Post-Graduate Flexibility: Which careers offer the most options?
Coming out of business school, what career leaves the most options open? I’ve heard investment banking – is this really true?
I think the only way to answer this question is by making a few broad generalizations, as well as adding the caveat of “it depends” (on what you want those future options to be).
To tackle the first part: Most MBAs who go into professional services (investment banking and management consulting are the most popular options) do so not necessarily because they expect to go the distance and become managing directors (banking) or partners (consulting), but because they will acquire broad exposure and client service experiences that span a range of industries, functions, geographies, etc. … this will then give them greater market power (as a potential new hire) and knowledge to take on more focused, long-term roles.
At each stage of promotion (roughly every 2-4 years), somewhere in the neighborhood of 50% of the MBAs working at large, multi-service banking or consulting firms will transfer out of those roles and “go in-house” at a client organization, and/or take on roles that are meant to be long-term (rather than “up or out”).
Whether banking leaves the most options open depends on whether you want your long-term career to involve finance or not. If you see yourself working long-term in any field that depends on that particular skill-set (for example, investment management, hedge funds, private equity, treasury / M&A / CFO functions at Fortune 500 firms, etc.), then traditional investment banking does give you the broadest range of options.
If, on the other hand, you want your future options to include a broader spectrum of experiences (e.g., marketing, operations, technology, supply chain management, etc.), then consulting may offer you the most leverage and the broadest range of options.
A third point: companies that have MBA management rotational / leadership development programs can also offer the types of experiences (working with different business units, on a range of projects, across countries and customer segments) that support one’s efforts to add a second level of “schooling”, beyond the MBA (and before one chooses a long-term path and focus). Last generalization: big companies, with many different types of products and services, and with locations in multiple cities and countries, tend to offer MBA candidates the diversity of experiences that are intended to leave options open. Many MBAs will work for a big, global brand first, and will then choose to join a smaller, boutique firm for the long-run.
The real trick is knowing when to continue to invest in experiences that are designed to leave future options open, and when to finally take that plunge and become a true expert and guru in a given field.
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