Want to make a dramatic shift in your career? Then, meet three extraordinary career switchers who did just that. All three leveraged their MBA degrees and the resources of the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University to make career changes that are among the most unusual you will ever find.
Jennifer Solomon was a riding instructor before coming to Kelley. She used her MBA to land a job in consumer goods with General Electric in Louisville, KY, after her graduation in May of this year. David Kay was at one time in his life a personal trainer in a fitness center who now works for Microsoft in finance. Kay graduated in 2016 and is now a finance and business intelligence manager for the big high tech firm. Evelyn Wang, who had worked in Shanghai before coming to the United States as a mechanical engineer, had a project management job at Eaton. She has used her MBA from Kelley to switch into strategy at Cummins Corp.
USING AN MBA TO MAKE A DRAMATIC SHIFT IN CAREERS
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, with Eric Johnson, executive director of Graduate Career Services at Kelley, John Gildea, a marketing professor, and three current MBA students explored how MBA students accomplish a switch. This third and final discussion delves into who makes the switch and highlights alumni who have made career transitions.
An edited transcript of the conversation follows:
John A. Byrne: So let’s just go to you Jennifer. What made you decide to get an MBA in the first place?
Jennifer Solomon: Teaching horseback riding, of course, is something that’s a little bit unique, and I absolutely loved it. It was my childhood passion, and once I started working at this equestrian center, I realized pretty early on that while it was physically challenging, I was building my communication skills. I didn’t necessarily have that intellectual stimulation that was going to be something to push me forward in the long run. So I always knew in the back of my mind that I wanted to go back to school. After a knee injury, I switched and started working at an audio tech company for a couple of years.
So I started working at this audio tech firm and quickly realized I liked analytics and it was something I wanted to develop better business acumen in. And I was teaching myself as I was going, so I realized that getting an MBA would definitely be the best next step for me to figure out what I wanted to do, and then how I could it.
Byrne: David, how about you? Why the MBA?
David Kay: In a nutshell, working at a startup you wear many, many hats. It was a holistic health and wellness center, which is where I was a trainer as well as wearing all the different hats that you would have to wear for any bootstrapped business. The startup was by no means run scientifically, so there was a lot of chaos, a lot of trial by fire and learning as we go. That was a great experience, but I definitely knew that I wanted to learn a bit more about business, and learn how to run a company, different frameworks you can apply, different strategies and things you can use to solve these types of common problems. So that’s really what inspired me to go back to school.
Byrne: And Evelyn, why did you decide you needed an MBA?
Evelyn Wang: At that time, I was a project manager in Eaton, and I was thinking about changing to marketing. It’s harder to make internally, and the market was down at that time, so it’s hard to find a job outside. I found examples of MBAs make a career switch, and I think this might be the right choice for me, so I came here.
Byrne: Right. And we found out earlier that 90% of the current students at Kelley want to make a career switch. What was the most difficult part of transitioning?
Solomon: The most difficult part of transitioning careers was just that earlier on it was very much an entrepreneurial environment for me. So going from a much smaller business into a larger organization that has various different processes in place was something to definitely get used to. I think realizing how long it can take to make decisions was a big surprise to me.
Wang: So a career change comes out to three things: location, function, and industry. I changed all of them.
The rule of thumb is that you should choose two of the three, not all of them. But I found that location is the most difficult one, especially for international students because we are facing a completely different environment where we are speaking a second language, and culture shock is quite impactful to us. I think Kelley did very well because the resources are very accessible, and I get a lot of help and support from the faculty.
So for example, I am involved in the Business Academy and gained support from our academy director, Josh. He introduced his classmate in my first year who is also Chinese and made a successful career switch from mechanical engineer to marketing. Her coaching made me feel so much better. I became very motivated and got through the first year. I am learning American culture and how a Chinese student can adapt to this new environment.
Byrne: Because you’re making a cultural transformation as well as a career transformation, which makes it even more difficult. So David, talk a little bit about the elements of the Kelley program that helped shape your new path.
Kay: It was a big change for me in terms of career, the scale of organization, just the type of people I was interacting with. So I think where Kelley really prepared me the most was two-fold. One was on the actual technical skills that I wanted to develop, whether it was finance or data analytics or operations. These were frameworks, models, even keyboard shortcuts in Excel, things like that that actually do make a difference, in terms of being able to execute in the daily rhythms of your job.
But then more than that it was culturally really helping me to be transparent. When I came into the program, I had a severe case of imposter syndrome coming from a small business. I had no real pedigree in terms of my job or education. So the career services staff and faculty, in addition to teaching the skills I needed to get beyond that, they really helped coach me to understand the value I could bring and craft my pitch and my resume, tying all the dots together. They helped me to basically paint the story of who I am today, and why I can bring value. It was instrumental in helping me land the job that I have today.
Byrne: And your startup was based where?
Kay: Tucson, Arizona.
Byrne: So in going to Microsoft, you made the triple jump, too, moving to a new location, in a new discipline, and in a new industry.
The Entire MBA Career Switching Series