Traditionally, Online MBA programs have appealed to students who want to advance their career in the same industry, function, or with the same employers. This is usually due to the high proportion of participants who are funded by their employer, as remote students can keep working full-time and apply what they learn immediately in the workplace.
Online MBA students also tend to be senior working professionals, and more settled in their career choices, but this is changing. Now, business schools say that more students are looking to switch careers into a new industry, function or geography — and they see an Online MBA as the best way to pull off a career reinvention.
“Recently, we noticed that after spending few years in the same job, many of our MBA students feel like their motivation and commitment is going down and are no longer satisfied in doing what they do,” says Valentina Di Nenno, senior consultant at MIP Politecnico di Milano in Italy.
“The majority of our incoming students say that they are interested in career change,” she adds. “People are more and more attracted by organizations where they can make a difference and work with a purpose.”
For many, it’s time to start something new, and an Online MBA can help facilitate a shift in direction. “A career change could be a sector change, but it could also be a role change, for instance from and to a different functional area, or from a technical job to a managerial role,” says Di Nenno.
Some students, especially the international ones, also use the Online MBA to boost their global mobility. “During the course of their studies, many students change one or even two dimensions,” Di Nenno says, but this is not easy to achieve. “It requires a perfect combination of skills, goals, motivation and job market needs.”
Many Online MBA students want to break into a new industry
At the Indiana University Kelley School of Business in the US, there’s a fairly consistent split, with about half of the student population looking to advance in their current careers and the other half looking to switch careers.
What has changed over the last decade is what and where they are switching to. “In the past, many students used the MBA to break into a professional career,” says Terri Cramer, associate director of Graduate Career Services. “Today, our students are already in established professional careers and their motivations for switching are varied.”
A large number change industries, and the major attractors include tech, healthcare, and consulting. Many others seek to make a wider impact with strategic functions such as moving from project management to corporate strategy or consulting. “And many students transitioning from individual contributor roles to management and leadership positions,” adds Cramer.
She believes the shift has been driven by the changes in the Online MBA student profile toward an older, more experienced set of professionals with differing career goals and objectives.
But, Cramer says that a career reinvention cannot happen without an intense personal reinvestment in yourself. “For our MBA students, the academic experience is the roadmap, and our curriculum, networking and career services are the vehicle to reinvention.”
The curriculum provides students with a sound understanding of all aspects of managing an enterprise. This allows participants to adopt the more strategic, bigger-picture thinking that is critical for roles in senior management, as well as for impactful roles such as corporate strategy, product management, brand management, consulting, and entrepreneurship.
In addition, electives allow students to deepen their expertise, polish their leadership and professional skills, as well as gain hands-on experience in fields such as consulting or analytics. “This helps students refine their interests,” says Cramer.
Leveraging a business school network to make a career shift
An advantage of an Online MBA program that requires students to come with at least three years of work experience is that there is a lot of knowledge in the virtual classroom. “For those seeking to switch careers, the first step can be someone in the business school community: at least one person in the class or alumni community will be working the field or function sought,” says Rebecca Loades, director 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.
Moreover, while once many Online MBAs did not offer a full careers support package, this is changing as more online students move into new areas. “Irrespective of how you study for your MBA at ESMT, you have access to our excellent career services team,” says Loades.
“They are there to help all our students define and refine their career goals, and build their strategy to achieve them,” she says. “Furthermore, Online MBA students are part of the ESMT community and can leverage our network of corporates and alumni to put their plans into action.”