Landing Your Dream Job – The Best of Ivan Kerbel (The Sequel)


What is more valuable: an MS in Finance or an MBA?

“Allow me to tackle the second part of your question first … One way to think of the MS in Finance is to [imagine] a selection of the core Finance topics normally taught as part of an MBA degree (corporate finance, advanced corporate finance, micro/macroeconomics, perhaps also capital markets and corporate valuation), plus a much deeper dive into what would otherwise be elective courses in an MBA program (financial derivatives, fixed income securities, behavioral finance, fiscal policy, M&A/buyouts, investment/portfolio management, the funding of private equity and venture capital, etc.) … those ‘electives’ in a Finance MS supplant the remaining general management topics (e.g., Marketing, Operations, Management of Technology, Entrepreneurship, etc.) usually taught as part of an MBA program.

The end result is evident when one lists the full course load: a person who has an MS in Finance is likely to be able to execute much more highly technical work in a finance function, but is less well able to tackle other general management topics. The industry/employer perspective on the two degrees is quite simply that there are some roles (more highly technical finance functions) for which a Finance MS grad is a better candidate, and others, requiring a range of activities, including the product marketing/management function you mentioned, that require a broader skill-set.

Part of what makes MBA degrees so popular is their flexibility and almost universal applicability across a range of industries and functions, but, yes, there are instances in which those with quantitative gifts and innate, focused interest in financial topics are a better fit for a particular role.”

How can I land a position in corporate strategy?

“Most often, people working in corporate strategy either have a background in line leadership within that same organization / industry, or in management consulting (where the breadth of their experience is valued, and can make up for first-hand knowledge or deep experience within that company). In terms of MBA hiring, an additional constraint (meaning, very few hires are made) is the relatively small size of most organizations’ strategy teams … these can constitute just a handful of people, even at large companies.

Hence, while making an immediate transition into corporate strategy from an MBA degree is not impossible, it’s normally easiest for those returning to the same or similar employer (hence, they’ve got the deep company / industry know-how) or for those who have a strong background in consulting. What I think is useful to keep in mind for you is that pursuing an MBA can be a very valuable, if not essential, step in your transition…You may require one or more additional, post-MBA steps to get there, whether in industry or as a strategy consultant, but it the MBA will likely be a useful way to embark on that journey (as well as signal your intent).

Given your interest, I would recommend those courses in business school that will provide you with the tools you will likely need in your next professional experience (e.g. competitive strategy courses, marketing, anything focused on CPG, retail, etc.).”

What should I expect initially as a consultant?

“Most consulting firms that recruit MBAs do so for ‘generalist’ roles, meaning that rather than have that person align with a specific sector, industry, or functional practice area at the outset, the new consultant is simply staffed on whatever client project needs him/her at any given moment (with some attention paid to skill-set and past experience). There are exceptions to this rule, but the above holds for most of the leading, large strategy consulting firms.

Over time (roughly 2-3 years), an MBA hire in consulting will begin to ‘align’ with a specific practice area, and can expect his/her work to consist more exclusively of a certain type of work or a certain type of client form that point on (as part of the partnership track) … think of it as the professional services equivalent of ‘majoring’ in a specific subject area.”

How do I align my undergrad major with my plans to go to business school?

“First, I think it’s helpful to realize that there are many MBAs whose undergraduate major was something other than ‘business’. The rough distribution, for many business school student bodies, is 1/3 undergrad business majors, 1/3 other quant-focused majors (engineering, math, science), and 1/3 humanities, liberal arts, etc. majors (a catch-all for all other categories)…

Something else to keep in mind, and this might seem counter-intuitive, is that undergrad business majors may actually have a more difficult time distinguishing / differentiating themselves from other applicants in the MBA admissions process…In my experience, those MBAs who focused on a business discipline as undergrads tended to do very well (both academically and in terms of career focus) during business school, so I do think that the advantage of having been a business undergrad still holds, but it does not serve as a prerequisite for admission, as it might have in years and decades past.

What remains important…is that, regardless of major, it’s important for MBA-bound undergrads to cultivate and show a capacity for taking on the sort of rigorous thinking and skills-based capabilities required of modern managers: ability to analyze data, synthesize information, make actionable recommendations, organize and lead others, achieve measurable results, etc. That may sound a bit nebulous, but I can think of many scenarios and environments that would fulfill those criteria (e.g., working in a science research lab, taking on a survey project in collaboration with a faculty member, leading an on-campus organization and creating new programs or services as part of that experience, and so on). The key thing is to be able to marry ‘hard skills’ (I agree, most easily highlighted via graded academic work, with an emphasis on quantitative work, and with a strong GPS) with an additional demonstrated capacity for working well with others, managing change and ambiguity, achieving goals, and pursuing excellence, regardless of topic and field.”

For additional advice on majoring in business as an undergrad, check out our sister site: Poets&Quants for Undergrads.


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