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Harvard MBA Explains How To Make A Career Switch

Jeff Schmitt
·6 mins read

Harvard Business School graduates

Harvard MBA Explains How To Make A Career Switch

An MBA, for many, can act as a ticket to a new career.

“Career switchers” often pursue an MBA degree in order to switch industries or disciplines.

“I think the MBA is a great way to get an introduction generally to business,” Idie Kesner, Dean of the Kelley School of Business, tells P&Q. “You get a chance to explore a variety of different functional areas, sometimes without the deep dive that you would necessarily get in an MS program, a customized or specialized MS program. And when you’re changing your career, you need that breadth of perspective.”

A former engineering manager at Etsy, Adam Palay, who’ll be earning his MBA from Harvard Business School in 2021, recently offered a few pieces of advice for career switchers pursuing an MBA in a blog post for Harvard Business School’s MBA Voices.


Palay, who joined the MS/MBA Engineering Sciences Program, wanted to learn about how entrepreneurs and investors are coming up with solutions to climate change.

Yet, Palay recalls not having much experience or knowledge of climate change. He tells MBA Voices that he was “a career-switcher coming in from scratch; I didn’t know the industry terminology or how the energy grid worked, let alone the organizations and roles I should target.”

So Palay did his research and attended Career & Professional Development (CPD) industry education programs, company presentations, and company conversation events in pursuit of the right internship for his goals.

“Hearing what companies had to say about their business and their impact gave me a sense of what I could learn in an internship,” Adam tells MBA Voices. “Those observations helped me focus my internship interests and inform my search strategy.”

Palay ultimately landed an internship in VC as a Portfolio Greenhouse Gas Impact Analysis Intern at Breakthrough Energy Ventures (BEV).


Palay also highlights how helpful the resources and wider alumni network at HBS were in helping him career switch.

“Through the School’s Business & Environment Initiative, which runs a mentorship program connecting students with alumni, I was able to speak to alumni in venture and at technology start-ups that have an environmental impact,” Palay tells MBA Voices. “Those conversations shed light on the different career paths in venture and cleantech, which proved valuable as I prepared to discuss my transferable skillset in interviews.”

Ultimately, Palay says, the MBA path is a journey that can open doors to new paths, careers, and findings.

“When I came to business school and this journey started, I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do, and that is completely okay,” he tells MBA Voices. “I knew HBS would open a lot of doors, but I didn’t know just how many different doors there were out there; I’m glad I took the time to figure things out.”

Sources: HBS MBA Voices, P&Q

How COVID Is Impacting The Big 4 Firms

An estimated 42% of workers who lost their jobs due to COVID-19 will not return to their previous jobs. Additionally, according to a recent study, for every 10 COVID layoffs, only three new jobs are created in place.

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected nearly every organization, including the Big 4 firms: Deloitte, PwC, Ernst & Young, and KPMG.

Samantha Stokes, of Business Insider, recently spoke to experts on why the Big 4 might be hiring fewer MBAs and why networking will be critical to landing a full-time job.

COVID Job Market

At the start of the pandemic in March, we reported how big MBA recruiters such as Adobe, Visa and Wipro had announced hiring freezes.

Most recently, according to the Wall Street Journal, PwC announced that it would be pausing some its fall recruiting efforts.

A study by RelishCareers found that 36% of 2021 MBA candidates have had job offers and internships rescinded or changed due to the pandemic.

Experts say that with fewer Big 4 employees leaving firms on their own, the Big 4 will have two options: lay people off or hire less.

“There’s a chance the Big 4 won’t need to hire as much next year due to attrition,” Jeramy Kaiman, head of western US recruiting at the Adecco Group and Accounting Principals, tells Business Insider. “If students have some apprehension about finding a job they want in the coming year, it may make sense to extend their time in school to make them more marketable not just at the entry-level, but also as they ascent through their careers.”


Experts stress the increased importance of networking to make connections and, ultimately, land a full-time job.

Heather Byrne, managing director of the career development office at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, compares today’s COVID market to that of the financial crisis.

“During the financial crisis, some firms realized they were left with not enough talent when the market got better, so we are seeing firms be cautious but also being ready to pivot when they need to,” Byrne tells Business Insider. “We are encouraging students to keep networking, so they, too, will be ready for the rebound and be able to quickly pick up with existing relationships.”

Sources: Business Insider, La Salle University, P&Q, Wall Street Journal, P&Q

Cartoon image of a man wearing a suit looking up at a stack of resumes that is taller than he is.
Cartoon image of a man wearing a suit looking up at a stack of resumes that is taller than he is.

Tips For MBA Resumes

The MBA resume is a critical. In the application, it acts as a summary of your work, volunteer experience, and education.

“Your MBA resume is also usually the first thing the admissions committee will look at, and serves as an introduction to you; so it’s imperative to make a lasting, positive impression,” Linda Abraham, founder of Accepted Admissions Consulting, writes for P&Q.

But what exactly makes for a good MBA resume? Stacy Blackman, of Stacy Blackman Consulting, recently outlined a few critical elements applicants should include in their MBA resumes.


Blackman stresses the importance of showing career progression in your MBA resume by highlighting promotions or demonstrating how you’ve grown your skillset in a new job.

“For example, if you have worked for the same company for five years but received two promotions, you should highlight all three job titles, with separate dates of employment and descriptions,” Blackman writes. “Those descriptions should reflect increasing levels of responsibility.”


A foundation of leadership is important to MBA admissions officers. Blackman recommends applicants to highlight examples of times when they demonstrated leadership in their MBA resume.

“Show when you united people behind a common goal, made use of other’s talents and abilities, instilled a vision, challenged the status quo, identified a new problem, or prioritized the needs of the organization above personal needs,” Blackman writes.


To make your experiences even more compelling, Blackman recommends that applicants quantify results whenever possible.

“By giving the reader a number, you provide them with the chance to see just what kind of leader you were and will be,” Blackman writes.

Sources: Stacy Blackman Consulting, P&Q

The post Harvard MBA Explains How To Make A Career Switch appeared first on Poets&Quants.