Many prospective business school students with nontraditional backgrounds, such as those with liberal arts degrees, plan to leverage an MBA to rebrand themselves and pivot into the financial services industry. An MBA will open many doors for liberal arts majors by providing them with an opportunity to meet prospective employers and build a network within such sectors as investment banking, private equity, corporate finance, and asset management. However, these individuals must do additional homework and invest in hard-skill development beyond the classroom to ensure their success and to level the playing field with students from finance-related industries.
Here are four tips to help professionals with a liberal arts background leverage their MBA to land a finance position:
1. Craft your story.
Many MBA programs have industry-focused clubs through which students can network with fellow classmates and practice interviewing. One of the most important aspects of interview preparation is crafting an elevator pitch both to differentiate yourself from other competitive candidates with similar interests and to demonstrate your enthusiasm for pursuing a finance position. Since some employers recruit early in the semester and also proceed carefully when interviewing those who desire to make a significant career leap, begin crafting your story and practice sharing it before entering an MBA program. Students with liberal arts backgrounds can highlight key attributes such as their creativity, leadership aptitude, and effective writing and oral communication skills, which are all highly valued in the finance industry. These skills, along with your unique story and your reasons for wanting to pursue finance, will be key selling points as you move forward in the recruiting cycle.
2. Network with finance professionals.
Just as speaking to MBA students and alumni from a target business school before applying is important, so too is interfacing with as many people as possible in the area of finance of interest to you. Learning finance is similar to learning a new language; career switchers and those with liberal arts backgrounds must learn the jargon, be able to converse with those in the industry, and be knowledgeable about current events and trends in the private and public equity markets. Having these informal discussions will build your confidence and provide practical knowledge of the day-to-day work of these professionals and the challenges that they face. The more of these conversations you have, the better you’ll be able to ask intelligent and thoughtful questions during job interviews.
3. Pursue vocational training/quantitative coursework.
Ideally, MBA students should have taken undergraduate classes in finance or have completed similar quantitative coursework to demonstrate their aptitude with numbers before applying to business school. However, if you did not have the opportunity to do so, taking this type of coursework via a seminar or at a community college before matriculation can pay dividends. If this is not an option, reading a foundational finance course book before classes begin will be helpful. Doing so will position you to do well academically and will better prepare you for interviews with financial services firms, which place a heavy focus on technical aptitude. Furthermore, MBA programs move at a fast pace; student clubs, networking events and panels, interviewing, and classes will occupy a significant amount of your time. Therefore, learning the basics before matriculation will facilitate your transition to business school and provide a means for you to remain competitive.
4. Develop Excel and PowerPoint skills.
Before entering MBA programs, many students are intimidated by Excel. However, it is important to make Excel and other business-related applications, such as PowerPoint and FactSet, your friends as soon as possible. Students enter MBA programs with varying skill levels in these programs. If you have not had exposure to Excel or PowerPoint, invest in outside tutorials to become as fluent as possible with their navigation and shortcuts—because many finance professionals will have high expectations regarding this requisite skill set. Although MBA programs provide tutoring sessions in both Excel and PowerPoint, students with nontraditional backgrounds must go above and beyond to ensure their preparedness for their summer internship. Since finance fields, such as investment banking and private equity, require significant work with Excel and PowerPoint, you should be comfortable memorizing shortcuts and learning the integrated functionality of these programs. This will allow you to efficiently complete assignments under tight deadlines and increase your chances of receiving a full-time job offer after graduation.
Landing a coveted role in the financial services industry is an achievable goal for anyone willing to take the time to prepare. Although attending a prestigious MBA program will get your foot in the door, this is not enough to land an interview, procure a summer internship, and ultimately secure a full-time offer. Switching from liberal arts to finance can be intimidating, as the recruiting cycle is extremely competitive, and the interviews are highly technical. However, investing your time wisely—both inside and outside the classroom—and as early as possible will help offset the challenge and can yield rewards in the end!