27 Jan


Whatever increase in salary derives from those letters B.A., MBA, whatever, is usually outweighed by the cost of that education (often reaching six figures), the often even larger dollar loss of being out of the workforce for years while in school and, most importantly, by the fact that you could have learned much more of real-world value in far less time and at far less cost at what I call You U. The curriculum:

  • Have a mentor
  • Read key articles and books
  • Attend conferences
  • Do apprenticeships alongside a master practitioner

You have to be a self-starter to make You U work, but the benefits are more than worth it.

Landing the job

What about getting hired? Won’t most employers want that degree? Yes, but many will end up preferring you over a degree holder if your application includes a letter such as this:

Dear Ms. Hirer,When you’re inundated with applications, it’s tempting to weed out those without a prestigious MBA, but I believe I’m worth a look precisely because I don’t have an MBA.I considered getting one, but after talking with MBA holders and examining the courses’ relevance (or, too often, lack thereof) to becoming an excellent software marketing executive, I concluded that the two full-time years and $100,000 could be more profitably invested.So, I contacted directors of marketing at leading Silicon Valley hardware companies and offered to work for them for no pay in exchange for their mentoring. I figured that was cheap tuition for the on-target learning. A marketing manager at HP took me on. After three months, I felt I had learned about as much from him as I could, whereupon I made a similar arrangement with a director of marketing at Cisco Systems.In those apprenticeships, I was deeply involved in a number of projects similar to those mentioned in your want ad, specifically Internet marketing and managing a national consumer branding campaign. In addition, I attend American Marketing Association conferences, read the best articles and books recommended by the AMA, and spend much of my commute time listening to relevant books on CD. To get the bigger picture, I even read a couple of books by leading academics.I hope you’ll appreciate that I was enough of a self-starter to see a comprehensive learning plan through to completion without a professor and deadlines forcing me to do so. Perhaps more important, in working at the elbow of top hardware marketing executives, I learned a tremendous amount about how to do the job well.But now comes the moment of truth. In choosing a self-directed education over a traditional one, I believe I prioritized substance over form, but will you interview me?I enclose samples of the deliverables I produced during my work at HP and Cisco.Thank you for your consideration.Sincerely,Joe Applicant

I give talks to executives and often ask them, “Imagine you’re an employer and you post a want ad that says ‘MBA required.’ and one applicant wrote this letter.” I read the letter above to them. I then say, “Raise your hand if you’d interview him.” Invariably, 80% to 90% do.

Many people consider a degree to be a magic pill, but in fact, its side effects often outweigh its benefits. You’ll feel much better — and still get what you want out of your career — if you get your education at You U.

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