A Recruiter's Take on MBA Candidates

recruiters take on MBA candidates
In this episode, we get Gareth's take on the MBA candidate profile, when companies typically prefer this experience, at what stage, and which functions are preferred.

If you liked this show or want to share feedback please leave a review so we can keep improving and share the word with other leaders in the tech talent space. If you have suggestions for topics we should cover, feel free to reach out to either Jake Gorgol or Gareth Webb on LinkedIn or send us an email at contact@outscout.io.

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[00:00:00] Jake Gorgol: Alright, should we kick this off?

[00:00:03] Gareth Webb: Yes. That's an interesting one morning.

[00:00:08] Jake Gorgol: Yeah, so we'll just dive right into it. This topic this week is this might be a little bit of a shorter show for us today, but. Thought it might be an interesting topic um, as it was a topic of debate in our office last week when we were discussing, I think it was recruiting one of the roles for one of our clients specifically, but just the topic of are MBA's overhyped and um, very differing points of views um, from the, the company internally.

[00:00:33] So I thought it would be interesting to get your point of view as obviously having clients across different Sizes um, industries within tech and, you know, you having [00:00:45] a good pulse on the market across these wanna get your thoughts on, what companies our looking for Is there, you know, maybe if we segment this out a little bit by, you know, industry, company, position where, are you seeing that concentration and desire for MBAs?

[00:00:57] What does that kind of make up look like? And then the flip side where maybe. Companies don't really care too much. And where those are focused on um, then we'll go from there.

[00:01:05] Gareth Webb: Yeah, I think um, a lot of it

[00:01:07] stems from which we've talked about before the

[00:01:11] increased demand over the

[00:01:13] last few years for chief of staff type profiles was initially in some bigger

[00:01:16] type, bigger customers like more public like post IPO. Or very late stage pre IPO where we saw an increase in demand for these kinds of individuals.

[00:01:27] So the chief of staff, [00:01:30] somebody out consulting somebody with an MBA, two or three years post MBA came into the chief of staff

[00:01:37] Jake Gorgol: do you wanna recap that chief of staff role really quick, too?

[00:01:40] Gareth Webb: Yeah. I would call it like say, say each c-suite exec CRO, COO, CMO, like in bigger companies, they have a chief of staff and it's not an executive assistant and it's not like a junior, it's basically a

[00:01:55] potentially more emerging career version of themselves. Obviously the swiss army knife that, that people will call it of smart utility player that can be in the room when the C-suite or the executive cannot be in the room and represent them. Be eyes and ears, ask the questions they may ask, [00:02:15] take down the notes and go back to them and, and, you know, allow them to scale themselves out and move faster.

[00:02:22] Then we've seen that come down the, the, the uh, the size, like there's the chain, so to speak of public company into then the scale ups and then even the early stage. So like the Seed/Series A. So I think it, it stems from that. And that's when we've had the profile has been thrown at us in many ways, but it tends to just be.

[00:02:46] Big four consulting or top, top consulting firm, McKinsey, BCG, Bain, and then Accenture and some others. So it's like the top few. And then MBA preferred or must. And then ideally [00:03:00] two to three years out of it, of MBA.

[00:03:02] Um, In industry and in that profile is well paid job. Great visibility for, and as long as you don't make mistakes, like there's not a time of risk on you. Like you are not responsible for shipping a product you're not responsible for P and L. You're not responsible for sales, marketing. You're supporting the person that is responsible.

[00:03:25] So I think like we've always had these conversations internally that it's a very good career move for people. I think I speak for many cause I've got friends who take this route that, back in five, 10 years ago, going to a good school, going into a big firm on a graduate training program is [00:03:45] like a really safe bet for your career.

[00:03:46] But then potentially a little soulless after a period of time, you know, being,

[00:03:50] being a number, a big number in a firm like that, where you don't have impact. So then you, you know, you see you go go MBA. You come out and you have various options going into more startup or niche verticals or larger companies.

[00:04:05] So, yeah, it's been something I think we've, we've sometimes been shocked how some folks have got compensated. And then we've also seen people go in and have fairly meteoric career rises thereafter. You know, They join as a chief of staff and then with a year or two they're VP on SVP because they've had.

[00:04:24] Ultimately like very good career champions. I E the exec that's brought them in has [00:04:30] seen first handedly, like how effective they can be. And yeah, we, I think we, we have seen some very good examples of it working well, although we have limited data compared to the rest of the world, but I think it's it's is proven

[00:04:43] to be a consistent topic of debate, you know, among founders, CEOs, execs, as. Yeah. If you wanna hire very well, like what's the profile and there's a default to this consulting MBA industry experience, like you kind of got the bit of what might be needed. And there's plenty that would disagree with that. So yeah, you said it could be a shorter podcast. It could also be probably a two hour long debate if we'd opened it up to uh, to the LinkedIn community.

[00:05:09] Jake Gorgol: Okay. So one, one question to

[00:05:11] Follow up on that So it sounds like there definitely is a [00:05:15] more heavy concentration and desire for MBA specifically within the Chief of Staff role.

[00:05:19] And then it's up for debate in other areas. Are there other areas or functions where I don't know. I would say you consistently see that. No one really. Is looking for that or cares too much or they, they will say that. Um, Just kind of thinking about the flip side.

[00:05:35] Gareth Webb: . Yeah. So, I mean Like engineering and engineering, I don't think

[00:05:38] people care, right. They're probably more on a PhD if you're gonna have anything or a master's

[00:05:42] product, people like an MBA,

[00:05:44] cuz you're more commercially minded. And probably showing

[00:05:47] evidence of like organization and leadership and that kind of stuff.

[00:05:50] Um, strategy, ops, finance is where we see a big push for it, and so that chief of staff tends to be very much saddling [00:06:00] strategy and ops um, you know, and there's an element of finance um, just being able to dig into numbers and data and financial reports and things like that. So, Yeah, we like corporate development.

[00:06:10] Corporate strategy is, is huge. Um, chief is staff by definition. A lot of time, especially in a smaller company. You're narrowing, you're not narrowing down, you're doing lots of things. You're working across the org. So if you see a founder or CEO and they have a chief of staff that person's essentially the mini CEO for all intents and purposes.

[00:06:29] Yeah I think, and then you obviously marketing I'd argue people quite like it. Sales. I, I think unless you are truly. Later down the line and you've so to speak, carried a bag for five, 10 years, [00:06:45] produce millions in revenue. Sales is very different, right? Like your numbers tend to speak for themselves, unless you, unless you've just worked for a company like snowflake in the last five years, where if you didn't perform, then you just didn't go to work basically.

[00:06:59] But I think if you are in sales and potentially if you then deviate into revenue strategy or revenue operations, then you're at a bigger firm. Then I think an MBA could be deemed to be credible. If you're an account exec or a sales leader I don't think many people will care. They care about your numbers and your and your style um, and consistency.

[00:07:17] Jake Gorgol: Can we dig into the marketing

[00:07:18] one, a little. I'm curious about this one,

[00:07:20] Gareth Webb: Yeah, of course.

[00:07:21] Jake Gorgol: I see that if you scan through and see job specs on LinkedIn ads or wherever, you're looking a lot of profiles, I would say, do you have the MBA desire to preferred [00:07:30] um, as you know, one, of the top like requirements I have a differing point of view, but I'm curious to hear, just hear a little bit more about your thoughts on that.

[00:07:38] Gareth Webb: yeah I'm, I'm really talking bigger company,

[00:07:40] For the most part. Um, So say you were going into a eCommerce or

[00:07:44] SaaS business and a lot of it is I hate to say the industry entirely flawed on this, but if you think about box checking

[00:07:51] exercises and standing out against your peer group, it's a branding thing.

[00:07:55] So you could have a brand that you've helped build that people recognize and they re they, oh yeah. Cool. I recognize that company or, you know, say, say someone's like, uh, a um, say you're talking to e-commerce right. And somebody comes out with a very well name brand, just cause they're in the news last night, let's say Patagonia.[00:08:15]

[00:08:15] And then. You go get an MBA, then you are more likely gonna open yourself up to other industries. I have thought versus like, if you didn't do the MBA and you're at Patagonia, you might go into other apparel or eCommerce type businesses. Probably not be to be SA. So cuz people will discount the industry. So I think it, what it does is it's a kind of like line in the sand for many candidates.

[00:08:38] That's that was a chapter of my career.

[00:08:42] This is the kind of segue into a new chapter and I've pay a lot of money for that potentially. And then now I, I, I think I've earned the right to go into other areas, but I think for marketing, for the, the like, if you think about, if you learn marketing last year, you were studying [00:09:00] stuff that had probably been done the last five to ten years.

[00:09:03] And that might just be completely irrelevant now in terms of how buyers behave or especially post COVID. And there's just, even since I've moved here four years ago, like it was all about demand gen. And then last year was all about product marketing and, and, and product growth. Um, demand gen was kind of out the window a little bit.

[00:09:23] So, um, you know, Now it's largely content and um, and, and copywriting and, and media has sort of come back into even for B2B SaaS. So, um, I think, yeah, if you, for people that are really stuck, it's a good way to invest money. To segue.

[00:09:44] Um, [00:09:45] But yeah, you have to really know about what outcome you want, I think, or, well, probably one way or the other, you either have to know, I wanna go into a Google type, public, huge company, and I gonna pay the money to try and get onto one of their MBA programs or I just don't know.

[00:10:04] And so I'm gonna allow for some serendipity I'm gonna pay for that and see what happens.

[00:10:08] Jake Gorgol: Is there a, so we're talking about MBAs in general too, but curious if there is a cutoff in your mind

[00:10:13] of when it makes sense and maybe doesn't make sense. So let's say, cause I actually thought

[00:10:17] about this at one point too, right?

[00:10:18] I'm like, retail background,

[00:10:21] not sure if I wanna continue down that path, maybe open up to other areas.

[00:10:25] Wasn't quite sure what I wanted to get into explore at MBA. Ultimately [00:10:30] decided that, the investment wasn't worth it for me at that time, because I wasn't clear enough with myself on where I wanted to go. So I hit pause on that. But I was also targeting specific let's say top 20, right?

[00:10:41] Like to me, that was kinda my cutoff in terms of like, you know, that might get me into a spot where it made sense. But below that I was like, is the value of that really going to. Stand out and give me an edge in a pivot.

[00:10:52] Gareth Webb: Personally having heard what we've heard and seen what we've seen,

[00:10:58] I wouldn't consider outside the top 20. Um, If I look

[00:11:02] at where the top 20 is, so you got 20 is UCLA.

[00:11:06] Then you got Washington in St. Louis, Indiana, North Carolina, Washington, Carnegie Mellon is 25 Georgetown, 26. This is on Bloomberg list by the way.[00:11:15]

[00:11:15] But like top 10 is, Stanford, Chicago, Harvard, Northwestern, Dartmouth, MIT, Penn, Wharton, Columbia,

[00:11:23] Virginia, Yale Cornell, NYU.

[00:11:28] Yeah I, would, if you're gonna spend that amount of money. If you're not in the top, the letters themselves, MBA are half of the equation. Like it's where you did it. And if you're saying this whole movement

[00:11:42] decision is to learn, then you should go wherever.

[00:11:45] But if it's to learn and

[00:11:47] have access to other people and other

[00:11:49] companies and network effect um, It goes completely against the diversity initiatives.

[00:11:57] Then more companies are really pushing at the [00:12:00] moment as well, and like mindful of, but there's far more effective ways to prove your value, where if you're gonna invest 250,000, you could legitimately start a very good eCommerce type business with that much money or consulting business or build a product.

[00:12:17] Um, And so. yeah. I, I, I think unless the, unless the program or the school has kind of modules within it, or it's known for something specific that you want to go deep into, if you want a solid MBA that will make your profile pop, then I would double down on the top 20. I do appreciate that. That's incredibly expensive.

[00:12:41] Um, But I, I, I would, [00:12:45] I would question the stats and the like, even if it costs, say it costs 200 to go to the top 20 and 80 to go to something in the top 50, but the back end of it or beyond, I don't think you'll make that money back. Whereas I think you'll make this money back faster and I'm, we should probably look into like, there's 40 bit of studies and

[00:13:04] Jake Gorgol: I'm sure there's a lot.

[00:13:05] Gareth Webb: But, um, Yeah, it's all brand, right.

[00:13:08] It's all brand recognition and hiring teams and executives just being impressed and raising an eyebrow or something. Whereas if you go to another school that they don't really know, then I think there's the question of, well, why did you do that? You could just could a masters at a better school rather than an MBA.

[00:13:26] Or like I said put the money into other. [00:13:30] Mechanisms that show that you are very smart and creative and driven. And, you know, I know this and you know this from the last year that there's a lot to be learned from working in a real early stage small company. That's trying to cover a lot of ground.

[00:13:43] Like it's just every day is a learning experience. And it's you, you are kind of self taught or using other resources in the market versus lectures or.

[00:13:54] Industry case studies. Um, But again, I get, you know, I get why people wouldn't do it. Um, I think just, you know, you have to be very, very clear with yourself about the return that you like to get.

[00:14:05] What kind of things you are. Strong as that and that, that has to see your personality and your motivations and there's plenty of people [00:14:15] we talk to in MBAs who I'm very impressed with. And there's plenty that I'm like, yeah, like you've just got into that school. That's it like nothing you've done on your resumes is exciting or interesting and hire worthy in my opinion.

[00:14:27] Jake Gorgol: Yeah. It's interesting. You, You brought this up, just having kind of

[00:14:29] like a thinking about a side project is maybe another avenue or investment that maybe isn't quite is Expensive to me, at least like the, curiosity that someone brings or desire to improve and showing that they are willing to invest in some kind of experience and get that experience.

[00:14:47] I think trumps lot of that in my eyes. Just so you get a lot of good skill sets and values in that can take them a lot further, but that might be a.

[00:14:55] Gareth Webb: But you, are but for you, I would say that you seem more of a.

[00:14:59] [00:15:00] Builder and an operator rather than just um, an

[00:15:03] optimizer of what's already in place. A lot of big companies will hire MBAs

[00:15:07] cause they know they've got these management frameworks

[00:15:09] installed, which is what they need. Like If you are already a billion dollar company,

[00:15:15] I'd argue the hard work's been done,

[00:15:16] getting it to five or 10 billion is more about operational gearing and management efficiency.

[00:15:23] And. Um, Yes. Being innovative for like, to a lesser degree, you know, you, you, you have critical mass, which you, you should be able to scale to 2, 3, 4, 5 billion. And so at that point, companies don't need Mavericks and they don't need visionaries. They don't need risk takers. They [00:15:45] need like people who can execute very soundly against a framework or improve um, op operation.

[00:15:53] Um, and, And spend um, and, and then that's where strategy. That's probably why strategy comes into it. Right? Cause it's like strategically, how can we make incremental gain versus taking big risks? Cause shareholders probably don't.

[00:16:08] Jake Gorgol: I think that's a good point of view and, and distinction too. Um, kind of Just between like some of these larger companies and, and the smaller ones where um, like you said uh, there's just a difference in, in needs for skillset

[00:16:20] Gareth Webb: We've got CEO, founder type startup folks, like do not show me anybody with an MBA. I don't want anybody that's thought that that's a good move [00:16:30] to then come to an

[00:16:30] early stage startup series A or B it's like, yeah, they like,

[00:16:33] don't like cuz a a lot of founders. It's the opposite of what they're about. Or

[00:16:39] if you think about. You know, Why would I go and learn old ways of doing business? We're here to push the boundary, push the envelope of what's possible. And so we need other crazy people to be on board, whereas, but there's plenty of entrepreneurs out there. Gone, done an MBA, come out, have an idea. Either ditched the MBA or finished it raised a bunch of money.

[00:17:01] Got, been very successful. So plenty of ways to skin a cat in all things business.

[00:17:07] Jake Gorgol: I think that is a good stopping point for us, but I wanted to throw back to you for any final thoughts.

[00:17:14] Gareth Webb: [00:17:15] um, Is time to pause and I think it's a really good time

[00:17:20] to sort of, know what culture, what environment, what work you want to do. Like, If I'd say the reality is if you feel like you're going down the career route of bigger company, slightly more corporate journey, then it makes more sense.

[00:17:35] If you don't think that's you and you are the builder type uh, or you entrepreneurial and you have all these, you have idea. I'd say put the money to use elsewhere, build a prototype, get feedback, put some money down, find other investors um, and try that. Um, Because I think, you know, there's like no time, like you dunno how much, you know, if [00:18:00] you're gonna get a second shot, honestly.

[00:18:01] So you might as well just start doing the thing you you care most about. And then if you make a mistake, then. You, you know, You've tried and you can, the NBA can happen potentially later. Um, Yeah I, I think like we seem to say this with a lot of conversations. It's like tread with caution. It's just like map it out, whiteboard it and, and then get a sense of like what excites you the most and, and what, you know, like all decision frameworks, like what's the upside, what's the downside.

[00:18:30] So I think um, yeah, like think it through, visualize it, try to imagine how you feel going down, like in all the tracks and um, Timing like anything is pretty paramount.

[00:18:44] Jake Gorgol: Awesome. [00:18:45] That's a good. spot to wrap up Gareth, appreciate your thoughts as always, and until until next time.


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