Many prospective students with nontraditional backgrounds, such as those with liberal arts degrees, plan to leverage the MBA to rebrand themselves and pivot into the finance industry. While an MBA will open many doors for liberal arts professionals, allowing them to meet prospective employers and build a network within sectors such as investment banking, private equity, corporate finance, and asset management, these individuals must do additional homework and invest in hard-skill development beyond the classroom to ensure success and level the playing field with those who are coming from industries related to finance.
1. Craft Your Story
Many MBA programs have industry clubs through which students can network with fellow classmates and practice interviewing for prospective employers. One of the most important aspects of interview preparation is crafting an elevator pitch not only to differentiate oneself from numerous other competitive candidates with similar interests but also to demonstrate one’s enthusiasm for pursuing finance. Since some employers recruit early in the semester and also proceed carefully when interviewing those who desire to make a significant career leap, students should begin to craft and practice speaking their stories before entering an MBA program. Students with liberal arts backgrounds can highlight key attributes such as creativity, leadership aptitude, and effective writing and oral communication, 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.
Just as speaking to as many MBA students and alumni from the business school in which one desires to enroll is important, so is interfacing with as many people as possible in the area of finance in which one expresses an interest. Learning finance is similar to learning a new language; career switchers and those with liberal arts backgrounds must learn the jargon and be conversant with those in the industry, as well as knowledgeable about current events and trends in the private, public, and M&A markets. Having these informal discussions will build confidence and provide practical knowledge regarding the day-to-day of these professionals and the challenges they face. The more of these conversations one has, the better one is able to ask thoughtful questions, which are looked upon favorably.
3. Pursue Vocational Training/Quantitative Coursework
Ideally, one should have taken undergraduate classes in finance or have completed similar quantitative coursework to demonstrate one’s aptitude with numbers and mental math. However, if a student 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 coursebook before the program commences will be helpful. This will assist students not only in doing well academically but also in being better prepared for financial-firm interviews, which place a heavy focus on technical aptitude. MBA programs move at a fast pace; student clubs, networking events and panels, interviewing, and classes will occupy significant time, so learning the basics before matriculation will facilitate the transition to business school.
4. Develop Excel/PowerPoint Skills
Many students are intimidated by Excel before entering MBA programs. However, it is important to make Excel and PowerPoint your friends as soon as possible. Students enter MBA programs with varying skill levels in these Microsoft applications. If one does not have exposure to either, it is imperative to invest in outside tutorials to be as fluent as possible with their navigation and shortcuts, as many finance professionals will have high expectations regarding this requisite skill set. MBA programs provide experience in both Excel and PowerPoint, but students with nontraditional backgrounds must go above and beyond to ensure preparedness for their summer internship. Since finance fields, such as investment banking and private equity, require significant work with Excel and PowerPoint, students should be comfortable memorizing shortcuts and learning the integrated functionality of these programs, as this will allow them to efficiently complete assignments under tight deadlines and increase their chances of receiving a full-time offer.
Landing a coveted role in the finance field is an achievable goal for anyone willing to take the time to prepare. While attending a prestigious MBA program will get your foot in the door, this alone is not enough to land an interview, procure a summer internship, and ultimately secure a full-time offer. A switch to finance can be an intimidating endeavor, as the recruiting cycle is extremely competitive, and the interviews are highly technical. However, investing one’s time wisely, inside and outside the classroom and as early as possible, will help offset the challenge and can be rewarding in the end.