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Is my MBA degree hurting me?

Quick Question

How do I overcome, on a resume or in an interview, the fact that my MBA is from the University of Phoenix? I graduated in 2006. UoP has received so much bad press that I’m concerned my education will not be taken seriously, and that it might be a detriment to my career advancement. Thank you for your advice.

Nick’s Quick Advice

What’s happened with UoP is unfortunate, but don’t let it get in your way.

It seems that MBA degrees have the most impact on hiring decisions when they come from big-name schools. Otherwise, they don’t seem to mean a lot “out of the box.” (That is, on your resume.) Of course, if you learned something while getting the MBA (like finance) that’s necessary for a job you want, then it may make a difference. I’m not knocking MBA degrees.

Putting UoP’s reputation aside, I think what matters more than any kind of degree is personal referrals and recommendations. That’s what gets you in the door. There is nothing like a personal, professional endorsement. Employers consistently say that’s the biggest factor, aside from the applicant’s skills and experience.

Likewise, contrary to the marketing hype, your resume is not your “marketing piece,” nor will it get you in the door. Used by itself, all it does is force you into the Resume Grinder where an algorithm will sort you among millions of your competitors.

Personal referrals are a much more powerful alternative.

You can’t change the name of the school on your MBA. But you can do a lot to leverage good referrals. For advice on how to do that, see Please stop networking.

There’s lots more advice on this topic in Fearless Job Hunting, Book 3: Get in The Door (way ahead of your competition). See especially the sections titled:

  • “It’s the people, Stupid” pp. 5-8 (No, you’re not stupid, but this article will show you how people act stupidly when they don’t focus on  personal referrals.)
  • “Drop the ads and pick up the phone” pp. 9-11

Most important, to learn how to turn references into referrals, see:

  • “Don’t provide references — launch them” pp. 23-25

Don’t worry about your MBA. Just get to work on personal referrals. And be careful about where you buy your education!

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16 Comments
  1. The problem I have seen is that many recent grads of lesser MBA schools seem to promote themselves as “I am really great because I got my MBA from xyz”, and have nothing else.

    If your degree is not from a name school, make sure you have referrals and experiences that make you stand out independent of your degree. Use Nick’s “networking” techniques. Make yourself known as someone who knows his/her stuff and will make money for the employer. Don’t be try to impress anyone with your degree, impress them with your ability to solve their problem.

    If you are using a resume, I would consider “burying” your MBA farther down the page, and put relevant *to the employer* experience at the top.

  2. “Rick”, above, suggests hiding your MBA and putting “…relevant *to the employer* experience at the top.”

    Here’s how:

    First, remember, unless you are seeking employment at a Hospital or School, your Education section is at the end of your resume. That’s a start, here’s the rest:

    I suggest misdirection.

    Following your “Profile” paragraph -which is the first section of your resume- many people put a skills section. This may or may not be relevant in your case so I can’t say whether it should be ‘next’ or does not apply and is not a factor.

    In any event, to make my point, I suggest your next section be what many call “Highlights of Achievements” or “Highlights of Accomplishments”.

    This is where you give the Resume Reader reason to pick up the phone because, ideally, it contains three to four bullets of industry-relevant accomplishments which speak to how you are going to have a positive impact on the RR’s company.

    If your achievement bullets are impacting and are seen as being directly related to the needs of the employer, you will have served your purpose at that point- the employer, at that point in your resume, has reason to call you and bring you in for an interview and then hire you.

    (I have told people on many occasions that if your ‘Highlights of Achievements’ section is powerful enough, the RR has no further reason to continue to read your resume and should, at that point, pick up the phone and/or have someone bring you in for the F2F. Ideally, resumes, following my logic, would be only half a page in length.)

    If the RR continues to read/scan your resume (as most will), by the time they see you got your MBA from U of P, s/he will, hopefully, be pre-closed on wanting to see you (because of your Achievements Section) and will tend to not let the U of P affect them since you will have already provided evidence of your being a viable candidate.

    Naturally, if you have provided additional impacting bullets in your Employment section, that will add to the evidence you are a compelling candidate.

    Keep in mind that ‘impacting bullets’ relate to issues specific to the hiring company and are not generic accomplishments.

    Paul………

    ..

    • I take a simpler approach to resumes, mainly because I don’t think you should use your resume to get you in the door. The competition when algorithms are making the choices just makes that imprudent. You need a referral to get in the door, and you should provide your resume only after you’ve already made substantive contact with the hiring manager.

      So keep your resume simple. No matter where you got your degree, list EDUCATION up top. List employers with dates and job titles in chronological order.

      Make it very easy for the reader to understand your history, credentials and experience. The typical resume — when it’s read by a human at all — is scanned for less than 30 seconds. That means they’re looking mainly at the top half of the first page.

      I don’t believe in misdirection of any kind. It arouses suspicion and that results in rejection. Make it easy for the reader to grasp the key information quickly. Name, education, employers, job titles, synopsis of what you pulled off in each job.

      • Nick,

        I see my referring to ‘misdirection’ has thrown you into a panic.

        There is nothing ‘suspicious’ about what I suggested because what I suggested using is a standard format, don’t you know that?

        Profile/Summary
        Buzz Words
        Achievements
        Chrono List
        Education
        Special Skills

        That is a generic format, nothing suspicious about it at all.

        I said “misdirection” since the ‘intent’ is to put the emphasis on, in the example I suggested, achievements instead of [that person’s online] school. I am suggesting a conscious intent to draw attention to achievements vs school. There is nothing subversive or ‘suspicious’ about this. I am merely making it clear what the ‘intent’ is.

        That what I suggested is a typical format cannot precipitate suspicion since what I described was a generic and often-used format.

        I used the word ‘misdirection’ to emphasize strategy. That you would throw it back in my face is astounding.

        Contrary to what you say, there is no reason to reject a resume as I outlined it.

        And for you to suggest relevant achievement bullets are not important to list as a priority on the resume borders on what I call ‘bad medicine’ (bad resume advice).

        Also, there is merit to the suggestion one zig instead of zag by listing relevant achievements toward the top of the resume since -if we have a thinking RR reviewing the resume- it more quickly points out grounded evidence as to why the applicant is qualified for the intended opportunity.

        Also -and please forgive me for using your platform to say this- if one’s education is likely to be considered ‘standard’ and not compelling in and of itself, then contrary to what you say, I strongly suggest putting the Education section toward the back, as usual, in favor of placing more compelling information up front at the beginning of the resume. The sooner one grabs the attention of the RR, the better off one is. ‘Another’ applicant with a degree similar to the rest in the stack is not nearly as compelling as achievements that clearly spell out competence and relevant industry experience. (Remember, the thought process is that if an applicant accomplished this and that for their previous/current employer, that person can do the same for the hiring company. RR’s are looking for a reason to hire- showing achievements that are relevant to the job description/pain points is ten times more compelling than listing one is ‘another’ Mechanical Engineer from the University of Where Ever.

        Assuming the RR scans the entire resume, that person will see soon enough where the applicant/candidate went to school.****

        Nick, for someone who espouses the need to think outside the box, it is odd that you would get triggered by my having used the word ‘misdirection’ when the intent was clear as day and the execution included using a generic format.

        ………………………..

        ****I also believe you ought to consider modifying, adding perspective or including a dual track to your advice by accounting for what happens when a headhunter is representing a candidate. There are times when what you say does not apply when someone is being represented by a search consultant and I fear that in those cases, people reading your blogs may not realize there is more than one way to skin a cat.

        For example, to address the issue of Education, that information can be included in the Cover Letter. The one people say no one reads.

        Except that they do when the resume is being forwarded by a headhunter. It is part of the pre-close information that is included in the Subject section of the email that has the candidate’s resume attached.

        Such an email contains the usual opening and then a few relevant bullets; two or three achievement bullets and a mention of the person’s school/degree followed by a close and request/declaration for action.

        I still can’t believe you leaped on my use of the word, “misdirection”. Maybe the fact I call a spade a spade threw you off.

        Thanks,

        Paul

      • “I take a simpler approach to resumes, mainly because I don’t think you should use your resume to get you in the door.”

        What you characterize as a “simpler” approach can just as easily be characterized as “another” approach. ‘Simpler’ implies ‘better’ and we both know that argument can go on forever. Although you and I are ‘experts’ in this business, neither of us can claim to be the ‘better’ of the two.

        Either that or we can spend the next twelve months defining ‘simpler’.

        • @Paul Forel:

          No, it’s not just “another” approach, and “simpler” does not always mean better.

          Getting a referral to a hiring manager from a personal contact to get in the door is much better and more effective than sending in a resume without the referral. There’s nothing to argue, and there’s no reason to define “simpler.”

          Ask anyone who’s looking for a job. Would they prefer a nice new resume, or a personal referral to the hiring manager from someone the manager trusts?

          You toy with words and definitions an awful lot, and you suggest misdirection is not suspicious. Please get a dictionary:

          misdirection –
          a wrong or incorrect direction, guidance, or instruction
          n.
          1768, from mis- (1) + direction. Meaning “action of a conjurer, thief, etc. to distract someone” is from 1943.
          Cf. http://www.dictionary.com/browse/misdirection?s=t

          As for the headhunter scenario, your premise creates confusion:
          “what happens when a headhunter is representing a candidate”
          “when someone is being represented by a search consultant”

          Headhunters do not represent candidates. They are paid by employers and have a fiduciary obligation to the employer. A good headhunter does right by a candidate, but does not represent the candidate, by definition of the contract the headhunter works under.

          • Whatever. The Peanut Gallery will decide what is what for themselves.

            Thanks,

            Paul

          • ….so “burying” is okay but ‘misdirection’ is not.

            Got it.

            It is ‘interesting’ how everything else I said of value got washed away in your rush to set things right.

            I’ll bring my dictionary next time I post here. Would not want to offend you.

            Lighten up, Nick. Many suggestions you [and I] propose, related to getting hired, are not necessarily absolute.

            Potato – Potahtoe

            And I hardly have to be reminded who ‘represents’ who. Not after thirty years in Executive Search.

            Unless you ban my presence here, you better get used to more of this- you are not the only practitioner with an opinion.

            Thanks,

            Paul

        • Paul,

          With all respect, I get what you are saying and it makes sense, but I think Nick is going one step farther.

          I got my current job because an old boss approached me and offered me employment if I was interested. The job before that was because I had a personal friend march into the HA’s office and give him my name and phone number. This isn’t just my experience, but the data shows that networking is very effective.

          However, the problem that many people run into is that even if we take your approach, the HA has 200 other resumes on his desk and what is to stop him/her from saying “this could still just be a bunch of BS”

          Accomplishments plus a solid, personal reference is going to carry more weight than a random resume in a pile of other resumes.

          • Dave, Hi and thanks.

            This thread was/is about online MBA’s and how they are perceived. ‘Rick’ suggested the Education section be placed in a lower priority position on a resume so it doesn’t show up right away and I had agreed, additionally saying that I recommend an ‘achievements’ section (as many of my $100K+ candidates use on their resume) be placed after the Profile section, which would hopefully and ideally pre-close the RR on the idea of picking up the phone, not needing to further read the resume, based on the strengths of those bullet achievements listed. In that manner, the online MBA, when finally seen on that resume, would not have as much impact compared to the relevance of those achievement bullets listed as a headline on the resume.

            Everyone knows ‘networking’ opens doors; there is no argument here. Nick’s mention of networking was not relevant to the conversation about the perceived impact of an online MBA and I don’t see you tying that to the MBA conversation, either. After all, that is what this thread started out talking about. Networking is a separate conversation, has been discussed repeatedly and no one can reasonably discount the advantages of networking.

            But it does not address the specific question of how to minimize the possible negative perception of an online MBA. Talk about misdirection! Nick bringing up networking suggests the issue no longer exists but we all know that is not true. Not everyone is going to be networked into their next job and because of that truth, the original question stands.

            Please note that other than criticizing my language and suggesting networking as a ‘solution’, Nick did not otherwise address the question.

            (I still don’t understand what he means by “simpler”. Perhaps he meant ‘another’ or ‘different’. That works since everything he suggests, everything I suggest, is one of many, many tools and pathways one can take when designing their resume.)

            I can’t remark on a HA’s thinking achievement bullets are “BS” since such stupidity can’t be countered except by being on the phone with that person and who is to say s/he might even say that I, that candidate’s headhunter/representative, in being anxious to garner a recruitment fee, invented those bullets? With some people, Dave, you just can’t win.

            You say, “….your approach…” and I must say, placing achievement bullets toward the top of a resume is hardly my invention; I simply have passed it on that it strikes me that just as with advertising, putting the ‘good stuff’ toward the top of a resume seems to make a lot of sense, especially when you consider achievement bullets help to pre-close the HA on picking up the phone. My best recruits have them listed toward the top and I recommend it for anyone who has not done the same. Finding fault with this, is to my thinking, ridiculous in the extreme. Why make a RR wade through a Chrono section to spot bullets when the most compelling achievement bullets can be placed in clear view at the beginning of the document? For someone not being represented by a search consultant/employment agency, this is the second best way of being noticed in that stack of resumes.

            Again, this is a separate conversation from networking. This conversation about achievement bullets was never meant to be a substitute for networking- it is a consequence of the conversation in this thread about how to minimize the negative perception of an online MBA. I have been staying in context of this thread; networking is outside the scope of this thread. That Nick endeavored to turn this thread in the direction of networking never did address the issue of minimizing the [possible negative] impact of a HA’s/RR’s perception of an online MBA.

            Suggesting networking will overcome the problem will only work for you who do manage to network yourself into a job. FOR THE MAJORITY OF YOU, that won’t work and you are back to what was first asked- how to minimize the negative perception of an online MBA.

            In other words, Nick did not answer the question. ‘Rick’ took a stab at it and I backed him up, taking flak from Nick after doing so.

            Whew.

            Now, while I’m here…..

            Nick has a tough job, here. He takes all your input about your gripes and gives you his best advice as to how to get noticed, how to be seen, how to get in the door.

            He tells you networking is a primary tool and should be vigorously utilized so you are referred directly to a HA. He tells you he also believes you ought not need to be speaking to intermediaries such as HR. So, he is certainly on your side.

            Now, I’m not ‘not’ on your side but I don’t put myself in the position of being squeezed into sticking to what is ideal. Ideally, you are networked to a HA and you get hired. Ideally, your insistence you won’t entertain an interview with HR works for you.

            But really, what percent of you [all] get jobs by being networked into getting hired? It is a smaller percent than those who are hired by the process of luck, persistence and being referred by a search consultant who puts your resume directly onto the desk of the HA.

            So my input here and elsewhere does not discuss networking since networking does not need my input. Do what ‘they’ say and figure out a way to meet someone you don’t know who will in turn introduce you to someone else you don’t know so maybe that person will hire you.

            No thanks. My time is more valuable and I prefer to spend it helping people design their resume in the most effective way possible, how to use a headhunter to your advantage so you are hand-carried directly to the HA and I even teach people how to pick up the phone and get in touch with that HA yourself where that infamous ‘elevator speech’ can be dropped into that person’s lap.

            So I am not here much since Nick seems to cover the basics well enough. However, where I think there is a deficiency- where I tend to believe there is a gap between what he suggests is the ‘best’ approach (what you ‘should’ do) and what is actually going to work is where I take up the slack because after all, no matter how many times you hear that networking is ideal, it is not really going to happen for most of you. And most of you will either burn that bridge when you turn your back on that HR interview or will throw in and go through the motions by agreeing, after all, to be interviewed by HR.

            That’s where I come in since I coach candidates on what to do if networking is not working and how to be sure you win over HR when putting up with that interview.

            Someone has to have a back up plan and that’s me. Anyone who suggests that networking is a universal solution is not living at the tip of the spear.

            So if I show up here because I want to add perspective or may disagree with something said here, I hope you will take the time to give what I have to say your best consideration.

            Thanks,

            Paul

          • Dave: In the 20 years I’ve been watching many surveys and statistics on success rates for hiring and getting hired, the results are very consistent. Upwards of 50%-60% of jobs are found and filled through personal contacts. Referrals. Networking (much as I hate that term). Employers know it and job seekers know it. Headhunters are really just another form of (paid) personal referrals (where the employer always pays the tab).

            My guess is that members of this community land jobs through personal contacts even more often than the general public. Not because I teach this method, but because such folks are attracted to ATH to begin with.

            Resumes can of course be part of the referral process. That’s why it’s good to have a clean, straightforward resume that’s very easy to read and digest quickly. It fills in the blanks on your background after a manager decides he or she is interested in you.

            Paul Forel says:

            “But really, what percent of you [all] get jobs by being networked into getting hired? It is a smaller percent than those who are hired by the process of luck, persistence and being referred by a search consultant who puts your resume directly onto the desk of the HA.”

            Those same surveys pretty consistently show that headhunters fill only about 3% of jobs. I’m a headhunter, and I freely admit that figure — people (and even employers) don’t really need headhunters if they learn how to work like headhunters themselves.

            Job boards, in aggregate, are responsible for around 10% of hires. (I tracked this for over 15 years but finally gave up — it’s not worth following them.)

            Thanks for posting your story. It’s not an anomaly.

  3. I haven’t been following any of the press re the University of Phoenix, but this seems to be a non-starter of an issue 10 years out. I would think that the degree (any degree, not just an MBA) would matter more when you graduate because while you have the degree, you might lack the professional work experience. But 10 years AFTER you graduated, your work experience should be front and center, with your degree (and where you earned it, unless, as noted by all above, you graduated from Harvard or Wharton or another “big name” school) mattering less. 10 years out, I would think that prospective employers would be more interested in what you’ve done in the work place, would look at your experience, your accomplishments, talk to your references. If the jobs require the MBA, then at this point, it is a box you can check but your post-degree experience should be what matters.

    One way to address any concerns people may have about your MBA from the University of Phoenix would be to re-direct them to your post-graduation professional work experience and what you can do for them. If they’re like dogs worrying a bone, then check with the US Dept. of Education, the regional accrediting organization (they’re grouped according geography), AND the AACSB (the organization that accredits business schools and programs). If your school/program met all of the accreditation requirements (AACSB, regional, and US Dept. of Ed.) back in 2006, then I’d bring in some kind proof that there wasn’t a problem when you attended and graduated as a way to address those concerns.

    I agree with Paul Fogel that your education should be at the end of your résumé by now. Had you graduated last month, and depending upon your age and what kind of experience you have, then I could understand employers’ concerns if your program/school is on probation or if there are other issues.

    If the “concern” is merely that you earned your degree online, then go back to the AACSB, check the status of accreditation back when you attended and graduated, and if the AACSB gave the program the Good Housekeeping stamp of approval, then you emphasize that your degree had the same requirements, that you had to meet the same admission requirements, etc. as other programs (not online). The only difference is in the method of delivery. This is what I used to tell my students (in a previous job, I ran an online MPH program at a state university) to say to prospective employers. The degree requirements are the same as for the campus-based programs. Students have to apply, meet the same admission requirements, etc. as the traditional students. The course of study is the same; the difference is in the mode of delivery. If you can say the same about your program, that should help alleviate concerns.

    • “Fogel”?

    • Agreed.

      I think that the conventional wisdom is that your schooling helps you get that first job (or helps you break into a new field) but once you hit a certain level of seniority, it should matter less.

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