Before we get into this topic, let me address one thing. Anytime is really the best time to switch careers, whether you’re in business school or not. However, this post is specifically for those folks who are in their first-year of business school. I was in your position 8 years ago and want to pass along some insights that can potentially help you navigate an uncertain road ahead.
For those of you who started in your first year of business school thinking that you’d pursue Career Path ABC and are now rethinking whether Career Path ABC is REALLY what you want – AND/OR – if you’re definitely sure that Career Path ABC is not what you want but you’re wondering if it’s too late to switch careers since 25% of business school is already completed; I’m here to tell you that it’s not too late to switch.
There is a lot of work that you’ll need to do as well as some short-term concessions that you MAY need to make and accept in order to pull this transition off, however.
Before we get into this further, let’s discuss why switching career paths would even be considered ‘late’. It has to do with the structure of many business schools and the timing of company representatives who come onto campus to visit. Many, if not all, initial company visits take place in the fall semester and if you didn’t meet them initially (like I didn’t), then you’re potentially at a slight disadvantage when it comes to competing for the upcoming summer internships.
But all is not lost. Not even close.
The good news is that you most likely have a couple of more weeks to organize yourself and refocus your efforts before school starts up again in mid-January.
If changing career paths is something that you’re considering, you’ll need to make this a priority for your second semester and have a plan.
Below are some tips on how to make the switch, based on my personal experiences from a few years ago.
1. Go to your school’s career center
Immediately. Let the person in charge of the section for your NEW career direction know your situation. In fact, if they are already back in school while you’re still on break, set up time to speak to them before you get back to school. Simply ask them what you need to do in order for them to best help you. For example, your résumé will very likely need a refresh.
Your career center will absolutely be a great resource for you but really, the best people who can help you are current second-year students so…
2. Set up time to speak with several second-year students
Take the guess work out of the transition and talk to second years. There are plenty of them who will be happy to help you. Who knows, maybe one, two, or several of them have also decided to switch when they were first-year students and can therefore help you navigate the road ahead.
3. Filter all new information and listen to YOU
Getting advice and talking to friends and others about your decision is a great idea but just be ready for a flood of opinions. This isn’t a bad thing. In fact, their advice will be valuable but don’t let someone try and talk you out of anything. We’re talking about your professional future here. This is not some trivial decision. Weed out the speculative opinions and most of all, trust your gut with everything. It’s your best guide.
4. Make a company list and try to set up informational calls and/or meet ups.
If you didn’t get a chance to speak to company representatives at the career fair or during company presentations, don’t sweat it. Try and find someone who is on the ‘recruiting team’ for the school and see if he or she is willing to speak to you. If they are, make sure that you are prepared with your story and solid questions. Keep the call to 30 minutes max and take a ton of notes.
More importantly, don’t limit yourself to just the companies who visited your school. Reach out to other companies that you have an interest in. What’s the worst that will happen? They don’t return your email? So what. There are plenty of companies out there looking for motivated business school students.
5. Think longer term because the short-term may not be so smooth
I had to take an internship a year after I completed my MBA in order to switch careers to marketing (You can read about that in this article). This is what I mean by concessions. Your friends may be on the ‘standard’ track where they have internships lined up that may lead directly to full-time offers. Great! This isn’t about them. It’s about YOU, so stay focused on what YOU want out of your professional life and realize that switching now may simply mean that your career path will look a little different than someone else’s career path.
It doesn’t matter how it looks. It’s all good.
6. Smile – this is awesome
If you feel deep down that this new direction is EXACTLY what you want, that is a really big deal! Don’t take the easy way out because, before you know it, business school will be over and trying to change direction AFTER that will be even more challenging. Business school is set up for you to change your life, but you have to put in the work to make it happen.
7. Relax and be confident
You’ll encounter skeptics along the way; including people who you’re interviewing with. Shoulders back, smile, and own your decision. You have your reasons – share them. There are plenty of hiring managers who want to hire passionate people who aren’t guided by fear. If people try to dissuade you or tell you some horror story, just smile and nod. You can tell them that you actually know someone who changed careers and he considers it to be the best professional decision of his life. That someone would be me, and that’s why I’m sharing this.
The time earning your MBA is special and unique. It’ll be over before you know it but if you take the steps now, even if it means more work with several rejections along the way, trust me, it will all be worth it a couple of years from now when you’re doing something that you truly enjoy.