A couple of years ago, Lucy Meidinger was at a crossroads.
The Mechanicsville mother of two wanted to advance in her career but knew she needed to improve her skill sets in order to do that.
So Meidinger joined the growing ranks of business professionals who are now working toward their MBAs.
"You need an MBA to distinguish yourself," said Meidinger, who was a financial analyst at a convenience store chain.
The advent of new technologies and businesses going global coupled with the economic downturn of the past few years, a graduate degree in business is becoming increasingly necessary for those looking for work or to get ahead, said Richard Coughlan, senior associate dean and head of the MBA program at the University of Richmond.
A poll released last week by the Graduate Management Admission Council found that 74 percent of employers plan to hire an MBA in 2012. That's up from 59 percent in 2011.
The Reston-based nonprofit education group also found 22 percent of companies say they plan to increase the number of MBA graduates on their payroll, up from 6 percent in 2011.
"It can make quite a difference, particularly if you are trying to stand out," said Genevieve Roberts, partner and co-founder of Titan Group LLC, a human-resources consulting firm in Henrico County.
Having an MBA degree, she said, shows prospective employers that you are someone willing to put in the time and effort to advance your career and that you have a broad knowledge base.
Arman Amiri was working as a marketing manager for a Charlottesville bio-tech firm when he decided it was time for an MBA.
"I enjoyed what I was doing, but (my education) didn't bring me to the level I wanted," he said.