A MBA never hurts, but it is not a golden ticket to a great job, irrespective of market conditions. Academic qualifications aren't a substitute for proven commercial experience and, ideally, a prior relationship of some description with the employer.
In tightened times companies fall back on hiring people they are certain will hit the ground running and make an impact to their business. It's well documented that the highest probability of success comes through hiring based on referrals and recommendations.
The advantage that a MBA does provide, certainly for a consultancy like Xceed, is the solid commercial acumen acquired. However, this is not limited to candidates with MBAs. It can be found in other candidates who have relevant commercial experience. If anything a reliance on academic commercial theory can be detrimental as not all businesses operate along textbook lines. This can be frustrating for the individual and the employer. There are a lot of senior managers who don't have MBAs and can resent, or be wary of those that do, especially if they act as though their MBA outweighs their manager's hands-on experience.
With fewer roles available (a vacancy driven market as opposed to a candidate driven one) the hiring bar is naturally set higher and any extra qualifications will help. However, they will only really help in closely contested decisions where it's the fine margins between candidates that are being analysed.
When it comes to hiring decisions it's often more about a candidate's attitude. If they have a great attitude, good competencies and an MBA, then all the better. However, a MBA without the right attitude doesn't help one iota. Unfortunately there are plenty of people who don't understand this.
For a candidate to really stand out it would be advisable for them to down play their MBA or at least wear it lightly. It's vital that they make it clear to the prospective employer that whilst they value their education they would value working with that company or person even more. As Richard Wiseman covers in his book "59 Seconds; think a little, change a lot"1 one of the main criteria that interviewers actually decide a candidate on is simple 'likeability'. Put simply there are few qualifications that will override great interpersonal skills and practical, relevant commercial experience.
It can also depend on who the candidate is being compared with and to. If it's a fresh graduate versus a graduate with a MBA, then naturally the MBA will have given the candidate a greater range of business skills. They will also typically expect a higher starting salary so unless the role demands the MBA skills it can even be detrimental. A candidate with a MBA applying for a role that doesn't demand or use it, or pay a commensurate salary can be viewed as a flight risk. Will they be happy in the role? Will they move on as soon as the market improves? How long will they last? Are the type of concerns that can lead to hiring managers choosing a less qualified candidate.
If it's a candidate with an MBA compared to one with a few years' relevant commercial experience and a prior relationship with the firm, or hiring manager, then familiarity wins. Simply it is less risk, more trust and better value.
1. ":59 Seconds: Think a little, Change a lot" by Professor Richard Wiseman, Macmillan 2009↩