B-School Selection
Comments 22

How to choose between an HR program and a regular MBA

I think I have said this in another post — India is probably the only country where people will be willing to shell out more than 20 lakhs for a product and at the same time be willing to accept whatever variant the seller decides to give them. What am I referring to here? When I ask students who have both BM and HR calls from XLRI, what their preference is, or what they would prefer between XL-HR/TISS and IIM-K/MDI, most are very clear — the specialization does not matter, all that matters is the brand; others start bringing ROI into the picture.

I feel people put in more thought when choosing between a diesel and a petrol car! We are so crazy after elite institutions that we fail to even consider whether we will succeed/fail in or like/dislike a particular field. The objective of this post will be to give you enough information to choose the right program when faced with a choice between a premier HR program and other programs.

It is not as simplistic as people skills versus communication skills

People tend to think of the choice between HR and Marketing as a choice between liking to interact with people and possessing great communication skills.

Any MBA worth his/her salt needs to have great people skills and communication skills. Aren’t these two skills the core pillars that separate managers and leaders (please note that I am not talking about visionary founders, they don’t need to follow any rules since they end up making them) from pure techies.

I feel that our ability to build a successful career in any area is (assuming a particular level of intelligence) is more a function of our innate traits and temperament than our skills.

Let us take two people with great people skills and communication skills starting off their careers in Sales & Marketing — will both be equally successful in sales as well as marketing? Will both do equally well in roles of National Sales Manager and Chief Marketing Officer?

Nope. A lot depends on the temperament of each individual.

For example, I had a student who, post his MBA, took up a pre-sales role in an IT firm purely because he felt that he just cannot do a desk job, he needs to be on the move, he cannot just sit and think.

So how do you decide whether you are made for HR or for any general MBA? There are three things you need to consider.

Are you ready to settle for the award for the best supporting actor?

The big difference between HR and other functions is that Marketing, Finance, and Operations are line functions — functions that directly impact the top-line — the revenues — or the bottom-line — the profits —  of a company. HR is a support function, which requires specialized knowledge, that indirectly contributes to the revenues and profits by providing the people and creating the environment required to run the other functions successfully.

What does this mean in terms of career progression?

HR professionals very rarely rise to become CEOs; every other specialization has a direct path to the CEO chair; firms choose CEOs from among the top management — be it CMO, CFO or COO. Also, the curriculum of an HR program is a very specialised one and not a generalised business strategy one geared to build future leaders. The only case in which HR professionals become CEOs is if they are part of the founding team and started with taking up the HR responsibility and later moved on to other roles.

What does this mean in terms of temperament?

Those who are very ambitious, competitive and want to be close to the action — revenue generation and profit-maximization — will find themselves to be misfits in HR. While Indian firms have started to give the importance due to HR as a function, by large the Indian firms still look at HR to not be of core importance. So, if you are ambitious and like to call the shots, you might not fit in at all.

Please keep in mind that this is not a value judgement on people in HR. Just like supporting actors are indispensable to a movie, the same is true of HR as well. It is up to you to decide the role you will excel in.

HR on average will pay lower, are you okay with it?

Salaries of most people working in line-functions have a high variable component that is based on the numbers that they are measured against year on year. People working in line-functions carry measurable targets that also carry a high incentive. The higher the revenues, the higher the incentives that people get to earn.

HR professionals also carry measurable targets but the incentives are not as high as those in other functions. In Finance, on the other hand, professionals working in i-banking end up getting a small percentage of the size of the deal, traders have a direct upside related to the profits they make for the firm, so essentially there is no ceiling on the amount they can earn, making Finance a very sought-after as well the field with a lot of scams as well — higher rewards induce people to take higher risks.

Be that as it may, those graduating from the top HR schools earn enough to have great roti, great kapda, and great makaan. If at a comparable firm and level, a marketing professional is at around a 75L CTC, an HR professional will be in the 50-60 range. The gap narrows down or rather would cease to matter once you reach the position of head HR. Please keep in mind that what I have written does not apply to each and every HR professional in each and every firm. Anyone at Amazon will have a really high salary and make tons of money through ESOPs.

The most extreme CEO package of all? Obviously, has to belong to the CEO with the most outrageously ambitious CEO of all, Elon Musk — the all or nothing package.

Are stress-levels and work-life balance major priorities for you?

Given the fact that the monthly revenues and profits are not driven by HR, roles in HR carry lower stress levels — lower stress levels do not mean lower workload. My friend in HR travels as much as, if not more, than my friend in Marketing and puts in as many manhours but, on average, has lower stress levels.

The end of the month is always a high-intensity time for other functions. Managers keep pushing their subordinates through encouragement or outright swear words to make them push sales as much as possible.

HR professionals face such levels of stress during the mergers and acquisitions when people are let go due to workforce rationalization, or while downsizing during a recession (you should watch the movie Up in the Air if you haven’t already)

So if you are someone who by nature seeks less stress then HR is might be the right choice.

In non-HR roles, you have to consciously use stress-management tools to ensure that you are able to maintain the balance. You might reach home but if your mind is still carrying the stress from work then the balance will suffer.

If the answer to all of these questions is strong YES, then HR is the obvious choice for you.

If you are not able to make up your mind on these questions then give them a rating from 1 to 10, 1 being a strong NO to 10 being a strong YES. If your cumulative rating on all three questions is higher than 22 then you are probably a better fit for HR.

So to sum it up, choosing primarily on the basis of the brand might be too simplistic when it comes to specialized programs since we are not comparing apples with apples.

The better you know yourself, your traits, your temperament, and your skills the better you will be at building the right career for yourself.

By now it will be clear that you cannot have your cake and eat it too, there is always a trade-off to be made.



    • Unlike HRM, Finance is a line function and not a support function, which is why the best schools for Finance are those offering MBA programs and not specialised Finance programs.


  1. Ishita says

    Hello Sir,
    I have converted MDI Gurgaon HRM program. However, I also have IIM Kashipur right now and am waitlisted for IIM Trichy, Raipur and Ranchi.
    I am fairly open to HR but would have preferred a general program just to keep my options open.
    Also, I do believe that the opportunities at MDI HRM would be far greater, but the IIM tag issue also stands(especially from my parents’ POV- they have their apprehensions about a private college and a belief that the IIM tag will be far more valuable in the future).
    I will really appreciate your opinion on this.

    Thank you, sir.

    PS- All your masterclasses and blogposts were an absolute game-changer for me. One thing I will keep with myself for life is “Trust the process”. Really helped me to get through this journey. Thank you.


    • Hi Ishita,

      Glad you found all the posts and sessions useful.

      The choice is pretty clear — are you an HR person or a non-HR person that is a question I wanted everyone to force themselves to answer.

      You cannot get away with the anodyne — I am fairly open to HR — you do realise that statement means nothing — it is like saying I am fairly open to bowling — are you a fast bowler or not is the question!

      Once you make that conscious choice you will set yourself up for a great career.

      If you are unable to make that choice then I am afraid you will have to either follow your heart or your parents’ (conservative) advice and then accept whatever follows.

      Purely in terms of brand and jobs, IIM-Kashipur will be way behind MDI, so for a non-HRM program, I would vote for MDI by a mile over the new IIMs.

      Hope this helps,

      All the best!


  2. Arushi Garg says

    Hello Sir,

    Your blogs are really insightful and have always helped me throughout my CAT preparation journey.
    I have converted MDI Gurugram (PGDM-IB) course and few new IIMS. Among them IIM Trichy and Raipur are the best options to consider. Leaving the investment aspect aside, I would like to know your opinion about which college I should prefer. It would be very helpful.

    Thank you


    • Hi Arushi,

      I would definitely recommend MDI-G over the new IIMs purely in terms of placements. The new and the baby IIMs still have a bit of catching up to do and it will take a while before their brands start delivering the same value as the other top 30 schools.

      Having said that if you are keen on an IIM-tag and are okay with making the most of what the new IIMs have to offer then go ahead and join them, you will not be making a bad choice by any stretch.

      So, it primarily depends on which kind of firms you are looking at, if have a list of firms and sectors that only come to MDI-G and not to the new IIMs you are better off choosing the former.

      Hope this helps,

      All the best!

      All the best!


      • agarshubh says

        Hi Tony sir,
        I converted
        MDI- IB ( it’s an international program where 1year in Gurgaon and 1 in ESCP Europe however final placements are with MDI Gurgaon)- Fee – 35 lakh
        IIM udaipur
        Having an IIT myself I do not crave for IIM tag but looking which college can give me more opportunity.
        Also there are chances of conversion of PGP programme of MDI too.


      • Hi Shubh,
        The reason to choose MDI-IB is to maximise your chances of landing an international placement.

        If that is not a major focus for you, then it’s only about having a good time abroad as part of one’s education provided you can fund your education.

        The new IIMs are not yet on par with MDI. If you get PGP then join MDI.

        If it’s between IB and IIM-U then it just boils down to your loan appetite. If the 35L scares you the you can join U, if you do well in the batch, you should be able to land good jobs with the IIT tag.

        Hope this helps,

        All the best!

        Liked by 1 person

    • agarshubh says

      Hi Tony sir, first of all your blogs had been really helpful during cat preparation.
      I am not looking for abroad placements. But investment is also not so much issue for me if it gives me better opportunity. So Should I go for IIM U or MDI -IB in this case?


      • Hi Agar,

        If the fee is not a criterion then the choice is clearly between better placements + international experience and the IIM-tag — you have two IIs might as well add two more sorts of logic more 🙂

        All I can say is that you will not be jeopardising your career in any major way by choosing one or the other. It will be a personal choice that you have to make — this might help


        All the best!


  3. Aditya says

    Sir confused between NITIE SJMSOM Shillong and a reattempt. 2020 passout from NIT working at a remote location (site)


  4. Pradip Pandey says

    Hello sir,

    Thank you for all the life lessons. Your blogs have been a guiding light throughout my MBA preparation.
    Sir, I have been offered admission to PGP – F at IIMK and waitlisted (convertible) at MDI G. I’m a CA with 3 years experience inclined towards IB and consulting. Academic profile is 81/85 in WB board and CGPA 6.7 from Xaviers Kolkata. Which one looks more prudent according to you, sir ?


    • Hi Pradipta,
      Given your profile you are very likely to get great roles in the PGP-F program. From what I have heard the Fin jobs on offer are very good.

      What you need to check is whether the PGP-F students care considered for placements in other domains as well. If they do then join K.

      If not the call you have to take should be based on which domain you want to choose. If it’s Fin then K, if you really want a shot at Consulting then MDI.

      Hope this helps,

      All the best!


  5. Hello Sir,
    I have been shortlisted for IIM Ranchi and have a convertible waitlist for IIM S and IIM K – LSM program.
    The program offered is very interesting but since it’s not the flagship program offered and it’s relatively new, would it be better to join new IIMs instead of IIM K.


    • Hi Prashant,

      Congrats on the admit!

      I think the best way to go about it is to find out about the LSM program and the roles offered. PGP-Finance at IIM-K is offering great roles and packages.

      Speak to someone in the current batch and then take a call. If the prospects are not great, then S.

      All the best!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Sir, I have talked to the seniors and they have said that the opportunities are the same. Placement wise it’s great. The only concern I have is that it’s new and there’s not a lot of information about the program.


      • As long as the placements are great and you get a good start, you do not need to worry about the specific degree on the resume.

        Go ahead and join.

        All the best!

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Raghu says

    Hello Tony Sir. Have gone through your wonderful insights . However I am stuck deciding between two schools namely IIFT- Kolkata and NMIMS Mumbai. I have gone through and contacted alum of both the colleges and each have their own preferences. In my head there are these two dilemmas :

    1. NM’s fee and batch size is way higher and there could a chance of better success with the smaller batch sizes at IIFT

    2. IIFT K might be a secondary preference for recruiters over IIFT Delhi and hence there might be discrimination even though they have common placements.

    It would be really helpful if you could help out clearing my Dilemma



    • Hi Raghu,

      My rule of thumb has always been to choose the main campus over the satellite campus.

      Yes, NM batch size is high but so far by large my students who have gone there have been happy and have not come back and dissed the college.

      If one finishes in the bottom half or quarter of any batch one will not get the best roles on offer, so for me batch size is not something that matters since one does not aim to finish last.

      Hope this helps,

      All the best!


  7. Aryan Singh says

    Hello sir,
    Having gone through your detailed answers and the methodology to figure out whether HRM is for me or not, I’m still not able to settle between MDI-HRM & IIFT Kolkata. I’d say I am still indifferent to HRM or Consultancy but having multiple marketing internships at media consultancies, I’m pretty well versed with the marketing domain. Coming from IIM Rohtak’s IPM Program(Took an exit after BBA this year) with an average profile (9 8 8) I’d assume placement wise (anywhere) it’d be more of what I make of it, if not an advantage.
    There are a few things that I’m considering-
    1. IIFT Kolkata might not be at par (on a multifaceted aspect of placements, crowd, value in long run and campus experience) with IIFT Delhi(which I don’t have) or MDI(HRM).
    2. Exchange term opportunities in MDI, be it HRM might be better than IIFT Kolkata and I’d like to spend a term to explore more opportunities and obviously “have a good time abroad as part of my education”.
    3. I have read and heard first hand accounts of people ending up with core consulting even from MDI-HRM and they’re not scarce. I would like to replicate that or get into HR Consultancy at least.
    4. A lot of flagship recruiters at MDI-HR might not consider IIFT Kolkata. Example- ABG Leadership program, which hired from HRM as well but not IIFTK.
    5. MDI campus experience and proximity to an industry hub seems to have a greater than expected effect on my pensiveness.
    6. I’ve had college credits in both HR and Marketing and fared well in both of them without a greater inclination towards any.
    7. Even if I decide to go for IIFTK, top FMCGs (ITC or HUL when they visit) and Mckinseys of the world only consider Delhi for placements and K is left with the likes of Dabur or Accenture respectively. However, if I go for MDI-HR, I’d be getting the best opportunities in the domain of HR and HR Consulting.

    Priority Order (slightly flexible): Placements > Long Run Value & Brand > Campus Experience > Domain
    Interested to hear about your take on this.


    • Hi Aryan,

      That’s quite a detailed query but the answer is simple from your last line — the listing of your order of priority — MDI.

      Dont think too much!

      All the best!


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