You worked hard to earn your MBA and land a prestigious job upon graduation. But after a couple of years in, you might be thinking, Is this all there is? If you’re unfulfilled because you’re not passionate about the day-to-day reality of your job—don’t worry, you’re not alone. Not by a long shot.
I’ve worked with many MBA alumni who faced this challenge. While going with the highest salary offer to relieve some of the financial pressures of their student loan debt made practical sense at first, a taste of financial freedom allows them explore positions better aligned with purpose and interests.
Simply put, they focus less about the ROI of their MBAs, and more on finding engaging, yet still lucrative, work. Others focus on getting married and starting families; as their priorities changed, career tracks offering flexibility and work-life balance became more desirable.
If you’re a couple of years removed from business school and now at a career crossroads, here’s how to develop expert career management skills that will help you find a great next step.
Living the (Short-Lived) Dream
The typical pathways from business school to traditional roles in finance, consulting, or technology emerge in large part because of a “herd mentality.” In other words, graduates tend to flock toward the same opportunities because it’s what’s expected of them and these companies spend some serious money and time courting MBAs.
As a result, few MBA grads can say they accepted their first position connected to their purpose, passions and interests. Instead, they think of that job as a tour of duty—a stint at a prestigious firm to gain some valuable job experience and transferable skills.
To that point, it’s no wonder that I’ve found the average tenure of an MBA grad’s first job is only around 18 months. Cashing in on a huge signing bonus with a Big Three consulting firm or being wined and dined by corporate big-wigs on Wall Street was great at first, but not so much now. Today, many young MBA holders feel let down and burnt out; they just want something different.
The good news is there are many career paths outside of the traditional MBA pathways, from shifting toward human resources, marketing, or financial advising to applying your knowledge in a start-up setting.
This isn’t your dad’s generation; success doesn’t mean sticking it out with the same company for 30 years. The workforce now is always on the move. In fact, 42% of millennials are likely to change jobs every 1 to 3 years .
Turning the Career Corner
If you’re feeling stuck and uninspired in your current job, and you aren’t provided opportunities to learn, grow, and set yourself up for long-term success, it might be time to leave. Here’s how to use your MBA smarts to manage your career growth:
Be Honest When Seeking Advice
Working with a career coach or a mentor is a great way to help you identify your goals, and when seeking a big change, only complete honesty will help them guide you. Discuss all the reasons why you’re not fulfilled.
Clarify your skills and aspirations so you can craft a new, ideal job description together, and then think about the company culture you desire—the values, beliefs, and practices of an organization that will fit you best.
Define Your Personal Brand
It’s much easier to pivot in your career if you’ve consistently marketed yourself. If you haven’t polished your LinkedIn profile, learned to negotiate salary, and discovered the best ways to articulate your value proposition to recruiters or other firms, get to it!
Become a pro at illustrating how the skills learned in your MBA program and applied in your career thus far are transferable to your next endeavor. In particular, highlight the problems and challenges you’ve solved for past employers. Storytelling is essential to help employers see your value clearly.
Keep Honing the Soft Skills that Complement Your MBA Degree
A great personality, the ability to foster trust, and top-notch relational skills, such as being a cooperative and engaged team member, and are all attributes of successful professionals.
So, do what you must to improve your strengths and work on your shortcomings on the emotional intelligence side of your personal brand.
Act More, Navel-Gaze Less
Don’t spend months just thinking about what it might be like to work at a new company or in a new industry; instead, take action. If you haven’t pinpointed your passion, reach out to people who are doing things you find appealing, set up coffee and lunch to listen and learn.
If you’re a consultant, talk to entrepreneurs to discover what it takes to run a startup. Be inquisitive; have conversations with alumni and people you follow or admire on LinkedIn to discover what their roles entail and what their company culture is like.
Two years post-degree, you probably have peers spread out across a wide variety of enterprises. Connect with the to pick their brains about what they find most engaging about their work and get intel about possible job openings. You just might get turned on to a career trajectory you never imagined.
Take a Risk
Remember, people who enjoy a gratifying MBA-supported career have likely taken a leap of faith somewhere along the way. And let’s face it, if you choose to walk away from a substantial salary, you’ll face some risks.
So you might have to make some sacrifices. If you proceed in a carefully thought out way, however, such as first building a few months worth of savings in case your income takes a temporary hit, you can protect your finances and protect your mental health.
Whether it’s relocating to land your ideal job, joining a startup, or even becoming an entrepreneur, change can be frightening—but also liberating. You know that career bucket list you’ve got stashed away in a drawer? Pull it out; it just might be time to cross one off.
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