Each prospective online MBA student has to weigh the commitment of entering into a new MBA program with the return they will get after the program is over. Will my job prospects widen? Will I be seen as a competitor for management opportunities? Will my salary increase?
Will the program be worth what I put in?
Help for dealing with the unknown
To give prospective students insight into how potential employers view online MBAs, we sat down with the Vice President of Annual Programs at CRISTA Ministries in Seattle, WA, Derek Sciba.
CRISTA is a 65-year-old diverse Christian non-profit organization. The programs of CRISTA include international ministries, innovative schools, four radio stations and online properties, a Senior Living community that is home to 700+ residents, as well as CRISTA Camps.
Derek got his start as a television journalist working across the western US. He began at CRISTA as a photographer and videographer, documenting the transformative work done across the world with World Concern, a CRISTA organization. Now as the VP of Annual Programs, Derek is responsible for leading general fundraising and donor acquisition campaigns at CRISTA Ministries. His team of 20 employees executes comprehensive marketing and communication campaigns, with the consistent message carried through online, print, and radio media channels.
OnlineMBAToday: Have you ever hired anyone with an online MBA?
OnlineMBAToday: Do you think MBAs are necessary, important, and/or relevant to your business?
Derek: MBAs cause me to look at a candidate much more seriously. What it tells me is that this person has a depth of knowledge that other candidates might not. I want my team to have depth and expertise. I would be interested in finding an MBA with a specialty, like strategy or a specific field. If someone has already shown a high degree of proficiency in a field that we need, they would be a competitive candidate. Given two similar candidates, one with an MBA and one without, the edge would go to someone who pursued an earned an advanced degree.
I would personally like to get an MBA. I want to have a depth of expertise that I don't have so I will be able to serve my organization even better than I do today. Thankfully, I've been promoted without an MBA, but I do wish for the background. It's extremely attractive, getting an advanced degree.
OnlineMBAToday: Specifically online?
Derek: Yes. It would give me time. I don't care as much about being in a classroom as much as learning the material. As someone who is already working in leadership, an online MBA would be an extremely effective avenue for professional development.
OnlineMBAToday: Do you feel like online MBA programs are as respectable as residential MBA programs?
Derek: I don't really have an impression on if an online program would be inferior or not. If I had an impression, it would be as substitutive. [If the difference is,] there hasn't been a time in the classroom interacting; I don't have a strong feeling either way. I would be more swayed by the competency of the person than by whether it was online or not. I value where they got the degree less than competency.
An MBA doesn't mean everything but it helps. An MBA makes for a stronger candidate on a resume. I desperately wanted to hire a candidate who had an MBA but she had other offers elsewhere. I know that talented people with MBAs are attractive candidates to employers who want the best. An MBA is very compelling and helpful when it comes down to it. I will hire for proficiency and experience and character over about anything.
OnlineMBAToday: If you had two candidates and one had the education background and one had experience, which one would you choose?
Derek: I would choose experience over a degree. I think that if you were in a place where you were trying to figure out what was next, I would try to discern in what specific business field you want to pursue, and get in it and kick butt. Because it is a matter of starting in a place and proving yourself.
I believe that CRISTA tends to promote people within more often than most organizations or businesses and I believe that is in large part because of the Christian nature of the organization. There is not an unlimited universe of people to believe and work in a Christian organization and forgo some salary to do it. Working at CRISTA has given me opportunities that I would be unlikely to receive if I worked at most other businesses. Seven years ago I was a TV reporter and now I am a VP. I have an amazing job and I love it.
OnlineMBAToday: Do you think having an MBA has become more important or less important to succeed in your business?
Derek: I definitely see more candidates with MBAs. I want my organization to have the best candidates possible because I believe in the mission. I would like qualified people to carry out the mission as effectively as possible.
An MBA isn't everything. An MBA will not get you a free ride into any management position that you might want. What an MBA will do is make an employer stop and look more closely at your resume. It can make you very competitive to get an interview. And even for a high-level executive, MBA programs have a body of knowledge that is useful and needed.
Online MBAs still pack a punch in the process and are seen as substitutive. And if you are in a position professionally where time away from your job for a full-time, on-campus program would be detrimental to your career or lifestyle, then an online MBA could be the best match for you. What matters most is that you have the knowledge and skills that can offer value to your job, team, and organization.