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.



  • betancurj

    Hi Ivan,
    Thanks for clearing doubts in this space, it helps a lot to read other people stories. I would like to know your opinion on my profile and current status:


    Colombian, Age 29, 7 years of working experience (3.5 in capital markets – 3.5 in reinsurance
    broking at a major American insurance and consulting company (currently)), co-founded two family companies (International trade and fitness), 4 years of experience as an assistant professor of a capital markets course at a top local university, BBA from a top Colombian University (GPA: 3.88/5), TOEFL 107, GMAT 690 (86% V35 Q49) (I have taken the exam 7 times).

    Post-MBA Goal:

    Capital markets and entrepreneurship.

    Schools applied:

    CBS (Round 2 01/05), Wharton (Round 2 01/05), NYU (Round 3 01/15).

    *I believe I have decent essays and recommendations.


    International student, financial aid, test scores and GPA.


    Frustrated, I got dinged from all three schools (No interview invitation). At this point I really don’t know what to do. As you, I am not a fan of applying in round 3 or 4 to other schools but to be honest I feel that given my goals, my age would be a significant weakness in my application next year.

    I really want to pursue a top MBA education at an American university, it is something I have always dreamed of but given the result, I am not sure I have the profile. I am thinking about applying to the same schools next year in round 1 but I have the feeling that once you get rejected from a school, it is very difficult to be accepted later.
    Am I too old to pursue an MBA degree next year? What are your recommendations?

  • navyfinance


    Have you noticed MBAs that “major/focus” on analytics place into certain industries more than others? Booth has analytic finance and analytic management as concentrations, Kellogg has a data analytics pathway, and I’m sure there are others.

    I think that I’d like to pursue a career in consulting, and I think many of the consulting companies want people who are savvy with data. Would it make sense to talk about my previous analytical work as preparation for a career in consulting?


  • miguelramirez003@gmail.com

    Hi Ivan,

    I am a Civil Engineer making a transition to business management. I am applying at NYU Stern for the 2017 fall semester. I need some help answering the following questions:

    1) What is the downside of getting your MBA through a part-time program?
    2) Do part-time MBA’s receive less job offers and less attractive compensation packages than full-time MBA’s do?
    3) Considering my Civil Engineering background, will employers from other industries (finance, consulting, tech, etc) prefer to go with graduates whose backgrounds align more with the industries their companies serve?

    Thank you for your help!



  • JJ,

    My personal opinion is that the educational content, in and of itself (and, to some extent, minus the experience of group learning and problem-solving) can be acquired without even going to school.

    The merit of being part of an MBA program is the cross-fertilization that comes from the back-and-forth dynamic of great lectures, team assignments, solo learning, thinking and rethinking, living in proximity to, and enjoying informal communication with great faculty and great classmates … not to mention benefiting from the nurturing relationships and friendships that result from joining a network of ambitious, capable, like-minded MBAs in an alumni community that spans cities, industries, functions.

    I do think that graduates of elite programs (let’s say ~ top 25, however you choose to rank them) do experience a different post-MBA dynamic than graduates of 90+ ranked programs, primarily as a derivation of the differences in levels of influence, leadership, and interconnectedness of a program’s alumni … all things that influence your own career options (e.g., job leads, and even such things as investment in your future new venture business efforts). On the other hand, if the 90-something ranked school is a strong regional player in the city, country where you are based, or where you know you want to live long-term, the school’s local network effects may in fact trump an ‘elite’ program that is far off and may not enjoy the same local presence.

    I know that business school is expensive, and that not having a mountain of student loan debt offers a significantly higher degree of freedom of choice in your career path (meaning, you don’t have to limit yourself to the most highly-compensated career paths). That being said, I’d feel more comfortable taking the “full scholarship” option at a school that is at least within the range of reputation of a school where you would pay full fare. Remember that if you are successful in your career, and earn money in the manner that MBAs can (especially in professional services and technology), then your loans could be paid off within a matter of just a few years after graduation, assuming prudence and a degree of frugal living. I generally advise my students / clients to ignore and not make the decision to attend one school over another based on differences in scholarship / cost in the $20-$40K range, but rather choose the school based on fit, community, reputation, location. When the cost difference becomes one of $80K-$150K, that’s a different story, and one worthy of careful reflection.

    All in all, the goal should be to gain entry into an elite MBA program, whose “market power” especially vis-a-vis on-campus recruiting and alumni, employer engagement can help facilitate your next, great career leap. If that sense of business community and the market-making function do not exist at the program you’re considering, then I would think a lot about the extent to which you can forego school, learn on the job, and take online courses, read books, attend conferences, etc. that broaden your business acumen. Going to school “for free” may not be a bad lifestyle choice and way to spend 1-2 years, but it may not be the most assertive, accelerated way for you to pursue the next phase of your career. I hope that helps!

  • Nikita,

    My personal hunch is that your application would be competitive in many / most of the programs you apply to (considering the range you mentioned), given your work background.

    That being said, if you can nudge the GMAT score upward, even to 680, and especially if you can get it to 700 and/or above, this would offset the stringent GPA from St. Xaviers that you can no longer influence, and would also then make your qualifications and personal essays stand out on par with a higher level of candidate. My personal take (and please note that I’m a former career services director, not admissions director) is that you compete on intangible and qualitative factors with people in similar tranches of grade point average and standardized test outcomes … I would wager that the folks with the highest ‘scores’ are considered first and foremost, with movement down the list of quantitative marks, as a new class of admits is filled up. I hope that thinking makes sense, and good luck in evaluating whether you want to and can re-take the exam.

    With regard to a Master of Finance vs. an MBA, I think your decision should be led foremost by the degree of career focus you foresee for yourself in the years to come. Since you are already in a finance vertical, if you enjoy that and if being a technical expert and someone who remains in treasury / corp. finance roles for the duration of your career seems like a good outcome, then the MFin may be a great way to get to the next stage of that career more quickly, cost-effectively, and with potentially a lower competitive bar for admissions. If, on the other hand, you want a career that is more general, and you could see yourself switching functions / industries, being a general manager in different contexts in the future, then the MBA is more likely a better all-purpose vehicle.

    So, the choice of degree really comes down to whether you want your business career to be exclusively functionally focused within finance roles (in which case MFin works well), or broader and more flexible (in which case the MBA is perhaps the better hedge). Last but not least, there are folks who pursue a Masters in Finance (especially when switching countries), work in IB / finance roles for some time, and then decide to pursue an MBA later on (or even an Exec MBA if enough time has passed). That’s a lot of schooling, and not inexpensive, but can be a good way to build a solid foundation in one career vertical, and then broaden your experience, as you rise through the ranks, gain responsibility, and build a track record of success.

    Good luck in your applications!

  • Chris

    Hi Ivan, thank you so much for doing this; I really appreciate you taking the time to answer questions!

    I just graduated a couple of years ago, so I still have about 2-3 more years before I apply for an MBA program. My dream is to get into an M7, and while parts of my application read well (double major at an Ivy League undergrad, award-winning debater regionally, nationally, and internationally, held a leadership role in large organization on campus, I haven’t taken an official GMAT but got a 730 on initial assessment – hoping to bring this up to a 750 by the time I apply), I know I definitely have some significant blemishes. The two main road blocks are 1. my GPA is pretty low (3.1) and 2. while I’ve been doing good work in my current role (was hired full-time out of an internship, promoted once, and on track for another promotion within a year from now), it’s also at a fairly unrecognizable mid-sized investment firm. Is there a way that I could position myself to be competitive (even if it’s still a long shot) for HBS, Stanford, Wharton? (I’m of course not putting all my eggs in one basket, but if I shoot for the moon, maybe I’ll land amongst the stars?)

    Specifically in terms of work experience, I’ve heard that it’s good to work at a more prestigious, recognizable firm, but I’ve also heard that MBA programs value consistency and growth. I’m currently pursuing the CFA charter and hope to finish by June 2018, but is it better for me to continue trying to rise in my current firm all the way through to when I apply for an MBA program, or should I go for a position at a more prestigious/recognizable firm during the 2 years after I (hopefully) complete Level III of the CFA program and before I intend to apply for an MBA program?

    I also know that leadership is important in applications. I have some leadership experience from college, but my team in my current role is very small and there isn’t really a way for me to rise to a leadership position if I stay here. Given that it’s a small team, I do have a lot of responsibility and will be “leading” a pretty major project soon, but it’s still not really a “leadership” position. Outside of my full-time job, I tutor high school students for about 10 hours of my week right now; could that be considered “mentorship”/”leadership” of some sort? Should I be looking for leadership roles at other firms? Is there a particular way you would suggest finding leadership positions outside of my current job?

    Really, I’m just looking for advice on the best way to spend the next 2-3 years. Thank you so much for your help!

  • patodia.nikita@gmail.com

    Hi Ivan,

    Request your views/advice.

    I am a Chartered Accountant from India currently working in a private sector bank in Commercial Banking role. I have ~3 .5 years of work ex including Statutory Audit ( 1.5 years), Corporate Credit Rating (1 year) and Corporate Banking (1 year). Prior to CA, I have also done 3 years of articleship (internship i.e. a part of CA curriculum) at a Big Four firm in Statutory Audit.

    my GMAT score is 650.

    I have completed graduation from St. Xaviers College, Kolkata (India) with 61%. Many colleges in India grade/score very stringently, hence, this score if converted to GPA would appear extremely low.

    I want to work in roles like Investment Banking /Private equity/ Corporate Finance/ Credit ratings etc preferably in London or Singapore. I aspire to do MBA from places such HEC Paris, LBS, NUS, Insead among others.

    With my profile and GMAT score do I stand chances in any of the above mentioned institutes ?

    Further, considering the much lower cost in terms of time and money required for Mfin (LBS) – if I apply for this course – Will I be able to get access to opportunities in the financial sector that I desire ?

    Please advise !


  • JJ

    Hi Ivan-
    What do you think of an opportunity to attend a lower (90 something) ranked business school for free vs pursuing higher ranked programs at full pay?

  • Dave

    I am a licensed psychotherapist with over 20 years experience in the field. Graduating with my MBA 3 years ago, endeavoring to modify my career, I find myself stuck, remaining in my counseling field as before. I imagined an entrepreneurial and independent direction for myself, consulting small family-owned businesses on best practices while helping with ever-present conflict typical of that environment. I also was attracted to being an HR facilitator for acquisitions and mergers, being strong in soft skills.

    My MBA program didn’t require an internship for graduation, and now I am without specific business experience. What effective and creative strategies to you recommend I can follow to be the next few steps I could realistically make to break into a fresh new career, making a similar income ($70k/yr).

    Thanks for your help! What a great resource for us.


  • Josh

    Hello Ivan,

    I know you would’ve heard this statement a zillion times, but in my case it is most definitely very very true. I am a very bad test taker and although I can master the quantitative concepts and do all the practice questions very well, I still have been unable to get a highly competitive GMAT score despite numerous attempts. Unfortunately, my work is also not very quantitative in nature so that doesn’t help. Having said that, I cleared the CFA Level 1 exam a couple of years back and did very well in key modules which go very much in depth and of course are very quantitative in nature like Accounting, Corporate Finance and Investments etc. I am not sure if I will be able to crack the GMAT and get a higher score in future (given my numerous previous attempts), so in this case what do you recommend I should do to improve my candidacy as far as allaying the concerns of the Adcom with regards to my quantitative skills ? Should I try to clear CFA Level II exam ? Do you know of any MOOCs that I should go for ? Or for that matter, should I enrol in the HBX core and try to do well in that ? Your response will be highly appreciated.