Cartoon of a woman climbing a staircase and using a pencil to draw the final riser to a white flag.

Cherry Tran, a Kellogg School of Management 2Y MBA graduate (Class of 2024), shares her insights on navigating a career switch through an MBA. Originally from Charlotte, NC, Cherry has a unique background: economics undergrad at Duke, Master’s in Accountancy from Vanderbilt, and public accountant experience at EY before pursuing marketing at Kellogg. Now, she’s landing a full-time marketing role at Colgate-Palmolive.

Reflecting on her journey, Cherry offers valuable advice for aspiring career switchers:

I’m heading into my last quarter of my MBA journey, and I can’t help but feel a little bittersweet. If I could do it all over again, I absolutely would. I’ve met an incredible variety of interesting people, expanded my network, learned from world-class professors, and successfully navigated a career pivot. However, there are definitely still a few things I would’ve done differently. Especially when it comes to the search and discovery of my MBA career path, I made some faux pas. Having gone through a career switch, here’s three things I would change if I could go back in time:

Research different industries before starting my MBA

The infamous “fall recruiting rush” is real. Juggling new friendships, academics, and career exploration can be overwhelming. Be proactive! Use the summer before your program to research popular industries for MBAs, companies that recruit at your school, and the day-to-day responsibilities of various roles. This will save you precious time and emotional energy during the busy fall semester.

Additionally, I knew I would be switching careers, but I didn’t exactly know what industry I’d want to go into. I had eliminated investment banking and consulting because I wasn’t a fan of the hours nor of the client service nature (having done that before), but honestly I didn’t know the vast extent of what else was out there. I lucked out in having an awesome core marketing class that made me realize how interested I was in brand management, but if you had asked me what marketing was the July before I started, I would’ve told you it was about ads and campaigns. So, if I could do it again, I would have spent my summer researching popular industries that recruit MBAs, specific companies that recruit at my business school, and figured out what day to day responsibilities include for different roles.

Focus your company search

I openly admit to spreading myself too thin by attending presentations for companies with only a passing interest. Don’t make the same mistake! Be strategic. Narrow your focus based on genuine interest in products, desired functions, and ideal locations. Eliminate companies that don’t align with your long-term career goals. T

his frees up time for a more targeted and productive search.

Be honest with yourself about what you’re really interested in. Eliminate companies with products that you don’t care about, functions that don’t give you the growth you want, and locations that you could never see yourself living in. The time you give back to yourself can be used to be productive elsewhere in your search (or academically or socially)!

Prepare for

 Interview Success: Skills Translation is Key

Even with prior work experience, transitioning careers requires extra effort. Demonstrate how your existing skills translate to the new field. I have more work experience than the average MBA student. I felt really confident in my career thus far and thought I was able to talk about all the aspects of my job. However, as a pivoter, it’s important to re

member that you have to prove to recruiters and interviewers that you do have the skills and talents it takes to switch industries or functions.

I needed to figure out a way to convey all my technical skills in a way that was digestible to others, and I underestimated how much practice would help with that. I’m a true believer that no matter what career path you choose, you will have some sort of applicable knowledge or talent – you just need to showcase it. Accounting jargon and technical language wasn’t going to win over brand managers and directors. I needed to appeal to their world.

Rehearse your interview responses aloud! Whether it’s with friends, career coaches, or even yourself, verbalizing your answers exposes areas for improvement. This helps you refine your STARL stories (Situation, Task, Action, Result, Lesson) for clarity, conciseness, and overall presentation.

Remember: countless MBAs have successfully navigated career changes. No matter how you approach your career change, know you can do it! Like thousands before me, I successfully navigated the journey to make a pivot. Preparation is key, and also being true to your interests and needs is just as important.

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