Best MBA option for mid-life career transition? Or not at all?
September 11, 2016 7:28 PM   Subscribe

I'm considering making a major career change after 16 years in finance. At age 38, what's the best option - full-time MBA, part-time MBA, or executive MBA? Or not at all? Details below the fold...

For the past 16 years I've had, by all accounts, a successful career in finance, culminating with 9 years in a mid-tier role at a well-regarded hedge fund. However, for various reasons, I've decided that I'd like to move away from finance and investing, and transition to something more corporate.

My concern, however, is that despite a number of my skills mapping well to mid-tier management (negotiating contracts, managing relationships with product partners, overseeing day-to-day operations of my particular product group, etc.) I suspect I'm always going to be pigeonholed as a Wall Street guy. I think I probably need an MBA to break through.

My question is, given my age and experience level, what's the best choice for me in terms of MBA? Full-time, part-time, or E-MBA? Assume that costs are not a factor in the equation, and that the quality of program would be high. Also, given that much of my background involves specifically working with foreign markets, I'd be looking at a program with an international focus. (I think this is probably more relevant for the E-MBA route.)

Or is there another, better route that I'm missing that wouldn't involve a degree?
posted by Guernsey Halleck to Work & Money (7 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I personally think Executive MBA is the way to go if you already have a business education and background.
posted by randomkeystrike at 7:30 PM on September 11, 2016 [2 favorites]

Is there some knowledge you need or credentials? I assume you have accounting, etc. down. Is there a short term program at a prestige (Wharton, Sloan, Harvard) that gets the school name on the resume without a long commitment? (I don't know, I've seen short executive programs for tech).
posted by sammyo at 8:13 PM on September 11, 2016

I think you'll still be pigeonholed even after an MBA.

Either you should start your own business or go for a degree specific to the industry or type of job you'll be looking at after graduation. It could be for example a Masters degree in hospitality management that could lead you to working for international hotel chains, or one in Pharmaceutical management... You get my drift.

If I were you, I'd first decide what I want to do next; then work towards that end.
posted by Kwadeng at 3:14 AM on September 12, 2016 [2 favorites]

The MBA is sort of the ultimate generalist degree. If you can get your MBA from a top 20 school there might be an argument for doing it, otherwise it's not going to do much for you. You'll just be another person with a MBA (APWAMBA).

* Disclosure - I am APWAMBA

I don't see any reason you can't transfer directly into a more corporate role - a smaller to mid-sized company would probably be thrilled to have your 'Wall Street" experience on staff.
posted by COD at 6:01 AM on September 12, 2016

I do like that acronym! Speaking as an APWAMBA myself, I strongly suggest that you not enter a full-time program. The benefits of an MBA will not make up for two years of not working during your prime.

An executive program is probably the way to go. However, as noted above, this degree will not likely change your life. Any transition you make out of Finance and into the corporate world can likely be achieved without the degree. That said, I really enjoyed my MBA studies and believe that they were personally enriching.
posted by bluejayway at 9:34 AM on September 12, 2016

I did this as a Part-Time MBA when I was 32 (I also moved from HF to another). One of the major pieces of value that an MBA provides is the:

A) Networking opportunities with like-minded (similar drive, career aspirations, etc.) students
B) Internship program
C) Alumni network
D) on-campus recruiting into MBA tracks at large corporations

Only a full-time MBA will provide you all of these. Part-Time MBA programs, like mine, are more for advancing an existing career. NYU (my alma-mater), for example, restricts on-campus recruiting for internships and entry-level programs to full-time students, though there is a separate program for part-timers (with an abysmal hit rate). However, that being said, it is possible to take advantage of some recruiting events to get into entry level MBA programs. For example, sponsored corporate mixers, resume services, job-boards, etc. A few friends of mine accomplished substantial career moves. One into a rotational program at Allianze. Another transitioned from media to Amazon. One made it into Mckinsey consulting from an operational role elsewhere. One geographically moved to Austin for a more senior role in her company. But most just advanced in their corporate structure. I made a horizontal move from one HF to another, but with better upside.

EMBA heavily focuses on networking and sharing battle stories, so I've heard.

Obviously there's coursework in each program, but it's what you make of it. I took difficult classes and networked heavily with my professors, which has paid massive dividends. But you don't have to.

OK so I've spouted what I think; feel free to ask any follow-ups given I work in your industry. I agree with what Kawdeng said above: there's really no getting away from your experience. That being said, with an MBA, you can make the argument that you have operational experience that is relevant in corporate structures. An MBA doesn't necessarily get you there, but it can't hurt, and may help. When I was going through my process, I looked at several Fintechs that could give a shit about my Wall Street experience, but many were impressed with the MBA. The MBA definitely generalized my very specialized resume to many recruiters and hiring managers. It's also, unfortunately, a check-mark for many senior roles, although I think that's changing.
posted by teabag at 12:38 PM on September 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

I used to work for an MBA granting institution and still work with newly minted MBA grads.

The people who needed the skills training AND the networking AND the paper did it full-time. It's a completely immersive experience.

The people who were looking to transition careers or industries, but already had a lot of strong transferable skills, were generally part-time. It was also great for people to deepen their capabilities and add additional complementary skills. There weren't as many opportunities for networking, but they were there if you took advantage of it.

And if all you need is a piece of paper, plus a way to pad your network, and the cost of the EMBA isn't a detractor, then choose this one. Beware though, the majority of students in this category will be sponsored by their company, so its usefulness can depend on the cohort. The main exception to this would be the international-focused EMBA's (the kind that have in-class sessions in a different country).

One last thing I would suggest before signing up is to conduct some informational interviews first in order to confirm if an MBA is indeed the best path, and if it's even necessary.

Good luck!

(And feel free to memail me with more questions)
posted by A hidden well at 3:15 PM on September 12, 2016

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