Your post-MBA job search should begin before you even walk into the first day of classes. This is especially true if your career aspirations include a non-typical industry. If you’re just beginning your application process and creating a target list of business schools, it’s not too soon to set your strategy for a successful post-MBA job search.
Why? When you’re not targeting a typical post-MBA industry such as consulting, tech or finance, the job search is a completely different process. Companies in the latter industries are actively recruiting newly minted MBA talent and flock to business school campuses in droves. However, If you’re aiming to pivot into hospitality or retail, for example, you’re not likely to find many (or any) companies recruiting on campus.
This doesn’t mean that hospitality, retail, luxury, consumer, arts or nonprofit entities won’t benefit from your business acumen and talents. As my Fortuna Admissions colleague notes in a recent article on leveraging the nontraditional path, LBS grad Paul Heslop credits the MBA for the rapid career advancement he’s achieved at the United Nations. It’s just that entities like the UN aren’t the conventional destinations for the majority of b-school grads, so your approach (and expectations) must adapt accordingly. What it takes to get there is being more proactive, persistent and positive.
Here are my five top tips for initiating a job search in a non-typical industry, from my perspective as a Fortuna Admissions Coach and former INSEAD Assistant Director with the Careers Services Team:
- Know your target industry. You’ll want to develop a nuanced understanding of the industry or sector you’re targeting and what kind of job opportunities might be available given the skills and experience you’ll acquire. Start by setting some parameters to guide your research, then do your homework. This can include researching specific industries and roles and identifying new trends and opportunities that excite you. Is your goal to work in a particular industry (i.e. retail, hospitality, energy), where you may pass through a variety of functions over the course of your career? Or is it to develop an area of deep expertise and specialization (i.e. finance, marketing or human resources)? Not only will this groundwork make your application stronger (by articulating a credible and compelling career vision), it will give you a solid understanding of what it’s going to take to land your post-MBA job.
- Start developing your network in advance. Ideally, you want to arrive on campus with a well-formulated network that you can continue to cultivate during your studies. As you set up informational interviews, think beyond what you can learn, to also thinking about what you can give in return. Once you enter your program, you can arrange to reconnect to share what you’re learning and invite insights on industry developments or potential future opportunities. Networking is about relationships, and relationships are about reciprocity. Look for ways to cultivate reciprocal relationships over time and take a long-term approach.
- Take steps to demonstrate your commitment. Career changers must anticipate some of the challenges ahead, for example—if you don’t yet speak French but want to work in Paris. Have you considered taking a language course to demonstrate your commitment to the culture and location? If you are transitioning from investment banking to luxury goods, for example, have you taken steps towards your goal by working pro-bono at weekends with a luxury goods start-up and helping them with their finances? Have you joined affinity groups focused on the area that you want to enter? These kinds of steps will highlight to a future employer that you’re genuinely committed and passionate about joining their company or entering this new industry.
- Have a plan B in place. If graduation nears without a job offer in sight, don’t despair—not everyone nabs their dream job straight out of b-school. Instead, consider seeking some post-MBA volunteer experience. Reach out to alumni who have started companies in the last couple of years and offer your expertise pro bono (also savvy if you don’t yet have experience in their sector). It’s a way for you to gain valuable sector experience while simultaneously sharing your functional expertise with them in lean startup times. Remember that your career journey may be a series of small steps that will eventually guide you to your future goals.
- Look for new opportunities at your current employer. Rather than leveraging the MBA experience to undertake a radical three-point career shift (such as changing geography, function, and sector), consider how the company you’re currently working for might support a pivot into a new functional area. Maybe you’re passionate about moving into hospitality and working in HR, but you’re currently in sales at a pharmaceuticals company. Is there the opportunity to transition to an HR role in your current company before b-school to gain that functional expertise? Speak to your current employer about what’s possible. Changing one element may allow you to build expertise in HR, which two to three years down the line makes you a lot more attractive to a company within hospitality who are looking for new HR talents to join their business.
Of course, you’ll also want to stay open to the opportunities that may shape you during your program. With this kind of groundwork in place and an awareness of the unique elements in any non-traditional job search, you’re best poised to make the most of your time on campus. It will also give you confidence that having an MBA will really add value to your career goals.
Nonie Mackie is an Expert Coach at Fortuna Admissions and former INSEAD Assistant Director with the Careers Services Team at its Singapore Campus. For a candid assessment of your chances of admission success at a top MBA program, sign up for a free consultation.