After working in management for three years, should you pursue an MBA or a certification first?

If you’re studying for an MBA, they’re not teaching you how to beat your opponents, but how to ensure that you’re beaten by your enemies.

After working in management for a few years, we have gained a lot of experience, but on the other hand, we also have many new confusions at work. At this time, we should spend some time to further study and recharge. But at this point, many managers often ask themselves: should I go for an MBA or a management certification?

From the perspective of the certificate, MBA is short for Master of Business Administration and is an academic certificate with a wide range of content and mainly general content. Management certifications are often aimed at specific positions or skill areas and focus on training and assessing specific skills.

Ten years ago, if you wanted to go further in your career development, academic certificates were often more important. But now, more and more managers no longer see MBA as their first choice.

The core content of MBA is general knowledge and skills for large company managers. Its teaching content and cases mostly come from large enterprises. However, unfortunately, in today’s innovative environment, most of the management experience taught in MBA has fallen behind the times.

Accenture CEO Pierre Nanterme once said: “Since 2000, digital disruption has removed half of the Fortune 500 companies from the list.” Those removed are not just the companies at the bottom of the list. In fact, the days of those super-large enterprises at the top of this list are not easy. According to data from the 2020 Fortune Rankings, only 2 of the top 20 companies on the Fortune Rankings 20 years ago are still in the top 20.

The Fortune Rankings reflect current sales data. And from the stock price reflecting investors’ expectations for the company’s future, none of the highest-valued companies in 1990 still appear in the top 10 global market value in 2020. Only Microsoft is still in the top 10 among the top 10 highest-valued companies in 2000, and only Microsoft and Apple are still in the top 10 in 2020 among the top 10 on the list in 2010. These data and facts tell us that most of those companies that now look very glamorous are mostly behind the times in terms of management.

And traditional MBA courses are derived from these large companies’ management experience. What is called experience refers to things from the past. That is to say, it is an outdated management method summarized from outdated companies and outdated cases. Some people even evaluate MBA like this: “If you’re studying for an MBA, they’re not teaching you how to beat your opponents, but how to ensure that you’re beaten by your enemies.” Similarly, Jack Ma once said: “In recent years I have seen many people go to study for an MBA. They were very smart before they went but became stupid when they came back.”

In contrast, many professional certifications have their exam and learning content adjusted every one to two years. Their certification standards are based on mature job competency models and are led by enterprise experts with practical experience. The content is closely related to the actual operation of leading enterprises.

Especially most mainstream management positions will have authoritative international certification systems in this field. For example, project management has PMP certification, product management has UCPM certification, finance has CFA certification, human resource management has CPLP and PHR certification, quality management has Six Sigma certification, IT architecture management has TOGAF 9 certification and so on. These certificates are all “gold standards” for hiring and even learning for managers in their respective industries.

Today is a rapidly developing era. In this context, if possible, we recommend that you participate in both MBA studies and management professional certifications. In our view, this is a complementary plan. The two are essentially not contradictory. MBA solves systemic problems and professional certification solves new skill problems. The two can be carried out simultaneously and mutually verified. However, in the case of limited time and funds, managers should prioritize participating in professional certification. Obviously, the return on investment for certification will be higher.

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