Why Is an MBA a “Kiss of Death” if Applying for a Position in HR or Corp Recruiting?

Josh Letourneau Culture, Diversity, Joshua Letourneau, Recruiting

So you’ve just worked through 2 years of performing discounted cash flows to evaluate a current buyout offer, you now know more about John Nash (and his famed equilibrium pertaining to Game Theory) than George Washington himself, and you’ve even presented arguments both for and against your own ethical stances in regards to corporate and social responsibility.  In fact, you’ve read through so many business cases and textbooks that it might be a decade before you can ever consider reading for pleasure again.  Yep, you’ve earned your MBA and you’re ready to put it to work for HR and Internal Recruiting.

Not so fast, my Friend.  There’s a little known secret in the MBA world — If you’ve earned an MBA, the probability of you gaining a position in HR or Internal Recruiting is slim to none.  Let me further clarify, however: I’m referring to the person who falls into one of the following categories:

  • You already have business experience at the unit level, and decided to pursue an MBA to round out your skill sets.  In other words, “You were born a business person first.”
  • You went straight from your Undergraduate Degree to your Masters, meaning you have no tangible business experience to date.  In other words, “You weren’t born a business person first, but you decided to pursue a Masters in Business.”

Both are recipes for a big-ole, ‘Rejected’ stamp across the top of your online application.  In other words, the business professionals exempt from this little known secret are those who start out within HR.  That’s right – if you’re looking to consider pursuing a career in HR or Corporate Recruiting, an MBA can be a kiss of death.


But “Why?”, one might ask . . . and honest answers are hard to come by.  The most candid one I’ve ever received came from a Sr V.P. of Organizational Development at one of the world’s largest publicly traded firms two weeks ago.  It went a little something like this:

“Josh, the reason for this phenomenon is actually quite simple.  It all starts with the VP (or Director) and their own educational profile.  In my experience, it’s quite rare to find line-HR (or Recruiting) professionals who have educational pedigrees equal to or greater than the VP or Director.  The line-HR (and Recruiting) Pros’ take their cues from the VP or Director, and most are doing what they can to minimize any ‘rocking of the boat’, especially in today’s economy.  Ultimately, those of us at the Sr. VP or C-level cannot skirt responsibility for the leadership we bring into our HR and Talent Acquisition units.  The irony is that it’s this very prejudice that limits my own talent pool to pick from in the first place, so it’s somewhat of a self-reinforcing loop of mediocrity.”

This leads me to ask the FOT Nation: If you earned an MBA and wanted a shot at a career in HR (or Corporate Recruiting, or Organizational Development, etc.), would you omit the MBA on your resume?

I’m beginning to think this might be the best strategy . . . only to bring awareness of this fact later through your developing of relationships with the Business Managers and Directors with whom you consult.  At least at this point, you’ll be able to have some deeper business conversations with the Managers and Directors, while ridding yourself of the discriminatory stigma an MBA currently holds if you’re applying for a position in HR.