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IU Kelley Shares How to Avoid 7 Common Mistakes MBA Career Switchers Make

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MBA career switchers don’t have it easy, whether you do it at the beginning or middle of your career. It’s incredibly challenging to reinvent yourself. However, we can confidently say that it’s worth the effort.

Changing your career to something that’s more suited to your goals, values, needs, interests, and skills is not only empowering, but it can drastically improve the course of your life. And it’s doable.

Successful Career Transitions Require Courage, Knowledge, Confidence, and Assistance

Almost everyone will go through at least one career transition in their life. The key to doing it successfully is courage, knowledge, confidence, and assistance. If you have these four things, you’re more likely to succeed and avoid the most common mistakes that MBA career switchers make.

First, you need to take off the rose-colored glasses and recognize that making a career switch is a multi-step process that will come with many challenges. Then, you need to recognize that this is a process that should not be completed on your own. Having a partner who can help walk you through your career transition can make or break you.

The good news is that’s what an MBA program is all about.

IU Kelley’s MBA Program Is Designed for Career Switchers

The vast majority of MBA candidates are career switchers, so by joining a top-tier program, you are already setting yourself up for success. And if you choose a full-time MBA program such as the program at Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business, then you’re in even better shape.

IU Kelley recognizes one very important fact, “Every MBA is running; they’re either running from their last job, or they’re running toward their next job.” So, with this in mind, they’ve developed an MBA program that’s dedicated to making the career change process as smooth and successful as possible.

7 Common Mistakes MBA Career Switchers Make

If making a successful career change is something you want, find out how IU Kelley’s MBA program helps you avoid the seven blunders that many career switchers experience. These mistakes could wreak havoc on your life and career, but with IU Kelley’s unique curriculum, opportunities, mentoring, and initiatives, you’ll have the help you need every step of the way.

MBA Career Switchers

Mistake 1: You allow fear to hold you back.

“It is a big change for many of our students to switch careers,” explains Gale Gold Nichols, the executive director of the Full-Time MBA program at IU Kelley. “We have students making all kinds of switches—for example, from musician to investment banker, and from teacher to marketer–and they wonder how they can do that.”

It can be a frightening prospect to change careers. You might feel like you’ve waited too long, you want too big of a change, or the skills and experience you’ve gained over the last years will all go to waste if you make the jump. And these fears are what can hold back so many people. They think it’s not possible to reinvent themselves, but that’s not true at all.

Staying in your current career until you are desperately unhappy is the worst thing you can do. Instead, you need to be proactive and make the leap when you know it’s time. The good news is that once you’re accepted into IU Kelley’s MBA program, you’re thrust into new possibilities immediately.

“We start working with our students in the summer, before they even arrive on campus,” said Nichols. “Our pre-work encourages them to begin thinking about their skills, interests, values, personality type, and more. Our goal is to help them start exploring a new industry or career field as soon as possible.”

And if your fear is less about whether you can make a career switch and more about how to make the switch, IU Kelley has your back there, too. Every MBA candidate is given a certified career coach to help them throughout the entire process. This personal touch pairs the student with an expert in their new career field, so they never feel alone and always have someone on their side.

“We really know how to coach people and not just tell them, ‘Here, go do this and that will work for you.’ We go to a different level,” says Nichols. “If a student is fearful or avoiding something, we—with a lot of compassion and skill—explore why that is. Then, we help the student get to the bottom of their fears, set goals, and achieve them.”

Mistake 2: Not taking the time to understand why you’re switching.

Running away from your current career will not solve your problems. You’ll just end up in a new career repeating the same mistakes and dealing with the same issues. Instead, you need to be running toward something—a goal that will truly improve your situation.

Career switching requires a lot of self-knowledge that, unfortunately, many individuals don’t have. They’re too busy trying to get away that they don’t take the time to understand why they want to switch in the first place. But IU Kelley’s two-week Me, Inc. program ensures that you cannot take the next step without first reflecting on who you are and who you want to be; that’s the reason Me, Inc. exists.

Me, Inc. helps students develop an in-depth understanding of their personal story and how it connects to the next steps in their career.

  • Students begin by evaluating their personal history and every choice they’ve made. Which ones worked out? Which ones didn’t? What did they learn about themselves along the way?
  • Then, students—with the help of the career services team, fellow classmates, and faculty—begin to gain insight into who they are and what they’ve done.

It’s during this process that many MBA candidates start to connect dots they may not have recognized. For example, they might come to realize that, throughout their undergraduate degree and even afterward, they spent a lot of time creating digital content, and they loved it. This may help them realize why their career in finance was so disappointing; it didn’t suit their natural preferences or background.

It’s only with this deep dive into their life and prior experience that students can even begin to understand where they want to be in the future and why. It’s not about “pigeon-holing” a student, but helping them discover their strengths and weaknesses so they can make the right choice for their next career.

“Me, Inc. helps students continue the exploration that began before they ever set foot on campus. From there, they begin to build confidence in themselves and the whole process of looking for a new job,” explains Nichols.

Mistake 3: Too little research about your new career field.

But successful career transitions aren’t just dependent on knowing your history. It’s also about planning and research.

Me, Inc. closes with a “future state” exercise where students develop a vision of where they want to be in three years. This starts them thinking about the choices they want to make and how they’ll get there. The goal is to help students determine their strengths, weaknesses, skills, and values so they make the best career choice possible.

Even then, it’s easy to make the wrong decision regarding your next career without truly deep-diving into your chosen field and industry. The only way to truly do this is with hands-on experience. At IU Kelley, that experience comes in the form of Academies.

“Each student, in their first year, is required to participate in an Academy: Consumer Marketing, Business Marketing, Consulting, Strategic Finance, Capital Markets, or Supply Chain and Digital Enterprise,” Nichols reveals. “Students choose an Academy based on where they want to go in their career, and it’s through those Academies that the students learn more about their chosen career field and the different kinds of roles they might pursue within that field.”

For example, if a student is interested in consumer marketing, Kelley’s Academies allow them to experience what it might be like to work for a company like Procter and Gamble as a Consumer Insights Manager. Or they might be exposed to work at a retailer or pharmaceutical company. The opportunities are endless.

“Through their Academies, students gain exposure to people who are out there working in these roles,” says Nichols. “They’re also exposed to companies within their chosen industry through field trips and real-world projects.”

These projects are real, hands-on opportunities for students to work with a company as their client. They’re not made-up cases, but actual business problems that students are asked to solve before presenting their solutions to their clients.

It’s truly an opportunity for career switchers to try their hand at a new industry or job function and understand more fully the opportunities and challenges therein.

Mistake 4: Not knowing your value.

No matter if you’re an accountant who wants to become a product manager or an engineer who wants to enter financial services, you have experience, knowledge, and skills that you can transfer to your new career. Once you understand your value—your strengths and weaknesses—you can overcome almost any hurdle.

“For example, if the student had been a teacher and is now interested in marketing, they might be afraid to network because they have no marketing background,” explains Nichols. “However, that shouldn’t stop them. We can work with the student to explore what they bring to the table and how they can make their experience work for them.”

Nichols continued, saying, “Through this exploration, the student might discover that their ability to stand up and speak in front of a room of students is the same essential skill they need to speak with recruiters. They might also discover that, as a teacher, they have more grit and determination than most, which is valuable in a marketing career.”

There are always skills and abilities that you can leverage for your career switch. An MBA from IU Kelley can help you uncover and enhance those skills so that you know exactly what value you provide to your future employer as well as how to demonstrate that value. The career services team and your certified coach will work with you to build a resume, career experiences, and confidence in yourself.

Mistake 5: Forgetting about your network.

You are not alone in your career transition. It might feel like you have to go it solo, but you already have a network of friends, family, mentors, coworkers, and managers who can help you make the switch. And when you join IU Kelley’s MBA program, your network expands exponentially, and you start building it immediately.

“We have our students networking with companies the first week of classes,” said Nichols. “A week after the Me, Inc. program is our first networking event: our MBA Roundtables. This event brings in dozens of companies—many represented by recent MBA alumni—and students have a chance to build relationships and learn more about a wide variety of companies in a range of industries. It’s a great event, partly because we throw the students into the pool very quickly so that they have a chance to deploy what they’ve learned before they get too nervous.”

Best yet, because the companies at the Roundtables event often are represented by recent alumni—some of whom just graduated the previous May—the students meet with individuals who are sympathetic to their position. They understand how nervous new MBA students are because they’ve been in the same situation, so they’re very gracious and helpful. It’s the ideal way to build a solid network without all the pressure.

And the Roundtables event is only the beginning. Throughout the MBA program, there are many networking events that take place. There’s an event called Kelley Kick-Off in November that offers first-year students the opportunity to undergo mock interviews with alumni. “It’s a great way for students to make an impression on an alum,” says Nichols.

Then, within the Academies, a lot of alumni come in to speak to students and talk about their careers. It’s the perfect relationship-building opportunity. The Academies also include trips to various companies throughout the U.S., so students can meet businesses on their turf and see exactly what they do, expanding their network even further.

“We do a great job of keeping in touch with our more than 100,000 alumni, especially alumni in the five or six big cities where our students ultimately end up,” explains Eric Johnson, the executive director of Graduate Career Services at the Kelley School of Business. “So, if there’s a company that a student really wants to work at, the odds are really good that we know some of the alums working there, and we can help them get a foot in the door even at some of the small startups or companies that are based overseas.”

Mistake 6: Allowing small setbacks to cause you to give up.

No career transition is perfectly smooth. There will be problems along the way. If you expect it to go perfectly and buckle at the first sign of trouble, you’ll never make it to your dream career. Instead, you have to push through adversity and be flexible enough to adjust your plan and goals based on what you face.

“We work with students wherever they are at,” says Nichols. “Our goal is to help serve their goals by offering a safety net and supporting them in their new direction.”

For example, a few IU Kelley MBA students realize that an Academy different from the one they initially chose would be a better fit for them. Sometimes a student may not get their dream interview, the offer may fall through, or the internship doesn’t go as well as the student hoped it would. Whatever the case, those setbacks don’t cancel out all the great work the student has accomplished. All it means is that the student may have to re-evaluate: switch Academies, apply to a new internship, contact another alum, etc.

“If a student is disappointed about something—if they have a bad interview experience or face another setback—that’s where the personal touch comes in,” Nichols explains. “Each student has such a caring community around them that there are a lot of people they can turn to for help. For example, I’ve had students call me up in the middle of the summer to talk about their internship troubles and ask for advice, and I know that many of our faculty and staff have taken similar calls. We coach our students during the summer and, after they come back to school, we help them move forward.”

Mistake 7: Not exploring every opportunity.

Relying on IU Kelley’s MBA program to help you with your career switch is extremely valuable. Everything from the curriculum to the faculty, alumni, Academies, and more can help push you in the right direction. However, if you’re not looking outside the required or basic or “expected” options, you could be missing out on another opportunity to advance your skills and enhance your career potential.

For example, there are a pair of unique IU Kelley opportunities that stand out beyond the typical.

Product Management Certificate

“The Product Management Certificate is designed to develop people into product managers who are able to really develop and make a product succeed,” says Nichols. “Our certificate involves required courses in product management, and then we ask the students to take a course in design thinking or new venture strategies to expand their knowledge. Best yet, it’s not an industry-specific certificate, so a student could go into tech or manufacturing or pharmaceuticals.”


As for MBA career switchers interested in transitioning to an international career or tackling business challenges for NGOs or social enterprises, there’s IU Kelley’s Global Business and Social Enterprise program. Founded in 2009, it gives students the opportunity to create a positive impact within small-to-medium sized business and nonprofit clients across Latin America, Africa, and Asia.

“The purpose is to expose students to a developing country and how business works there,” explains Nichols. “For example, if a student is chosen for Brazil, the student would take a seven-week course where they learn all about business in Brazil, the history of the country, the economy, etc. The goal is to give them context while, at the same time, they begin remote work on a project for a company in Brazil. Then, during Spring Break, we take the students to Brazil to work face-to-face with the client, refine their deliverables, and give a presentation. It’s a great learning opportunity in so many different ways.”

Successful Career Transitions with an MBA from IU Kelley

An MBA from IU Kelley can drastically improve your chances of a successful career transition. More than 90% of IU Kelley MBA candidates are career switchers, so you won’t be alone, and you’ll have the backing of faculty, staff, and alumni who have years of experience helping professionals just like you. Not only will the IU Kelley MBA program help you gain the confidence you need to successfully switch careers, but you’ll also be given the necessary insight, tools, and support you need to overcome every setback and continuously move forward.

To learn more about how Indiana University’s Kelley Business School can help you avoid the seven most common mistakes MBA career switchers make, visit the school website.

Kelly Vo
Kelly Vo is a writer who specializes in covering MBA programs, digital marketing, and topics related to personal development. She has been working in the MBA space for the past four years in research, interview, and writing roles.