Pursuing an MBA is a significant investment in your future, and it opens up a world of opportunities across various industries and roles. However, deciding on the right career path can be a daunting task. To make an informed choice, MBA students must consider their interests, skills and long-term goals.
The first step in choosing the right career path is self-reflection. “A key element to success in careers is knowing about yourself, your values and what is important in your life,” says Sadia Cuthbert, director of career at Cambridge Judge Business School. “When these values are aligned with careers, there is greater long-term career fulfilment.”
From the very onset of the MBA program, the UK school asks students to reflect on their values, strengths and careers goals. “It is important to remain close to your values and play to your strengths, and develop other skills which are relevant to the new sectors or functions you wish to transition to,” says Cuthbert. “And of course, we ask students to develop their network.”
The Judge business school leverages the wider Cambridge University ecosystem, so MBA students have access to a wider network of alumni across various academic departments. Networking helps them stay open to new ideas. “Students are not expected to have a completely clear idea of the direction they want to take post MBA,” adds Cuthbert. “They should come with curious and open minds.”
Identifying high-demand sectors
There are specific industries or sectors that are currently in high demand for MBA graduates, so it’s crucial for prospective students identify these opportunities. “Review any MBA employment report and you’ll likely see recent graduates accepting positions in consulting, investment banking, technology, health, and consumer products. Those are perennial top industry destinations,” says Sheryle Dirks, associate dean for career management at Duke University Fuqua School of Business, in the US.
She adds: “Current economic conditions and demand for MBAs are important considerations when identifying potential sectors, yet the market affects individual companies differently so it’s important to be aware of nuances.”
At Fuqua, between the first and second year of the MBA program is the summer internship, which Dirks says is important for both the student and the employer. “The student puts their new MBA skills and knowledge to work, often in a job function or industry that represents a significant change from their prior experience, and often receives an offer to return to the company full-time after graduation,” she explains.
Values: finding the right fit
Business schools stress that candidates need to assess both their strengths and values when choosing a post-MBA career path or employer. “It is very important for a student to establish a clear sense of what matters beyond the specific responsibilities of the role at the outset,” says Brian Ruggiero, the associate dean for careers at NYU Stern School of Business in New York. “For example, do the values and priorities of their potential employers align with their own?”
Coupled with strengths, a values discussion is a great way for students to engage with career coaches, he adds -- and it can serve as an important filter for prioritizing their time and focus during the job search.
At Stern, all incoming MBA students take the CliftonStrengths assessment to empower them with language around their natural talents and inspire them on how to develop those talents into strengths. “We hear consistently from recruiters across all industries that the candidates who stand out most are those who know themselves well and can clearly articulate the individual value they bring to a potential role,” adds Ruggiero.
Financial considerations for MBAs
Beyond this, there are also financial aspects to consider, such as salary potential, student loan debt, and return on investment, when choosing a career path post-MBA. “Do research on salary ranges in your desired field and assess the cost of living in your desired city or country of residence,” says Florence Ng, associate director of careers at NUS Business School in Singapore.
“If you are contemplating a student loan, do your personal financial planning so you are able to live within your means and service your debt over a reasonable and realistic time frame,” adds Ng. “Sometimes the financial rewards post-MBA may not kick in immediately. So plan accordingly to maintain one’s mental well-being as a student and fully reap the benefits of doing an MBA.”
Alongside that, the NUS MBA Program Builder tool helps prospective and incoming students explore various career pathways and the courses and activities they should pursue in their MBA journey to support their career aspirations. “Getting students to start thinking about possible career paths early puts them in good stead to make purpose-driven choices during their MBA journey,” says Ng.