As product managers who live in troubling times we are always trying to do two things: hold on to our jobs and make our product more successful. One of the best ways to do both of these, or so we have been told, is to go out and get an MBA. Well that’s all great and fine if you’ve got four or five years to burn, don’t need to do anything else at night, oh and have a big chunk of cash sitting around that you had no other plans for. Maybe it’s time to look for a better way to accomplish what we’re trying to do…
Say Hello To The Alternative To The MBA
Before you decide to either quit your product manager job and go back to school in order to get an MBA (really, really expensive) or start going to night school to get an MBA (just really expensive), maybe you should take a moment and consider all of your options. Maybe what you really want is a specialized Master’s degree.
Yeah, yeah – I know what you are thinking. We’ve all been drinking the “get an MBA” Kool-Aid for so long that it’s hard to imagine doing anything else. However, depending on what you want to do with your life, this might actually be a better solution for you.
If having spent time being a product manager has gotten you interested in business, then getting an advanced business degree of some sort is probably a good idea. However, one of the things that keeps us from doing this is often the time involved to get the degree.
The Appeal Of Specializing
Business schools are starting to get the message. They are beginning to offer more and more specialized business programs that are only 12 months long. In the 2008-2009 school year there were 645 programs offered. This is up from the 614 programs that had been offered just two years earlier.
What these types of degrees offer are parts of the typical MBA curriculum, but they are often more technical in nature and generally spend less time on general management skills.
Here in lies the rub: these types of specialty business degrees are not designed to get you promoted to eventually become the CEO. Rather what they are designed to do is to sharpen your business skills in a narrow area and make you more valuable to the company in your current job.
This type of continuing education especially appeals to new product managers: those who don’t have the five years of work experience that most MBA programs require for entrance. No matter if this is your case, or if you’ve just found some part of the product management job that you are really drawn to, a narrowly focused master’s degree might be just the ticket for you.
What To Do With Your New Degree
Ok, so let’s say that you bite the bullet and run off and skip the MBA and instead get a very focused master’s degree in marketing, finance, or some other business discipline. What then?
It turns out that taking this path, might feel like the right thing for you to do, but as they like to say on TV, your results may vary. Since specialty master’s degrees are not as well known as MBA’s you’re going to have to deal with some lack of recognition issues.
Although it may change in the future, right now MBA students still seem to get the best deal when it comes to getting the economic benefits from going through the effort of getting an advanced degree. The people who design the GMAT test that everyone takes to get admitted to graduate programs are reporting that MBA students are saying that they get a 73% increase in salary after graduating while students with specialty master’s degrees are only reporting a 26% increase.
What All Of This Means For You
In the end the decision rests with you. We all know that continuing our education is an important thing for every product manager to do. Going back to school almost seems like a no-brainer until you realize that you need to spend some time thinking about just what you want to get out of doing so.
A specialty master’s degree offers product managers who have been working for less than five years or who found one particular part of the job most interesting with a new option. By investing 12 months of study, they can walk away with both another degree as well as a deep understanding of one area of business.
The value of taking this educational route will really depend on the career that you want for yourself. If you are comfortable working inside of the business instead of running it, then a specialty master’s degree might be the right way to go for you!
Question For You: Do you think that specialty master’s degree will become more or less valuable in the future?
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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time
Toyota has become the #1 car maker in the world. That used to be all fine and good, and then a little problem popped up: the accelerator pedal is getting stuck in the “all the way down” position and people have been crashing their Toyotas. If you’re a Toyota product manager, clearly you’ve got a mess on you hands. What should they do now?