An MBA degree is often seen as a route for professionals with a technical or non-business background to transition into business-centric careers and we hear and see Rady students and alumni accomplish it time and time again. So why do some struggle to make that dream switch? The main problem is that professionals are sometimes caught in a catch-22 situation wherein the new business role they desire requires a few years of business experience that they haven’t gathered yet. Other concerns include transitioning to a career level at-par or above the current seniority level in their tech jobs and doing so without a compromise in remuneration and benefits. This blog aims to inform and provide assistance on this key issue of transition that many MBA students face by imparting the learnings of Rady graduates (or “hoppers”) who have successfully made the jump.
A successful transition boils down to these key activities that most hoppers undertook:
No success is achieved without effort. First, it is important to do some self-introspection and become aware of your strengths, weaknesses, interests in specific business areas (e.g. high-tech marketing, finance, operations) and visualize and study specific job roles suitable for you. The next step is to prepare in-depth towards your desired role. This is a continuous process even after securing the desired role. Preparation activities can include reading extensively about day-to-day business news, opinion leader blogs and developments in your field (high-tech, biotech, stock markets), being active in social media by writing content-rich blogs, offering to help your company business teams on top of your current day job thus complementing skills gained at Rady, talking to those teams about current industry trends and making presentations at company trade shows and conferences. Social media channels such as LinkedIn posts, blogging and Twitter have been instrumental for many Rady graduates to showcase their skills and knowledge to prospective employers.
2. Relevant coursework
Needless to say, your choice of electives has to be in-line with your career transition aspirations, and Rady offers a customizable education with many electives to choose from. It is important to apply the knowledge and learnings from your electives in your day job, relate to those learnings in the news articles and your “on-the-side-assistance” to your business teams and listen to your cohorts’ perspectives on real-world issues and activities. Independent studies with professors at Rady or wider UC San Diego departments are a great way to explore deeper into certain domains and build your portfolio. Focus on coursework that enables you to strengthen areas where you are currently weak or lack industry experience. Rady courses like Projects in Tech Commercialization and Lab-to-Market offer a priceless entry into real-world business projects – so take them very seriously and extract the most out of them by working hard and impressing the corporate mentors available through this curriculum.
Rady opens the door to an infinite number of people in various industries. It is important to network with the right people wherein both parties can mutually benefit from each other. Attend Rady events such as the Entrepreneurship Challenge, professional seminars, mentor mixers, and StartR Demo Day to widen your perspective and acumen. Utilize the enormous and valuable resources that Rady offers on the community website. If time permits, help people you network with in their business problems through formal or informal internships – this will help you gain credibility and a stronger endorsement for future opportunities either with them or with their extended networks. Make requests for recommendations, either online or written, from business professionals who were impressed with your work and thus strengthen your case. Keep in touch with alumni in your field and learn from those who have made such transitions successfully.
4. Willingness to compromise for the short-term
Everything in life has a tradeoff. If you work too hard at your job and/or school, you have less time to spend with your family and vice versa. Rady alumnus and Senior Director at Qualcomm, Mahesh Makhijani, articulated it nicely in his professional seminar at Rady last month – he, like many others, took a salary hit to gain entry into a transient/intermediate career role that paved the way to a full-blown business role in the long-term.
The other option is to wait for the right opportunity to strike if you are unwilling to compromise on your current status and use that precious time to keep building your resume. Be strategic in making sure that your wealth of current experience is directly applicable to the business world transition that you wish to make, which will ensure that the opportunity costs of waiting it out aren’t too high.
I cannot emphasize this enough. It can be disheartening when things don’t work out, but it is critical to stay hopeful and continue to perform the actions mentioned above. Only then, will stakeholders see the energy and capability in you and approach you for that dream opportunity you always yearned for (and deserve!).
Shiva Swaminathan ('15) is a second year FlexWeekend MBA student at Rady. He works as a Senior Manager at Samsung Semiconductor Inc. leading product test, quality and reliability for Galaxy smartphone chipsets.
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