Friendly disclaimer: the purpose of this page is not to provide you with a detailed review of how to get into consulting, banking, entrepreneurship etc. (although we would like to do that at some point in the future if you’re interested!), but more to give you general, non-sector specific advice on how to spend your “career time” during the MBA.
Everyone underestimates the need to focus their efforts
One of the biggest myths about business school is that you’ll have time to explore several careers before choosing what works for you. Sure you will have opportunities to meet firms and people from all different sectors but the reality is that those interactions will barely allow you to scrape the surface of what it’s like to work in those fields. And once you do work out your ideal career path you may have already missed the recruitment window for those companies.
Does that mean that an MBA is pointless for career changers? Not at all, it offers you plenty of doors to other paths, but it’s like being in a room full of hundreds of doors that are gradually disappearing and with lots of other people competing with you to go through the doors before they disappear. If you arrive without a plan, you’ll probably miss out.
We strongly recommend to narrow down your career focus before the start of the MBA, by speaking to people who are in career paths of interest. Reach out on Linkedin to as many people as possible and ask them for a chat. If you position the request as you asking for career guidance, some people will be willing to help. Of course a 15min chat will barely scratch the surface of the problem too, but if you make enough calls and gradually build up knowledge and relationships you will be able to construct your own detailed picture of how suitable that career path is. This may be a long and potentially expensive process, but it’s certainly money and time well invested to ensure that you are happy with your post-MBA career.
Continue your research when you get to the MBA. Reach out to people from career paths of interest. Not just to have a superficial “coffee-chat” but get specific. Ask them to show you what a typical week looked like (if possible get a glimpse of their work calendar), ask to read one of their deliverables or minutes of meeting. Don’t ask them to share anything containing confidential information, but try to get a tangible feel of what the day to day would be like in their field.
If you want to explore a career path, go deep
The best way to actually know if you’d like to work in a field? Work there. This is why a flexible/longer programme may be much better suited to career changers as you can fit in one or more internships during your time there. With a one year programme, you will be able to change career but you may only find out if you’re happy with that change 6 months after starting your post-MBA job!
Realistically you probably wont be able to explore more than 2 career paths during your MBA, so the earlier you know what those two are the better. More importantly, know that it will be very difficult to explore both of those options simultaneously, which means you need to be aware of the recruitment / internship calendars of those career paths. Some paths (consulting and banking) have set timeframes for applying and carrying out an internship. In some countries these may happen at the same time making it very difficult to explore both options.
One not so commonly known secret around internships is that some companies are ready to be flexible on the start / end dates even if they have a set internship calendar. If you have two offers you really want to explore, it doesn’t do much harm to ask whether you can move one of them to later in the year. But do make sure you have a good reason to do so. Wanting to explore two different career paths is a good reason. Wanting to try out two competing companies is a much more risky thing to tell them!!
Some career paths may also offer you the flexibility to work part-time. If you are considering the entrepreneurship track and are close to a “start-up hub” there are probably many companies that will be keen to have you involved a few days a week. However do not overestimate your value to them. Not all of them will value your MBA skills and chances are they won’t value your pre-MBA experience either, unless you come from a tech company. If you really want to explore that world, you may need to do it on a voluntary basis (yes, for free!).
You are in the driver’s seat, not the school’s career services
When graduates are asked to name a disappointing element of their MBA, career services are often mentioned. There can be several reasons behind this, but one factor is that students often misunderstand the purpose of a career services team. Here are our thoughts on their role:
- They are not there to find a job for you or to tell you what career path you are best suited for. That is very much your mission.
It’s the exactly same reason why you should not rely on the HR department in a company to find your next position. Think of them as a resource that you can use, combined with all the other resources such as web research, networking events, reaching out to alumni or Linkedin. The important thing to remember is that only you can piece all this research together into your own career plan.
- There is such a diversity of career paths among MBAs that no school career service can be an expert on all of them.
It’s just not feasible. That’s why career services teams are much more likely to be helpful if you are on a common MBA path (e.g. if you’re going into strategy consulting) than if you are going into a rarer one (e.g. the aircraft leasing industry).
- No matter what track you choose, career services can be very useful for giving you feedback on transverse skills.
For example, how you articulate your motivation in a cover letter, how you talk about your experience in a mock-interview, etc.
- You should figure out the best way to take advantage of the career services team.
There will be times when they are extremely busy and times where they will have much more spare time. Keep in mind that not all career services members will be equal. Some will be much better at providing feedback in mock-interviews whereas others will have a big network in a particular area. The best way to find out the strengths of each? Speak to second year students or alumni.
“In our experience 95% of company presentations will be pretty bland and very similar to what you can find on company websites”
Be ruthless on company presentations
In career paths where networking is not essential (link), attending career events is always a great use of time. There are rumours that some companies check the attendance and take that into consideration in their initial CV filtering, but we personally believe that if your CV and cover letter are good enough they will interview you anyway. Now keep in mind that schools will rarely openly admit to this, since it looks bad on them if not many students show up to an event. This would probably not be the end of the world as it would encourage some companies to update their presentation content, format and style – most of which are in serious need of improvement :/ .
In our experience 95% of these presentations will be pretty bland and very similar to what you can find on company websites, but many students attend countless presentations in the same field by fear of missing out on a key piece of information for their application. What people don’t think about is the opportunity cost of attending such events (e.g. the time they are not spending on other activities). Here are our tips on how to avoid “career event FOMO”:
- Don’t go along to backup choices
And even less to companies you have no intention on applying to! Focus on what else you can accomplish in that time.
- If you are still not fully sure what career path you would like to pursue, events in non-mainstream career paths can be a great use of your time.
Especially if you know the sign-up rate is low (which you can sometimes check!). In a small event, you’re more likely to stand out and recruiters to remember you. On top of that you’re much more likely to be able to ask questions and connect to alumni after such an event, since they will not be swarmed by dozens of blood-thirsty students as soon as the event ends!
- If you are sure you want to focus on a particular sector, spending more time on your CV, cover letters and interview prep will be much more beneficial than going to presentations where 99% of the content won’t be news to you.
As mentioned above, all this applies to areas where you don’t need to network. If you’re targeting Investment Banking that’s a different matter…
Stick to your plan and don’t let the early success of other students affect morale
The first 3-6 months of an MBA will be arguably the most thrilling of your life. You’ll meet hundreds of super smart people, make lifelong friends, work very hard on the first exams and network with dozens of potential future employers. It’s safe to say that you won’t sleep as much you planned to.
After that things start to change slowly, not necessarily for the worse, but things change. People start to hang out with the people they bonded most with and there is less MBA-wide mingling. Most students realise that there’s no need to stress so much about the academic side and take a more relaxed approach to exams. But a perhaps more subtle and slow change is the growing invisible void between those who have already secured a job or internship and those who haven’t. The first group will be able to relax and have much more time to spend on clubs and social events, whilst those who don’t will still have to focus on networking and interviews.
If you fall into the second category, it is essential to stay focused and not be discouraged by the lack of immediate success. As months pass anxiety can start to creep in and you may start to wonder whether you have wasted a lot of money and time for nothing. This happens to a number of people in every MBA intake, even the best ones. No matter how prestigious the school and how good the job market, not everyone will get their first choice job or internship, and finding a suitable alternative may take longer than expected to secure.
The point of this paragraph is by no means to recommend you take the first offer that comes to you. You haven’t gone to all that trouble to make a rash decision on your future now. But we do want to make you aware of the social pressure that can start to creep into an MBA. A tipping point is reached once around 80% of the intake has secured a job. People start to openly talk in groups as though everyone has a job and those who haven’t will be too embarrassed to say otherwise. It will become increasingly hard to say no to social events and you may end up making excuses rather than have to admit that you have to prepare for your 30th job interview…
If this is to happen to you, keep in mind that an MBA is a once in a lifetime opportunity to give a new direction to your career, and that it sometimes takes time to find that right fit. Know that the struggles you go through will be greatly rewarded later, and that there’s every chance that 1 year post-MBA you will be more happy than those who secured their job first!