Use an M.B.A. to Change Careers

The degree provides an opportunity to get your feet wet in a new industry before you take the plunge.

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These days, you'd be hard pressed to find someone who stays with one company or even on one job track throughout his or her entire professional life. By some estimates, two thirds or more of graduating M.B.A.s use the degree as a means of switching careers. If you're looking for the fast track to gain the skills and network to launch your career in a new direction, a popular way to do so is through an M.B.A. program.

So-called "career switchers" look upon the degree as a way to expand international job opportunities, develop the right connections for future employment, and establish the potential for long-term income and financial stability. In fact, there's even an M.B.A. for Career Change offered by Willamette University's Atkinson Graduate School of Management.

I personally went to business school because I wanted to transition from finance to marketing. While I did achieve this, I also found that the M.B.A. experience opened up my mind to an array of new possibilities. I ended up in a career with a marketing focus, but it unfolded in a way I never would have considered before my M.B.A.

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Since application season is ramping up, I have a few words of advice for those applying to business school now or in the near future. If your undergraduate degree or work experience falls into the nontraditional category, make sure you clearly convey your long-term career goals within your application and essays, and explain in detail how you arrived at the conclusion that an M.B.A. would help you further your professional aspirations.

Business school demands a huge investment of your time, energy, and finances, so make an airtight case to the admissions committee for why you want to go into this new field. Show that you know what the industry requires, the challenges you expect to face, and convey all previous experiences that demonstrate you have the transferable skills to make this switch.

[See U.S. News's rankings of Best Business Schools.]

Speaking with M.B.A. Podcaster, Regina Resnick, assistant dean and managing director of the Office of M.B.A. Career Services at Columbia Business School, says demonstrating transferable skills depends on whether you're changing industry or function or both.

"Your work experience should reflect everything that you've done and be complete and accurate, but you may want to put more emphasis on those things that relate most closely to your new job opportunity," she explains. This may mean taking additional classes to bulk up your quantitative skills, or highlighting extracurricular activities that cement the reason for your career shift.

Once you're in business school, you have the opportunity to see how you fit in that new industry through coursework, student groups, internships, or networking with alumni. Self reflection and exploration are key components of the M.B.A. experience, giving students a chance to sample various fields and functions without making any firm commitments.

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Embarking on a new career path with a freshly minted M.B.A. tucked under your arm isn't just about new knowledge acquired in the classroom. It's about leveraging your existing experience with enhanced skills, and even more so, it's about making the most of personal relationships.

All of the people, classes, activities, etc. in an M.B.A. program catapult you into a whole new sphere, and you may come out with completely new ideas that help facilitate career change in ways you would not have thought of before. For me, this is the best part and the real opportunity business school provides.