26 April 2015 11:44:47 IST

What will an MBA do for you?

"What do you think? Should I do an MBA?" That's a question I get asked often, usually after a long recitation of my questioner's credentials and background. Three years after graduating from the Indian School Of Business, I find myself struggling to answer that question without a weary sigh. My usual answer is "What do you really expect an MBA will do for you?"

I find the replies to that tend to be more often bemusing than incisive. The general impression seems to be that an MBA program is like the philosopher's stone, transmuting any substance into pure gold. This seems to be a mystique perpetuated by the schools themselves, which vie with each other to market the vaunted salaries and profiles some of their students achieve after graduation.

Force multiplier

I try to refute ideas of such mythical post-MBA grandeur in the people I counsel. The MBA is not something transformative or revolutionizing, but rather a force multiplier. In effect, what you bring to the MBA will determine what you get out of it.

Here's my take : An MBA gives you the language and the awareness required to understand business concepts and issues, helps you to redirect and re-orient the skills you already have towards that set of problems, and provides you an opportunity to make friends with people who are (like you) smart, ambitious and talented. It does not magically turn you into a market prophet, allow you to earn more dollars than you can count, or make you instantly capable of leading organizations or building strategy for the future.

The people who are successful after an MBA generally bring one or more of many success factors to begin with; analytic ability, strategic thinking, networking skills, persuasiveness, determination, a strong work ethic, among others. B-School admissions committees apply varying degrees of art and science to selecting students that have already demonstrated these qualities, and therefore stand the best chance of becoming brand ambassadors for the school once they graduate.

Learning curve

There's no denying that salaries jump once you graduate from an MBA program, and there's a good reason for that. Firms hiring for middle and senior management positions have to minimize the risk of hiring people unsuitable to these responsibilities.

One way to do that is to hire from a pool of candidates that has been vetted by a rigorous selection process, and where the constituents have signalled their ambition and drive to succeed by placing themselves in an expensive, gruelling and highly competitive environment. This represents a recruiter’s best chance at getting people who can fit well into their organization, have a steep learning curve and hit the ground running. That translates to money, time and profits to an organization, and often justifies the high starting salaries they pay.

Applying skill-sets

What have I gained from my MBA? Today, I work for a multinational company in the technology domain at a middle management position. This certainly represents some acceleration in my career growth, but that is not what I focus on when I share my reasons for joining the program. More importantly, I have gained a greater understanding of business issues, and the ability to apply my skill-set to them.

Through the give-and-take, and sometimes no-holds-barred competitiveness, of the program I have understood where many of my strengths and weaknesses lie, and I continue to work on building the former and compensating for the latter.

I have also gained my network, people with whom I share trust and friendship, and whose knowledge, abilities and judgment I have faith in. I have the school's brand and alumni network behind me, standing as a testimonial of ambition, drive and ability. These, to me, are the true benefits of the MBA program and this is where I ask prospective students to focus their expectations.

Suraj Kamath is an Indian School of Business alumnus, who is currently working in Singapore