Be careful about writing amazing essays about post-MBA career plans in the U.S. within industries that just don’t sponsor. Make pivots to companies that will sponsor work authorization within your field of interest, even if it’s not your ultimate dream job/location. Doing this will signal that you are pragmatic and eminently employable (and, if it is done well, AdComs shouldn’t even suspect that any concessions have been made).
Here are some examples of what that process might look like:
- “Given my penchant for marketing and my proven data-driven marketing skill-set from Ogilvy in India, I want to work for Coca-Cola in Atlanta or General Mills in Minneapolis as an Associate Brand Manager – nobody knows marketing like Coke or General Mills and that’s where I’ll strengthen my marketing skill set most.”
Okay this prior experience plus an MBA would lend itself nicely for future employment at Coca-Cola if the pesky work authorization problems weren’t in the way. So let’s take a different path: Pepsi has numerous leadership development programs in India that often form their pipeline to leadership in-country, which is what many applicants with this story want long-term anyway. This will likely be lower-comp near term, so another way to play this is that the near-term goal is to work in consulting (which reliably sponsors), because prior consulting experience is in serious demand for director-level CPG positions.
- “Immediately after B-school, I want to use my A → A 5 years of experience at bulge-bracket M&A at Goldman Sachs/JPMorgan/Morgan Stanley/Credit Suisse/HSBC in Hong Kong to move to the buy-side. Since much of my experience has been in the industrial sector, I want to work at a smaller buy-side firm, such as a family office or small middle-market-focused PE fund, where I can have more operational input, more autonomy, and more influence on the outcome of the equity component of my compensation.”
Okay, normally buy-side right out of MBA can be a little aggressive, but somebody who has 4-5 years of sell-side deal experience at a reputable shop has a decent chance at that coming out of a top-10 U.S., particularly at the smaller shops that are outlined here where hiring is generally less stat-driven. However, this career path is implausible without work authorization. Small funds, in general, don’t have the budget, knowhow, or, frankly, the need to sponsor international employee work authorization for entry-level associate roles. Therefore, a better, more eminently plausible direction is to target the bigger PE employers or going back to a large IB, both of which definitely do sponsor. For instance, you can talk about an Associate role at a firm like Blackrock, which has a reputation for sponsoring internationals, and indicate your interest in a middle-market portfolio. Alternatively, most of the funds associated with Asset Management divisions of big banks also sponsor and this type of candidate could pursue a path there.
- “I want to work in industrial manufacturing for a company like John Deere in a managerial commercial role or leadership development program given my background in industrial engineering and my long-held interest in maximizing human potential through enhancing commodity crop yields.”
This could be a very differentiated story if it came from a U.S. applicant, because it’s hard for MBA programs to find people interested in heavy industry in underrepresented geographies. But, these firms probably won’t sponsor international employees right out of MBA, sadly. The workaround is finding a way to work in these areas in a different geography or for a different employer. For instance, an applicant can talk about working for John Deere India after an analyst role in investment research at a prestigious IB’s Machinery and Engineering & Construction sector division (ideally pick a bank that has strong investment research coverage of this industry and strong relationship with the school to which the candidate is applying). Who better to add value to an industrial company in a senior leadership position than an analyst who values companies for potential shareholders? This is a believable story both in terms of passion and logical flow of career path while remaining differentiated. This same sort of trajectory can be mapped for other industrial companies or E&P companies.
4. “I want to use the skills I honed as an analyst at XYZ asset management to earn returns for the greater good in the social impact space at a reputable social impact fund.”
Making a strong case for employability at a social impact fund is hard for any applicant, because even at a finance-oriented place like Wharton there are only a small handful of graduates each year who successfully land roles in this field. Ironically, even though many of these funds’ investments are targeted toward social impact in the developing world, they don’t sponsor international work visas, so the people modeling likely have little personal familiarity with the regions and issues they are addressing (not great!). Given this reality, for somebody genuinely interested in social impact who will need work authorization, a more pragmatic approach would be to work in the CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) department at a large U.S. corporation (that will sponsor internationals) with a giant budget (think: Amazon, JPMorgan, Comcast, Intel, etc.).
5. “I want to apply the skills I learned as an engineer at XYZ Big Exploration & Production Company to power the world with green energy in a product manager role at a company that sells and installs solar/wind/hydro systems.”
Depending on what company the applicant wants to target, these companies may be owned by a big tech company, and work authorization may be possible. Still, in our experience as admissions consultants, this is a hard space for international MBAs to gain a foothold in immediately after their MBA. It would be easier to start out in a different area within the same space, such as working at a big bank where one could be involved with securitizing solar leases or doing equipment finance or infra finance for large solar installations. Since the back-end financing for alternative energy is a huge part of the business model for successful companies, indicating that you know this and that this is where you want to start your career will demonstrate that you know a lot about what will make you successful in your chosen field and your pragmatism re: immigration realities. A little bit of online sleuthing should help you come up with the top players in this space and LinkedIn can help you identify which potential employers have the best relationship with your school. You can also contact the club leadership for the energy clubs at the schools you are applying to. The medium-term goal can be to go back in-country in a leadership role in industry or stay in the U.S. at a more senior leadership level (more believable since by that time visa issues are more likely to be worked out).
6. “My experience in the Israeli IDF equips me with leadership skills that I want to continue to utilize leading teams with close proximity to a P&L as soon as possible after business school. Given my long-held interest in chemistry (my first love & undergraduate major), I’d like to join a leadership development program at a top-flight chemical company like DuPont.”
The sad truth is that there are vanishingly few leadership development programs that sponsor internationals’ work authorization, including those in the chemicals space. So let’s face reality. One good way to lead large international and cross-functional teams with P&L ownership in short order is the best consulting experience you can find (ideally MBB – which are reliable sponsors of work authorization). As many participants in leadership development programs in industry can tell you, ex-MMB is often preferred over internal promotion for director-level and above (much to the frustration of leadership development MBAs who joined those roles explicitly for these opportunities!).
The overarching theme here is that you shouldn’t have to give up your dreams due to immigration realities, you just may need to tweak your near-term goals a bit so that you still appear eminently employable in the eyes of the admissions committee. Keep your passions and your end goal the same, but adjust your immediate post-MBA goal to something with reliable work authorization sponsorship. Work with a consultant to tweak your near-term goal to something that is more realistic.
We’ve talked to a lot of international MBA hopefuls who don’t want to write about working for JPMorgan or Bain or Facebook because they think “everybody’s doing it.” That desire to stand out from the crowd as an international applicant from overrepresented geography is laudable, but putting together a career arc that has no chance of work authorization is an even costlier mistake.
Understanding work authorization considerations matters beyond “getting in”
Understanding work authorization realities is about more than getting admitted to a top MBA program: your happiness and fulfillment as an alum will depend on it, too. Although admissions committee members aren’t employment lawyers, they do know which resumes and aspirations for MBA candidates land well with employers that sponsor, thus perpetuating the self-fulfilling prophecy of wealth creation, endowments, rankings success for the university, etc. Weighing work authorization realities appropriately is an important part of your strategic positioning as an international applicant. Getting smart on the realities of the work authorization challenges in your desired geographic location is about more than gaming the system to get into business school, though. Even if somehow you were to manage to get into an M7 school espousing a pipedream in light of immigration realities, you’d ultimately be in a really rough spot upon graduation when you are unable to get the job you want. This is especially true if you have $200K of debt built up by the end of your MBA that you won’t be able to service without a great job. Doing your research with good guidance on the front end about what positions will be realistic in North America or Europe, given your international profile, will pay dividends beyond a higher probability of admission – it will ensure that you are better able to build the financial wealth and international leadership profile that you are likely seeking to gain from your MBA in the first place.
We hope this work authorization considerations primer for international applicants has been helpful as you get started on that journey! Bon voyage!
Admissionado is a results-driven MBA admissions consulting agency. We have a lust for smart ideas and tactics that – quite simply – work. We embrace a two-person specialty approach to consulting, leveraging the talents of strategic business geniuses with masters of writing. Browse through our website to get a sense of our style, our process, our team, and our case studies. We’re a no-nonsense crew, committed to delivering a boutique experience that stretches potential and earns admit letters.