Thursday, September 01, 2016 at 10am

An Unusual Career Path: Switching Careers with a McGill MBA

Hands-on experience and Montreal’s business community were key for Allison Lickley's career switch

I followed an unusual career path to get to where I am today. For the past three years, I have been working in management consulting for KPMG, a job I didn’t know existed a few years ago and a far cry from being a touring singer/songwriter.

Why I decided to get an MBA to switch careers

In 2006, with a chemistry degree in hand, I chose to move to Montreal to officially start my career as a musician.  The joie de vivre, the focus on the arts, and the French language all drew me in. Over the next five years, I put out three CDs, booked concert tours for myself throughout North America and internationally, and practiced networking at countless music industry conferences.

It was an exciting career path, but it was also grueling.  After five years of sleeping on couches and putting 300,000 kilometers on my Volvo, I decided it was time to consider switching careers.

Doing an MBA had been on my radar for many years. Being a self-managed musician on my own label, I spent most of my time running the business side of things, and quickly realized I loved this work.

Starting my MBA at McGill Desautels

I looked at several MBA programs while deciding. In the end, I chose McGill University’s Desautels Faculty of Management because of the high GMAT average of those accepted into the program, the global make-up of the student body and because McGill is a brand that travels well, since I wanted to be able to work internationally in the future. I also wanted a two-year program. Since I was switching careers, I felt it was important to have the time to reflect on the next step, gain as much official business knowledge as possible, and do a summer internship in a new field.

I remember the first day of the program, being so excited and so nervous. I biked to school in my sandals, quick dry capri pants and tank top, with long beachy blond hair; I did not know that I would come to feel so at home in a suit and heels. That day, I met the 65 people that I would spend all of my time with over the next two years. We represented 23 countries. For a country girl from Sudbury, Ontario, this was amazing. It changed the way I looked at the world and read global news.

At McGill, I had a lot of opportunities that helped me gain business experience and access the city’s business community as I considered switching careers.

How my McGill MBA put me on a new career path

I got the most hands-on experience along my new career path from the ‘Not-for-Profit Consulting’ class, where I worked with a team of very bright undergraduate business students. Our client was a local non-profit restaurant and our project was to find and analyze new revenue sources. While the structure and rigor of a consulting project was great practice for my current job, one of my greatest learning moments came when I had to give difficult feedback to a team member. It was helpful to have a professor who could push me to have this conversation and also help me prepare for it.

As co-president of the McGill MBA Women’s Association, I had many opportunities to reach out to Montreal’s business community. The most significant instance was when we co-organized a Montreal Women in Business Conference. On the day of the conference, I moderated a panel that included vice presidents, senior vice presidents and managing partners from major financial institutions - an impressive group of women that you don’t often get in the same room.

The hands-on business experience and access to Montreal’s business community were key. But the most lasting impact for me revolved around the people I met. We were an incredibly diverse group and we worked together really well for two years. When you’re in a class of only 65 people, you learn a lot about each other, for better or worse. You learn what people are made of, and ultimately, it brings you closer.

You pursue an MBA at a place like McGill in great part to make lasting connections that will remain with you along your career path. I’m still close to many of my classmates both on a personal and business level, and I’m really proud of my Desautels network.

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Allison Lickley was a singer before graduating from the MBA program at the Desautels Faculty of Management at McGill University in 2013. She used the MBA to become a consultant for KPMG.