Students come to Wharton’s MBA Program for Executives to advance their careers. For some, that means moving up in their organizations or starting their own company. Others may be looking to pivot into a new function or industry that is a better fit. Whatever their goal, Wharton’s EMBA Career Team offers one-on-one career coaching for all students at both campuses.
“Some typical scenarios of students looking to make a career switch are people transitioning from the military into corporate roles or engineers who started their career in a specific function like operations, but are now seeing interesting new roles emerge because of technology,” said Career Director Dawn Graham, who recently published a book on this topic titled Switchers: How Smart Professionals Change Careers and Seize Success. “As students take classes and meet classmates in other areas, they might learn about careers they haven’t heard about before.”
For students interested in making any type of career change, Dawn recommends these five steps for long-term success:
1. Conduct Research: The Grass Is Not Always Greener
The first step is to research as much as possible about the day-to-day responsibilities of a new career. “Something may sound great on paper or in the classroom, but it’s important to assess yourself and your values to see if it’s really a good fit. If it turns out that the job requires 70% travel and you have young kids, maybe this isn’t going to be the best fit,” she said, noting that the best way to get information is talking to classmates, doing informational interviews, conducting online research, and doing applied projects in that area.
That research should include exploring opportunities within your current organization. “A good way to make a change may involve staying at your current organization where you’ve built credibility, but in a different role. Some of the best career moves I’ve seen are functional changes within students’ current companies.”
2. Create a Clear Strategy
If you determine that something is a good match, the next step is to create a very targeted strategy. The scope of that strategy depends on how big of a change it will be. Dawn explained, “Create a plan and make sure it is clear and that you understand the specific steps, obstacles involved and resources available. You also need to be realistic about the timeframe because this won’t happen overnight and can sometimes include a stepping-stone move to land where you ultimately would like to be.”
3. Be a Smart Networker
She advises students to use their network to help open doors and get in front of decision-makers. “The Wharton network is so vast that you will find students or alumni in the area you are looking at. Part of the strategy will involve reaching out to those individuals to build relationships. Research shows that one of the biggest things you can do to find success in a career change is to network,” said Dawn.
However, don’t start networking without preparation. “Sometimes you need to rebrand yourself in a new way so your audience can see you as a fit for solving their problems. You need to know which skills from your background will apply to a new role and which skills you need to set aside. When you network, make sure you focus on the skills that are a match for that audience.”
It’s also important to introduce yourself in a way that shows how you will add value. Dawn explained, “You need to give people language to speak about your value in their network so that word can spread. That means they need to understand what you do so they can bring back information that is relevant for your job search.”
For example, “If I say I work at Wharton, people might incorrectly assume that I teach finance. If I say that I’m a career coach, people may incorrectly assume that I’m a recruiter. But if I say that I help executive MBA students rebrand their skill sets and create a career strategy so they can get the job they want as a career coach at Wharton, then people have context about what I do.”
The goal of networking, noted Dawn, is to create ambassadors. “Most jobs are not posted online but are instead obtained through referrals. Companies can get quality hires without weeding through hundreds of resumes. A lot of the best jobs get scooped up through referrals or internal hires before they make it to the big job boards.”
4. Think About Your Brand
During this process, Dawn advises having a resume targeted to your new market as well as a social media presence, particularly on LinkedIn. “Your brand needs to come through everything you do from how you introduce yourself to how you show up online and how your resume appears,” she said. “That means immersing yourself in the new area by taking classes with applied assignments, joining clubs and associations, writing articles or commenting on articles, and attending conferences. It’s one thing to say you’re passionate about something, but another to show you’ve invested in it. People want to see that you’ve taken action and are committed to the new path.”
5. The Interview
During a job interview, expect to be challenged on your background because it probably doesn’t fit the expected mold for this job. “Make sure you have explanations about how you can be resourceful to get the job done, and accomplishments that demonstrate your agility and ability to obtain results that the new company cares about. This means doing mock interviews to anticipate questions and mapping out relevant, results-focused responses,” said Dawn.
“The end goal isn’t just the next job, but a long-term career trajectory that is a great fit.”
— Meghan Laska
Posted: July 16, 2018