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Do You Need an MBA for Product Management?

Competition is fierce for Product Manager roles. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, aspiring Product Managers can expect demand for this occupation to expand at a faster-than-normal rate compared to other roles. Does having a product management MBA give you an edge on the job hunt?

Most people who are looking for Product Manager positions think that having an MBA will help them in their job hunt. In some cases this might be true, but usually there are more important factors at play. One of the questions we hear most frequently is, “should I get an MBA before applying to job openings?”

The simple truth is that having an MBA may look great on a resume, but it is not a prerequisite. You don’t need an MBA to get a Product Manager job.

But when should you go for the MBA, and when should you save the time and money it demands? How does getting an MBA in product management help?

Do You Need an MBA for Product Manager Jobs?

It’s nice to get an MBA, but it’s only a piece of the puzzle. It may make you appear more desirable to some recruiters, but it does not guarantee you a job. Even if it did, it wouldn’t guarantee you a position with the company of your choice. For the most part, getting an MBA is more of a fashion statement than a need: more than anything, it can make you appear more enticing.

Still, if you’re seeking a Product Manager position, you won’t find too many doors closed to you just because you don’t have an MBA in product management. So before you start saving up for tuition, you should stop and ask yourself a few qualifying questions:

  • Why do you want an MBA degree?
  • What is the value you think you will receive?
  • Who do you think you will meet?
  • What doors do you believe an MBA will open for you?
  • What competitive advantages do you think an MBA will provide for you in your Product Management job hunt?
  • What assumptions are you making?
  • How confident are these assumptions?

After you’ve answered these questions, you need to apply metrics to the situation.

Namely, consider that the chief KPI that matters in a job hunt is how many interviews you are going on. Your number of interviews connects directly to how many opportunities you have and how many offers you may receive. The only two factors you should consider are:

  • How are you going to increase the quantity of Product Manager interviews you can land?
  • How can it improve the quality of the Product Manager interviews you are going on? This is also known as your conversion ratio.

Getting an MBA: Pros and Cons

If it’s not necessary, why bother getting an MBA for product management? While a product management MBA will not harm your professional chances, it is a considerable time and cost commitment. That said, it does have its advantages as well. Let’s break down the benefits and drawbacks.

Product Management MBA Pros

Successful Product Managers must play the roles of problem solver, storyteller, trend analyzer, and entrepreneur to design a viable product and foresee how it will develop over time. Product Managers must be knowledgeable in a wide range of business sectors and communicate well in a group setting. At the end of the day, taking your Product Manager education to a higher level might assist you in developing the many different abilities required.

Most MBA product management programs will help you with case studies, gain broad experience, and open up avenues for networking. However, these seldom translate directly to duties you’ll be performing as a Product Manager. The MBA is not a replacement for work experience.

Product Management MBA Cons

While getting a product management MBA has its advantages, it also has its drawbacks.

When people debate the potential of returning to school for a Master’s Degree or furthering their education, they don’t often consider the financial implications. To state a common fact, college is pricey in general. Some people intend to finish their college education in three years rather than the conventional four. This express route is typically due to a feeling that they will not be able to afford the fourth year of tuition and will be able to start paying off any existing student debt by entering the job market one year early.

It’s also worth noting that paying tuition is only part of the opportunity cost of attending an MBA school. In particular, attending more classes means that you’ll be spending more time studying when that time may be better spent actively applying for Product Manager positions. You will either be unemployed or only be able to work part-time throughout the period you spend in school training for your profession as a Product Manager with an MBA.

If you’ve created a financial forecast for yourself, you know that the time and money you spend on an MBA will significantly impact your foreseeable earning potential.

4 Reasons People Get an MBA for Product Management

Product management was never intended to be taught in business school. Rather, you will be guided by academia in areas such as financial services, consulting, marketing, and company operations.

So why do people often think they need a product management MBA for career opportunities? Let’s address some key reasons why people get an MBA — and why they won’t get you a Product Manager job.

1. The Perception of Having an MBA

Parents have told their children to stay in school after they receive their Bachelor’s Degrees to receive a Master’s Degree. The reasoning behind this? They feel an MBA will add bonus points toward a hiring company’s perception of its beholder. The general thought is that it will be much easier to get a job with an MBA than without it.

However, this doesn’t hold up in practice. The biggest factor that changes how a recruiter or Hiring manager perceives you is not your education, it’s your prior experience. If you’re a new grad, you will be a less desirable candidate than someone with a year or more of product experience — even if you have an MBA and they don’t.

A Product Manager with experience and relevant skills will have an advantage over another Product Manager with neither experience nor relevant skills, regardless of their level of education. There’s no reason to consider whether candidates have an MBA for product management when skills and experience are a strong indicator of a successful person in the Product Manager industry.

2. Skills Gained From an MBA for Product Management

You could keep telling yourself that the time and money you give up to receive an MBA for product management will be worth it in the long run once you get your Product Manager role, but that would be a misconception.

People in the Product Manager industry have said that when it comes to hiring future Product Managers to fill company roles, they are more cognizant than ever of the skills candidates possess that will increase their chances of succeeding in the job.

And unfortunately, you cannot learn the majority of skills needed to thrive in product management in a classroom. Most skills you’ll need to succeed are shared by the majority of the workforce, in such industries as Marketing, Finance, Engineering, Investment Finance, and other similar fields. In each position, you’ll learn hard skills that apply to product management, but also — and perhaps more importantly — you’ll develop soft skills necessary for success that you can only gain in a professional setting.

Building up those soft skills costs less than an MBA program and has a more significant impact on whether or not you are perceived as attractive to hiring employers in the Product Manager industry.

3. Competitive Atmosphere

In a competitive atmosphere like the tech industry in New York City — which also houses impressive schools such as Columbia and NYU — everyone who is actively job-seeking will have outstanding education track records. Most candidates come from backgrounds with the ability to get into expensive but internationally revered colleges. Some, if not the majority, will have Master’s Degrees, whether it is in business or not.

However, all of this creates a somewhat level hiring playing ground where the prospective hires have almost identical education bios. For example, two people with the same degrees look the same on paper, even if one went to Stanford and the other went to Harvard.

No sane employer will choose between applicants by comparing their respective colleges. Instead, recruiters will look for something that can be compared, like soft and hard skills. Ultimately, given the competitive atmosphere, skills and experience hold much more weight than formal education when considering rejecting an applicant in favor of another.

4. Trump the Competition

We all understand the appeal of getting an MBA or any relevant Master’s degree: you want to get ahead of the competition. However, the feat of earning an MBA will not land you a job alone. To impress the hiring party, you must also possess those necessary skills and accrue decent relevant job experience in product management. At the end of the day, the time you spend in the classroom is time your competitors in the field are gaining the lead. If you decide to compete by getting an MBA, you do gain an edge, but you’re also joining the competition later and with more debt.

The bottom line is that an MBA will aid you in your quest to become a Product Manager, but it is not required. An MBA will provide you with several advantages, including an extensive network, a personal brand, and business skills. However, it does not teach you how to create a profitable product, which is what a company wants.

When You Should Get an MBA

We’ve highlighted that an MBA isn’t a necessity, but are there any instances in which you should definitely get an MBA?

One helpful resource that makes a case for getting an MBA is After School: Is Getting an MBA Really Worth It?, by Nkem Nwankwo. According to Nkem, he could do his current job without an MBA. However, he also points out that some of the most essential skills for his job are ones he gained during his education.

When Your Goal Is Education and Development

If you’re looking into an MBA because you want to build your business knowledge and gain what lessons such a program has to offer, you likely should go for it. Getting an MBA is a proven path towards those goals.

For exmaple, one essential lesson that Nkem says helped him with product management was getting to know the user. Empathy plays a significant role in determining what the market needs and how you should position the product. His education was instrumental in teaching this skill.

In addition to gaining user empathy, many financial services roles require or strongly encourage MBA degrees. Leading management consulting firms even offer to pay a portion of their employees’ tuition to ensure that their talent is fully trained with the necessary leadership and management skills.

What’s more, many choose to work on independent projects later in their careers. The clients for these projects could easily be linked through one’s MBA network. If you see yourself wanting to lean on these advantages in the future, you may want to consider getting an MBA.

When You Want to Build a Network

Unlike many graduate-level programs, Business Schools involve a lot of projects, lessons, and onsite experiences that include teamwork. Through those team projects, one gets to know many professionals of high potential. They also offer a wide range of clubs to ensure that everybody is included and represented one way or another.

Your classmates form a significant portion of your professional network. They become the first ones to call when you are looking for a co-founder to your business, or you are looking for a job, and they happen to work in your dream company, or even great mentors if they achieved something that you always wanted to achieve.

The people aspect, according to Nkem, really pays off.

Is Getting an MBA Worth it?

While Nwankwo does detail the benefits of obtaining a master’s degree, he warns us against the common notion of having an MBA equating to success in the real world. Nothing you do in Business School guarantees a profitable business or a fulfilling career; your determination and attitude are the only factors that shape your success.

What Business School gives you is the network and the perspective. In addition to the lifetime friendships and connections you get, you also acquire a better understanding of leadership, management, and business. Whether or not that is worth your time and money is up to you!

Will an MBA Help You Get a PM Job?

Applying for a job with an MBA demonstrates that you’re informed about a wide range of topics that your resume would not otherwise indicate. It indicates that you’re committed enough to your job to spend the time and money to obtain that diploma.

On the other hand, a Product Manager with appropriate experience and abilities will have an edge over another applicant with no relevant experience or skills, regardless of their degree of schooling. When abilities and experience are a significant predictor of a successful individual in the Product Manager business, there’s no necessity to evaluate whether candidates have an MBA for product management.

We all realize the allure of earning an MBA or another Master’s degree in a relevant field, but it’s best to remember that it will not guarantee you a job. To suitably impress the recruiters, you need to showcase that you have the appropriate abilities and, if applicable, the relevant work experience in product management.

Alternatives to Getting an MBA for Product Management

If you aren’t sure you want to invest in an MBA but need a way to develop PM skills and strategically transition into the industry, working with a career coach might be the best way forward. That’s where a product management program comes in.

A product management program is a great way to acquire the realistic skills, techniques, and training needed to kickstart your career in product management. A product management program like Product Gym’s also provides career coaching that includes goal setting and job hunting strategies. It’s a great all-in-one solution for people who want to make a career change or get back into the industry.

Why Should You Work With a Career Coach?

Career coaches provide a range of services to help you navigate your career path as a first-time or veteran Product Manager. Some of these services are tangible and easy to unpack, like reviewing your resume and providing pieces of strategic advice when it comes to interview questions and salary negotiation.

But product management career coaches can also help you in more hard-to-describe ways. For example, a career coach might guide you as you pinpoint which companies or industries you want to target as a Product Manager according to culture fit and what you’re passionate about. They can also help you build your confidence, crush imposter syndrome, and develop a growth mindset.

So, Is the MBA Path to Product Management the One for You?

There is no one right way to get into product management. In fact, Product Managers come from a wide variety of professional backgrounds and levels of education. 

Getting a product management MBA may not be a necessary step to landing your dream job, but it might help. The bottom line is that if you choose to enter an MBA program, do it for yourself — not to land an interview at Google.

Remember that whether you have an MBA or not, there are other skills you will need to have under your belt if you hope to beat out the competition. Your classroom experience can’t replace work experience or practically-gained skills.

One essential skill you won’t learn in an MBA program is job hunting itself. Optimizing your resume and online profiles, winning interview rounds, and knowing how to pitch yourself to a Hiring Manager are all crucial to your chances of landing the Product Manager job you want. Want to start developing that skillset? Our career coaches are offering free 30-minute consultations: schedule your coaching session today and bring your questions; we’d love to help you on your product manager job hunt.