Changing career? How the MBA could help: From startup incubators to ensuring realistic goals are set, the MBA has a lot to offer

Business schools are keen to help students nurture their startup ideas
If you're contemplating doing an MBA degree in order to alter your career trajectory, you’re not alone.
Nearly 90 per cent of Cambridge Judge Business School’s 2014 graduates switched either sector, function (their job role) or region (where they’re based). A third of those did a “triple jump” – changing all three.
Of course, doing so does cost, with top UK schools charging between £45,000 and £75,000 for one or two year courses. So how does an MBA equip you to move on?
“The nature of the MBA is that people come in with some level of dissatisfaction with their current career,” says Karen Siegfried, executive director of the MBA programme at Judge.
Yet while Siegfried has seen an increase in pivoter numbers, she thinks that students’ expectations are also becoming more realistic. “People are realising that there just aren’t jobs out there for individuals with no experience in the sector,” she says.
This is particularly the case in finance, she adds – “there’s little turnover or opportunity”.
That said, there are pockets that MBA graduates with no prior experience can access: wealth management and private equity give options for those with expertise in other areas. And an MBA will help with gaps; finance is Judge’s most popular course concentration by some stretch (30-40 per cent of a cohort).
Indeed, Maeve Richard, assistant dean at Stanford Graduate School of Business, says the magnitude of pivoters is not surprising – after all, “the MBA curriculum is designed to fill gaps in knowledge and management experience.”
It’s not just course content that opens doors. In addition to expert faculty members, most schools will regularly bring in industry practitioners and companies. And obligatory projects and placements will give coalface exposure.
David Morris, head of corporate sectors at London Business School’s (LBS) career centre, highlights the value of in-house skills and coaching teams, which work alongside students who are unclear where to focus their attentions.
LBS offers a two-year MBA: “that really gives you time to reflect and think about the future,” says Morris.
A school also provides invaluable access to networks. LBS has an average of 64 nationalities per cohort; its alumni network stretches over 135 countries. While almost half of those leaving Judge last year found jobs directly via the school, 27 per cent did so via their networks.

BRAVE NEW WORLD

But not everyone turns to an MBA to change sector. LBS has seen a marked increase in the number of students leaving and starting their own businesses, or moving into self-employment.
Last year, 26 people in a cohort of 394 made the jump immediately. “The course gives them the opportunity to try out ideas, and bounce them off fellow students,” says Morris.
Like other schools, LBS runs a startup incubator, and its Entrepreneurship Summer School caters for individuals with nascent business ideas.
And it’s the same story when it comes to the digital sphere. In 2008, LBS saw 7 per cent of its class go into tech and telco firms via summer internships. Last year, it was 30 per cent.
But making a career pivot, even with the help of an MBA, comes down to the individual, says Siegfried. “All our stats are positive around the likelihood of students being able to pivot, but those that do so work very hard to make it happen; they take full advantage of all the opportunities on offer.”
Pivoting successfully involves honest self-evaluation, and therefore choosing an appropriate jump.
Siegfried stresses that this may mean seeing your first role after your MBA as “the transitional job, the stepping stone. You might not end up in your target firm or region immediately, but you can get a good job with a company that’s going to help you develop.”
Pivoting is really about understanding longer-term career progression, she adds.

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