank you for all the time and money your post saved me by affirming my choice. I also think that your Aspberger’s plays a huge role in making you so successful- and I find that so beautiful and hopeful for everyone that deals with similar diagnoses (which many of my close people do).
    – First time poster, devoted follower

  4. Jay
    Jay says:

    I think your commentary is accurate for those opting to get an MBA full time outside of the workforce. However there are a multitude of folks going to school on weekends and at night while working. Those types, I suspect are demonstrating traits that employers desire – going to extra effort.

    Another take would be that not everyone has to “eat what they kill” so to speak. The types of organizations that are larger and have jobs that are somewhat insulated from acute cash flow swings (large utilities, multinationals, defense contractors, etc) value (meaning they can be promoted( those who bring financial knowledge to technical or niche positions within the organization.

    Business school (online or in person) still exposes a person to a wide variety of subjects you don’t come across in the workplace except occasionally.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Going the extra mile with no purpose is of no use to companies. So if you want to go the extra mile just do more work at your job. You can learn to do the job above you by doing it for free and then get promoted and that will get you moving up the ladder faster, for less money, than going to business school.

      Going to business school is never a way to prove yourself because there is always a way to prove yourself where you don’t have to pay money. It’s very difficult to pay money to learn and not look like a chump when so many other people can learn that stuff without having to pay money.


  5. Angela Guido
    Angela Guido says:

    I just love you, Penelope. And I love this article. I am going to share it with all of my clients. As someone who has an MBA who works almost exclusively with other MBAs and MBA hopefuls, I wanted to add a few more types of underperformers to the list:

    1. People who need the confidence and credibility booster
    Sometimes even people who work really fricking hard, take pride in what they do, and make every effort to grow and advance need a little outside validation (the stamp, as you call it) that they can hang professionally at a certain level. The MBA gives you that, and – in my case, at least – it was worth every penny because it was the most expeditious way for me to take myself more seriously. Just the committed act of making that huge investment in oneself (separate from all the great learning of the program) changes a person forever. For the better.

    2. People who goofed off a little in college and just studied philosophy
    Liberal arts majors who want to achieve big success in the business world really benefit from an MBA. And actually so do STEM majors. It gives them more confidence and credibility, related to the above, but it also teaches them the Language of Business. The MBA is an immersion in how to think and act strategically in a business environment. Sure, you can cobble together a reading list that will get you a bit smarter on this front, but there is no substitute for immersion when you are learning a new language. It would have taken me 10 years reading on my own to really learn how business works, and in truth, I might never have known when to stop. I mean, how do you learn accounting without a teacher? The structure of the MBA circumscribes the business world and makes it more knowable.

    3. People who want to be awesome middle managers
    There just isn’t that much room at the very top, and most people wouldn’t really want that job anyway. You don’t flatter middle management with your post, but middle management makes the world go ‘round. They take the heat from the incompetent people at the top and empower the people at the bottom. I personally kind of think middle managers are heroes, and if the MBA helps someone do that well, then it’s a worthy investment. Not just for them, but for every life they will touch as a leader in the middle. It’s the hardest and noblest place to be.

    4. People who are NFs and want to ST it up
    Speaking as an INFP, I just never could have survived in the business world without some ST training that I got handed to me in humongous doses in the MBA.

    5. People who want to work at specific elite firms that didn’t get those jobs coming out of college and are aware that the MBA is the only other access point.
    I am talking about places like BCG, Goldman Sachs, Advent, McKinsey, TPG, Morgan Stanley, even the Amazons and the Apples with increasing frequency. People may argue that one should never work at such firms, but people who have worked at them for even a short stint will never be among those making such an argument.

    6. People who just love to nerd out on stuff like econometrics, Human Capital, and competitive strategy and want to study with the great minds of our time.
    Is there any better use of money than on learning? The MBA is just one particular case of such an investment. For me, this aspect alone was worth it. Especially if you go to Chicago Booth like I did, you’ll have the chance to study with the world’s great thought leaders in their fields. There is little that is quite so precious as a great teacher. Right, Penelope? (Penelope was my official blogging coach for a while – if you are working on a subject that she teaches, study with her. It’s amazing.) I took classes with 3 Nobel Laureates during my MBA. #worthit

    One more thing
    You make awesome and valid points in this article. I refute none of them. For your readers who are contemplating an MBA, I’d like to add one more thing, though. It’s useful to notice that the “Get an MBA”/“Don’t Get an MBA” dichotomy is being propagated along experiential lines. Those who have one, say get one. Those who don’t, say don’t. This is purely a function of human nature and the Consistency Principle – an anomaly of behavioral decision-making that you will study in business school. If you want to skip the MBA, just read Influence by Robert Cialdini. We can’t help but justify our own decisions after the fact and presume that what we did is also what everyone else should do. That means that if you’re trying to make this decision yourself, you can’t really trust anyone’s advice. Penelope doesn’t have an MBA, and she says don’t get one. I do have an MBA, and I say that some of you probably should.

    If you are considering getting an MBA yourself, how can you possibly make sense of so much conflicting advice?

    Here is what I would suggest: You can’t really go wrong, but you need to trust yourself. If you read this article, and all the incredibly valid points that Penelope makes, and you still WANT an MBA and think it’s for you, then give it to yourself. Life is going to work out for you either way. Let yourself have what you really want. Life is too short to do otherwise.

    • Abbie
      Abbie says:

      This is so perfect, Angela.

      Cheers to middle management–I love my family and my life outside of work, so my “quit and stay” is to aim for middle management. Great pay, less stress, more balance. The MBA I got when I was 23 (before marriage or kids, which my company paid for straight out of the recession) is a terminal degree for my field. Checking that box was great for me. If you’re embedded in a town you love and you’re not leaving, the MBA program there is going to connect you with valuable people in your community–I’m not interested in networking in NYC or Chicago since I’m not going to move there.

      Plus, it was fun and challenging and my company paid for it, so what the hell? Why leave tuition reimbursement money on the table?

    • Underpeformer
      Underpeformer says:

      I was not going to comment on this post because I am an underperformer myself and I haven’t bounced back from realizing it, so it feels slow to me to write about this. But this comment is too much. Sorry for taking it personally.
      People who are NF’s might not know what they want yet when they are getting an MBA. NF’s (and especially INFPs) might do this because they want to be liked and liked might be following the rules of parents in search of love (and later on realize this trade never works) or do something that makes them feel they are ready for the world because they already feel displaced, disconnected and unprepared.
      MBA = preparation and security. It is not. NF’s do not turn ST. An hour as an ST could be draining if they don’t love something.
      People at companies behave like atoms. The stronger ones, stay. The weird, passive and too full of themselves (infps) are expelled by the company culture.
      Maybe you liked doing the MBA because you sat in a chair and listened to people talk. I love that. I can do that for free. If I got paid, it would be a perfect job. You only mention the experience at the MBA. What about your working experience after that? Did you see any changes on how you behave at an office?
      MBA’s are just like Instagram pictures. Pose and tag people.

      • Angela Guido
        Angela Guido says:

        Hey Underperformer!! I DID see a change in how I behaved at the office. I was able to build complicated excel models, make logical and persuasive arguments based on tangible facts, seek and use data to prove hypotheses, and do accounting. :O Even though none of this stuff came naturally to me, I found the challenge of learning it exhilarating, and it made me a more well-rounded person.

        Before that, I was an English teacher. I knew what I wanted when I got the MBA – I had a sense of purpose when I started. I would say that going into the MBA without that is not the best idea because – as you say – it is definitely not preparation or security.

        But knowing what I wanted going in didn’t prohibit me from making a lot of mistakes afterwards and underperforming in jobs I wasn’t suited for (nor found fulfillment in). But I also believe that the process of discovering who we are meant to be is necessarily one of trial and error and we shouldn’t be afraid to suck at stuff because that’s how we learn what we love.

        Fortunately, since I was weird and too full of myself, I eventually popped out of corporate culture :) and started my own business where I listen to people talk and get paid to do it. I am not even kidding. Listening to people talk about themselves is the biggest part of my job as a career coach. The MBA didn’t change my nature – but it did give me new pathways to leverage my nature to find more meaning and impact in my career. So, I can at least conclude that for the unique and specific type of underperformer I am, the MBA was just the thing.

    • thatgirl
      thatgirl says:

      Brava, Angela! This is a very thoughtful response.

      My brother went to Booth 19 years into his (Chicago-based) career, and it was a complete game changer for him, his career and his family. This owes not simply to a salary almost double what he’d been making, but a new milieu of confreres with whom he didn’t or wouldn’t necessarily work following graduation. And that last point is imperative when one finds themselves rooted in a work environment where there’s no time or comfort talking about career growth in an objective manner; i.e., managing one’s career beyond their current environment.

      And it wasn’t the salary bump that made his family life better–it was in working with a far more collaborative, personally-vested project group at Booth that provided him the means of understanding the one at his employer was less-than-optimal. He developed a stronger empathy for each role within a given team, and more than one of us noticed how that translated to dissolving some birth order barriers in the family, which is typical for a Type-A first child. There’s something to behold in someone who is actively pinching themselves over the opportunity to learn and grow among a few Nobel laureates.

      No–an MBA isn’t for everyone, but hats off for providing some nuance for those who believe it could prove key to their professional development!

  6. BMac
    BMac says:

    I’m in a MBA program, but my choice is to play the ‘game’ better.

    I work for the government where my goal is to work as little as possible, while furthering my career within government.

    I mean I’ll grind out a productive 8-4pm (1 hour for lunch please) but that’s all I’m willing to give. Family, friends and being active is what I value most. I want a sustainable high paying job which I can do for 30+ years.

    Also, I’m planning to teach on the side for the love of learning. Another reason why an MBA helps me play the game better.

    • Jim C.
      Jim C. says:

      Maybe you’re right. I worked in State government (as a scientist in a regulatory agency) for awhile. I found it extremely frustrating, because caring about your work and being a dedicated professional is not only unrewarded — it is downright discouraged. I found that if you allow yourself to care what happens it will break your heart. I had to get out for the sake of my sanity. A lot of people I worked with reached the same conclusion and bailed. Others put it on cruise control and did the minimum, counting on that defined-benefit pension after 25 or 30 years.
      As you point out, you don’t care, so the government job suits you.

  7. YesMyKidsAreSocialized
    YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

    My husband’s company is paying for his MBA. The company clearly values continuing education while working as they offer thousands of classes and workshops year round on site. They are not out of the norm for their size and niche.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      I think different perks are focused on different people. And I don’t think people who are rising up in the company really fast are taking time out to get an MBA. I think it’s too costly for the company in terms of losing the person’s focus. If you are getting an MBA that is time taken away from thinking about company issues. And the most important people to the company are getting paid to think. And people think about work all day if they are great at work.

      Which is to say that I never see people who have a really hot career taking time to go to business school. I only see people who are stuck doing that. And I think a lot of those education perks are geared toward people who are stuck. How else can the company retain that person if there is no where on the ladder for them to go?


        • thatgirl
          thatgirl says:

          I actually know two people who chose to take a leave to pursue their MBAs full-time, and on their own dime. One went to Kellogg, the other to the Booth School. Both were in management consulting, and while they loved their jobs and trajectories within those companies, they both saw the possibility of what they might want beyond that company–and the possibility of pursuing something far more entrepreneurial. Both saw their MBA programs as providing tools they could develop in a more objective environment.

          Neither regret the experience. It provided them the choice to either stay or walk away from an employer to whom they didn’t “owe” in service to the company. Both have what they say are far more interesting careers as a result, believing that the investment in self paid off both practically and in net impressions about them. They also both serve on boards of directors for other organizations now.

          A “hot career” is in the eye of the beholder; those I knew who did take time off to get their MBAs did so walking away from companies who were promising them the partner-track opportunities for which they hankered. But their companies wanted them to pursue the MBA on the company dime, while they continued to work. Both people thought that would subtract from both their work and school performance. As someone who worked while pursuing her undergrad degree, I absolutely agree with the sentiment.

  8. Happy with my MBA
    Happy with my MBA says:

    I’d like to add that t people need to do their homework before embarking on any advanced study project, but it isn’t always a bad choice.

    I got an MBA from a top school in my country of origin while trying to break in as a consultant after engineering school. I had the money to pay for it (much cheaper than what it costs in the U.S.) and it was totally worth it: my colleagues became consulting clients; I wrote a book using knowledge from the MBA that was published by a mainstream editor in my country and not only generated more consulting gigs but allowed me to get an O-1 visa (alien of extraordinary ability) to come work in the U.S.

    I am now a U.S. permanent resident who owns a boutique consulting firm that also offers subscription-based software. With just my engineering degree I wouldn’t have achieved the level of credibility and 3-digit hourly fee that I command today.

    I have American colleagues also from the engineering field whose employers paid them to get an MBA from a good school studying part time in parallel with work, and for them the MBA also helped with the pursuit of new opportunities.

  9. OR Kwape
    OR Kwape says:

    Did my MBA and it really helped me get into the job I am in. I am a hard worker and want to learn so much more. I am.currently pursuing Strategy and Innovation at Oxford and managed to be made an Executive responsible for Strategy and Innovation. You can never go wrong studying. It really made me had confidence in my work, work smarter and appreciate many business disciplines. Trust me, many employers would select you partly because you have an MBA from a reputable institution. Go for it.

  10. Maria Killam
    Maria Killam says:

    Best advice:

    If you want to be an entrepreneur then go be one. Entrepreneurship is about being scrappy, cutting corners, and figuring out new ways to do things. If you think you need to go to school for that then it’s a sign that you’re not cut out to do it.

    More people should read your blog Penelope because it’s a shortcut for job hunting/planning! But you have to be awake in order to even hear a lot of what you say!

    Great post, as usual!

  11. In MBA dichotomy
    In MBA dichotomy says:

    Penelope, Not everyone falls into the categories you describe. I am still not convinced an MBA is a bad idea for me.

    I just got myself a senior level job on the career line that I want to embark on – product management – at a reputed large tech – without prior product experience. I had multiple offers too. I am only looking at Top 10 programs. Noone is forcing me to get one. My company is not paying for it. And I’m planning to do it part-time. I started and ran (somewhat) successful companies before. I’ve been a better-than-average or top performer in most of my previous jobs.

    I am planning to get it because:
    1) I want to build a better network especially in the Bay Area which is where I want to be in my next job.
    2) I want the Top B-School brand to help get to a top tech or Director/VP levels at current/other firm in 5 years and C-level positions in the future.

    Do you still feel an exec MBA is not a good idea for me?

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      These questions blow my mind. Have you ever talked to anyone in the Bay Area who has respect for an executive MBA? I can’t think of a place in the country that has less respect for this the executive MBA than the Bay Area.

      Do you research, people. If you are getting an MBA to reach a certain goal, find the people who are the gatekeepers of that goal and ask them if the MBA is going to help.


      • Deadhedge
        Deadhedge says:

        Penelope, anyone who has an MBA and a decent self esteem respects the School and doesn’t dismiss an executive MBA. Yes even in the Bay Area where both Wharton, Haas, even UC Irvine and other programs that I missed.

        Yes we all know that an executive MBA is different and has a higher acceptance rate but we also all know it’s the same program just different life stage.

        Life is too short to be a hater. You made decent points before but with that one, you are just promoting a sterotype from other haters.

        Well decent points except the naive assumption that hard work will lead to a promotion. Companies will milk that hard work for as long as they can until they are afraid of losing you to maybe an MBA program. That MBA program also helps play the corporate game such as promotions. In anticipation of your response of going to a competitor company if you don’t get promoted is that you will just get milked by them too.

        You haven’t worked in corporate America for a long time, Penelope, so do you really know how the game is played? You can hate the game of corporate America but don’t hate the players.

        Someone with a top 10 MBA who used it to switch from social work to business about 15 years ago.

  12. L
    L says:

    I’ve followed this blog on and off for a number of years and always found the author (Penelope)to be somewhat condescending in their writing style. This post is no different and I think borders on irresponsible.

    I think a blogger is obviously entitled to their opinion but to be blog based on giving advice and writing a piece that is one-sided I think is not fair to readers. An MBA is not for everyone but to blatantly put people down for getting one is arrogant.

    Yes, I do have an MBA. Obviously you do not need one to start a business, as I had a six figure business before I decided to get one but it was a decision to expand my knowledge in a certain way. I don’t think it’s a good idea to get one unless you haveva very solid plan to pay it back and I don’t think it’s necessary or a good idea for everyone but I’d never put someone down for making a decision to further their education.

    I realize the author probably supports people in bettering themselves over all but I’m really tired of people that don’t have MBAs putting down people that do. Why don’t you write a piece on how to best utilize one’s business school education and let’s help each other out instead of tearing people down.

  13. Marcus Grimm
    Marcus Grimm says:

    I mostly agree with the post. Not entirely, as there are a handful of huge companies in my area that all required MBAs if I was going to climb their particular ladder.

    This confirmed that I needed to look for other ladders, so I did.

    It’s a shame those companies are wired that way, but some still are.

    Never regretted not getting the MBA, either. For me, it was a sign that their value systems didn’t line up with my own.

  14. Joanne Ooi Bleach
    Joanne Ooi Bleach says:

    I’m such a huge fan of this post! I have a law degree and BA from an Ivy League university. And none of that mattered compared to just getting out there and doing it. And falling on my face. And getting up and doing it again… We need more people like you, telling it like it is. This is the first post I ever read on your blog. And I can already tell that I’ll love everything else you’ve written.

  15. Jennifer
    Jennifer says:

    I wonder if CPA’s are the exception to the rule. About 15 years ago it became mandatory to earn 150 credit hours to sit for the CPA exam. Most people achieve this by getting an undergrad in accounting and an MBA, and then going to work for a public accounting firm after college.

    What’s interesting about this to me is that a Big 4 public accounting firm would not hire somebody who didn’t have the credentials to take the CPA exam. But, a Big 4 public accounting firm also wouldn’t pay for an employee to get an MBA after hiring him/her because they realize it does not add any value to the employee’s skills and on-the-job experience is more beneficial.

    I earned 150 credit hours during my 4 year undergrad program. In hindsight, I wish I would have completed my undergrad in 3 years and gotten an MBA in my 4th year so that I could teach college courses.

  16. W. Stanton Smith
    W. Stanton Smith says:

    Penelope is over the target and consequently receiving incoming fire: 1) The 5 beliefs spelled out in her post are held by the vast majority of entrepreneurial types I encountered in my over 36 years in line and executive roles in that most competitive of environments, New York City; and 2) these business leaders believe that anything you need to know can be learned on the job where you receive real time feedback on results of your efforts…they wonder why you view a controlled, academic setting as the preferable place to learn what’s on the cutting edge…why can’t you find books or articles that can “up your game” on your own time while still working? They may draw a conclusion that you are risk averse or not completely committed to your job or just a nice person who doesn’t have the killer instinct to close the deal…perhaps you are just too polite to “tell another that his/her coat is on fire” i.e. is unwilling to speak up when you really need to about “unpleasant things”.
    Does the above sound unfair, extreme or even offensive to you? If it does, put yourself in the shoes of these decision makers who work in an unforgiving business environment. The top of the house is looking for individuals on whom they can rely to invest all their talents in the fight for business success. In my experience, my two degrees from prestigious schools were actually viewed with suspicion until I demonstrated the “all out” drive and mental toughness (killer instinct) to learn entirely “new- to-me” areas in real time while managing many people and programs and while hitting agreed upon, highly visible metrics. When you become someone they can implicitly trust as the organization goes into market battle, you will advance regardless of the flatter organizational designs of the day. What degrees you have will only be a curiosity at best.
    There will always be situations where, after careful consideration of individual circumstances, investing in a business-related graduate degree may make sense. For example, specialty Masters Degrees may make sense if you are changing career directions. An example is getting a Master of Science in Accounting when you have a liberal arts degree as it qualifies you to be able to take the CPA Exam and opens a career door previously inaccessible to you.
    One final thought…Penelope has done a service to those considering an MBA. She has drawn back the curtain to reveal the belief environment that awaits anyone who seeks to advance in business regardless of degree. Having this knowledge should lead to a more informed judgement about the risk/reward calculation re: getting an MBA.

    • Mark W.
      Mark W. says:

      This comment by Mr. Smith is my favorite. I don’t have the experience first hand but it intuitively seems very accurate to me.
      Penelope, I like this quote for your post – “A book can teach you, a conversation can assure you, a poem can seduce you, a genius can inspire you but only you can save yourself.”

      ― Anthony Anaxagorou

  17. A
    A says:

    I agree with some points of this post and disagree with others. I have a BS in Engineering, a JD, and graduated with an MBA in May 2017. My company paid. I didn’t attend a top 10 school (I think top 20 when I was accepted). I went part time while I worked.
    So here’s the thing. I was a Director when I started, a Director when I ended, and was just promoted to VP/General Counsel. Would it have happened if I hadn’t gotten the MBA? Probably yes. But having the MBA makes me feel more confident about the things I didn’t learn in law school and the things I didn’t learn while practicing law, and my company definitely viewed it as me being proactive and wanting to further my education when I asked if I could go.
    I have no regrets about getting the degree, and I find Penelope’s “never get an MBA” position too black and white for a grey-scale world.

  18. Nid to the Mid
    Nid to the Mid says:

    I’m considering an MBA for non of the reasons listed above. I’ve decided that my priority is my family (specifically my child). I’ve found a well-paying job with great family friendly hours that I am going to stay at while my little guy is young (and probably not so young). I’m bored, but not wanting to disrupt the benefits I have, am debating an MBA to fill time.

  19. Johno
    Johno says:

    when I find myself researching mba programs I know it’s time to like, reach out to a friend for help.

    I try to Remember there is always another way out. Considering an mba? Consider overeating, gently abusing drugs and alcohol, or other lowcost ways of compounding troubles.

  20. jessica
    jessica says:

    Wow, people are taking this discussion very personally!

    Most, key word most, people that read Penelope’s blog should not get their MBA.

    She is right to state this.

  21. Axxr
    Axxr says:

    Keep it up, Penelope.

    I quit my life as a professor and academic once I started to realize that I felt guilty about most of my students even being there, and doubly guilty about writing glowing grad school recommendations to send the best and brightest off to have their lights hidden under a bushel until such time as other professors like mysel could finally extinguish them for a hefty fee and huge opportunity cost to boot.

    You tell hard truths, and that’s what makes you valuable to the world.

  22. Marilyn Carr
    Marilyn Carr says:

    I agree that MBAs are generally irrelevant because anyone can get one now by spending $60 grand. I finished my MBA in 1985 from a top 10 school, ironically the year they started offering ‘executive MBAs’ which we all though were a complete joke (and I still think they are). No one will pay you more for an MBA or promote you sooner because of an MBA these days because they are a dime a dozen. I once interviewed a prospective employee who informed me he ‘needed’ to make $140K per year because he had to pay back his MBA debt. Needless to say I did not hire him. I also had an employee who constantly told me how valuable he was because he was taking and exec MBA. He failed to meet every single one of his sales quotas.

  23. Kristen
    Kristen says:

    I don’t completely agree. I understand the issues with getting stuck and then pursuing an MBA out of desperation, but I think it can be a good tool to differentiate from other high performers early on if it’s paid for by the company and doesn’t require time off. I work in financial services, at a large bank, and not one of the executives at the firm is without an MBA.

  24. nisha gupta
    nisha gupta says:

    Simply wish to say your article is as as tounding. The clearness in your post is just great and i can assume you’re an expert on this subject. Fine with your permission let me to grab your feed to keep updated with forthcoming post. Thanks a million and please carry on the rewarding work.

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    Linda Smith says:

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  26. EA
    EA says:

    Dear P., I enjoy most of your blogs, I am a first time poster as well. I got MBA and one more graduate degree in the U.S. because I was an immigrant. In addition to language skills, knowledge base, credibility, the graduate degrees gave me confidence in job search. There are lots of foreigners in graduate programs. Thank you so much for all the insights with your blogs.

  27. Maria
    Maria says:

    I Did an MBA from the top 15 when I was 26. I made great friends and a network that I still have and use for my personal and professional life, I gained confidence, it helped me to get a well paid job in the field I wanted and it also pushed me to my limits in terms of all the stuff I was supposed to get done in a limited time, which helped me to set and manage priorities and stress. All in all a good experience. I enjoyed and it has served me well.

  28. Christopher Chantrill
    Christopher Chantrill says:

    If you are “mad, bad, and dangerous to know” like PT then an MBA is stupid.

    But if you are a Good Little Boy or Good Little Girl then you need to present yourself to the Parents of the world in the right way. Plus, business has developed a culture of How To Do It in the last 200 years and most of us need to go through its basic training.

    Of course, if you get an MPA then you will doubtless end up completely ready to join the Circumlocution Office and know exactly How Not To Do It.

    I used to work with a woman in marketing that got an MBA. She was, of course, an unreflecting person, but was amazed when she took Economics as part of her MBA. Who knew?

  29. Avnish John
    Avnish John says:

    When students are looking for a management degree every b-schools have a lot to tell them… about their achievements, facilities, placements, industrial visits, alumni, mentors, faculty, clubs etc.
    and EMPI B-School one such college has it all. When a student visits the campus or talks to the admission counsellor they get to know how the above mention things will add value in next 2 years.

  30. Misha
    Misha says:

    Amazing read! I totally agree with you! Even though there might be some aspects that you can earn from a business MBA, but straight up working experience in something that you are interested in is always better! Great and an interesting read and a perspective!

  31. Aleksandra Reszotnik
    Aleksandra Reszotnik says:

    Truth to be told, an actual experience is 90% always worth more than any kind of schooling. Especially while one take a full-time, expensive course that usually is very hard to afford without any kind of support – be it parental, spousal or any other. Such a person seems to have a problem with handling life responsibly.

    Yet, I would not dismiss MBA in such a harsh manner. People from abroad can vastly benefit from the opportunity of getting a grasp of knowledge, actual skill and new set of professional contacts. Others would want to develop their theoretical knowledge and – in the future – actually benefit from it while starting their own business.

    I personally do not own a MBA degree, but would like to get one one day – just out of pure curiosity about this field. Still, I wouldn’t get one in a full-time course – I also consider it a total waste of time.

  32. Jon
    Jon says:

    Good points – feelings I have often felt myself. However, the fact that you say MBAs are for middle management raises the point of the qualifications of the middle managers who would be doing the promoting. Granted, it all comes down to individual circumstances, but I can think of multiple instances in my time working where there were middle managers and a tier up who had MBAs and were convinced they were needed to get where they are in order to justify having gotten it. Doesn’t this bias those managers toward expecting the same from anyone they would promote? Do you look elsewhere then, do you push back on them, or do you go above them to try to advance?

  33. Chris MacDonald
    Chris MacDonald says:

    The “Here are 5 types of underperformers…” bit is not convincing.

    For pretty much any activity, you can name “5 types” of losers who do it. The fact that I can name “5 types of underperformers who turn to blogging” doesn’t mean that blogging isn’t a good idea, does it? Of course not. Many people (including both you and me) have built up significant audiences through blogging. If we’re thinking critically, we need to look not just at the worst-case scenarios but at a few happier ones too. An MBA for example can be a great way to perform a career pivot, or to break out of a stereotype (“he’s just an engineer”) or to break through a ceiling. Not for everyone, but for some. So, let’s name those types, too.

    Anyway, either way, anecdotes aren’t very a good substitute for data, especially when it comes to broad generalizations. (There are people who have actually measured the ROI for an MBA. Most, though not all, have a positive ROI. Some have a very very positive ROI.)

  34. Mario Viana Silva
    Mario Viana Silva says:

    Often we want to put the blame on the tools, and say that they do not work.

    This is true only for those who like to make excuses and do not want to see where the error lies.

    Selling in the business world is like breathing, or you learn to do it right or you die, simple as that!

  35. Alissa
    Alissa says:

    CNBC posted this article today: https://www.cnbc.com/2018/02/02/10-year-study-finds-that-this-is-the-fastest-way-to-become-a-ceo.html

    A ten-year study shows that “the people who became CEOs the fastest did not have MBAs from Ivy League schools and they weren’t long-time employees with squeaky clean track records.” This is exactly what Penelope has already said in her blog, over and over again. I’m always surprised how many people still think they need to “work their way to the top” or earn advanced degrees in order to move up. Work hard (but don’t be the hardest worker), learn on the job, and grow your career by making bold moves. That’s it.

  36. FemaleENTP
    FemaleENTP says:

    I would argue that the kind of person applying to a good quality MBA program is anything but an underachiever. The reasoning for this article only makes sense if you start with a narrow definition of achievement.

    The people here hating on others considering an MBA are amusing. Relax, geez. Like any other graduate degree it’s a tool can get you from Point A to Point B faster. Sometimes it’s used effectively and sometimes not.

    I applaud people who invest in themselves. If you’re considering an MBA and reading this, don’t listen to the haters or this article. Do your own research, define your return on investment (ROI), and chose what’s best for YOU.

    I was told by lots of people not to get a master’s degree. I’m so glad I didn’t listen. I made my degree work for *me*. The result? A post-graduation salary x2 my previous one (with room for growth) and in a kickass career.

    -An ENTP

  37. Ginger
    Ginger says:

    I’m with PT on this one.
    That doesn’t mean that further education can’t help. If you’re missing specific skills -writing, speaking, statistics, programming, design, accounting, planning, …- you need but don’t have you can and should work on improving them. Happily that can often be done with less expense and time than getting a full-on degree.

  38. Maria
    Maria says:

    If someone’s really a genius, they don’t need an education past what the law requires. Generally college and grad schools are a way to show companies you can color inside the lines, follow the rules, etc.

    That said, I have a social science BA (top-tier uni) and an MBA (middle-tier uni) I earned later part-time, partially paid by my employer. My intention was a career switch. I don’t regret it, as I do make much more money than I did before I started the program, made some good connections and gained much confidence from it. Halfway through, I thought I wish I just religiously read the Financial Times instead … Nonetheless, I’m better off having done the program.

    However, the cost of the program skyrocketed after I left. All these grad programs, especially the online only ones — hybrid, I understand the purpose, since that’s how the world works now — are such a sham.

    Ultimately I’m just a person who wanted to learn more about business and get some tools to advance. I receive those things with not much financial stress. If it signals that I’m an underperformer, so be it, but my employers have appreciated the effort. Now, perhaps they are dumb employers, but hey, I pay my bills and enjoy my current job. Life could be worse. Much worse.

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