Baby Boomer Job Seeker: Is an MBA necessary to compete?

question markQuestion: Shortly after I volunteered out during Company X restructuring, 9/11 hit and the world stopped (similar to today’s economy). I couldn’t find any openings at my level or even a step down. It took a few years to get what I have now — but I’m severely under utilized. I keep looking for better employment but find almost every job, no matter how much lower a position, says “MBA preferred”.

So now I feel unqualified and am now probably facing the age issue (turned 51 last month). I’m looking at MBA programs but wonder if it will make a difference in my situation. Most of the programs are $70K and probably not affordable to me. Those that cost substantially less have no name recognition and so I wonder if they’re worth much in the job market. I’m likely to do the cheaper program and keep looking for jobs without the MBA requirement.

J. in NJ

Answer: Your situation becomes a more common occurrence as baby boomers compete with the younger generations for employment opportunities. All is not lost, as  the job market still favors brains over brawn according to Newswise.

At more senior levels, recruiters play an important role in screening candidates for companies. Bruce Tracy, owner of Technical Professionals, Inc. offers his perspective on some of the questions and challenges facing the older worker who is mulling over the value of a obtaining an MBA later in their career.

What should Jeff do?

Bruce: I would never get an MBA just for the sake of having that on my resume. People that do that are a dime a dozen. If you want the knowledge that comes with obtaining an MBA; enroll in the best program that you can afford.

What are the “must haves” with companies in this age bracket?

Bruce: For people in that age bracket; experience counts. As a recruiter I look at hundreds of resumes and match them with client’s requirements. Though it is true that these days clients are looking for candidates that have 90% of their requirements; that is not always the case.

In a good economy, the client is looking for the 70% candidate, the one that fills 70% of the requirements. In that environment, the MBA preferred requirement is one of the first things that are thrown out in favor of the experience.

Must haves can include the first degree, the years of experience, the specific experience in the specific industry and, usually, employment stability.

To what degree does University affiliation matter after age 51?

Bruce: It usually depends on the hiring environment (i.e. – the economy). In general, I feel that “years of experience” is more important to a client than the MBA. On the other hand, not all companies are alike and some will require the MBA. You will never please all companies. The particular University is only important to companies that are concerned with prestige and I would say that is only a handful of companies.

What the major competitive advantages of someone who does not have an MBA and what is the best way to position it?

Bruce: There are not any “advantages” to not having the degree. You have to look at all jobs on a case by case basis and ask yourself, honestly, can I really contribute to this company. If the answer is yes but you do not meet the MBA requirement let the employer know what you can offer in place of that MBA.

I know that this is not always an easy thing to do. Some employers are just looking to check off boxes. If MBA is not checked you will not make the cut, period.

However, most good companies look at the mix. So sell your strong points, select the positions that you want to go after carefully and work at it. Do not take the shotgun approach and go for everything that comes along, your desperation will show through.

How does one position themselves with companies who have an MBA requirement that may not be necessary, but is a filter?

Bruce: If the MBA truly is a filter for the employer there probably isn’t anything you are going to do to convince them to drop that requirement. If the job looks interesting to you, give it a shot and state your case.

If the company is dead set on an MBA you will probably not win (and unfortunately you will probably never know why).

These are usually the companies that list MBA as “required”. If the MBA is listed as “preferred” the company probably isn’t putting that much weight on the degree but rather looking for the experience and perhaps giving candidates a few years experience credit for having the MBA. I.E. 7 years experience required, 5 years with an MBA.

Remember to pick your battles wisely, you are not qualified for all of the positions that you may feel you are. Pick the ones that feel right and fight those battles to the best of your ability.

Be prepared to lose some battles, but don’t let it get you down. It is alright that there are more qualified people available; there is a big pool of very qualified people out there right now.

Final Comments

Getting around the barrier of not having an MBA often seems daunting when looking for a job. If you decide to invest in an MBA, focus on what you will learn from the program, it may be more valuable than where you get your degree from. Attending a prestigious school to bolster a so-so work history may not maximize your marketability as much as you desire.

Be realistic what about what you are paying for and ultimately what you get in return.

Weigh the costs and benefits of investing in an MBA vs. making other changes in your lifestyle, location or profession. Baby boomers are revisiting their priorities with work and play as they approach retirement.

In the past, employee’s pay tended to peak later in their careers. Today, many people are experiencing diminishing pay and benefits after cresting mid-career due to layoffs, job changes or elderly care responsibilities. If working is a top priority, here is a list of the Best employers for Boomers over 50 from AARP, chances are one or more of these companies might be a good fit.

The economy is affecting current employment trends, but there may be some good news on the front. Gen Y and Baby Boomers are not so dissimilar and the war for talent will be heating up again, reducing the focus on cost cutting measures.

It might be a matter of playing the waiting game and following some of Bruce’s advice for targeting the right companies. Having a good long range strategy, making a plan and sticking to it usually wins out in the long run.

  1. I pursued an MBA, starting at age 46, in an effort to bridge the gap in my employment due to family obligations. I thought this would update my business skills and help my marketablility now that I am free to restart the career I gave up 20 yrs ago (I worked part-time jobs during this time). I went to a cheap, local college (since I had two children in expensive, full-time universities at the time) with no name recognition outside the region. We moved out of the region right after I graduated (due to my husband’s job – which ironically he has now been laid off from) and have not had any luck in landing a position. I have been told, as your article states, that recent experience trumps an MBA in this current market. Any advice for me at this point?

    • Hi Tina,
      I understand the difficult position you are in. I am assuming you are still fairly new to the area. Networking (check out our Do’s and Dont’s to Networking) is one of the best ways to find a job. Figure out the companies you want to work for and starting people who they know in them. LinkedIn is one available resource for finding people who work in those companies. Don’t discount the local college where you received your degree. Check with the alumni office and see who lives in your area, or works at the target companies in a different area. It is always to helpful to have a friendly introduction into a company. Join professional or industry specific associations in your area where you might meet the right people. Most areas have support groups for individuals in transition. Join one and share your leads with others. Sometimes we learn about opportunities that do not fit our needs though they may apply to someone else. You might just benefit from their generosity. I wish you all the best, Lynn

  2. Interesting article, Lynn. Thanks for sharing! To expand on a bit on the thoughts in the article, I believe similar advice applies to anyone consideration additional education…not just MBA’s.

    I cringe when I see those late night TV commercials….you’ve seen them too: “I hate my life…..OH, I’ll become a paralegal/medical assistant/etc. and my life will be wonderful!!!”
    I suggest that is not the way to choose a meaningful career or find success! I am an advocate of education – but it is not the magic bullet.

    Many people try to estimate the cost/benefit of education as it may impact their paycheck. I urge clients to have a purpose for going back to school beyond expecting to earn more money. Make the education count. Embrace the learning as well as the coveted degree. Make sure you are building a path to the future you want…not just one that you think is expected…or one that you hope is a quick fix. A degree may make you a viable candidate for more positions, but doesn’t guarantee a bigger paycheck.

    I also hear, “I’m [fill in the age], it’s not worth going back to school.” You have 10, 20, 30+ years of work ahead of you. What is the cost of not pursuing a fulfilling worklife?

    As a side note – I completed my own Masters Degree following a downsizing. It was not in my immediate plans at the time and I am so glad I grabbed the opportunity. I am a believer that opportunities present themselves; we just have to actively look for them and choose to take action.

    Wishing you true success,

    Marge McGee
    Career Architect Consulting Services