Internship, management, entrepreneur? Deciding what to do after graduation

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Graduating from an MBA program is a major achievement that should be taken in stride with all of the skills, experience, and work that you’ve gained along the way. Getting the degree is one step to pursuing new opportunities, but the question is, how will you use your MBA after graduation? Many students pursue MBA programs to switch careers, job roles or industries, opening up doors that weren’t previously possible.

Before you graduate, it will be important to have a game plan of what you want to do once you’ve earned your MBA degree. Yale School of Management Deputy Director of Career Development Deb Lindenman told Forbes that MBA grads often make the mistake of not having a backup strategy, trying to find the dream job right away and over emphasizing return on investment for their degree. These pitfalls can ultimately lead you to choose a path other than the one you’re passionate about. Let’s take a look at some of the possible choices you have for post-graduation success and how to choose which one is best for you.

Graduate receiving job offers


Stepping into a management role

MBA students often will pursue their degree while holding a job to support themselves, gain experience and forge positive networking relationships. In some cases, organizations might look to keep MBA grads on board to fill other roles and could offer salary raises along with the position. According to research by AACSB International and MBA Career Services and Employer Alliance, 86 percent of MBA graduates in 2015 found employment within three months of obtaining their degree. The report found the highest reported average salary of $114,024 for these jobs.

For those who continued working full-time while earning their MBA, opportunities for management positions and responsibilities might now be available. A survey by Advent Group found that 60 percent of responding MBA alumni hold mid- or senior level management positions. These individuals noted that their studies helped them climb the ladder and receive higher salaries. It will be important to tactfully indicate to your employer that you’re excited to have completed your degree and are motivated to help the firm with the extra time, insights and tools at your disposal.

However, just because you have a degree, that doesn’t mean you should expect a promotion. An MBA will give you credibility, but you will need to demonstrate your newfound skills and expertise and solve problems on the job. In a LinkedIn post, SVP CFO Judy Romano, MBA, suggested learning how to delegate tasks and set expectations within your team. A good leader is able to value how each member approaches tasks, shares knowledge, guides work and provides feedback, guidance, and skills to be effective. It will also be important to review management basics and solicit honest evaluations from employees. These steps will be the foundation for constant improvement and can impact your success.

Interning as a first job

Internships are an extremely valuable experience that can be taken during your studies or after graduation. Organizations like Dell, Google, Salesforce, Gap, Cole Haan and more have internship programs geared specifically for MBA students and graduates. MBA courses can provide you with a number of critical tools, but it will be up to you to apply them appropriately and prove yourself with potential employers.

If you’re switching to a brand-new industry or role, an internship will help you gain real-world skills and experience that might not have been possible during your studies. Interning allows you to spend time in a new field or career. The contacts and experience gained through an internship will be beneficial for your career, and you might even gain a full-time job with your internship employer if one comes up. While you will have a number of different options, some internships aren’t paid, and that must be considered in your career plans.

Working at an internship can also be essential for establishing a “work brand” and opening doors for future opportunities. Forbes contributor Kimberly A. Whitler noted that while your educational brand impacts early jobs, your work brand will be dominant throughout your career. Interning at a great, reputable company is something that will follow you and open doors that might otherwise be shut. While an internship is a full-time job, it can provide a strong launching pad for real-world training and expand your network of contacts. Accepting an internship enables you to stay focused on what you’re passionate about and want to do rather than settling for a job that doesn’t fit your ambitions.

While in your internship, don’t stop looking for your dream position. Treat yourself like a brand to improve your image and employability. You should build your resume, update your LinkedIn profile and use your alumni relationships to increase your visibility. Ask your internship mentors to be references in your future career pursuits. Take the initiative to seek new jobs and ideas rather than waiting around for them. This resourcefulness will be key within highly competitive job markets and can provide valuable opportunities.

Becoming an entrepreneur

If you have a big idea or cause that means a lot to you, graduating with an MBA can put you on the path to opening up your own business or nonprofit. A significant number of risks and rewards come from being an entrepreneur, and they must be fully considered before pursuing this career opportunity. For example, this company might be your only source of income, and you might not make very much at first because you’ll be investing it back into the business.

Despite the dangers, more MBA graduates are starting their own companies than expected. Financial Times found that 24.4 percent of MBA-earners start organizations within three years of earning their degree. About 5 percent actually open their doors right after finishing school. Some of these individuals might be working on startups on the side while holding another job to help support their venture.

For MBA grads who want to be their own boss, the best place to start might be with their university. Target Jobs noted that some universities have incubators and entrepreneurship societies that provide support and resources for startups. Many institutions like the University of Maryland also have initiatives that draw together individuals to foster innovation. To be a successful entrepreneur, you will need to be willing to take calculated risks, be a problem solver who can spot opportunities in challenges and be stubborn and resilient enough to cope with any setbacks and stress. Becoming an entrepreneur is anything but predictable, and will require significant time commitments to flourish. These considerations will be essential for solidifying your path to opening a business or pursuing a different career choice.

If you are passionate about opening your own company and becoming an entrepreneur, there are a few things that you can do to start off on the right foot. Young Entrepreneur Council wrote for Forbes that MBA graduates should seek out a mentor who is invested in their success. Developing a relationship with a successful entrepreneur who is passionate about your venture will prove to be a valuable asset that can open doors within their network and navigate potential pitfalls.

You must also be willing to commit to your product or service and perfect it. Before you build a marketing plan or start building relationships with other businesses, it’s important to focus on the product first, as it will be the core of your organization. From there, you can start pitching it to everyone and receive feedback. Gathering this information will be essential for identifying perceived weak points in the business model or flaws in the product. By answering critiques with actual changes to mitigate pain points, you will set yourself up for acquiring investors and building relationships with potential customers.

Taking time for reflection

Deciding what you want to do after graduation is tricky, and the job market might not always act in your favor. If you don’t have work out of college and aren’t pursuing the entrepreneurial path, it’s a great time to reflect on what you want to achieve. Travel and see what types of opportunities are available in areas that you might not have considered. This could help overcome job market competition and guide you toward a career path that aligns with your ambitions.

An MBA degree can be essential for opening doors, but it will ultimately be up to you to determine how you want to use it. Perhaps you will be promoted into a management position at your current place of employment. If you’re changing fields and need the experience, an internship will be your best bet to get a feel for the position and develop professional relationships. For those with a great idea and stubborn resolve, becoming an entrepreneur could be the right move. If you’re not sure what to do, that’s okay. Take time to reflect on what you want to achieve and how to get yourself there.

Recommended Readings:
4 ways an MBA can help with an entrepreneurial career
5 tips to finish your MBA as a working professional