MBAs Switching Careers At Massive Rates

When Rob Schoder arrived in the San Francisco Bay Area in July, he boasted a new, shiny MBA from an elite business school and a robust network, but only about a year or two of part-time startup experience. Despite not having much experience in a professional bubble saturated with top talent and obsessed with things like “hacking” and “disrupting,” Schoder certainly wasn’t unemployable.

He had actually turned down multiple offers before graduating from the Chicago Booth School of Business last spring. The former history major turned executive search associate from the Midwest knew what he wanted — an operations role at an early- to mid-stage startup. So Schoder tapped into the network he’d built both within and outside Chicago Booth, spent the first few weeks in San Francisco bouncing from multiple meetings and interviews a day, and within a month landed what he wanted.

Once a recruiter scouring professional networks to find the next CEO, CFO, or board director for Fortune 500 companies, Schoder is now happily eight weeks into an operations gig for a bona fide Bay Area venture capital-backed software startup called Flexport. And his story is not totally uncommon. Using the MBA and a network he pieced together, Schoder did exactly what droves of top-talent young professionals are doing: He completely reinvented his career and jumped industries and functions.

Data released exclusively to Poets&Quants from TransparentMBA, a career platform specifically for MBAs, confirms what many have believed and known to be true for years — the MBA is likely the most powerful career-changing graduate degree on Earth. According to the data, which includes over 1,100 data points largely from recent graduates of the most elite U.S. business schools, 87% of MBAs switch either functions or industries in their jobs directly before and after B-school. Some 69% switch both functions and industries. Individuals using a full-time MBA from an elite B-school to accelerate their current career paths are in the significant minority.

“To me, it confirms what most people expect, which is the full-time MBA is a career-switching platform,” says Kevin Marvinac, co-founder and COO of TransparentMBA, adding a caveat that the data does not include executive or part-time MBA programs. “Chances are, if you are doing the full-time MBA, you are going to switch that career.” Plus, Marvinac notes, switching into higher-paying roles that are more specific to interest areas and functions immediately after an MBA likely leads to what TransparentMBA data previously showed in reporting by Poets&Quants: about an 82% increase in wealth and 58% increase in job happiness.


The new data confirms what career services directors at MBA programs have noticed for a while. “When the MBAs are here, the strongest interest is around pivoting or switching,” says Maeve Richard, assistant dean and director of the Career Management Center at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business. Stanford GSB, Richard says, does “informal polling” of their entering MBA students to get a sense of how many want to explore, switch, pivot, or accelerate their careers. Generally, she says, about 80% indicate interest in exploring, switching, or pivoting. “They’ve had about four years of work experience, plus or minus a year or two experience, and they want the MBA to enable them to do something else,” she says.

This year, for the first time, Richard and her team collected similar data for the graduating class of 2016. According to the self-reported data from graduates seeking employment, 56% switched industries, 61% switched functions, 52% switched geographical location, and 44% switched their level of responsibility. Some 83% changed at least two of those four areas — and 45% changed at least three. Both of those figures, of course, fit within the 69% switching both industries and functions reported by TransparentMBA.

At Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business, Jonathan Masland, director of Career Development, says the broad data is “not surprising” and something Tuck “definitely” sees. “The punchline is, lots of people are switching industries and functions. There is no doubt about that,” Masland says. “That speaks to why people do an MBA and the value of the degree.” Similar to Stanford GSB, Masland and his team also do an informal poll of how many people plan to switch jobs. For the eight years he has been in the role, he says a majority of students have indicated a desire to switch.

Maggie Tomas, director of the Graduate Business Career Center at Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management, confirms what the West and East coast schools are seeing. “I don’t think it’s that surprising,” Tomas says of the data. “I think that’s one of the things that’s appealing for an MBA.” Tomas and staff also do a career intake form that asks incoming MBAs to indicate their plans before they even arrive on campus. At least two-thirds indicate interest in “switching” or “creating,” she says, while another third are looking to “accelerate.”


While the broad switching might not be a surprise, Marvinac and TransparentMBA have gone deeper, tracking industry switching. For example, 21% of the recently graduated MBAs reporting coming from consulting. In their first roles after B-school, the number ticked up to 25%. Just 3% of the population reported having pre-MBA jobs in investment banking, but 11% reported taking investment banking roles immediately after B-school. “Consulting does a really good job of retaining people through the MBA,” concludes Marvinac, noting that many consultants use the MBA as a “career augmenter.” But, he points out, “with other careers, it’s increasingly not the case.”