Most people pursue an MBA to make some sort of change in their career. Career changes encompass four different factors: level, location, industry, and function. The more factors that you want to change, the more important it is to find the right MBA program to help you make those changes.
Here are some tips for assessing the scope of your desired career change and crafting a story that will help an admissions committee understand your motivations and goals:
Start with the end in mind.
Define what you want to do in the short and long term. For your short-term goal, identify a role/function at a sample company (e.g., to work as a product manager at a company like Noom). While the role/function shows what you want to do, the sample company gives an indication as to the size of company and the industry in which you want to work. For your long-term goal, think about where you want to be aspirationally or what big problem you want to solve. Following our product manager example, do you want to launch your own wellness company, or do you want to be the CMO of a large wellness-focused brand?
Explain why this goal makes sense for YOU.
Many applicants ask if they need to share a personal story from their childhood to explain their post-MBA goal. The answer is “Maybe,” and it depends upon the scope of the career change. If you are looking to change two or more factors, you will need to explain why you want to make this move. This explanation can leverage professional or personal experiences to show what inspires you to make a change. If you work in consulting and want to enter the industry of your favorite project, then your work experience might be the best way to explain why. In contrast, if you want to move to fintech from consulting, then a personal story about how you have volunteered to teach personal finance might be a part of your story.
Assess your transferable skills/experiences.
Start by finding a job description for your ideal post-MBA job, and then identify the skills you might already bring to that role. Have you managed or developed budgets? Managed client relationships? Built a team? Your skills can come from personal experiences—and they should if something personal is driving your goals. If you want to transition to entertainment from finance, you might talk about how you learned English as a child by watching TV. What’s important is to convince the admissions committee that this change makes sense for YOU.
Define what you need from an MBA.
Leverage that same ideal job description to do a gap analysis and identify what you need from an MBA. Where do you need to grow? Identify skills that you need from an MBA to help you be successful in the role. Mental check here: is the list of what you need larger than what you bring to the role? If so, your desired career change might be something bigger than you can achieve with an MBA alone, and you might want to re-assess whether this goal is the best first step for you. In such cases, identify another role you could take first that would help you grow into your ideal role.
Identify programs that can best fill your skill gaps.
Consider certificates, majors, institutes, and centers that might help you hone specific skills. Look at employment reports to see what companies are recruiting in your industry. Talk with students and alumni of different programs to understand what resources they leveraged. For example, if you are looking to move into impact investing, is there a fund you can help manage? Or if you want global exposure, what study abroad or global experiential learning opportunities are available? Explain what you will leverage at a specific program to gain the skills you need—and therefore be employable post-MBA.
Find others who have made similar changes.
Need some more help in identifying whether your desired career path is possible with an MBA? Leverage your professional, personal, and academic networks as well as LinkedIn. Find others in your ideal role, and then investigate the path they took. If you want to create a new path yourself, present evidence that you are a path creator. If you can’t find examples of others who have tread a similar path, you might need to provide more evidence to show the admissions committee that you have done the research and have confirmed it is possible.
Identify the best type of MBA program for you.
If you want to accelerate your career or change job levels, a one-year, part-time, or executive MBA program can help you make that transition. If you are looking to change two or more factors in your career, a full-time MBA will be more important to consider, as this program will enable you to build new skills through experiential learning opportunities and a summer internship. When making a larger change, an internship will allow you to build skills and establish a network in your new industry or role.
Explore your options.
If you are having trouble defining your goals, spend time conducting informational interviews in industries/functions that you find interesting. Brainstorm about what elements of your current job excite you and what impact you want to make in the world. Talk with a trusted advisor or mentor to identify different options.
An MBA can be a great launching pad to a new career. The best way to make your story unique and authentic is to share YOUR story and explain why YOUR goals make sense for YOU!