Ready to Switch Careers? How an Online MBA Can Help

Online students are keen to explore wider opportunities, prompting business schools to ramp up career services

Traditionally, the Online MBA degree has been earmarked for those candidates who are seeking to move up in their current company, or career path. Those days appear to be over, or at least numbered, with business schools around the globe reporting that the proportion of students in online programs switching careers has been soaring over the past couple of years.

What has led to this shift, and how does this degree facilitate a career transition?

The value of the MBA to career-switchers is demonstrated by data from London’s Imperial College Business School. “We consistently see more than three-quarters of our Online MBA students changing roles. Our students are not only interested in having a linear progression within their current company but are keen to explore wider opportunities too,” says Lisa Umenyiora, Executive Director of Careers and Student Life at Imperial.

Imperial typically sees 45 percent of Online MBA students change companies and last year the business school supported more than 20 percent of graduating students to change industry as well. Umenyiora says these outcomes aren’t necessarily new trends, but she has noticed a change in approach to career journeys recently.

“Students are following more of a squiggly career path, wanting to benefit from a range of experiences or to lean into growing areas of interest or changing market trends,” she explains. “An MBA enables students to build new knowledge, grow out their network, learn about a range of opportunities in a variety of sectors, and gain support for their personal and professional development as well.”

In addition to the academic learning that they gain through the core modules and electives, Online MBA students at Imperial have access to an extensive alumni community, networking opportunities, job postings and employer engagement sessions to support with building an awareness of their target sector and opportunities. 

More resources available for career-switchers 

Most business schools are ramping up the career support they offer to Online MBA candidates, as they switch roles more often. “There are more resources available for these programs around career coaching,” says Dori Jamison, Director of Graduate Career Coaching for the Robert H. Smith School of Business in the US.

There are big benefits associated with career transitions. “Changing careers provides the student with an opportunity to find their passion and do what they love,” says Jamison. “They typically have previous experience where they are learning more and more about what they want out of their career and the MBA is a great vehicle to leverage their previous experience to do something they are excited about. Changing careers can also provide more growth potential.”

Like Imperial College, the Smith School is seeing a rise in Online MBA students seeking coaching support to help them transition into new careers. “We have seen appointment requests for topics like ‘career targeting’ triple in the last three years,” Jamison says.

Stigma around online learning is reducing 

What has led to this change in employment outcomes? “It can be said that there is less risk,” she continues. “With more competition and options in the MBA space, online degrees are becoming more popular and have less stigma around quality. The online environment is also becoming a more acceptable platform for networking and building relationships, so students are finding they may not be missing as much compared to a traditional degree,” adds Jamison.

That is reflected in the expected career outcomes at ESMT Berlin in Germany, which recently launched an Online MBA program and has already had a number of students changing employer and role before graduation. “This signals that the MBA supports career development, irrespective of the format studied. It is also a clear indication that the market values and recognizes the value of an MBA,” says Sophie Schaefer, deputy director of career services at ESMT Berlin.

One of the benefits of the school’s Online MBA is that students get to learn from professionals from all industries, backgrounds, and from all over the world. “This enriches not only their perspective of what is out there and what it means to work in a specific industry or role,” Schaefer explains. “In combination with classroom learning, the constant exchange with classmates in group work or in the wider ESMT community sets a reflection process in motion, questioning the status quo and thinking about future career opportunities.”

She adds that such candidates typically thrive in their new environment, as they bring a perspective and skillset that are complementary to what already exists. “As a result, they can have an enormous impact on the success of their team and the organization, which in turn is a true career-accelerating factor for the individual,” Schaefer says.

“For organizations, this implies that hiring career changers has great benefits for expanding skill sets and diversity, with increased impact coming from those that are studying for, or have completed, an MBA.” In short, changing careers can be a win-win. 

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