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Career Change and the MBA

Using an MBA to change career

Gone are the days when a bachelor’s degree was enough to set a graduate up for a long and fulfilling career. Today, careers are not only projected to extend with life expectancy, but career switching and having multiple vocations is on the rise, as is the competition to find ways in which to stand out from the mainstream.


Millennials (commonly defined as those born between 1982 and 2004) will, on average, change jobs four times in their first 10 years after graduating, twice as much as their predecessors, the ‘Gen-Xers’. Business schools, reflecting this change in market dynamics no longer serve up the, "one-size-fits-all or cookie-cutter MBA," says Marcia Annisette, associate dean of students at Schulich School of Business, but are instead tailoring and fine-tuning their MBA programs to meet the demands of both the work force and the workplace.

Indeed, a principal advantage of attending business school is the MBA’s potential to inject the skills and know-how that can enable a career change, and approximately 40% of students take the qualification precisely because this is one of their primary objectives, according to the QS Applicant Survey 2015.  

A career change can mean a change of industry, function or location, or any combination of the three. This article concentrates on the first two of these elements in the hope that it can help you determine whether using an MBA program to enact a career change is the right move for you.

Fitting the MBA program into your career plans 

The real question you have to ask yourself is, 'how will an MBA benefit me?' The minimum work experience required of an MBA applicant is usually around three years. Younger candidates might see the MBA as an expressway to the c-suite, but it's often candidates with more experience who are most likely to home in on the possibilities the qualification presents for making a career change.

If career switching is on the cards, it's important that you have a clear agenda. Leading business schools will expect their applicants to offer strong insight into the industries they are aiming to work in. In interview or on paper, this will mean being able to make a rational case for your career choices.

At the same time, an MBA program’s delivery of general management skills required by most, if not every organization, enables graduates to explore their options across a wider range of sectors, giving them significantly greater flexibility.

Another reason the MBA is a favorite among those looking at career change is the international prestige the qualification carries among employers, and its promise to deliver on high quality networking opportunities (especially at an elite business school).

In addition, MBA programs now offer a broader variety of specialized curriculum options, enabling candidates to better tailor their career plans to suit their individual hopes and aspirations.     

Career switching by function and/or industry

“Success in the business world isn’t just about brainpower or climbing a linear path to the top, but about accumulating diverse skills and showing an ability to learn about fields outside one’s comfort zone,” writes Neil Irwin of the New York Times, in response to a 2016 study published by LinkedIn.

The LinkedIn research showed that a change in job function can provide a boost equal to three years of work experience. It also found that MBAs effectively jump the line, since their qualification can help them circumnavigate a total of four career function switches. Successful c-level executives have a good to fair understanding of the workings of all of their organization's departments, be it in for example, operations, finance, marketing, sales, or IT. MBAs have the advantage of being able to fast forward their careers because they are inducted into most of these areas through their study - training which prepares them for that c- suite level bird's-eye view.

Less encouraging were the LinkedIn results for career switching by industry. Industry switching is more likely to involve taking a career step backwards, or sideways, the simple reason being that moving into a new area often requires learning new processes. Of course, this finding applies to everyone, and not just to MBAs. MBAs do neverthless have a certain advantage when they switch industry. They are able to wield their newly acquired general management skills and, in many cases, they will also be able to apply the know-how they have built and tailored to the new industry through relevant MBA concentrations or specializations.

The career change into emerging industries and entrepreneurship

As the cookie-cutter MBA declines, there has been a rise in the number of MBA specializations available to students. Some of the newest of these options are geared towards developments in technology or even government policy. From cybersecurity, data analytics and fintech, to global mining management, healthcare management and real estate management - the opportunities are becoming ever more boundless.


Career switching can also mean starting out on an entirely new business venture, be it independently or with friends and partners. Approximately one in three students choose an MBA because they harbor dreams of setting up their own business at some point in the future. Entrepreneurs who choose to do an MBA ahead of launching a new enterprise not only upskill, but they also build self-confidence and an important network of contacts with which they can exchange ideas and experiences as well as seek investment opportunities.

Karen Turtle
Written by Karen Turtle

A content writer with a background in higher education, Karen holds an MA in modern languages from the University of St Andrews. Her interests include languages and literature, current affairs and film. ​

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