Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Should I put "MBA" in my title, on my business card, etc...?

Over the course of my career, I've held jobs at fortune 500 companies, investment banks and small firms. Every now and then, I've come across people who make the huge mistake of using the MBA designation in their title.

For example, I'll get the occasional email with a signature in it, or see a business card or a "Linked-In" profile that reads like this:

John X. Smith, MBA
Accounts Payable Reconciliation Manager
Phone: 555-555-5555

This usage is absolutely wrong and it is one of my pet peeves. You can be proud that you have an MBA, but do me a favor- never use it in your title. The first thing I think when I see something like this (and it is almost always true) is that John X. Smith got an MBA at night school at a community college or on the Internet and has never worked in a professional setting before. Presenting yourself like this instantly brands you as a neophyte and if you make mistakes in things as minor (though admittedly subtle) as this, who is going to trust you with major responsibilities? The MBA is not a professional designation like a PhD or an MD. If you put MBA after your name, it just looks like you're trying too hard to impress people.

If you don't want to take my word for it, take a look at this piece in the Wall Street Journal, entitled "Why you should leave "MBA" off your card".
I've also seen this issue come up on Linked-In pages and it is usuall people in the IT field or something. I hate to pick on people, but check out this page [Actually, I had a link to a page with someone using MBA in their title, but this page has since been removed. I'm having second thoughts about picking on people in particular, so I'm not going to replace it. You can easily find it by just doing a search for "Joe Smith, MBA" on Google] I just did a totally random search to find someone using MBA in their title on linked-in and found this person. Looking at their education, I see it took them four years (most likely night school) to get an MBA from the Illinois Institute of Technology which almost perfectly fits my above thesis.

In closing, unless you really want to grind my gears, NEVER use "MBA," "M.B.A," "Master of Business Administration" etc... in your title. Feel free to mention that you have an MBA in your resume, or in your corporate bio etc... but don't use it as a part of your title or you end up looking unprofessional.

And while I'm on the topic, don't EVER call yourself "an MBA." This profile on LinkedIn is a good example of someone I would never want to work with. First of all, the person seems pretty psycho about LinkedIn and lists himself as a "networking king." Second of all, he uses MBA in his title. Third, he calls himself an MBA, writing "As an MBA with 7+ years of corporate experience..." I'm stopping right there.

Moral of the story: you have an MBA degree, you're not a doctor. Keep it in the background and let your work prove your worth.

By the way, no offense at all meant towards someone who got an MBA at night school at a community college. I don't care where you got your degree. In fact, I don't even care if you have a degree if you're an honest, intelligent person who does good work. I've just noticed a correlation between night school or internet MBAs and the use of "MBA" in their title.

I encourage you to read all of the comments below and decide for yourself.

EDIT 11/19/2010: I've come around in my thinking since writing this original post, thanks to many of the comments below. In the majority of circumstances, I still think you should not use MBA in your title or on your business card. however, some people have told me that in certain industries/companies, the business card is used as a "mini-resume." I can't verify this as I have never seen it or worked in any of these industries, but if this is indeed the case, I'm less against it than I would otherwise be. I still get annoyed when other people with MBA degrees walk around saying "I'm an MBA" and expect people to bow down to their greatness.

Let your work and your attitude prove your worth. Don't just lean on a title.