If you are considering attending business school to help facilitate a significant career switch, you are not alone! Many MBA students earn their degree to enable some sort of professional change, whether it is related to industry, functional role, or even geography. And essentially everyone who earns their MBA pivots to some extent with their post-MBA job; the difference is just a matter of how big of a change is pursued.
While this desire is hardly unique and MBA admissions committees are very accustomed to career switchers, careful thought is needed before one acts to ensure that business school is indeed the right move and will lead to enhanced happiness and career fulfillment.
The three key considerations for MBA applicants who are contemplating such a move can be thought of in a “why, where, and what” framework.
WHY: Take the time for meaningful self-reflection regarding your desired career change, given the potential magnitude of the decision and its implications.
Making a career change and taking time for an MBA are both significant decisions that deserve to be fully thought through. Why do you want to make this change? Are you driven by more than surface-level prestige and/or financial considerations? Does your intended future career path leverage your strengths? Is an MBA truly necessary for you to succeed on this path? Will an MBA open doors in your desired field? You must complete the appropriate due diligence and dig deeper than superficial stereotypes to fully understand all aspects of the switch you are considering. Network to find others in your desired future role and request informational interviews with them to get a “peek under the tent,” so to speak. Not only will this either solidify your decision or perhaps cause you to rethink it, but it will also help you better articulate your career goals, which is a critical element of most applications and interviews. mbaMission’s suite of free Career Guides might prove helpful at this stage.
WHERE: Your career goals should be a key factor in your school selection.
In deciding where to apply, you want to consider your new career goal. Which schools best fit your desired career switch? Make sure to research each program’s academic specializations, concentrations, and tracks, as well as elective classes and experiential learning opportunities to identify which elements align with your target field/industry/functional role and to what degree. Related clubs and conferences can also provide incremental learning opportunities, interview preparation guidance, and networking prospects. And assessing schools at this detailed level will prepare you later convey why a program is a strong match for you and your career needs when you are asked about this in an essay question or interview.
You also want to discover what companies recruit at your target schools, particularly for internships that would allow you test your prospective new career choice and confirm whether it is in fact the right long-term move for you. Most MBA programs release annual employment reports that present information on the firms that hired their first-year students and graduates.
In addition, you should evaluate the strength of each school’s career services team and resources. The recruiting process can require additional work, time, and effort for career switchers. You need to be particularly effective at communicating your desire for your new professional path in internship interviews, as well as at articulating why you are uniquely qualified and how you can provide value. The career services team can help you in this endeavor and serve as an objective sounding board, providing constructive feedback and guidance. Fully assess the MBA program’s alumni network as well, because it can play a critical role in your career switch by serving as another “way in” to secure an internship and/or full-time employment in your desired field.
Lastly, make sure to thoughtfully assess how a school fits your overall profile and odds of acceptance, and if an MBA is absolutely required for you to successfully make your intended career switch, be sure to consider a range of schools, including several where you feel confident in your potential to be admitted.
WHAT: Clearly articulate your reasons for desiring the career switch, connecting the dots for the admissions committee.
What you say in your application regarding your career goals is critical to ensure that you clearly convey to the admissions committee your reasons for wanting a career change, why you need an MBA to make the switch, and why you feel you will ultimately be successful. You want to give the committee confidence that you have done your due diligence and really given serious thought to the “why” element we referenced earlier.
If you are a career changer, your work history might not connect directly to your stated goals the way that of someone who plans to continue working in the same industry or job function would. However, you still need to show growth and accomplishment in your professional experience and to highlight your capabilities and knowledge. Emphasize the aspects of your career to date that are most relevant to your future goals, because they have either served as good preparation for your new intended career or given you transferable skills that will be relevant to that career.
Show the admissions committee that you have a plan, that you know the hurdles you could face in attempting this career change, and that you have strategies for addressing them. You can certainly change your mind later, of course, but at the application stage, you must convince the committee that you have a specific direction in mind when you enroll. Business schools want you to be successful and finish their program feeling great about your decision. Part of that is securing a job soon after graduation or even before. They do not want you to be starting from ground zero when you walk on campus!
If you do not feel that a school’s essays or short-answer sections provide enough opportunity for you to share the story behind your intended career change, you can always use the optional essay to do so, but make sure the content you provide there is additive to what you have said in the rest of your application, not duplicative. Being respectful of the admissions committee’s time is always a smart move.
If you would like to discuss your specific career goals and school selection in more detail with an expert MBA admissions consultant, sign up today for a free 30-minute consultation!