June 23, 2018

Considering an MBA? 3 Key Questions to Ask Yourself


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I’ve never been water-boarded (I keep begging my wife…), but I’m guessing it’s a lot like busy season. I’d say just about anything to make it stop…like, “maybe I should get my MBA?”.
Should you? Maybe (probably not). It truly depends on a series of questions you need to ask yourself before making such a stark financial and time commitment.

What’s your motivation for obtaining an MBA?

I’m generalizing an MBA-seeking CPA’s motives into four buckets:

  •    Professionally Acceptable Time-Off
  •    Higher Salary
  •    Switch Industries
  •    Entrepreneurial Aspirations

Let’s explore each as to whether an MBA makes sense.

Motivation #1: Professionally acceptable time off

This is stupid. Don’t borrow money to explain away a two-year gap in your resume. You’re better off quitting and freelancing for three months a year. Then you just say you started your own company on your CV when you decide you want to run VLOOKUPS for the man again.

Motivation #2:  Higher salary

The median salary for an MBA with 5-9 years of experience is $75k a year. This is one of those odd statistics that makes you rather proud to be a CPA; a first year manager in public accounting makes more than the average MBA. So if your motivation is purely financial, an MBA may not be the best career move.

Motivation #3:  Switch industries

Where do you see yourself post-business school? Do you see yourself in private equity, marketing, anywhere but public accounting?

Generally, if you want to be an investment banker or work in private equity, an MBA from a top institution is most likely required. An MBA could also set the foundation to become a CFO; yet those skills could still be obtained within the accounting realm.

If you want to work in just about any other industry, it may be beneficial to take an entry-level position to learn on-the-job. It could make sense to get an MBA to advance within a field at a later date, but at least you’d have clear direction.

And if you just want the hell out, leave. But don’t get your MBA yet. Take some time off, travel, and freelance as a CPA to learn about different industries and networks that may interest you.

Motivation #4:  Entrepreneurial Aspirations

In your most private moments, you see yourself as the next Zuckerberg.  But as I can relate, you’ve been working in public accounting for four years and feel like you have zero real-world skills.

“You’re telling me the CEO doesn’t see value in my audit risk assessment tool I copied from last year’s file?  What an idiot!”

I completely understand the notion that an MBA could provide the know-how and the network to succeed running a start-up.

But should you really spend two years of your prime risk-taking years learning how to start a company in theory, rather than actually doing it?  There are thousands of free resources to guide you along the way and even more networking opportunities to build the right team.

That’s not to say a top MBA program doesn’t come with benefits – just look at the VC money thrown at founders from the top institutions.

How are you going to pay for it?

Obtaining your MBA isn’t cheap – der.  It’s a function of tuition, living expenses and unearned income. Top schools can cost more than $150k, which doesn’t even factor interest on loans and the opportunity cost of foregoing a salary.

So let’s assume an MBA is the prudent career move for you, and you don’t have a gender-neutral sugar-parent to foot the bill. Are you willing to postpone your marriage to pay back loans for the next 6.5 years?

No? Well luckily as a CPA, you can work on your own timeline during school as a 1099 to help pay bills.

You could support an accounting advisory firm in the summer and bill $60+ an hour, or file taxes during busy season for twenty hours a week at the same rate. Plus, the entrepreneurial aspect of working for yourself will build your network and diversify your skill set when applying for jobs or starting a different company out of business school.

Which schools can I realistically get into?

This MBA admissions predictor can identify the programs to which you may be accepted.

Once you’ve determined your post b-school pathway, figure out the credentials you need. Connect with someone on LinkedIn or attend an industry meet-up. This will give you the insight you need to understand if the institution you can realistically attend is commensurate with the requirements of the job you want.

In summary, if you want to work in private equity or advance in a specific industry, are comfortable with the cost, and own the credentials for a top MBA program, an MBA may be for you.

But maybe not…

Josh Tarica is a co-founder of Beech Valley Solutions, the premiere network that connects CPAs with freelance opportunities in advisory, assurance and tax.  Beech Valley consultants enjoy higher pay for every hour worked, the flexibility to accept or reject projects, and the ability to diversify their skill sets.

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