2 Of 5 MBAs In Totally Unexpected Careers

We make plans, we break plans. Life often takes you in unexpected directions, as the latest Graduate Management Admission Council survey of business school alumni proves.

More than half of alumni work in industries they had no experience in before business school, according to GMAC’s 2017 Alumni Perspectives Survey. But that’s not exactly news: The number, essentially a measure of how common it is for people to switch careers, has remained stable over the years. GMAC also found, however, that 2 in 5 respondents — 39% — say they work in fields they hadn’t even considered prior to B-school.

The annual survey of about 15,000 graduates from more than 1,100 programs worldwide has never asked that question since the survey began in 2001, says Gregg Schoenfeld, GMAC research director, so there’s no way to know if 39% is more or fewer than usual. (We do know that it’s a higher number overall than the 28% of Class of 2016 grads who say the same.) But it’s notable that among those who find themselves in unexpected and unforeseen professions, 88% report satisfaction with their jobs — fewer than the overall satisfaction rate of 95%, but overwhelmingly positive nonetheless.

“In school, students are uncovering new opportunities that they are able to do,” Schoenfeld says. “The example I’ve been using is someone who goes to school for finance, but once they take courses in supply chain management and they talk to faculty and such, they realize, ‘Hey, this is much more interesting to me.’ They didn’t think about it before, but they’re switching gears. We have a quite a few who are saying they’ve never considered an industry before and now they’re actually in it.

“The 52% is not unusual; we’ve never asked them whether they have actually considered that industry before. We always knew that 52% were switching careers, but we never knew that they were  switching careers and uncovering a new career that they didn’t even think of before.”


Sangeet Chowfla

GMAC polls three generations of alumni, whether full-time, part-time, executive, or non-MBA, including some who have completed surveys for the nonprofit before. The 2017 poll found that 92% of respondents are currently employed, with 81% employed by a company and 11% self-employed entrepreneurs. (Compare this to the 5% of Class of 2016 grads who self-identify as entrepreneurs; more on them later.) Globally, the products and services (27%), technology (14%), and finance and accounting (11%) sectors employ the highest number of alumni.

MBAs are more likely to work in the tech, nonprofit, manufacturing, health care, energy, and utilities sectors; those with non-MBA business master’s degrees are more likely to work in finance, accounting, and consulting. MBAs are more likely to hold marketing, sales, operations, logistics, and general management positions; non-MBAs are more likely to be in finance, accounting, and human resources. Most alumni start their postgraduate careers in a mid-level position, GMAC found, with 60% holding supervisory positions and 43% as budget owners.

How about those alumni who changed careers, perhaps to an industry they’d never considered? Their stories run the gamut. One executive MBA who got his degree in 2001 describes being let go during a downturn in the oil and gas industry and finding work in a consulting role; another full-time MBA who earned her degree in 1999 says she met recruiters during a campus event and “really felt like I fit in to the culture.” She remains with the company to this day. Another MBA, who studied part-time before receiving his degree in 2004, says simply that a recruitment opportunity arose at a solar start-up, and he “was always interested in energy but did not have much exposure to it.”

Adds Sangeet Chowfla, president and CEO of GMAC, in a news release accompanying the survey: “Graduate business programs expose students to a wide range of opportunities and provide alumni with access to a variety of career outcomes. It’s clear from the results that alumni feel their education helped prepare them for leadership positions, as well as enhanced their earnings potential and guided their career development.”

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