Tips from a Second-Year MBA on Making a Career Change

The following blog post was written by Fisher McKenna, Simon Leadership Fellow and 2017 MBA candidate

I have had the unique experience of two different careers, and now I am headed into my third. I had always had a dual interest in business and government, so after obtaining my bachelor’s in applied economics and political science and my Master of Public Policy (MPP) in international economics, I ventured into government management consulting.

My five years in consulting were dynamic and multifaceted. I took on responsibility quickly, learned to provide objective analysis to a multitude of clients in different functional spaces, and honed my skills in client relations. In consulting, you hit the ground running, learning about your clients’ businesses quickly so you can parse through the data to come up with solid recommendations.

Fisher McKennaThis “think-on-your-feet” mentality served me well in my next career of counterterrorism intelligence, where I had to collate information from a variety of sources to provide recommendations to national security leaders. In intelligence, communication skills were key as I collaborated with domestic and international partners at different agencies.

My final career switch was a similarly organic move, in which I am taking my transferable analytic, information management, and client communications skills to work in country and credit risk at Bank of America Merrill Lynch. In addition, my quantitative training in economics and finance will serve me well in my new role. Career transitions have to make sense, and mine have been a series of logical segues within government or arenas that touch government. To make these moves, I’ve strategically leveraged the competencies I’ve built along the way.

As a career changer, I’ve learned some valuable tips I’ll share in case they can help you chart the course of your career as well.

Do some soul-searching before you begin the MBA program and continue throughout your studies.
My vocations all comprised my passions, my strengths, and most importantly, my values. I love variety and analytical problem-solving, so I chose consulting. I love foreign cultures and travel, am patriotic and adventure-seeking, so I chose intelligence. Ultimately, I realized that money can be positively used to alleviate social problems and help establish order, which speaks to my religious paradigms. So now I’ve chosen banking. Figure out what your worldview and ideals are so you can align them with your career. If you go against your beliefs or passions, you may end up confused or unhappy.

Don’t listen to everyone else… especially naysayers or know-it-alls. Do what YOU want to do, not what sounds cool or what others try to steer you toward. You’re the one who will end up spending time in the office and working on the job you choose, not your peers. Go after what you want.

Be serious about academics. You’re learning something completely new, but you’ll be expected to be proficient at it in a short period of time, so don’t goof off. Take classes that challenge you. Delve into the theory, do practice problems vigorously, and build relationships with your professors. Above all, enjoy the ride and take ownership of your new discipline.

Be curious and engaged. Outside of the classroom, you need to learn the practical application of your chosen field. This means you should be attending many career events and asking lots of questions. Through these events and your own research, you will find out about the many facets of your field and which ones interest you the most. Banking, for example, offers a wide array of career options. You may also want to identify a mentor or champion in the industry to aid your personal growth.

Be equal parts idealistic and practical. “Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.” If you’ve done all of your homework and decide that you can make your dream job a reality, then go for it. At the same time, have a back-up plan in case things don’t immediately work out. If you find yourself in a bind and don’t know what path to take, repeat steps 1-4…

I wish you the best of luck on your future endeavors!

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  1. I agree with these sentiments. I spent my first 4 years out of college as a Naval Officer, and used my Simon MBA to change careers, from the military to Wall Street.

    I would add that most career changes result in a change of work culture. The military was very different from Wall Street. The military and the government are very structured, while Wall Street is very entrepreneurial. As an introverted number-cruncher, it was a bit of a shock for me. Make sure that you feel like you are a natural fit culture-wise going into your new career. Aside from the work, make sure you are going to like the people you will be spending the majority of your waking hours with.

    Brent Nyitray ’94