How an International Two-Year MBA Program Can Help You Change Careers: A European Perspective

Jun 17, 2014
Tags: B-School, Career, MBA

Pascal Michels, IESE Business SchoolSubmitted by Pascal Michels, associate director of MBA Career Services at IESE Business School

While the MBA degree has its origins in the US, some European schools have been offering full-time degrees for more than half a century. European programs have historically been modeled on the US, but today’s full-time MBA landscape is essentially divided into US programs and "international" programs. Most top US MBAs follow a two-year structure and host a majority of US students while “international” MBAs are split into one-year and two-year programs and tend to have very high proportions of international students. These differences do matter when it comes to career change, be it in terms of sector, function or geography.

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Recent signs of recovery notwithstanding, the current environment is a tough one for career changers. Certain sectors, such as financial services, have shifted their focus on MBA graduates with previous finance experience. In such a context doing a summer internship becomes a key component in any career change strategy. Summer internships are an opportunity to explore a new sector, function, or geography, to increase your network and knowledge in that area, and to demonstrate focus with view to the full-time job search. 

While I was writing this, one of our current first-year students informed me that he got himself an internship in a South American start-up. Not bad for a German with a blue-chip finance background keen on exploring entrepreneurship! Past examples include: 

  • An Indian student who learned Spanish during his two years at IESE and landed a job in a Catalan multinational
  • A Canadian student who leveraged his finance background to get an internship in healthcare and then joined that company in Switzerland
  • A Chinese candidate with an HR Consulting background, who targeted the Pharma sector and got a job in Spain after securing a first internship in the sector

This is not to say that changing careers is easy, but recent statistics are encouraging: 80 percent of IESE students doing an internship in Healthcare, for example, have no background in that sector. Figures are similar for high-tech (66 percent) and retail (90 percent). Consulting remains traditionally open to career changers, although with a rather stringent limitations on geographical change. In the areas of Healthcare, TMT and Retail/FMCG, around 80% of students achieve a sector change for full-time placement, mostly using their functional background as a lever (around 60 percent change).

Work-permit requirements are an obvious obstacle to geographical change. In particular the US market is difficult to enter for non-US citizens or candidates without a Green Card. In Europe, the situation is a fragmented one. Certain European economies are fairly open to non-EU citizens. Recently passed Spanish legislation now makes it possible for graduates of top business schools to get a work-permit in Spain in a fairly uncomplicated way. Germany offers similar flexibility and London has traditionally been a magnet for top MBAs. 

To fully take advantage of some of these opportunities, language skills may however become an issue. It is not uncommon for MBAs to require of candidates that they learn a new language during the program. Here the benefit of being on a 2 year program become obvious. Acquiring a new language represents a considerable time-investment but generally translates in genuine opportunities for employment in geographies using that language or with employers targeting these markets.