The MBA Triple Jump: Using The Degree To Reinvent Yourself

MBA triple jumpers change countries, industries, and functions

MBA triple jumpers change countries, industries, and functions

The triple jump is the most difficult thing an MBA student can pull off. For many, it might well be the hardest challenge they’ll tackle over a lifetime. Just a select few attempt it–and even fewer succeed. It is the ultimate act of reinvention.

Instead of leveraging the MBA to make one or sen two career changes–such as securing a promotion or moving from a small financial services firm to Morgan Stanley–triple jumpers shake up three variables all at once: country, function, and industry–and they do so in a highly compressed timeframe.

At first blush, it may not sound like a particularly bold move, but imagine switching from product marketing for a semiconductor firm in India to strategy consulting for a hospital in Canada. For triple jumpers, the traditional hurdles of academics, networking, and job hunting are compounded by language, visa and cultural barriers. Post graduation, they must compete against students with years more in-country and industry experience.

Few B-schools encourage the practice. Applicants candid enough to tell admissions that they want to change countries, disciplines, and industries all at once are likely to be rejected by many schools. Triple jumpers are simply too risky: The odds are not exactly in their favor, even when using a summer internship to ease these unusual career moves. As schools know too well, unsuccessful graduates usually turn into unsatisfied alumni. Few business schools want to graduate jobless, disenchanted students, who could ultimately hurt their rankings.

A rare exception is the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management. It supports students bold, or simply crazy, enough to face the daunting odds of making a triple transition. Rotman’s location in a country with a pro-immigration policy makes it a more accommodating environment. Approximately 50% of Rotman’s full-time MBAs are international, and many of these students come to B-school to make a career change, ticking off two boxes from the outset.

Roughly a quarter of the class attempts the full triple jump, and that number is growing as the economy rebounds, according to Leigh Gauthier, Rotman’s director of careers for full-time MBAs. But it’s still a risky proposition, with few guarantees. “It is a difficult thing to do, but it’s not impossible,” she says. “I do believe that the MBA is a very good way for a young professional to start a new career. We want to support that, but we don’t paint a rosy picture that it’s going to be a cakewalk–that you can do it with no problem. We really try to emphasize the time, work, and energy that it’s going to take,” she adds.

It’s the same story elsewhere. In INSEAD’s Class of 2012, for example, 85%–or 675 MBA graduates–changed industry sector, function or geography. But only 24%–some 188-students successfully change all three at once with their newly minted degree.

Rotman’s Gauthier compares the MBA version of triple jumping to the Olympic one. “You take a pause from whatever you’re doing in your life, and you’re 100% focused on your studies and your career and your training,” she explains. “You’re doing everything you need to do to achieve your goal in a finite period … It’s tough to do, but very inspiring to watch.”

Students’ experiences attest to the extreme difficulty of making major life changes on three planes at once. Several successful Rotman triple jumpers share their experiences with Poets&Quants.

Partha Dev moved from product marketing in India to internal consulting in Canada

Partha Dev moved from product marketing in India to internal internal strategy in Canada

Country Jump: India to Canada
Industry Jump: Semiconductors to Healthcare
Function Jump: Product Marketing to Internal Strategy

Partha Dev is an exception in a workforce plagued by discontent. “I’m doing what I love and what I’m good at, which is very rare,” says the 33-year-old. But it wasn’t easy–his journey to a dream job required an exceptional amount of effort. The former product marketing engineer and native of India says moving to Canada and making the leap from semiconductors to healthcare was the hardest thing he’s ever done.

For Dev, the single biggest challenge was convincing Canadian employers to take a chance on someone with limited experience in the country and healthcare. “My personal opinion is now the interviews are not about selecting a candidate. It’s about rejecting a candidate because they really want to find the best, and they are always looking for a reason to reject you,” he says. Dev spent roughly a year applying for jobs. During his search, he filled out some 70 job applications through Rotman, more than 100 external applications, and endured 40 often grueling interviews. He estimates he was among the last 15 students in his graduating class to land a job, which he found several months after earning his MBA degree in June of 2013.