If you're a business analyst, the thought of getting your MBA has probably crossed your mind a time or two -- heck, maybe you've already done so or are in the process of doing so. Seeking a degree that'll broaden your corporate scope is a logical progression, after all.
Screech! You need to put the brakes on that line of thinking -- and fast, before you waste a whole lot of money on a degree that might not get you the return you expect. In today's business analytics job market, the MBA no longer carries the weight it once did.
Smith Hanley Associates
If not an MBA, then what? A much wiser pursuit would be an advanced degree in statistics -- advice shared by Jacque Paige, a longtime business analytics recruiter with Smith Hanley Associates
, during last week's A2 Radio show, How to Get Your Analytics Resumé Noticed
. (Click on the link to listen on demand.) "A general MBA where you've had a statistics year isn't quite enough statistics analytics for the marketplace that we're operating in," she said.
At Smith Hanley, which has been in the analytics recruitment business since 1980, Paige manages 17 recruiters, nine of whom are focused in statistics and analytics. Her recruiters have noticed a "retrenchment to being very statistical," she said. "Yes, you have to understand the strategic implications of the projects you do, but the MBA isn't valued as part of that process. What's more valued is what projects you've worked on and what results you brought to the bottom line."
Paige pointed to the recession we dipped into in 2009 and are still slowly climbing out of now as the source of marketplace shift. "October 2008 changed everything in our business," she said. "Before that, we'd been seeing a lot of growth and a lot of hiring in our business. But when the recession of 2009 came, it really put the brakes on everything."
Companies didn't necessarily start shrinking their business analytics teams, but many found themselves with small technical teams led by one "people person" who couldn't really do any heavy-lifting. When the growth in analytics teams stopped, this perhaps left many companies feeling a bit "burned," Paige said. "The tightness of the groups and the need for everybody to contribute" has driven change in hiring practices.
This is apparent even at the upper analytics ranks. "On an individual level, a change we're seeing more recently is that even up to the VP level, everyone wants hands-on skills. No longer are there positions for people who are just managing… Companies don't want that," she told listeners. Rather, when hiring, they're looking at the candidates who can "still build a model and do coding -- even though chances are they won't do very much of it."
On top of that, Paige said, IT demands are growing, too. "The expectation used to be that you have strong SAS, and that was really all you needed. But now because of all the data and all the social media information coming out, expertise in social media software; or any skill you have with SQL or Hadoop; or dealing with merging data, cleaning data, or legacy files is really a big plus."
This hands-on orientation means companies are looking for advanced technical degrees, like that masters in statistics I mentioned earlier. That, in turn, means the resumés of job candidates holding such degrees land at the top of a recruiter's pile. Again, Paige reiterated, "On-the-job training and MBAs aren't standing up to demand like they used. Companies are really looking for formal training."
The MS in statistics is most in demand. But the nature of the business will determine which advanced technical degree is best for the company looking to hire business analytics teams. "Everybody has a bias," Paige said. "Maybe people who do a little more time series might prefer an MS or PhD in econ, and then someone who is more biased on the market research side, using data and survey instruments, might like people with a PhD in the social sciences."
But don't forget those people skills entirely. The ability to communicate is always important, especially in getting your resumé into the keep pile. "The other thing that everybody looks for, just looking at the resumé and not getting to the interview process yet, is how well can people communicate their technical skills. Are they able to make it very clear to a non-technical audience?"
Has pursuit of an MBA been your go-to plan for career growth? Are you thinking otherwise about that strategy now? Share your thoughts on what's hot in the analytics job market below.
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