On the money front, job seekers need to set reasonable expectations. Cullen says that typically once a client has defined the criteria for a position and set the salary range it's willing to pay, finding a candidate who has an MBA isn't likely to move the needle. "It isn't going to get you another $10,000 in salary," he says. "Coming in the door, many positions are fixed."
The perceived importance of an MBA often depends on who's doing the hiring and what that person's background is, Cullen adds. For some hiring managers, certifications such as Project Management Professional (PMP) or Certified Business Analysis Professional (CBAP) are more important than a business degree. "A lot of it has to do with the person in the hiring seat and what they have," Cullen says.
Mike Rosenbaum, CEO of Catalyst IT Services, hasn't found evidence that having an MBA will make someone a top performer -- and he's amassed a lot of data on the qualities of top-performing IT pros. Catalyst IT Services uses an analytics-based approach for hiring IT workers and building Agile development teams.
"We collect large amounts of data on people, and then build algorithms that allow us to tell whether or not someone is going to be a high performer on a particular team," Rosenbaum says. "Graduate degrees generally tend to be statistically insignificant in determining whether or not someone is going to be a high performer on a development team."
But while graduate degrees "generally do not predict success," Rosenbaum acknowledges there are some skills associated with graduate degrees that are very relevant. "At the very top of the list is being able to write," he notes.
For an IT pro who's looking to change career paths, the value of getting an MBA might be in the exposure the person gets to all aspects of business -- finance, accounting, supply chain, project management -- while in the program. For example, an IT pro with an infrastructure-heavy background could learn about apps, business processes and project management in an MBA program. "It's no guarantee they're going to get where they want, but it's a good path to train their mind on what they need to know," Cullen says.
Ann Bednarz covers IT careers, outsourcing and Internet culture for Network World. Follow Ann on Twitter at @annbednarz and check out her blog, Occupational Hazards. Her e-mail address is email@example.com.
Read more about infrastructure management in Network World's Infrastructure Management section.