Editor’s Note: Dinesh Moorjani is the Founder and CEO of Hatch Labs, a mobile startup incubator creating new platforms and applications to improve mobility for the wireless generation.
By Dinesh Moorjani – Special to CNN
It’s often perceived in the business world that pursuing an MBA degree is analogous to buying career insurance, especially if you attend a top program.
What many aspiring entrepreneurs have found, however is that earning an MBA can actually momentarily slow down an upward career trajectory, considering the degree typically requires a two-year job hiatus at a full-time program.
The real benefit of this advanced degree may be the parachute it serves in times of economic distress. But for those assessing the risk vs. reward opportunity, the need to consider the likelihood of that parachute opening properly remains paramount. And perhaps the best indicator of that is how well the parachute is packed, or without the laborious analogy, how talented the individual is and how those talents are channeled toward meaningful professional endeavors.
To be clear, an MBA is not for everyone. While it can also serve as rocket fuel to accelerate career development, one overlooked fact is that this rocket fuel doesn’t typically ignite until a few years post-graduation. Furthermore, it requires some level of personal or professional accomplishments to combust.
To illustrate this point, let’s revisit the graph above. Why sketch an illustrative chart to make the point instead of comparing hard statistics? Because the decision is not purely a scientific one.
First, let’s understand the illustration. When the post-MBA career fuel ignites and a new career path curves upward, it surpasses the expected outcome of the career path without the MBA. Of course, we cannot actually compare both trajectories concurrently so we’re forecasting a critical eclipse point where the MBA begins to yield dividends. But will the MBA lead to the expected outcome?
The most important inputs to answer this question are a self-assessment of your risk profile and an evaluation if that profile is in alignment with your professional goals.
The irony is despite the fact that MBA programs ask applicants to reveal these goals, the MBA degree may be most helpful for those whose professional goals remain unclear.
Career plans are rarely mapped with a straight line from points A to B. Rather, success is built on our ability to identify the right trajectory and to track how every dotted line we trace is leading us in the right (or wrong) direction. If you’re lucky, these dots will not only align, but they will build upon each other.
If you possess a clear understanding of your professional goal(s), you understand the dependencies to achieve them, and most importantly, you are willing to act on these dependencies, your path is no longer a straight line. It would be like folding the paper to adjoin points A and B – you discover the shortest distance between two points is virtually zero, and is a result of "bending space."
This is precisely what entrepreneurs do. They achieve their goals despite insufficient resources – in effect, they “bend space.” Of course, we’re reminded that many successful entrepreneurs never finished school nor did they apply at all. In these instances, an MBA would have likely impeded their progress, or hindered their ability to take calculated risks in order to accelerate their career.
On the other hand, an MBA from a top program provides a deep practical education and opens doors, allowing you to grow your personal and professional networks. This has the desirable effect of creating opportunity, either through coincidence or providence – or what I chalk up to the residue of hard work. So, whether by choice or by circumstance, opening the right doors or exploring the right options statistically increases with the completion of an advanced degree.
According to a 2010 Graduate and Admission Council (GMAC) survey of 6,800 MBA graduates, even in a tight economy, 93% were employed and more than 70% felt that their salary met or exceeded their expectations. It should be noted that the median salary of all those surveyed was $94,542, with their additional median bonus compensation averaging $17,565.
If you rely on stats and illustrative diagrams to guide your professional decisions, earning an MBA may be the right path. But if you’re an entrepreneur whose appetite for risk is commensurate with the confidence in your capabilities, only you can decide whether idling in neutral for two years is worth the anticipated career acceleration.