Traditionally, Online MBA programs were seen as being more for career accelerators. Taken by people who are typically older compared with full-time MBA students, online courses were for senior working managers looking to accelerate career progress within the same organization.
However, more Online MBA students have been switching careers in recent years, prompting business schools to adapt their career support services.
The degree can support a career reinvention. “Half of our online participants have the goal of finding a new job by the time or shortly after they graduate,” says Nina Canfield, director of employee relations and graduate career services at Indiana University Kelley School of Business in the US.
A large subset of these students are looking to pivot into roles that are related or lateral to their function, she says. “However, we also have populations of students that are making a more dramatic switch, such as transitioning from military service to civilian careers, or choosing a finance major to move to investment banking or private equity.”
The business school has ramped up the services on offer to support students with their career switch. Kelley Direct Career Services include online resources, job boards, events, a regular newsletter featuring job openings, career events and career guidance, professional development courses and one-to-one career coaching.
Leveraging an Online MBA community to change careers
But, the advantage of any MBA program that requires students to come with at least several years of work experience is that there is a lot of value in the virtual classroom. “For those seeking to switch careers, the first step can be someone in the community: at least one person in the class or our alumni network will be working in the field or function sought,” says Rebecca Loades, director of career accelerator programs at ESMT Berlin in Germany.
“And for career switchers, this is a great opportunity to learn from them, to understand what skills or abilities are valued in the role or function they want to move to, to get new contacts, and therefore to build a network to help take them where they want to go,” she adds.
On top of the global alumni network, ESMT has a number of student clubs. Taking part in club events gives students another opportunity to meet with potential employers and recruiters, and connect with business leaders from an array of different sectors.
“Building a network and presence online can seem daunting but is recognized as being essential to increase your effectiveness in your current role, and to access the hidden job market for future roles,” says Loades. “Students take part in workshops designed to help them strengthen their presence in online networks such as LinkedIn, and we also address how to combine online and offline networking to maximize impact.”
When it comes to convincing employers, Loades says career-switchers should stress the benefits of the MBA. “Should a student decide to change role or company, wise recruiters will see that succeeding in an online program demonstrates a future employee’s ability to be organized, prioritize competing tasks, and juggle multiple projects,” she says. “In short, their focus and drive.”
Where an online program may have an advantage is that it more closely mimics the modern virtual working environment. “In an Online program, digitally-mediated collaboration is central, and we address communicating and leading virtually from day one,” says Loades. “One of the first courses students take helps improve their communication and leadership skills when interacting with colleagues in mainly, or exclusively, virtual environments.”
Employers increasingly aware of the value of an Online MBA
As a result of the coronavirus pandemic, employers seem to be now more aware of the value of an Online MBA. “Covid-19 has deeply changed the way we interact with people, triggering a huge acceleration of digitalization,” says Valentina di Nenno, senior career consultant at Italy’s MIP Politecnico di Milano Graduate School of Business.
“In the last 18 months, we have been forced to turn down face-to-face meetings for Zoom or Teams calls, getting used to working, learning and interacting in a digital environment,” she says. “Indeed, many business schools were required to convert their in-person training courses to online programs, driving people to get first-hand experience of digital learning.”
Moreover, all MIP students can rely on FLEXA, the digital mentor powered by artificial intelligence created by MIP in partnership with Microsoft. FLEXA uses AI to create and suggest personalized training courses, but it also gives users the opportunity to show their profile to recruiting companies registered on the platform, and take part in companies’ sponsored business challenges.
“We are noticing bright signs of recovery in the European job market, as evidenced by a positive employment trend for our recent graduates,” says di Nenno.