Considering an MBA but not sure it's worth the time and tuition cost?
The financial odds are in your favor. The median starting salary for business school graduates in the U.S. hit $100,000 for the first time in 2015, according to an annual survey by the Graduate Management Admissions Council (GMAC). That's a jump of $5,000 over the prior year's starting salary.
Around the world, more than half of employers planned to bump starting pay rates for new MBA hires, according to GMAC's 2015 Corporate Recruiters Survey. Thirty percent planned to offer raises equal to the rate of inflation, while 21 percent intended to boost starting salaries even more.
MBA Salaries: Key Influencers
In your MBA program, focus on data analytics and how they drive business success. When it comes to hiring MBAs, corporate recruiters also emphasize the importance of a strong work history; great communication skills; and a proven facility with the technical and quantitative side of business.
Consider the other factors that influence hirability and earnings for MBA degree holders:
- Your level of experience makes a big difference to the earnings you'll receive.
- Geographic location is also a consideration, since the cost of living varies depending on the city and state of employment.
- Another major factor is the field or industry in which you choose to pursue an MBA. Salary offers vary widely between the government or non-profit sector and private sector industries, for instance.
- Also, your job function—accounting, human resources, sales—can affect your earnings, with those involved in management commanding top dollar.
Common MBA Careers and What They Pay
Because the MBA is so versatile, you can use it to springboard into a range of positions. Are you drawn to working with people? Consider the human resources path. Down with data? Financial or IT management might be a better fit for your interests.
Compare these typical MBA roles and their median pay rates to see which one is the best match for you.
1. Sales Manager
Whether they work in a sprawling global operation or a small regional office, sales managers play a key role in moving goods and services from business to consumer. They're the hard chargers who set team sales goals, monitor and report on the results, and adapt new tactics accordingly. Sales managers often work closely with their account representatives, hiring, training and advising on how to ramp up individual performance.
Technology plays an increasingly important role in the life of a sales manager. From business intelligence software to project management tools, a sales professional must constantly monitor the metrics that make or break a sales team.
But some of the job requirements haven't changed since the days of door-to-door vacuum cleaner salesmen. Communication skills and social intelligence are paramount to success for any sales manager. By tuning in to what customers and colleagues are saying—and what they're not—the savvy sales manager persuades others to follow her lead.
2. Management Analyst or Accountant
Experts in efficiency and revenue-boosting strategies, management consultants deploy their talents in a host of industries to improve performance and profits. They rely on analytical skills and business intelligence technology to launch wide-scale organizational studies and revamp work systems and approaches. Management analysts also write and organize operational manuals—from employee handbooks to manufacturing procedures—to optimize business performance.
These consultants rely on a range of technological tools to perform their work, including database systems, enterprise resource planning software and data analysis tools. Potential employers look for analysts with expertise in business intelligence software applications—the tools that help uncover the story behind the numbers.
But a facility with data isn't enough for success in this role. A management analyst must display great interpersonal and communication skills—crucial when proposing changes to the way that business gets done.
3. Executive Leader
The versatile MBA can open a path to the top levels of business leadership in almost any industry. Charged with ensuring an organization meets its goals, private sector executives create the strategies to lead business in the direction they've envisioned. Their responsibilities extend to finances and budgeting, contract negotiation and management of teams and department heads.
In larger organizations, the chief executive officer channels her energies into strategic policies and long-range planning. Meanwhile, the general or operations manager takes on the day-to-day running of the business. But in smaller concerns, the executive is likely to wear many hats—from purchasing and hiring, to quality control and training.
The MBA can translate to roles in the public sector as well. Responsible for overseeing budgets, developing programs and planning resources, mayors and city managers serve as chief executive offers of their municipalities.
4. Financial Manager
From banking to the insurance industry and beyond, financial managers are charged with maintaining the financial health of an organization. A typical day has them monitoring business performance and producing complex reports. Serving as business navigator, they also plan investments and set long-term strategies for financial success.
Relying on accounting software and enterprise resource planning tools, financial managers coordinate and direct the planning and budgeting activities for their organizations. They also typically manage a team of employees responsible for the day-to-day accounting duties, such as reporting, billing, payroll and collections.
Parsing mountains of data to make solid financial decisions, financial managers must manage resources wisely. They also need great problem-solving skills and a facility for anticipating potential roadblocks to financial success.
5. Human Resource Manager
Working in almost every industry imaginable, human resources managers work to attract, inspire and retain great employees. At a functional level, they head up the recruitment, interviewing and hiring functions of an HR department. They oversee regulatory compliance and employee-focused services such as training and benefits. Human resources managers also serve as a conduit between management and rank-and-file employees.
But these people-savvy professionals work at a strategic level, too. Consulting with executive leaders, they plan how to leverage employee capacity and use those resources effectively. Human resources managers often help to restructure an organization in order to meet budgetary needs.
The HR field offers many areas in which managers can specialize, from compensation and benefits to training and recruiting. No matter the focus, any human resources role requires great diplomacy and problem-solving skills to resolve workplace conflicts and set far-reaching policies.
6. IT or Computer Information Systems Manager
Demand for the exacting information technology (IT) manager role is expected to grow at 15 percent through 2024, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Driven by our culture's ever-expanding reliance on all things technical, that rate significantly outpaces average job growth.
IT directors lead all computer-related activities in an organization, from planning for hardware purchases to overseeing the desktop support team. Working at a strategic level, they consult with executives to set business goals and design the computer systems that will support them.
Skilled in analysis and problem-solving, IT pros might also focus on maintaining computer and network security; analyzing technical needs and recommend upgrades; or conducting strategic analysis of new projects.
Some MBA holders aim for the role of chief information officer, working to set the technology strategy for an entire organization. Others set their sights on the chief technology officer position, evaluating cutting-edge technology and designing the solutions that best support business in the long run.
Bonuses and Other Perks of the MBA
If you hold an MBA degree, salary isn't the only worthwhile compensation that jobs provide. Most employers also grant benefits above and beyond annual earnings. Even if you're just starting out as an MBA graduate, you might receive a signing bonus as well as a benefits package. Besides those perks, the most common additional forms of compensation for MBA holders in are performance-based bonuses, stock options or purchase plan, profit sharing and tuition reimbursement.
Take the Next Step
Ready to reap the financial rewards of earning an MBA? It's time to take action. Start searching for the program that's right for you.
Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition; Sales Managers; Management Analysts; Top Executives; Accountants and Auditors; Human Resources Managers; Computer and Information Systems Managers; http://fortune.com/2015/05/19/mba-graduates-starting-salary/; http://gmac.mwnewsroom.com/press-releases/projected-demand-for-graduate-management-talent-re-1195369
*The salary information listed is based on a national average, unless noted. Actual salaries may vary greatly based on specialization within the field, location, years of experience and a variety of other factors. National long-term projections of employment growth may not reflect local and/or short-term economic or job conditions, and do not guarantee actual job growth.