Will a Second M.B.A. Help Me Switch Careers?

by | March 10, 2009

Question: I came from a third-world country and earned an M.B.A. in international business from a less well-known U.S. graduate business school in 1995. For nine years, I've been a senior information-technology program manager for a top investment bank, but I want to become an investment banker. Will getting a one-year fast-track M.B.A. from a reputed university help me make this change?

-- Abhi Abhi, Plainfield, N.J.

Abhi: I can see why spending the $50,000-plus for a one-year M.B.A. might seem like a good idea. Investment banks snap up graduates from top-ranked schools, especially those with prior industry experience or internships.

But people I interviewed advised against it, and I agree. Career-office directors and executives with boutique investment banks say earning a second M.B.A. won't get you any further toward your goal. It even may cause hiring managers to question why you needed two degrees. "I could see someone saying, 'Why did you get a second M.B.A.?' " says Russ Landon, managing director of the investment-banking group at Adams Harkness, a Boston-based boutique. "It almost works against you."

After nine years in IT, you won't have an easy time making this change. Still, while reaching your goal won't be a stroll in the park, it's not impossible. Your first task is to search your soul and decide if investment banking is what you really want to do and if you're suited for it.

The business is predominantly about sales, and many IT professionals are introverted. Ask yourself if you have the sales ability and personality to build the relationships you'll need to succeed.

You also must be passionate about the industry to convince networking contacts and hiring managers that you'll succeed in the field, says Anita Brick, director of the career-development office at the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business. "Successful career changers create a very strong, vibrant transitional narrative," she says. "They are very convincing about their passion."

Focus your search on boutique firms, which are more likely to hire candidates with degrees from lesser-known schools. You also should emphasize your IT background, not your M.B.A. Find firms that have technology practices and a need for people with a good grasp of the IT industry to help analyze companies and deals.

"In a boutique firm, we are very knowledgeable about the industries our companies are in," says Mr. Landon. "If you've worked on the IT side of the business, you're kind of a technology guru."

Don't assume you'll land a job through the Internet. For career changers, especially, networking is the name of the game. Investment banking is a clubby world, and you'll go further if someone the hiring manager knows refers you. "This is a business that is all about contacts, and a call from a referral is worth far more than a cold call," says Mr. Landon.

Once through the door, your hurdle will be convincing a company to hire you. As bait, you could offer to help with IT issues while learning the ropes as an investment banker, says Andy Dreyfuss, interim director of career services at Wake Forest University's Babcock School of Management in Winston-Salem, N.C. Be clear that if you don't perform on the banking side, you will stay on in an IT role. "You're saying, in essence, 'Pay me only if I perform,' " says Mr. Dreyfuss.

You also must be willing to take a step back, because any job offer you receive probably will be at a lower level than where you are now, Mr. Landon says. "You would probably be backing up career-wise in some way," he says.

Indications that the tight-knit world of investment banking is open to career changers are reassuring. It also may be likely you don't have to spend more than $50,000 and lose a year of your life on another M.B.A. to make this change. Good luck!

Email your comments to frances.capell@dowjones.com.

--July 18, 2005

Filed Under: Job Search


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