How To Make An MBA Career Switch Successful

Switching careers doesn’t just happen. Changing what you do requires deep introspection, a fair bit of knowledge about a new career you may know little about. And then preparing yourself to land the ideal opportunity.

An MBA helps people make these professional transitions. In this, the second live stream MBA career switching at Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business, we explore what it takes to make a successful transition and what kinds of resources are available at Kelley to make career switches possible.

To explore why the MBA is the right choice for career switchers, Poets&Quants and the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University joined together to organize a trio of detailed discussions on how to leverage the MBA as a doorway to changing your career. The first of these sessions, featuring Kelley Dean Idie Kesner and MBA Program Chair Kyle Cattani, focused on why an MBA at Kelley is a great vehicle to do a career switch. This second conversation explores how MBA students do it, and the third and final discussion delves into who makes the switch and highlights alumni who have made dramatic career transitions.

At the Kelley School, the journey to changing careers starts with Me Inc., the school’s highly acclaimed professional development program after which students pick an academy to explore a specific industry and the MBA careers in it. That process of introspection and learning leads to an internship and eventually a job.  All the while, students are guided through along this journey by certified executive coaches, academy directors, and peer coaches.

For this conversation, we’re joined by Eric Johnson, executive director of Graduate Career Services at Kelley, along with John Gildea, a marketing professor who is also the business marketing academy director. We also have three second-year students–Ashley Emerole, James Morris and Prachee Kaushal–who have completed their first year in the MBA program and just returned to Kelley after their summer internships at Credit Suisse, Accenture, and Google, respectively.

An edited transcript of the conversation follows:

John A. Byrne: What are the essential elements of a successful career transition?

Eric Johnson, executive director of Graduate Career Services at the Kelley School of Business

Eric Johnson: I think there are really two that stand out above everything else. I think the first is the opportunity to gain applied experience or experiential learning. And the second is the ability to reflect on those experiences and your own career goals with a coach. I think Kelley does a nice job of this, from the time you get started all the way through the first year academies. And then through the summer internship and even the second year academies. There’s a constant opportunity to apply classroom learning to live interactions with companies, live projects with real implications.

And because students are set up with a dedicated career coach from the time they arrive to all the way through their experience at Kelley, there’s an opportunity for constant discussion and reflection about what’s working, what’s not, what am I enjoying, what am I not enjoying? And then how do I tell my story around this? Because the career switch isn’t just starting from scratch.

I think a lot of our students come to the table with an enormous amount of transferable skills, but don’t always know how to articulate those in a relevant way to the companies that they want to go to. We help you evolve your stories over time so that they are relevant and interesting. That is something that is essential to do with another person who’s invested in your future. So experiential learning and coaching I think are two critical components for a career switch.

Byrne: So Ashley, let’s start with your story. Okay. So as a geography major out of college, you ended up in the budget office for New York City. Thanks to the Kelley MBA program, you spent this summer in an internship with Credit Suisse. So you’re on your way to becoming an investment banker. Quite a change for someone who majored in geography as an undergrad.

Ashley Emerole: I actually graduated during the recession of 2009. So I immediately did my first masters in urban planning. So I was always interested in the city.

Byrne: So that allowed you to make the transition into the government? How did you come to decide that you needed an MBA?

Emerole: After working for about seven years for the government, I ultimately felt it’s very large and bureaucratic and trying to move within the city organization was a little more difficult. I’d always been curious hearing from friends who worked in financial services about the nature of the work that they did, and I was increasingly a reader of The Wall Street Journal. I often read about these large transactions and knew I wanted to make a transition to the private side of finance.

Byrne: And you knew that coming to Kelley for an MBA would help you make that transition?

Emerole: I did, especially because of the academies. So in my case, I did the capital markets academy. That prepared me in terms of what a financial services career would look like. As a first-year MBA, you’re able to meet with a lot of alums who work in different financial service capacities. You travel during your academy week to New York and Chicago and visit different firms, and you get a lot of hands-on training that ranged from stock pitch competitions to a case on whether Amazon should divest an asset. It was a lot of hands-on learning.

Byrne: And how was your Credit Suisse internship? It must have been a success because you came out of it with a full-time job offer.

Emerole: It was awesome. I’m really excited and proud to be going back and happy to represent the firm. I think I have to say one thing I enjoyed was just the fact that you’re always on. And for me, that’s something that I love doing. Just kind of always thinking about transactions and how strategy comes into play with valuation. And that’s something I knew I wanted to do. So I don’t mind the hours at all.

Byrne: James, why don’t we go to your story? You did your summer internship in consulting at Accenture but were working in oil and gas at BP before coming to Kelley. What were you doing?

James Morris: I was a finance, planning & analysis analyst so I did everything from budgeting to forecasting to evaluation. I was working big assets that you see in the Gulf of Mexico that pump thousands of barrels of oil out of the ground at any given moment. And so our job was to forecast how much money they’d be making and how much money they’d be spending. When we drilled a new well or tried to expand an asset, we would have to do the valuation to determine if it was a good investment or not.

Byrne: When you came to Kelley, did you know you wanted to transition into consulting?

Morris: I thought that was the path that I wanted to follow. I wanted to explore other options in finance as well, but I was very passionate about the projects that I had at BP where I could own something, determine what the scope of the project was and helped to implement it. The quarterly processes weren’t necessarily what I was passionate about. And so when I did a little bit of networking with our alumni, I realized that consulting was all about short-term projects where you could determine a scope of work and implement it. And so that’s what I thought I wanted to do.

Byrne: So how did Kelley help you get your consulting internship at Accenture?

Morris: I engaged in on-campus and off-campus recruiting. On-campus, some of the firms that come are EY, PwC, Deloitte. Through the academy, we’re able to interact with them every Friday. They come in, they do a case with us, they talk about the day in the life of a consultant. And so from getting to know those different firms, I was able to apply through the school. For Accenture, I applied the teachings that we learn in Me Inc. and at the beginning of the semester around networking. I made some contacts in Houston, which is where I’m from. I wanted to go back to Houston and was able to cultivate those into eventually receiving an offer from Accenture for an internship.

Byrne: Will you enter the consulting field when you graduate?

Morris: I’m definitely considering it. I have an offer to go back. I’m just making sure that everything is exactly the way I want it to be. I’ve got a new family with a wife and two kids, so I just need to make sure my wife is fully on board. I’m passionate about the project life, and my summer with Accenture was fantastic so no complaints there.

Byrne: And Prachee, you spent your summer at Google in Mountain View, California? What was that like?

Prachee Kaushal: It was an amazing experience, especially because it was my first time in California and I’m a chemical engineer. I had no relationship with Google or the tech industry. The academy did a good job of exposing us to different industries. So for me, the academy was more like exploring all the options. I had a vague idea I wanted to explore the tech industry, and with the internship, I could really explore the nitty-gritty of tech. As they say, the tech industry has a place for everyone. And that is so true. Even for a chemical engineer, I fit right in. I could use my previous skill sets in operations with my team at Google. It was a fantastic experience
Byrne: And of course you were in Josh’s academy.

Kaushal: That’s right.

The Entire MBA Career Switching Series

Why The MBA Is The Right Choice For Career Switchers

How To Make An MBA Career Switch Successful

What Success Looks Like For An MBA Career Changer

VIDEO: The Ultimate MBA Career Switches In New York

VIDEO: The Ultimate MBA Career Switches In San Francisco


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