Facing a Post-MBA Career Crossroads: How To Pull a Successful Career Pivot

April 09, 2020 · 8 minute read

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Facing a Post-MBA Career Crossroads: How To Pull a Successful Career Pivot

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.

Many MBA alumni face this challenge. While going with the highest salary offer to relieve some of the financial pressures of their student loans (and other debt) made practical sense at first, a taste of financial freedom could offer a path that allows them to explore positions better aligned with their purpose and interests.

Simply put, this could mean focusing less on the ROI, or return on investment, of their MBAs, and more on finding engaging, yet still lucrative work. Others may wish to focus on getting married and starting families; as priorities change, career tracks offering flexibility and work-life balance can become more desirable.

If you’re a few years removed from business school and now at a career crossroads, pull out that crumpled career bucket list you’ve hidden in the drawer of your bedside table. It could be a good time to complete some of your professional goals. Here are some tips on developing expert career management skills that may also 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 certain companies spend some serious money and time courting MBAs.

As a result, few MBA grads may be able to say they accepted their first position connected to their purpose, passions, and interests. Instead, they may think of that first job as a tour of duty—a stint at a prestigious firm to gain some valuable job experience and transferable skills.

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 can seem great at first, but maybe not so much later down the line when young MBA holders begin to 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, such as shifting toward human resources, marketing, or financial advising to applying your knowledge in a start-up setting.

This isn’t your parents’ generation; success doesn’t mean sticking it out with the same company for 30 years. The workforce now is frequently on the move. In fact, a study conducted last year showed that 58% of millennials surveyed planned to change jobs.

So changing jobs initially might not be the only time you change jobs (or even career fields) after obtaining your MBA. Seeking advice, marketing your personal brand, developing soft skills, and learning how to take action could all come into play again a few years down the road.

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 are a few ideas that may help you leverage your MBA smarts to manage your career growth going forward:

Being Honest When Seeking Advice

Working with a career coach or a mentor can be a great way to help you identify your goals, and when seeking a big change, committing to 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.

SoFi provides complimentary career coaching to all SoFi members. These professionals can help you plan your unique journey to transition careers, search for a new job, build a resume, and build your personal brand. When it comes to your career, a little career advice can have the potential to go a long way.

Defining Your Personal Brand

What is a “personal brand”? The term refers to who you are professionally, separate from who you are as an employee of a certain company. If you can find a way to market who you are, then you can communicate why you’d be a strong worker for a different type of job and/or field.

It can be easier to pivot in your career if you’ve consistently marketed yourself and the skills you bring to the table. 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!

Here are some suggestions for building your personal brand:

•   Create a personal website or portfolio
•   Prepare an “elevator pitch” about what you do
•   Be active on social media platforms like LinkedIn, Twitter, or Facebook
•   Find ways to network
•   Revamp your resume to reflect your brand

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, it may be especially important to highlight the problems and challenges you’ve solved for past employers. Storytelling can be essential to helping employers see your value clearly.

Keeping on Honing the Soft Skills that Complement Your MBA Degree

Sure, you may have learned how to write a cost-benefit analysis at the first job you landed with your MBA. But you’ve likely also developed plenty of soft skills, or less concrete capabilities, such as communication, leadership, or adapting to new circumstances.

You might be at a loss for how your ability to write a budget report in your sleep will help you land a job in public relations, but your talents leading a group sure will.

Some of the top soft skills employers were seeking in 2019 included things like conflict management, emotional intelligence, time management, emotional intelligence, and communication.

A great personality, the ability to foster trust, and top-notch relational skills, such as being a cooperative and engaged team member, are also all attributes of successful professionals.

Do any of those examples sound like soft skills you’ve acquired at your job or in your MBA courses? These abilities help make up your personal brand, and you can highlight them on your resume, list them under “Skills and Endorsements” on your LinkedIn profile, and talk about them in interviews.

If you find you have strong conflict and time management skills, for example, perhaps you could continue to take on responsibilities at your current job that hone those areas of expertise. If you struggle with communication, you might consider working to improve before you switch jobs to make yourself an even more desirable employee.

Act More, Worry 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, do your research so you feel more confident taking action. If you haven’t pinpointed your passion, it might make sense to reach out to people who are doing things you find appealing; maybe you could set up coffee or lunch to listen and learn.

If you’re a consultant, perhaps 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. Try connecting with them 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.

Taking action doesn’t mean you need to rush the process, though. Yes, you can take measurable steps toward starting a new career, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s time to address and stamp your resignation letter just yet. Taking steps towards your goal is simply setting yourself up for success so that when that day does come to make a change, you’ll be ready.

Taking 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 may face some risks.

So you might have to make some sacrifices, specifically financial ones. If you proceed in a carefully thought out way, however, you can protect your finances and protect your mental health. Here are a few options that could help you prepare for the risks you could face in changing careers:

•   Build an emergency fund in case your income takes a temporary hit
•   Secure a new job before leaving your old one, or at least submit several job applications
•   Volunteer in the field you want to enter to obtain relevant experience
•   Avoid rushing the process
•   Attend networking events
•   Take a class related to your new career field
•   Seek out a career coach

If student loans payments are still a factor, include them in your transition plan. One option to consider is student loan refinancing, which could help those with student loan debt lower their interest rate or secure a more manageable payment plan.

Refinancing won’t be the right solution for everyone, especially those who are enrolled in federal student loan repayment programs like income-driven repayment plans, since refinancing eliminates federal student loans from those protections and benefits.

Those interested in refinancing, however, might want to take a look at what SoFi has to offer. Qualified borrowers can secure competitive interest rates with no hidden fees—plus get access to career coaching, which could help those hoping to make a career change in the future. Those interested in learning more can get a quote to see if they pre-qualify in just a few minutes.

Student loans don’t have to keep you from pursuing your dream career. Learn more about how refinancing with SoFi could play a role in your journey to repaying your student loans.

Many people who have found themselves unemployed during COVID have wondered if they should take a temporary job or wait for their next big opportunity. Career Expert Ashley Stahl has a good test to see which path makes the most sense for you.

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If you are looking to refinance federal student loans, please be aware that the White House has announced up to $20,000 of student loan forgiveness for Pell Grant recipients and $10,000 for qualifying borrowers whose student loans are federally held. Additionally, the federal student loan payment pause and interest holiday has been extended beyond December 31, 2022. Please carefully consider these changes before refinancing federally held loans with SoFi, since the amount or portion of your federal student debt that you refinance will no longer qualify for the federal loan payment suspension, interest waiver, or any other current or future benefits applicable to federal loans. If you qualify for federal student loan forgiveness and still wish to refinance, leave unrefinanced the amount you expect to be forgiven to receive your federal benefit.

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Notice: SoFi refinance loans are private loans and do not have the same repayment options that the federal loan program offers such as Income-Driven Repayment plans, including Income-Contingent Repayment or PAYE. SoFi always recommends that you consult a qualified financial advisor to discuss what is best for your unique situation.


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