I got a question from blog reader on the importance of the MBA. It's a great question. Many of our job descriptions list the MBA as "preferred"; some may even list it as a requirement.

I'll give you my personal opinion on this. Keep in mind that I didn't write these job descriptions. If I wrote the job descriptions, they all wouldn't start with a question (seriously!). I can just tell you what I have observed through the recruiting process and via my own analysis of how well people do after they get here.

I believe that for many types of roles, an MBA is foundational. It gets people talking a common language and because an MBA curriculum will generally cover finance, marketing, stats, etc., a candidate with an MBA generally has the ability to think broadly about business decisions that they make relative to multiple moving parts. Keep in mind that the person telling you this has an undergraduate business degree and exactly 4 MBA classes under her belt (years ago with no immediate educational plans).

Also, MBA admissions does their own filtering process. A solid program is going to admit the best students they possibly can. Those programs with the best reputations have a broader pool of candidates to select from and a higher chance of getting the candidates they want. By selecting an MBA grad from a "top" program (I won't rehash my thoughts on what a "top" program means), you can be assured that that the person has a record of achievement, in the classroom, in business or both. That is definitely not to say that others without MBAs could not have achieved similar success. But when you think about how recruiters recruit; looking for pockets of greatness in the industry, MBA alumni are a solid pool to be fishing in. Think of MBA as a possible search term, not a knock-out criteria, when it comes to resumes.

An MBA degree also suggests something about the drive of the person that holds it. They either took 2-4 years off from their professional life to pursue higher education or they pursued it while working a full-time position. It's quite an accomplishment and I think that having an MBA really says a lot about the motivation and drive of the person that has it.

However, everything that is wonderful about an MBA is not exclusive to holders of the degree. Can you learn the same concepts through working? Yes. Can you exhibit drive and motivation without sitting in a challenging classroom situation? Yes. Can the right non-MBA holder do the same job as an MBA? Of course. I'm a big believer in "commensurate experience". The challenge for the resume reader is to be able to extrapolate that experience form the resume. The challenge for the job seeker is to communicate it. I probably don't have to mention Bill Gates' academic credentials. His experience speaks for itself.

Unfortunately, much to my dismay in fact, many job descriptions are written with the "ideal candidate" in mind. Back in my line recruiting days, when meeting with a hiring manager, I would do my best to get that "ideal candidate" out of their head and focus on where there's some flexibility. "So you say you want this, but what if I brought you this? Would you consider this kind of background?". Once you get them talking about where there's some flexibility they can snap out of their "ideal candidate" mindset and focus on finding someone who can do the job and possibly bring some different perspective to their team. It also helps them realize that they don't need to hire a mini-me. Not everyone needs to come via the same path they did.

So the short answer to why "MBA preferred" frequently appears in job descriptions? In my opinion, it's because we ask the hiring managers to write the job description before the recruiter has a chance to eradicate the concept of the "ideal candidate" from their minds. It's because having an MBA says something about the candidate that is positive and it takes more work to extract the potential for greatness from non-MBA resumes.

If I were a candidate applying for one of these positions, I'd take it as a challenge to show how "MBA preferred" should be rephrased as "Heather Hamilton preferred". And if I had an MBA, I would put it right at the top of my resume (not on the same line as your name please). Either way, you want to position yourself as THE person that can do the job.

As a recruiter, I can tell you that seeing "MBA preferred" on a job posting means I should be recruiting out of some MBA Alumni organizations so that I have a mix of MBA and non-MBA resumes to send to the hiring manager.