There aren’t many teachers applying to MBA programs. The few who do consider the option, approach us with several questions.
- Is an MBA after teaching experience worth it?
- Does teaching experience count in MBA applications?
- Can a teacher switch careers after MBA?
Primary school teacher turned MBA grad, Evan Piekara, graduated from Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business in Washington, D.C. After completing his MBA, he made a career switch to management consulting.
Prior to business school, Evan spent four years teaching 6th and 7th grade English and history in New York City as part of the Teach For America (TFA) program.
Career Change: Teacher to MBA to Management Consultant
Georgetown MBA grad shares tips for career changers
by Evan Piekara
Educator to engineer? Professional poker player to project manager? Fundraiser to financial manager? Each year innumerable people apply to business school to develop the knowledge, skills, and network to change professions. These applicants take the MBA plunge for a variety of reasons – higher salary, increased status, interesting work, appealing mission, opportunity for greater impact, and greater job stability or career trajectory.
While it can be intimidating competing against countless consultants, many marketers, and infinite financiers for admittance into a selective MBA program, and even more daunting sitting in core classes with classmates who have advanced work experience in the subject matter, do not get overwhelmed. You can successfully transition by following three key steps:
- Leveraging strengths
- Building a plan
After 4 years teaching English and history in an under-resourced school in New York City, I left the classroom to earn my MBA in the hopes that a little educational alchemy would turn me into a successful business consultant.
While doubtful that I would measure up to the consultants, marketers, financiers, and other core professions applying to MBA programs, I had to convince myself (and subsequently consider how I would convince admissions) why I would thrive in an MBA program.
- Re-framing: First, was the realization that MBA programs are trying to “construct a class” and value diverse backgrounds, thoughts, and professions. The dearth of core professions were competing against each other for admission and trying to differentiate themselves from each other.
My experience would diversify the applicant pool and offer a different background. This realization emboldened me and helped me recognize that I already had a lot to offer and just needed to share how my background would strengthen my MBA class.
- Leveraging Strengths:As a teacher, I spent nearly 8 hours a day instructing over 120 students. On a daily basis I had to be an adept project manager who tracked progress towards short-term and long-term goals, a strategic thinker who laid out a vision for his classroom, a shrewd communicator who facilitated learning through a number of different modalities, and an analytical thinker who assessed performance, identified trends, and implemented actions to improve results.
Highlighting these strengths and core functions of the job enabled me to put into perspective what I could contribute to an MBA program.
- Building a Plan: MBA Admissions committees want to know “your story.” How will an MBA advance your personal and professional goals? Recognizing strengths and leveraging those for your next target career was one thing. Identifying gaps in knowledge and skills and highlighting what courses, activities, and actions you will take during your MBA experience will demonstrate that you have developed a roadmap for success.
With an eye to the future, I highlighted specific courses, professors, and activities that I believed would position me to be a successful consultant after graduation.
I began following the plan that I had outlined in my application and modified these three steps for career recruitment:
- Re-framing: I started by identifying transferrable skills and quantifying them to show the impact and results that I could have as a consultant. For instance, I demonstrated communication skills by emphasizing that over the course of my four years in the classroom, I had spent nearly 4,300 hours facilitating and presenting.
For project management, I emphasized the backwards planning, metric tracking, and adapting timelines needed to effectively help over 120 students achieve their goals. For analytics, I shared my experience benchmarking performance on diagnostic tests and developing targets and baselines for students to achieve. I showed how I had used each core consulting skill as a teacher and made parallels to how teaching was very similar to consulting in order to reduce the experience gaps that recruiters might identify.
- Leveraging Strengths: In the classroom, I played to my strengths. This allowed me to perform well in certain classes as well as compete for leadership positions where my strengths would be an asset. I identified the courses where I had less developed skills and planned to devote more time to these courses.
For areas where I was particularly weak, such as accounting, statistics, and excel-centric courses, I collaborated with tutors and classmates who had stronger backgrounds in these areas and focused more time in these classes.
- Building a Plan:When planning my schedule, I outlined courses that were strengths and balanced those with courses where I knew I would need to put in more effort. This enabled me to focus in the areas where I was less developed.
Additionally, I participated in activities and clubs that provided me with supplemental knowledge and networks in consulting. This enabled me to broaden my knowledge, better understand the profession and offerings, and further refine my career strategy.
While there were certainly growing pains, following this strategy enabled me to transform from an educator into a strategy consultant. I was able to convince a selective program to admit me, was hired by a selective company, and continued to re-frame, leverage strengths, and build a plan that enabled me to progress as a consultant.
About the Author: Evan Piekara is a 2013 MBA graduate from Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business in Washington, D.C. Currently, Evan is a Senior Manager at BDO Public Sector, supporting the growth and development of the firm’s management consulting practice. Evan remains actively involved in MBA admissions and career preparation for aspiring and current MBAs and consultants. Drop us an email if you’d like to work with him on your MBA applications: info [at] mbacrystalball [dot] com