Leveraging an MBA to Break Into a New Field

An MBA degree is good for lots of things—for example, it’s fantastic job insurance, as anyone who worked their way through the great recession can attest.  It’s also good for getting promoted throughout your career, since there are many corporate ladder-climbers who go back to get their business degree purely to move up in their company.  But what about the throngs of MBA candidates who are going back to change careers?  One of the best and most common uses of the MBA degree is to break into a new field.  Let’s discuss how you can do this in the best possible way.

Firstly, let’s get one thing straight—when applying to a top MBA program, the last thing you want to do is to communicate to the admissions committee that you are running away from something.  Being unhappy in your job is not uncommon, but telegraphing that you are using the MBA as the eject button can often work against you in the application process.  Business schools want to bring in sharp, high-achievers, who are running towards their career vision, not fleeing from something they hate.  But what if you fall into the latter category?  Are you hopelessly disadvantaged?  Perhaps not.

Couching your experience in a way which reveals the positive, transferable skills and experience you have garnered is the key to making an impact on the admissions committee. 

Cast a vision for what you hope to achieve and explain how your past experience has helped prepared you to succeed.  Schools know that a large percentage of their students go on to do something entirely different post MBA, but they will need to see the dots connected up front, in order to buy into a transition story which will convince them to open up a seat. 

One of the best ways to do this is to speak to how your experience, whether directly related to your post MBA goal or not, will be valuable in the classroom. 

Business schools need a student body which contributes from their collective basket of skills, and much of what you learn in business school will be from the experience of your classmates.  It is a subtle but important art to promote your past expertise as currently valuable while also connecting it to your future role in business.  

Going too far in one direction or the other could ultimately point to the fact you may not be ready yet for business school, which is the death-knell for application rejection. 

Don’t make it easy for schools to tell you to come back next year.  Make a solid case for how your career advancement has placed you in the best inflection point to fully leverage the MBA—whether or not you were doing exactly what you wanted to be doing or not.