How To Make An MBA Career Switch Successful

Kelley MBA career switchers

Livestream discussion on MBA career switching at the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University

Byrne: So Josh, explain how an academy at Kelley actually works and how the different pieces fit together to help create a career path for students.

Josh Gildea: When a student comes to Kelley in their first year, at the beginning of that first year, there are six first-year academies. Students listen to us as we talk about the various academies in such functions as marketing, finance, consulting, operations, and ultimately it’s the student choice. And then for that whole first year, we’re working together. The academy sits between what they’re learning in the classroom and that job search.

Business Marketing Academy Director Josh Gildea

We’re exposing students to different industries, different functions within the area that they’ve chosen, even different geographies come into play. And I think a big part of the anxiety around switching careers is just that you’re unfamiliar with the industry you target. You don’t know what you don’t know, and you’ve seen little bits and pieces and say, “I think I’d like to try that.” It’s in the academy where you get to try it out. So we do consulting projects with real companies in your chosen field. We visit companies, traveling together for a week in October. This year we’re visiting 10 different companies in four cities in five days. We’ll go to Minneapolis, Chicago, Milwaukee, and Indianapolis. Each Academy is different. The capital markets academy would go to Chicago and New York. And through this process, you can decide if you could see yourself doing that job. That exposure is just really important in this journey.

Byrne: And we should point out to everyone that Josh is a marketing professor at Kelley but you’ve also had over 20 years of actual experience with such companies as GE, DuPont, and Microsoft. So Prachee, how did Me Inc help you shape your expectations of the MBA program to
make this transition into marketing in tech?

Kaushal: I didn’t really know where I wanted to be, but I did know that I had to come out of operations in factories. Me Inc. was a period of introspection for me. It really helped me understand who I am, what I want to do and how I can get it. Other than that, it was a great opportunity to understand the different personalities in the Me Inc. group and to see how I could apply those skill sets to explore my career path. The other thing that Me Inc. really does well is having these very innovative team building activities. I used them back at Google as well. I took the life apart back to Google, and I did that with my team.

Byrne: What do you mean by life apart?

Kaushal: It’s describing your life from the start until the time you were at Kelley through a chart. You’re drawing out every milestone of your life on a piece of paper and talking about it to the team. So it’s narrating your story to a class of 15 students and talking about that experience. The exercise really helps you connect with the team

And for me, that was probably one of the biggest life-changing moments because I realized that diversity is what is going to play an important role in my career. There are moments when you realize that your experience is not going the way you wanted, but then you realize that everyone’s facing those kinds of issues. By sharing them, you bond really well with others. The coaches at Kelley do a fantastic job explaining what needs to be done, how it needs to be done and providing the right resources.

Byrne: Eric, how do you help people get internships because that’s one of the first steps toward changing a career?

Johnson: I might argue the first step starts with Me. Inc.

Byrne: And you are the architect of Me Inc.

Johnson: We’ve had 10 versions of Me Inc., and I’ve done the last nine of them. The life story exercise that Prachee is describing is an essential component of helping students understand what makes them relevant, what makes them interesting and what makes them unique. And I think those three things are not the only things, but yet they’re so important. You really have to demonstrate to an organization to convince them that you’re the right candidate. Relevant means I can show you that I have the necessary skills to hit the ground running.

Because most companies think, “Hey, I can give you some additional training to make you exceptional here, but I need to know at least on day one that you’re going to understand the basics of what we do and how you cqn be coached. The second thing they need to demonstrate is that they’re interesting. It’s the airport test: if I’m stuck with you for five hours in an airport, how am I going to feel about that? It matters because 80% of hiring managers have admitted they’ll hire somebody they like over someone they know can do the job.

So what makes you interesting is important and then what makes you unique? Accenture and Google are really competitive internships and thousands of people apply and only a few will get them. And so our students need to be able to answer the question, why me out of all the people in this stack? The life story is one really cool example of where somebody stands up and over five to seven minutes they tell their story. And then they get feedback from the room. Some might say, “Wow, this really resonated with me,” or “This makes you special.”

And the coaches and the people who facilitate the room will hear different things like, “Okay, I hear you have analytical abilities, you understand process orientation and process improvement. And I know that these skills are valuable in product management and product marketing. So we start in Me Inc. and then students work with the academies. Each one of my coaches is dedicated to an academy and so they participate in the academy Fridays.

When available they will travel on the academy trips and then Josh and his corresponding coachget to know the students from two different angles. That way, they can have a conversation where Josh can say, “here’s where I see certain skill sets stand out. CSo we spend the fall going through these academy experiences, going through these coaching experiences, building on what happens in Me Inc., and they will carry that into January when the internship recruiting takes place.

Then, the students should be ready to articulate what makes them relevant, interesting and unique. Underlying all of that, of course, is a huge culture of practice. We practice interviewing. The way that Kelley approaches it is it’s easy to just say, “Well, let’s do a mock interview.” But in Me Inc. we talk about what are your skills? We talk about what makes you unique before we even introduce these as possible interview questions.

so when you’re asked what is your greatest skill or what are your greatest weaknesses, you can nail it. You’ve already had an opportunity to develop an answer or practice it with people, reflect on it, improve it over time. So there’s always this opportunity to improve your answers before you even begin the process of doing mock interviews. That process allows our students to do extremely well. 100% of our MBA students get internships and well over 95% of land full-time jobs within three months.

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