Have A Question About MBA Career Strategy? Ask Ivan, Our Resident Expert

Ivan Kerbel

Ivan Kerbel

How helpful is an MBA degree to someone who wants to switch careers? What’s the best way to know if you could make a go of it at McKinsey or Google? How can you land the ideal internship that ends with a job offer nearly a full year before you get your MBA? What do you need to do before you arrive on campus to make sure you’re able to take advantage of the full MBA experience?

These are among the questions Ivan Kerbel will help to answer as Poets&Quant’s new resident expert on MBA career strategy – along with any and all questions you might have on what MBA careers look like in different industries and companies. Ivan is uniquely qualified for the job.

As the former MBA Career Director at Yale SOM and Sr. Associate Director at Wharton, Ivan has deep experience in the key success factors for students pursuing competitive MBA internship and full-time jobs. Ivan also gained broad industry experience working for Katzenbach Partners, a NYC-based strategy consulting boutique, for GE’s Office of Litigation & Legal Policy, for a Silicon Valley start-up, and for a molecular medicine journal, The FASEB Journal. He is a Wharton MBA alumnus, a graduate of Master’s programs in International Relations at Johns Hopkins SAIS and at Auckland University (where he was a Fulbright Fellow), and an undergraduate alum of Yale. He’s also one of the most generous and kind-hearted people you will ever meet.

Ivan currently serves as CEO of Practice MBA, which offers intensive, personalized training for newly-admitted MBAs on topics related to career strategy and maximizing return on a student’s overall investment in business school. Ivan provides one-on-one coaching on successful career-switching and the pursuit of pre-MBA internships, on networking and effective outreach in the American business context (for international students), and on extracurricular leadership and academic preparation via guided online self-study.

In 2016, Ivan teamed up with MBA Prep School to provide a focused Career Coaching curriculum for both MBA and non-MBA job-seekers, a partnership that offers expert guidance designed to accelerate career progress and provide end-to-end service to MBA applicants as well as current MBAs.

Ivan also partners with the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) to offer 7-day outdoor Wilderness Skills courses in Washington’s Central Cascades Mountains … an opportunity for rising MBAs to socialize with classmates at peer institutions while gaining leadership experience and enjoying time in the monumental glacier-carved landscape and evergreen forests of the Pacific Northwest.

Ivan has agreed to serve as a sounding board and source of advice at Poets&Quants for all MBA career-related questions. No question is out of bounds. … If you have questions about being a career-switcher, about the MBA recruiting strategies of key employers you’re interested in, about conducting an off-campus / ‘enterprise’ job-search, about understanding differences between various industries and functions, about assessing your own skills and interests and creating an ‘elevator pitch’ for use in interviews, and/or about leveraging the unique resources, relationships, and geographic advantages of the MBA programs you’re applying to, fire away in the comments section below! Ivan will do his best to answer your queries.



  • Hi Sam,

    I think the best advice I can offer is to recommend that you seek out one additional work experience, along the lines of the interests you’ve expressed, prior to attending business school … this will likely increase your overall chances of admission (though it sounds like your profile is already strong), bring you closer in age to most of your MBA peers, and, most importantly, allow you to make the best use of the MBA investment by testing your assumptions and gaining direct work experience in the fields you’re interested in transition into.

    On the topic of what kind of role / position you might seek, I think you should steer away from trying to figure out specific job titles, candidate profiles, opportunities you might apply to, and instead work backward from thinking about products, companies, and markets.

    Let’s take fast-moving consumer goods products and companies, as an example (you can do the same with technology, financial services, management consulting, etc.). If you use a ‘top 50’ or ‘top 100’ list of employers in any industry (here is an example:
    http://www.consultancy.uk/news/2453/50-largest-consumer-goods-fmcg-firms-of-the-globe ), you have a starting point for a set of orgs you can then explore further, narrowing down to the products the companies sell, the markets they sell to and hope to expand in, and any other competitive strategy news … simply by looking up the companies’ websites, Wikipedia entries, latest news in financial publications, and related blogs and trade publications. (Asking a reference librarian at a business library for help is not a bad idea.)

    On the FMCG topic, you might come across companies whose products you’re interested in and/or use yourself, or you may find interesting scenarios to delve into further of a non-U.S. company breaking into the U.S. market, or an American company expanding in Spanish-speaking consumer markets in Latin America or Spain. Doing this “orienteering” process should ultimately lead you to set of people (use LinkedIn) who are managing these product strategy and business development efforts, and whom you can reach out to in order to learn more, come to understand their hiring and talent models, and, ultimately, figure out if there is a fit for a pre-MBA role for a coupe of years’ time that you can pursue.

    I realize I’ve tackled your question # 4 first, but this is also a roundabout way to get to your first question … I think a future commercial, biz dev role might work well to augment your communications, marketing, media strengths, and would inform what working in strategy (whether for a consulting firm or directly for a company) might entail. You can do all of this, of course, as part of your schoolwork and learning process in business school, and potentially as you progress from an MBA summer internship to post-MBA FT work.

    To cover your additional questions, I don’t think that going to school in Spain is critical to working for an American company that seeks bilingual (Spanish-English) talent, and/or that markets to Spanish or other Latin communities, but I do think that going to a fantastic business school like IESE would offer you a distinct advantage if you wanted to live and work in Europe / Spain, and particularly if you wanted to work for a Spanish company. Here is a list of prominent Spanish companies: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_companies_of_Spain.

    There are, of course, many offices of American and other companies in Spain as well. At your stage of career, I think I would worry less about what makes the most sense in terms of long-term career positioning, and would instead simply think about whether or not its compelling to you personally to go live, study, and work in Spain. If your find that your heart and mind is in a place like Barcelona … then just go.

    I hope those perspectives are of use. Please let me know if you have follow-on questions (and my humble apologies for the delay in responding).

  • grudged@gmail.com

    Hello Ivan,

    I am 37 and do not have a great GPA and have 9 years of project management experience and 6 year of operations in the Oilfield sector.
    I would like to know what are the prospects of opening career doors by doing an EMBA or Online MBA from a top 10 international MBA school. I have not done my GMAT yet but I skeptical of opportunities after an self financed expensive MBA.
    I do understand the value in networking and learning through interactions with faculty and colleagues but in the end if the opportunities do not show up then the MBA is as good as garbage (keeping enlightenment aside).
    Your thoughts on EMBA / Online-Hybrid MBA’s and prospects there after please.



  • Saurabh

    Hi Ivan,

    I have recently completed my MBA from a top-5 Indian B-School and have got a position as an Enterprise Applications Consultant in one of the Big 4s in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. But I would want to move to a strategy role in a years. Since EA consulting is mostly tech, how easy or difficult is it to move to strategy consulting. I have an Operations Management MBA. Thanks in advance.