Post-MBA goals: Breaking into tech leadership | TopMBA.com

Post-MBA goals: Breaking into tech leadership

By Sam Weeks

Updated Updated

Business schools are a valuable feeder for the tech industry. This is because tech companies are looking to recruit people who aren’t just technically skilled, but who also bring strong communication, strategy, and leadership skills to the table, along with their own network. There is also an increasing focus on the value of diversity, equity and inclusion in driving organisational growth – a key part of the culture at many top business schools.  

According to the Graduate Management Admission Council’s (GMAC) Corporate Recruiters Survey, 68 percent of tech recruiters state  that leaders in their companies have a business school degree.  

Sam Weeks, founder of Sam Weeks Consulting, sat down with Tom Lawrance, former MBA recruiter at tech giant Amazon and head of global industry careers at the University of Oxford Saïd Business School, to gain his insights into tech recruitment, the skills tech firms are looking for in candidates, getting a business school degree for tech roles, and how to transition into the tech domain.  

Why is tech an attractive post-MBA career?  

According to Lawrance’s own experience, around one third of the people looking to apply to business school are doing so because they want to transition into the tech industry. Tech is a lucrative career option for many MBA students. Graduates can receive high salary packages and opportunities to work on tangible and meaningful projects that align with their interests.  

When you think of tech companies, the image of ping-pong tables and sandals might pop up. While this isn’t true everywhere, there’s definitely a bit more flexibility in tech. So although it’s a challenging career pathway, it comes with more flexible work models compared to other industries like consulting or investment banking. 

Working with data is common in tech roles and that’s where an MBA is especially useful. Hard skills taught in MBA programmes, like data analysis, align well with tech roles, while leadership and communication skills are great for career development. So, MBA graduates who enter the tech sector have many opportunities to apply the skills they learn during their programme to create meaningful impact.  

How can graduates better understand the difference in culture at tech firms? 

The beauty of the tech sector is that there is so much diversity of work and talent, which makes it an exciting space to be in.  

According to Lawrance, large tech firms like Amazon can be intense places to work at. There’s high growth and expectations, and you’ll work with the cream of the crop. But there’s also plenty of empathy and support, with unparalleled opportunities to develop your career and pick up exciting projects.  

At smaller companies, the founder and management often set the tone for the company culture. Depending on what stage the company is at, you may find yourself at a relaxed startup with the beanbags and game consoles, or thrown into a “hustle” environment with long hours and intense schedules.  

The key to finding the right fit, Lawrance said, is through good networking and research. It’s important to plot your path and priorities and an MBA gives you the support and tools you need to get in touch with the right people and figure out your goals.  

Current trends in tech recruitment 

On a global scale, hiring in tech has slowed, especially at bigger firms. Five years ago, the industry was growing at an exponential pace, and MBAs were an important talent to tap into. But as big tech evolved, it began streamlining its workforce which led to redundancies at a global level.  

But opportunities in tech come in various forms; smaller pockets like fintech, healthtech, agritech are thriving and creating diverse opportunities. Considering the diversity and dynamism of the tech industry, MBA students should refrain from reading too deeply into past or current recruitment trends, which may change in the next six months. With the relatively long academic cycle MBA students have, trends are bound to change.  

How do tech companies make recruitment decisions? 

The recruitment process for tech companies changes over time and trends, which means that there is no definitive list of factors that are used in every hiring cycle. However, in Lawrance’s experience running MBA recruitment at Amazon across Europe, he looked to top business schools for the best hires. This was a data-based strategy that was ultimately more efficient for Amazon’s recruitment needs at the time. 

So, how many graduates who are offered jobs end up accepting them? With all the commitment that goes into the recruiting process at a top school, companies have to be efficient. Amazon’s process involved mobilizing senior leaders from across Europe to give presentations, connecting with alumni, rolling in 20 interviewers to conduct approx. 100 student interviews a day, planning resources, and getting directors to step away from their job for a couple of days. Efficiency was the overriding rule.  

Having also worked with the University of Oxford Said Business School in their careers team, Lawrance had valuable insights into the other side of the recruitment process. Business schools have to be just as smart with their time as companies. They ensure that employers coming to campus know what their sell is – the quality of students and the resources they provide.  

For Oxford Saïd, classroom diversity and the curriculum are major draws. This matches Amazon’s hiring requirements. The company benefits from knowing that they can hire from a diverse pool of people who are taught relevant industry skills like SQL during their MBA. 

So when Oxford Saïd significantly increased their class size to approximately 330, the number of Amazon hires went up as well. Even with an increased class size, they retained the quality of candidates.  

What are the best roles for MBAs in tech? 

Product management is one of the more popular post-MBA roles in the tech industry that graduates pivot to. According to Lawrance, this is simply a matter of supply and demand. When he worked at Oxford, he helped build a product management roadmap – a track that helped students visualise what product management in tech entailed.  

Bringing in alumni from different sectors to share what product management looks like for them was also useful for graduates looking to enter this function. The role varies from sector to sector. For example, a healthcare product manager works with products and responsibilities that are different from those of a fintech product manager.  

Besides product management, roles in marketing have grown over the last few years. MBA graduates who have previously been in creative roles pivot their career into tech marketing, where they can use the data driven decision-making skills they learn during their degree.  

Additionally, roles in sales and business development have emerged as interesting and under-tapped opportunities to understand tech products and align MBA skills to your career. 

How to transition into tech 

So, what does a realistic transition into tech from another industry look like? “This might sound cheesy, but anything is possible,” said Lawrance. When he was recruiting at Amazon, he helped hire veterans, dentists, a nuclear submarine engineer, and other professionals from various backgrounds. It came down to the individual and their fit for the role. 

For graduates to make a realistic transition to tech, they should consider the transferable skills they possess that they can use to get their foot in the door. For example, Lawrance worked with a lot of MBA graduates who wanted to get into strategy in big tech, which is a highly desired role in a competitive space.  

Not everyone can start out in such a high-impact role. So, graduates should be prepared to approach their first role post-MBA as a stepping stone that will eventually lead into strategy.  

Broadly speaking, the tech sector is open-minded about candidates’ work experience. The focus lies on transferable skills and the individual’s alignment with company values, like Amazon’s leadership principles. These principles aren’t just words on a wall or poster; they are actively used in the company’s assessment of candidates.  

So if you want to transition from a marketing role in real estate to a strategy role in big tech, consider a marketing role in tech first. This would be better aligned to your pre-MBA experience and skill-set, and you can then work your way up to strategy in a few years. A good way to find an organisation that can help you make the transition to tech is through networking, research, and meaningful conversations with people who have a similar career path.  

Engage in a leadership development programme 

At many tech companies, making the transition to high-impact roles is supported by leadership development programmes. These programmes typically track MBA graduates into more senior roles and help develop their careers.  

At Amazon, this is called the ‘launch’ programme. Candidates take on two different roles over a period of three years - 18 months in each role. They get exposure to different business functions and teams, and develop a wider network. Launch gives candidates the opportunity to drive their career within the organization and possibly receive earlier promotions. This program is harder to get into, especially as structured hiring has slowed down, but candidates can still join the organization directly.  

What is the recruitment process like in tech?  

The recruitment process varies from company to company, which reiterates the importance of research and networking to get specific insights for each company.  

Amazon, in particular, uses a mix of behavioral interviewing, online assessments, and case-type questions.  Like Amazon, the primary approach for other big tech companies like Google, Meta, Microsoft, etc., is the behavioral interview. This is where the school’s career services come in handy; career coaches are well versed with behavioral interviewing and can help graduates train to answer confidently. A behavioral question could look like this: “tell me about a time you resolved a team conflict”. The interviewer will assess how your response aligns to the company’s culture and work ethic.  

Other parts of your interview may include more technical components, like coding or data analysis, which require practice and technical skill. Google is renowned for dropping brain teaser questions. Overall, the tech recruitment process is fast-paced compared to other industries.  

What to do between now and the MBA 

Candidates who want to pivot to tech should use the time between their offer of admission and the MBA’s start date to network with people in the tech sector. LinkedIn is a great resource to find business school alumni who work in tech. Ultimately, networking is all about having meaningful conversations that will give you real insights into the tech industry – the more perspective you get, the better.  

When Lawrance went through the job search process himself, he was recommended the book The 2-Hour Job Search by Steve Dalton. It proposes a systematic methodology to reach out and connect with people to secure interviews more efficiently. According to Lawrance, it’s one of the most important books you can read before your MBA. 

Establishing these relationships early helps you keep in touch with your network during your MBA and update them on your progress. This becomes a valuable part of your journey further down the line, as having an advocate can help you position yourself better for a job and potentially even help you get your resume in front of the right person.  

How to optimise your MBA journey for tech  

The work you put into networking and research in advance will pay off handsomely later in your MBA. Many students spend the first couple of weeks of their MBA getting oriented with the program and the careers department. Ensure that you immerse yourself in these opportunities from day one and understand the timelines you’ll be working with.  

For Lawrance, it’s music to his ears when a candidate says, “I’ve read the book and these are my priorities.  I’ve been talking to these people.” Being clear about the work you’ve put in leads to productive conversations with the careers department about tangible next steps you can take for your goals. 

When it comes to the curriculum, it’s useful to do research on the skills you’ll need to have by the time you interview and how you’ll get those from your degree. One way to do this is by looking at job descriptions for tech companies using websites like Otta.com for UK-based tech start-ups.  

Outside of speaking with people and researching the curriculum, it’s useful to create a plan B in case you shift goalposts. Over the duration of your MBA, the opportunities that you’ve had an eye on may change.  

It’s important to be resilient and open-minded to the fact that some things will be out of your control. Ensure that you have enough irons in the fire to be adaptable and explore other options.  

Watch the full video interview with Tom Lawrance and find him on LinkedIn.  

This article was originally published in . It was last updated in

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