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: You mentioned that you initially were looking at healthcare, but you were at Google in marketing. What happened?

Kaushal: I joined the life science academy and once I joined the academy I realized it might not be the perfect place for me to be. And so that’s the beauty of Kelley. It gives you so many opportunities to try out even before you venture into it. Now imagine a year from now I graduate and I enter healthcare and a year down the lane I realize healthcare is not the industry U want to be in. I would be in a state of panic. So that exposure was really important.

Gildea:  John, I think the experience she just shared is a success for us. And you might look at that on the face and say, “Well, she did the Academy and it didn’t work out. That’s too bad.” But that’s why we do this, to expose students to these things earlier so that they’re not making mistakes in their first job and end up saying, “What have I done? Why am I here?” Sometimes it’s easy to distill getting an MBA down to just getting a new job. And so we’ll call that career switching. But it is so much more than that. And these three students have been working on themselves for the last two years. And so things like getting feedback and giving feedback could have much more to do with their success in a new career than just finding a city or a company or an industry. Those things are important, but it goes much deeper in the curriculum here at Kelley.

Johnson: I think Prachee’s story is probably more the norm rather than the exception. We like to say all of our students are running. They’re either running from their last job, or they’re running towards their next job. And the reality is when Me Inc. starts two weeks before classes begin, regardless of what they think, what most of them learn is, “I’m really just running from my last job. The one thing I know for certain is I don’t want to do what I had just done before grad school.”

And so the process we’re all describing here is a series of small experiments to test whether you want to do healthcare or consulting or financial services. You’re finding out what that means for you in those small experiments. You’ll either discover you’re interested in that or that it’s not for you. And both of those things are critically important.

It looks different for every student, but because they have a caring academy director, because they have a caring coach because they get these opportunities to experiment, eventually they get to a place where they can say, “That’s what I’m running towards.” And that’s where the switch really begins to gain momentum. I love it when a student walks in and says, “I don’t know what I want to do, but I really want to work with somebody hard to figure it out. I’m willing to try things. I’m willing to be coached, I’m willing to get feedback. Can you help?” I’m like, “Yes, that’s what we’re built for.”

Morris: My coach was really helpful to me in moments of indecision. When I was trying to decide between two different paths, she was able to talk me through the pros and cons. I had two different offers from two different companies. I just needed to decide which one made the most sense. Accenture had a lot of really compelling benefits, and the other company had some really compelling benefits, and I just needed to kind of hear the questions that she was posing and my answers. Through that process, you begin to realize that the answer becomes very clear. That’s one of the benefits of a career counselor. They can just kind of help check your logic.

Byrne: Now in your case, was that more of a trade-off on culture and fit or was it something else?

Morris: There were a few different things. I think the family lifestyle would’ve been a little bit different. And then there were some differences in the packages. So I just needed to understand how all those factors lined up. My family is a priority to me so I wanted to make sure that I wasn’t sacrificing that aspect of my life. With Accenture, I knew that there were some benefits that came along with the job that would really help me to have more of a balanced life at times. Just speaking about that with my coach really helped me to see that the decision was quite clear.

Gildea: John, we have excellent teaching here at Kelley. The Me Inc. program is fantastic. The academies are great. These are all kind of group settings, but some of the absolute best experiences for me as a faculty member is as academy director. What I’m hearing from the group here is the value of the one-on-one discussions. We’ll sit in my office talking about where a student wants to go in their career, how they get there, and the trade-offs when you have two good things to pick from. Those are some of the best moments for me when students get there and realize, “okay, I’m making some decisions here. I like the decisions I’m making. This is exciting.”

Byrne: At the core of the career switch is reinvention. You’re literally reinventing yourself. So Eric, I wonder what kind of common hurdles students experience in reinvention?

Johnson: I think the number one issue is imposter syndrome. “Do I really deserve this? Can I really do this?” And so I think part of what makes those one-on-ones so valuable is there’s also an element of, “I believe in you.” At Kelley, there’s an appropriate level of cheerleading, and the opportunities for experiments and case projects get you to a point where you say, “Oh man, I can do this.”

Byrne: And this goes back to an important point in our first session where students essentially gain a personal board of directors, a support network to help you make the switch.

Johnson: Yes. Ashley was talking about her second-year peer coach, which typically comes from the leadership academy. Your academy director and the academy director usually has some staff that are also involved in that. And they play a critical role. The GCS coach, your academic advisor, your core faculty, your friends, all of them really come together to help you. To show you, you can do this. You’re not perfect. Here’s the feedback that helps you figure out what you need to improve on. Here’s the opportunity to get better. Here’s the feedback on how that’s going. Here’s your opportunity to practice, and then look at how much progress you’ve made. 

Despite the fact that unemployment is low, competition is still really high. I think that’s especially when you’re making a transition. You are dealing with a lot of people across the country. I mean we’re talking about Google, Credit Suisse, or Accenture. These are all top tier organizations and the competition for those jobs is tough. So we also help students bounce back from rejection.

How do I better position myself the next time I interview for something? And just how do I continue to lean into a culture of practice so that I don’t let my foot off the gas until I have the full-time offer? The internship is great, but until you’ve signed that full-time offer, you’re not done. And so I think that’s real. I think we recognize that. I think we play in a very competitive field and we’ve designed a program and to help our students get 

Byrne: What I’m hearing is that you don’t wave a magic wand and do a career switch. There’s a lot of work that goes into this and a lot of introspection.

Johnson: It’s as least as much work as happens in the classroom. I can’t say that one is more important than the other. I think that comes down to the individual, their values and their own stakes. But if you’re not spending as much time on the job search as you’re spending in the classroom, you cannot re-invent yourself. And I think we’ve got a system that not only provides that opportunity but encourages it. And I think both are important.

Gildea: I can point to some experiences where students were uncomfortable. Some of that is being in front of employers and knowing, I could’ve said that better. I could have represented myself better and learning from it. Some of it is standing in front of a room and presenting to a group of people on a topic that you don’t think you know enough about. I love the culture here at Kelley around discomfort because one approach is to just run from that and say, “well that’s uncomfortable. I’m not going to do that.” Kelley has a nice way of putting people in uncomfortable situations intentionally so they can grow. They can explore themselves so they can maybe change some of their perceptions about who they are and the strengths they have.

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