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Do I Need An MBA To Be A Product Manager? | Co.Lab

Many aspiring Product Managers have asked whether their chances at a career in Product Management can be achieved only if they obtain an MBA. They’ve been told that it’s the golden ticket to quickly getting a job as a Product Manager… and is that true? Read on to find out!

Tiwatayo Kunle
July 20, 2022

Why has this question even arisen?

Climbing the ladder in the Product Management sphere is a task that's often complicated by people offering so many different opinions and ideas around you. Some Product Managers in the job market have heard and read that MBAs are a requirement to secure a good Product role within most companies. Some have even attended job interviews where they were told that they’d have fared better had they had an MBA, giving more credence to this allegation. While we cannot speak for the individual preferences of a company, there are general rules that apply in the Product space as a whole.

Source: reddit

Admittedly, some companies do seek Product Managers with MBAs for a wide range of reasons. For example, one senior Product Manager says that Product Managers need an MBA to understand the business impact of product decisions. Another says that since they have to deal with financial decisions and take on a management role, he chooses those with MBAs because they have the knowledge required to deal with such.

Also related, more MBA programs are offering concentrations in Product Management so where it can be argued that a traditional MBA is not that relevant, this specialized one might have more of a case. Yet, ‘need’ is a strong word, and an MBA can hardly be considered a need for a Product Manager. An incentive, maybe, a leg-up even but a need? Not quite.

Pros of Getting an MBA if you want to become a Product Manager

In a competitive recruitment process, the recruiter will have to narrow down applicants and he will use different criteria- who has a Bachelor's degree? A degree in what? Who has relevant experience? In this sort of situation, having an MBA could be a leg up and allow the holder to climb up the corporate ladder faster than those who do not have it.

Being an academic environment, schools that offer MBA degrees often organize fairs and highlight internship opportunities for students that could easily translate into full-time jobs. This means that MBA candidates could be exposed to the job markets earlier than their counterparts, learn about opportunities available for them in the Product Management space and generally have a better feel of what’s outside before they’re officially in the job market.

The network! Having an MBA is like a club membership of sorts. It gives you access to colleagues and business leaders that you might have had to wait ages for a reply from on LinkedIn. These are connections that are instrumental in your career even after the MBA program.

Many people often acquire MBA years into their career, perhaps after they are already established and have discovered a specific need for it working in close proximity with people of different works of life, different ages and backgrounds who bring their own distinct perspectives to the team is reflective of a real work environment and could make it easier for anyone who has gone through the MBA process to work on a cross-functional team made of different types of people too.

MBA programs teach you leadership and business skills and help you create a personal brand, develop interpersonal relationships and other soft skills that come in handy in your work as a Product Manager. personal brand and business skills.

If Product Management is just a pit-stop and your long-term goal is to transition to something else such as banking or consulting, then an MBA is a great investment as an MBA is more sought out in those careers. 

Cons Of Getting an MBA if you’re looking to become a Product Manager 

MBA programs are expensive. Full stop.

The cost becomes less justifiable when you realise that the skills you take from an MBA into your role as a Product Manager can be derived from sources less expensive than MBAs plus the fact that an MBA hardly guarantees a job as a Product Manager or translates to significantly higher pay.

They’re time-consuming and if they're full-time, take you off the job market for about 2 years, a considerable amount of time in the life of any job seeker.

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What should you do?

Undeniably, there is so much knowledge to be derived from an MBA especially one with a concentration in Product Management. If you can afford it and feel so inclined and are convinced that it ties into your career goals, go for it!

It is common knowledge that Product management does not abide by a fixed set of rules. Especially because there isn’t a degree program in universities called Product Management, deciding which educational degree is best suited for a career in Product Management often leaves you open to many options. In reality, Product Managers usually combine the relevant parts of their education with real-world experiences and perhaps Product Management courses.

In practice, it has been discovered that an MBA also does not make up for hands-on product management experience. It’s becoming less and less important to invest in an entire MBA for you to learn to build a successful product. Product Management Bootcamps, training courses, and certification programs, all of which are considerably less expensive than an MBA, offer you the experience and transferrable skills that are coming to be valued more greatly than education in the tech space.

Over time, it has been established that the best way to achieve the skills you need as a Product Manager is to actually build a product. Companies, recruiters, and hiring managers all jump at a candidate with relevant experience working on a product. It’s an unequal combination of experience and academic qualifications (with the experience weighing more) that often tips the scale for candidates.

Product Managers may reason that because they are often referred to as the CEO of the product then, they actually need to learn to be CEOs and from this draw a straight line to an MBA. But this is not true.  For tech companies, the MBA is relevant for the soft skills it teaches you- leadership, teamwork, communication, lingo. It’s hardly ever about the MBA. It's about the skills you learnt while you’re there, just like many post-grad degrees that are not in specific disciplines, such as engineering or law. Employers want to know that you have certain characteristics, and having an MBA allows them to make that assumption.

So should I get the MBA to switch to Product Management?

It’s not black and white. Hardly anything is. Some more technical teams might count the MBA against you fearing that you might only know what should be done, but not how. Some that are more business-oriented will count it towards you as you have the prerequisite knowledge they desire.

Ultimately, it is a personal decision. One whose implications on your career you may need to consider carefully. Remember that there is no proven correlation between an MBA and success as a Product Manager. So look at the full picture of your goals and make the best decision for you.

MBA or no MBA, you belong in tech.

Learn about other ways to get into Product Management. Check out our Product Management training program focused on fundamentals, or take the next step and build products as part of a team.

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