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MBAs might not be all they’re cracked up to be

DEAR J.T. & DALE: I have an MBA. I put it on my résumé after my name. A recruiter told me recently that it’s pretentious to do this. Do you agree? – Bradley

J.T.: I’ve actually spoken to other recruiters who feel the same way. In fact, I’ve had recruiters tell me they will skip over candidates who put “MBA” after their names. Why? Because they assume that they will be expecting more and be high-maintenance.

Dale: You know what’s pretentious? Some recruiter making ridiculous assumptions. Candidates who list their degree are simply trying to stand out, especially when the posting requires the MBA.

J.T.: My point is that they are indeed standing out, but for the wrong reason. They look like they don’t understand that there are so many people today with MBAs that those degrees aren’t special. What’s sad is that many people who got MBAs did so thinking it would automatically get them a better job, despite not having work experience at the higher level. This is simply not the case. Here’s my advice: Instead of over-promoting the MBA by putting it with your name in the résumé’s headline section, just include it under Education.

Dale: Meanwhile, the whole notion of some recruiter using placement of “MBA” on the résumé as a disqualifier is another reminder of why we urge our readers to bypass the standard application process. Rather than be stuck in that bushel basket of résumés that causes recruiters to adopt stupid decision criteria meant to lessen their workload, instead seek true connections into target companies.

Dear J.T. & Dale: I’ve decided to go back to school for my master’s. I start in late September. I’m wondering when is the best time to tell my employer. I’d like to find a way to keep working for the company part-time when I’m in school. But if I tell them now, they may let me go and replace me, and then I’ll be out of a job till then. What should I do? – Luisa

Dale: First off, before you even think about telling your management of your plans, let’s review your decision to go back to school. J.T. and I have both come to believe that our culture is overselling some degrees. We both know people who’ve been lured into expensive programs and run up extensive debt, only to discover that the expected new career was a mirage. So instead of going to management, here’s what we want you to do first: Seek out people who are in the jobs you aspire to, and ask how they got there. Specifically, ask if the additional degree is a hard requirement. If it is, then explore what else you need in the way of skills, experience and connections. Your goal is to anticipate your career path and exactly where another degree fits in. To do this, you must learn what you need to know from the people actually doing the work, not from the college personnel.

J.T.: Agreed. Now, assuming you pass the test for truly needing the degree, let’s think about how to approach your current employer. It really depends on the quality of your relationship with your management. If you know you are valued and that they will want to keep you, then it makes sense to tell them sooner rather than later. That would give you time to help them find your replacement and possibly work out the part-time opportunity. But if you don’t have a good track record or they have a history of letting people go, then it’s likely best that you not say anything till you give three weeks’ notice. That way, they’ll appreciate you giving them enough time to find your replacement, but they’ll hang on to you to cover the work for the duration.

Dale: Either way, most managers think only in terms of full-time employees. So, odds are, it’ll be up to you to sell the part-time idea. Look for roles you might fit into, both in your current departments and in related ones. Your goal is to make your new part-time idea a solution for managers, not a problem.

Jeanine “J.T.” Tanner O’Donnell is a professional development specialist and the founder of the consulting firm jtodonnell. Dale Dauten resolves employment and other business disputes as a mediator with AgreementHouse.com. Please visit them at jtanddale.com, where you can send questions via email, or write to them in care of King Features Syndicate, 300 W. 57th St., 15th Floor, New York, NY 10019.

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