Should I Get an MBA: Talk to Your ROCC Stars Before Climbing the MBA Mountain

Our network of over 100 millennials with MBAs on LinkedIn has helped us answer four basic questions when considering whether to pursue an MBA. These questions are the same ones you should ask should you want to pursue any professional or graduate degree: 

Why do I want to do this?

When is the right time to pursue such a degree?

Who can I ask for advice about this, and what do they say?

Where is the best place I can obtain the degree, and how do I determine this?

In our previous article, we addressed the first two questions, and shared some of our network’s insights. In this follow-up article, we address the third question, involving the Who and the What.

First of all, as we tell our students, coaching clients, and others who seek our advice, it’s critical to know the biases of the advice-giver. We all have biases based on our upbringing, experience, and social networks. Not to recognize them when seeking advice is to risk getting advice that might be sound for many people, but is largely invalid for your own needs, interests, and strengths. It is critical to get advice from a wide variety of people, and not just those who occupy the same professional and interest networks as you.

We believe that the best advice comes from people who know your strengths and weaknesses, who can level with you, who have your best interests at heart, but who also don’t want to turn you into a clone of themselves. These people clearly demonstrate what we call the ROCC of Trust: Reliability, Openness/honesty, Competence and Compassion. These people are rare, so you’re going to need to cast a wide net, and use those few “ROCC Stars” to help make sense of it all.

While working full-time after college, we consulted lots of people in terms of whether to pursue graduate degrees in business. These included our many college friends who were already in business school, our parents who always expected us to go to graduate school (Aneil's dad was from India and was a journalism professor at Michigan State; Karen’s parents had completed graduate and law school), as well as former professors and mentors at General Motors who also encouraged us to pursue graduate work. It’s a huge mistake not consult as many people as possible. As one former student wrote me, “I didn’t talk to anybody about the decision to go back to school. I should have.”

For this article, we consulted with MBA grads whose opinions we trust. In answering the first part of the third question, the Who, they identified three sets of people you should consult.

First were Close Connections, including your spouse/partner, friends (“at least the very intelligent ones,” as one alumnus told me), parents, other family members who’d earned an MBA, and even “God, as in lots of prayer.” 

As one of our former MBA students wrote,“I talked with family members who’d earned MBAs.  I wanted to know that as a woman I would be able to survive the male dominated competitive environment. I found that I was actually more competitive than the men.”

Another former student emphasized knowing the impact of pursuing a graduate degree on the family that depends on you, and on whom you depend.“I cannot stress enough how important it is to include your spouse in the decision-making process. Pursuit of an MBA will take up a minimum of 20-30 hours per week of your discretionary time. Full support from your family unit is critical to your success and your learning outcome.”

A second set of useful inputs are what we call Trustworthy Talent, or people at work whose opinions you can trust, including certain managers, mentors, colleagues, or even your clients/customers. 

As another of our former students related, “Since this was a working professional MBA program, I spoke with my immediate boss and ensured I had his support before pursuing this undertaking. In addition, I spoke with two additional colleagues I leaned on for career advice/direction about why I wanted to obtain an MBA and what I planned on doing post-MBA studies. They both provided additional insights into graduate studies and were onboard with my rationale to pursue additional business studies; and offered tips/suggestions on how to approach a career change while enrolled in the MBA program.”

Trustworthy clients/customers are a potentially great source of advice because they’ve already evaluated your ability to deliver results, which is what you’ll have to do repeatedly in business school and afterwards, and your ability to do so will justify the significant financial and personal investments you’ll be making in the degree.

The final group of advice comes from the Professional Pundits, professors and school administrators, executive recruiters, HR professionals, and others who thoroughly evaluate MBA applicants, students or graduates as part of their day-to-day work. Although university administrators and professors should be expected to be champions of the degrees that help them earn a living, they can still be great sources of information.

As one of our former MBA students wrote, “Harold Sollenberger was associate Dean of the MSU Full-Time MBA program when I was making my decision on a school.  I met with him at an MBA forum, and he was integral to my choosing MSU. I felt a connection to him, and his commitment to the students and the program.”

Aneil worked for Dean Sollenberger as a visiting assistant professor at Michigan State from 1997-1998, and he can attest to what this woman wrote to him. Harold really did care deeply about his students, and made sure that Aneil understood that, too, when he interviewed him!

In our third and last article, we’ll address the fourth question, namely, where to earn the MBA or other advanced degree. Then you’ll be ready to start (or continue) gathering the information you’ll need in order to make one of the most important, and expensive, decisions of your life the correct one. 

Aneil Mishra and Karen Mishra are business school professors and authors of Trust is Everything (2008) and Becoming a Trustworthy Leader (2012)