Can I use the MBA to successfully transition to a new career?
This is the question that many MBA applicants consider when applying to business school.
The simple answer is yes!
Changing one’s career is one of the most popular reasons MBA applicants give for why they want to get an MBA. There are three areas where MBA aspirants seek to make a career change:
• Industry change
• Function change
• Geographical change
I interviewed my friend, Jemine, who attended HBS and used her MBA to change her industry, job function and country of work.
I hope you enjoy reading about how she successfully navigated her career change through her Harvard Business School degree.
When you enrolled at HBS you spoke Italian but not fluently and had lived briefly in Italy.
Did you know at the time you would make such a huge change from working on Wall Street in banking to the Italian Luxury Goods Industry?
I wanted to make the change to work in the Luxury Goods industry in Italy and that was one of the principal motivations for going to HBS.
There was an understanding that you would learn critical skills and develop a mindset and the leadership skills that would be fundamental for doing well in business.
But on a more practical level right after graduation there was also an understanding that one of your immediate options post an MBA was a career in a new industry or geography or function.
I hoped to make this transition to at least one if not all three and I set out to achieve that.
So many people are interested in making a career change. How did you go about re-branding yourself from a banker to a Luxury Goods expert?
In terms of rebranding, at the time I didn’t look at it that way. I was focused on trying to understand the corporate structures that were typical in the industry, and what roles would lend themselves best to the skills gained from a MBA and from investment banking.
With that information in mind, I could adequately tailor my resume and cover letters to highlight those skills that I had that were most relevant.
The reality was that my resumes and cover letters still were unable to make the cut for general interviews in a blind application pool (when one submits an application online).
And in all honesty, I wasn’t sure what the criteria to successfully pass the screening are even today.
However, all the breaks I got were thanks to networking. I was constantly reaching out to people, and expressing my interest and passion for the Luxury Goods industry.
I used a lot of informational meetings to gain an understanding of the kind of roles I might be best suited for.
It wasn’t easy and I had to endure a lot of rejection. You have to be resilient and focus on what you are trying to do.
I often heard from firms that they liked my background but that they chose someone else with direct industry experience.
I developed a strategy that focused on my softer skills, interest/passion for the industry and my ability to learn quickly. I didn’t sell myself as an expert as I had no expertise in the industry;
I sold myself as someone who was smart, passionate, hardworking, willing to learn and would leverage the dynamism of prior experience as well as intellectual and general curiosity in the proposed role.
What challenges did you face in your job search and how did you overcome them?
1) Non-traditional recruitment process:
The fact that a lot of firms don’t have the same HR and recruiting structures as the fortune 500 firms and large professional service firms was a real challenge.
Most of the firms I was targeting do not have a career page on their website, job listings, or even an HR contact; hence you don’t even know who is hiring, when they are hiring and for what roles.
I overcame this by networking, constantly reaching out to people, and asking for further introductions when possible. Also, leverage headhunters to find out what jobs are on the market can be helpful.
Besides networking (there was still room for more though), relationship building with people who are involved in hiring decisions makes a big difference.
For example, for one of the jobs I got I had been in touch with HR and the hiring manager over a period of 5+ months.
I learned that the decision to offer me the position was based on how I sold my soft skills, the interest/passion that I had for working in a product centric company, particularly one where a lot of passion (heart) was involved in selling the product such as luxury goods.
2) Lack of transparency:
There aren’t as many resources providing insight on the industry, players and firm structures. Since you don’t know what roles are available, you have to write a lot of general interest letters.
For example I wrote to a number of firms saying I was interested in business development, I had an understanding of what that meant, but many firms don’t have such a function, (it is tied up under a different activity and often isn’t a standalone function).
What is termed as marketing (i.e brand management, market research, consumer insights), is not the same in all firms. For some firms marketing is communications, particularly in retail.
So spend time understanding how each firm functions and how it defines each of its roles.
By reaching out to alumni working in the industry and other industry professionals, I learned about what their roles entailed and what roles they felt would be most adequate for me.
This was more the luck of the draw, finding a firm that was willing to go through the trouble of applying for working permits for you.
However, I had done a lot of research on the different options and could propose potential solutions which were helpful when negotiating with the firm I ultimately joined.
What final tips do you have for anyone planning to rebrand themselves?
After being here now for a year, I can truly say that most of things you will need to do can be learned.
However, be patient with yourself: some things such as the insight and feel for the market, clients and products will take a lot longer. Focus on your soft skills and that will help you navigate the transition successfully.
In terms of securing your dream job in a new industry, function or geography, make sure to invest in research.
And the best source of information out there is through people: so arrange a lot of informational meetings with alumni of your school and other people in your network.
If possible get an internship, work on a project even if unpaid in the industry of choice. This will help you gain a better understanding of the dynamics and structure of the market and the industry jargon
I wish all of you considering a career change success. Share your comments here on how you are planning use your MBA degree to transition into a new career.