As you progress through your career, you might feel pressured to supplement your qualifications with a Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree. This is especially relevant if you work in certain trades or industries like finance/banking, pharmaceuticals, construction/real estate, and professional services.

An MBA graduate is assumed to possess superior business skills that are expected from the upper management level. However, as much as an MBA degree can be beneficial to you and your career, it is not the only way to enter upper management levels.

If you find yourself in a position where pursuing an MBA degree is not possible, there are other alternative choices you can take to help advance your career.

Take Certificates instead of MBA

If you want to be known as an ‘expert’ in a particular business skill, getting yourself certified in a specific, niche area can be an extremely powerful move. There are many certifications available in many types of business skills, including accounting, human resources, operations and marketing. Certificates are a lot more cost-effective and less time consuming to get than an MBA degree.

For example, in Singapore you can get an Advanced Certificate in Training and Assessment from here, a Professional Certificate in Business Management from here, or a Certificate in Logistics and Supply Chain Management from here. There are many other options not listed. Furthermore, you can also opt to take long-distance or online learning, which may work better for your schedule.

If cost is a major barrier to you, here is a list of over 60 free certificate courses that you can take.

Work in an SME (Small and medium enterprises)

Singaporeans like brand names, even for jobs – many people will pick the chance to work in a famous multi-national corporation (MNCs) over an SME.

However, the nature of SMEs allows an exceptional, often-overlooked benefit to your career – because it is smaller than MNCs, chances are you will be exposed and involved in many aspects of the business.

It is not uncommon for SME staff to take on different roles and wear many hats. For example, an event coordinator might have to work on other aspects such as the marketing, advertising, designing, budgeting, recruiting, and more.

Furthermore, the small nature of SMEs means that it is easier to talk to the upper management, including the CEO. In our opinion, the upper management in a successful SME is a force to be reckoned with – they have faced many challenges and accumulated a treasure of experience during the process. They also tend to be very determined individuals who possess unique and complex problem-solving skills – and may be willing to share those with you.

Start Part-time or Freelance work

Can’t pursue that MBA? 4 Alternative Career-Advancing Choices You Can Take

Having a part-time or freelance work can have many benefits to your life. Besides the obvious benefit of having an extra source of income (always a great thing), having part-time or freelance work can help you develop skills that you can only learn outside the classroom and in real life.

Yes, we are talking about a drastic self-improvement methodology, but a great one if executed well. In order to be a juggle your full-time job and a part-time/freelance career, you need to be extremely efficient with your time management.

Furthermore, you will find that you need to improve your communication skills, networking skills, marketing skills, sales skills, research skills, stress management skills, hiring skills, public relation skills, and many more in order to be a successful part-timer/freelancer. Like jumping straight into the deep end of the pool, it is up to you to rise up to these challenges and come out better.

All these skills can be applied to your normal job to advance your career. Better networking skills? Rub shoulders with the upper management to be remembered, come next promotion period. Better hiring skills? Get better quality candidates during job interviews. The applicability of your upgraded skill set will know no limit.

Want to go down this path? To start off, here are some tips for better time management skills.

Join your Company’s In-house Employee Development Program

Some companies have excellent in-house employee development programs. There are many different types of development programs – we do not claim this article to be exhaustive, but rather a generalisation and starting point.

One type of program usually offered are ‘fast-track’ leadership development programs for high-potential employees. These types of programs are usually highly competitive, however, if you persevere, you may have a decent chance to be promoted to senior management in due time.

Your company may also provide support for you to attend training, seminars, conferences and courses related your field. It is not uncommon to hear employees sponsored on an all-expense paid trip, especially if you work for a larger company.

Another type of in-house development program (that is usually not advertised as such) is cross-training programs to different departments. Exposure to different departments can be extremely beneficial to your career as it shows great initiative on your part to know the bigger picture of the business.

Furthermore, this program allows yourself to get yourself known in different departments – a great networking opportunity.


As you can see, an MBA degree is not the only way to advance your career. If you are not in the position to pursue it, you have many other options that are equally (or in some cases, better) than going to a business school.

Try to see your available options – sometimes the advice you are looking for will come in the unlikeliest of places. Seeking qualifications is important, but so are the right mindset (here are success mindset guide and tips for women).


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  1. Getting a trade certificate is the best-ever advice, especially for people in the technical profession. In IT, for example, if you have a trade certificate from Cisco or Microsoft or Oracle, you are regarded as a highly-desirable specialist in that field, and you can pick and choose the job you wanted.

    But do not waste time in many of those so called “skills future” courses that the government is promoting. Many of these courses (like photography or dim-sum making) are enjoyable but will not advance your career. Even courses at the poly on “nanotechnology” and computer animation or marketing, will not increase your EQ (employability quotient, my term for how employable you are).

    Finally, I think you should say outright that enrolling in an MBA at, say, $90,000, is also worthless. Getting an MBA will not nudge your boss to promote you, neither will it boost your EQ. And the biggest rip-off is the so-called “Executive” MBA, which is offered to people in top management who have no academic credentials (i.e. they probably have only an O-level). The money you save by not enrolling in an MBA or EMBA is better spent in travelling around the world — you learn more and network more.


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