The MBA in the Room: When Having an MBA Is a Problem

At times, having an MBA can be a mixed blessing for accounting and finance candidates. Here are some ways to get the most out of your degree when you’re applying for a position.

There are a lot of good reasons why earning an MBA might make some sense for an accountant or finance professional like yourself. Having that advanced degree in hand can open certain doors for you, by giving you a more holistic understanding of business.

On the other hand, plenty of accountants have enjoyed success without an MBA, and have been perfectly able to continue their professional development through other means and avenues. Indeed, you may find that pursuing an MBA is not only unnecessary for making further progress in your accounting career – in some circumstances, its presence on your resume may actually count as a strike against you!

To help both those who are still trying to decide whether pursuing an MBA is the right decision for them, as well as current MBA holders in their job search, here are some cases where a graduate degree could in fact work to a candidate’s disadvantage on the job market.

The job you’re applying for is highly tactical or transactional
Everyone knows that the kinds of jobs available to you, when you’re fresh out of school, are going to be mostly quite technical in nature. Recent university graduates often find themselves saddled with a lot of busywork, until they’ve paid their dues in the industry and can move on to more interesting and challenging stuff, like analysis.

Having an MBA in your back pocket, however, can make it tougher for you to land one of these more junior positions. After all, if you’re applying to a strictly numbers-crunching accounting job and your resume boasts an MBA, the employer may well regard you as overqualified and unlikely, as such, to be satisfied by the role.  For example, the other day we sat down with a 26-year-old MBA graduate who had been having a hard time finding an accounting job, but had just recently applied to an accounting analyst position that they felt might be a good fit. The employer, however, quickly ruled this candidate out of the running, on the grounds that they would eventually crave something sexier and leave the job, as soon as they could find a better one. Why? Because of those three letters at the end of their name.

The moral of the story? If you’re applying to positions that primarily involve straight-up transactional work, hirers might look at your MBA and assume that you will quickly grow dissatisfied with the job and eventually seek greener pastures elsewhere. That degree might brand you a flight risk, leaving you on the outside looking in. You may ultimately be better served by looking for positions where this won’t be an issue.

Indeed, you may find that pursuing an MBA is not only unnecessary for making further progress in your accounting career – in some circumstances, its presence on your resume may actually count as a strike against you!

You earned your MBA too early in your career
When it comes to the MBA, timing is essential. Taking the initiative in your career development is always commendable, but there is actually such a thing as jumping the shark when it comes to earning an MBA, at least if working as an accountant is your main objective.

Many employers, in fact, won’t look favourably upon a candidate who earns an MBA immediately after finishing their undergraduate studies. Candidates who have completed one degree hard on the heels of the other can often be seen as lacking in practical experience; in the eyes of some employers, their training is too theoretical and not sufficiently specific to an industry or field of work.

 

To avoid this stigma, it’s recommended that you first spend a few years working in a transactional role and earning your accounting designation. Once you’ve got some practical work experience in a specific industry – like tech, for example, which is an increasingly attractive destination for successful accountants – along with that CA/CGA/CMA under your belt, you can consider whether returning to school for an MBA is in your best interests.

Alternatively, there are also many joint CMA-MBA programs available. Going this route will show employers that you’re serious about accounting, and don’t just see it as a filler profession (on the path to operations or management or some other avenue).

You have limited work experience
If you do decide to go back to school for your MBA, don’t allow your career to be put in suspended animation. On the contrary, think strategically about how you can continue to bolster your resume while you’re in the program.

There are plenty of ways for you to still get meaningful work experience while studying. For example, pick co-op placements that you think might realistically lead to a job offer (or to a related job in accounting). Get involved in a consulting project that will help you develop contacts. Pursuing your education doesn’t have to be at cross-purposes with building your work history.

If you’re applying to positions that primarily involve straight-up transactional work, hirers might look at your MBA and assume that you will quickly grow dissatisfied with the job

You fail to frame the MBA properly to employers
In and of itself, an MBA won’t qualify you for an accounting or analysis role, but it can overqualify you for it, as we’ve seen. In light of these concerns about the MBA, your best defense is a good offence. That is, rather than tiptoeing around the subject, it’s much preferable that you address it head-on, so that you can quell any doubts that your degree might have introduced into a potential employer’s mind.

To do this, you need to be able to sell the MBA in your interviews. Initiate a conversation about why you pursued it in the first place. Explain that you wanted to acquire a deeper and more expansive knowledge of how business works, and that completion of the MBA was the best means for you to do this. Make a case for how the degree will help you as an accountant. Acknowledge that it may raise a red flag, in the eyes of some employers, but point out at the same time that it also suggests added value. Tell them that you are not a flight risk – you are an incredible bargain. And above all, emphasize that you have no intention of putting the cart before the horse, and that working as an accountant and taking on technical and transactional duties is where you see yourself.

As an MBA holder, you may feel as though your advanced business degree is less of an asset than an obstacle in your job search. But there are plenty of ways you can leverage your degree and training, ensuring that those years you committed to developing and broadening your skills in school weren’t for naught and that they put you in a position to succeed.

Let us know what you think! At Clarity Recruitment, we’re always interested in hearing from accounting and finance professionals like yourselves, who are ready for new, exciting opportunities that can take their careers to the next level. And be sure to follow us on Twitter (@clarityrecruits) and connect with us on Facebook for more great tips and advice!