MBA specializations

During some casual conversation earlier this evening, I realized that I get irritated when people talk about ‘MBA finance’ or ‘MBA marketing’. I realized that I feel like not continuing the conversation when someone asks me my MBA specialization. Later I spoke to Baada about this, and he too agreed about the lack of respect for the counterparty when this topic gets mentioned.

I think it has to do with a lot of people assuming that “MBA” is just a set of courses that one does in order to become a manager. Maybe they assume that one can become a manager in a particular domain by reading a set of books. Maybe they think that an MBA is just like any other course where you get “knowledge” rather than change your way of thinking (ok a lot of people say MBA is useless and suchlike but my MBA certainly changed the way I think).

Or maybe it’s just that people find it easier to classify. Sometimes people overdo it, to the point of stereotyping. I’m reminded of my last company which worked on two kinds of products (let’s call them Product A and Product B – details are, er, classified). I started off doing a bit of A and soon I became “Associate for A”. Soon, I started doing some other stuff, which would easily fall under B. Yet, the CEO kept referring to me as “Associate for A”. It was ridiculous, but somehow he couldn’t get this classification out of his head – even when most of my time was spent doing B.

Anyways, point I’m trying to make is that people are used to classifications in education. For example, in engineering you have electrical, mechanical, etc. – all very easy. Similarly in postgrad for medicine – you can easily classify as ‘eye’, ‘bone’, etc. So isn’t it the duty of “management” also to get duly classified? And it did help the classifiers that there were three or four major areas in which most MBAs sought employment, and this made classification convenient.

Most local MBA colleges use this “specialization” funda to optimize on the number of electives that they need to offer. From a couple of interactions  with people from local MBA colleges, I found that they had very few electives – the major choice that they had was in specialization. And once you picked your specialization, your set of courses would get more or less frozen which made it easy for the college to organize.

Some local MBA colleges seem to have taken this specialization thing to ridiculous levels. The other day, one of my cousins had come to me for career gyaan and he said “I’m wondering whether to do an MBA in Aviation or an MBA in media”. I completely lost it at that point and blasted him and asked him to work before thinking of an MBA. Hopefully the current bust will take care of such ridiculousness that exists in the colleges.

Even a large number of good colleges had this “specialization” funda. I’m told that IIMC had this funda of “major” where if you took five electives in a particular area, that would go on your degree certi as a “major”. However, I’ve never heard anyone from IIMC (even from those days when this classification existed) describing themselves as a “MBA in XXX”.

Anyway, the next time you ask me what my specialization was during my MBA, you’ll make sure that I lose all respect for you.

19 thoughts on “MBA specializations”

  1. Hi Karthik,

    I’m afraid that’s not true; what you said about IIMC. Its the same in IIMC as it is in other IIMs. What we have is one year of all compulsory followed by one year of all electives. You can choose courses from each area. Some people who take a lot of courses in one area, apply this “specialisation” to their degree on their own. But the institute as such has no such classification.

    And yeah, I spend most time explaining to people that there is no such thing as an MBA in Finance/Marketing. Even top-10 schools like SP Jain seem to have this stupid separation. What is even worse if when you get admitted to a particular area – without even knowing what it entails. I guess the typical peer mentality of the “best” ppl going to finance then to “marketing” and so on must happen.

    1. notice the past tense there.

      this “major” funda at IIMC used to exist till the batch before mine. but it was significantly superior to the “specialization” funda that a lot of b-schools have – since it still gave you the choice wrt individual courses. and i think it was possible to graduae wihtout a major also

  2. Agreed.
    Worasht part is when this happens in an interview.
    I have reacted in bad ways like declaring myself equally incompetent in all fields etc. out of mixed feelings of boredom and instinctive disrespect

    1. hahaha. good shyte – declaring yourself equally incompetent

      but this coming in interviews is total deathmax

  3. I hear you. I can make the “TIN MBA Specialization OTM” speech in my sleep also now.

    PS: Ironic that the first google ad that this post throws up is “MBA in Fashion”.

    1. two weeks down and now the top ad is “MBA in London”. i just hope London isn’t a specialization.

      soon you’ll have MBA specialization at the level of mastermind topics

  4. Very strong agreer. I’ve been taking this question so long with a patient, ‘In IIM-B, there is no funda of specialization blah blah’ for one generation above, but its irritating coming from one’s peers. Just like those email forwards on ‘some smart responses to stupid questions’, add a section to this post on successfully implemented repartee to this stupid question.

    1. only decent repartee i’ve heard is what ashwin says above – equally incompetent. else, I can only think of “K2U”

  5. I learnt my lesson, thanks for the Gyan!
    But I wonder why do you expect everyone, that too a non-MBA to know your MBA fundaes? In fact, the notion of MBA specialization has been disbursed from MBA community itself, be it the institute, student, articles, job-ads, and even the LinkedIn profiles! Reading those, we outsiders, believe that there is a real thing called MBA-specialization! Are we to blame?

    Anyway, so, next time someone asks you about MBA specialization, before you lose respect for the counterparty, wear the counterparty’s hat for a moment, explain and help correct that notion. If the counterparty still does not understand, then probably you may lose respect for the counterparty, not otherwise. No one is Sarvagna in this world… everyone has his/her share of ignorance… just my 2c…

  6. Yeah, I hate that question too.

    “Hopefully the current bust will take care of such ridiculousness that exists in the colleges.”

    I fear the opposite – people who lose jobs in the bust will turn to an MBA to save their careers, thinking that a degree with compensate for lack of skill – the fly-by-night MBA schools will make the most of the FUD. Woresht.

    1. hmmm. interesting thought. in fact, an acquaintance who is the director of a slightly shady B-school in Delhi was telling me that applications to his school had jumped 10 times this year.

  7. Actually, the error lies sometimes on the PGDM holder’s side too. I have noticed a number of people mentioning their post graduation degree as M.B.A. (Finance) from IIMx in their resumes, credentials etc. It looks like the thought process is as if, “Junta in general are not going to understand something called a PGDM, so I will write it as M.B.A. Further, they are not going to take it too well if I have not specialised in something. So, let me write the name of that in which I have taken the maximum number of electives.” First, that mentality needs to change. Unless and until we want others to know what exactly we have done, the questions will still continue.

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