Switching Careers from Marketing: Do You Need an MBA?
November 16, 2021
You've seen the ins and outs of running a business as a marketing pro. But when it's time for a career change, is an MBA the logical next step?
Universities worldwide are seeing a rapid uptick in MBA applications. During the COVID-19 pandemic, countless professionals decided it was time for a new career, or at least an upgrade.
The MBA is famous for opening doors to D-, V- and C-level positions across industries. The Ladders reports MBAs garner an average salary increase of $36,742 one year after graduation. That certainly qualifies as an upgrade!
What does this mean for marketing professionals looking to pivot? After years of mastering marketing strategy for someone else's dream, maybe you're ready to steer your own ship. The constant push to build personal brands, manage complex social media, and ride the cycle of new campaigns can lead to burnout and frustration.
Marketing professionals are natural candidates for MBAs and Executive MBAs. Many already have the quantitative and communication skills to pull off a career transition in several exciting directions. But is the degree necessary to land a job in a fulfilling new field?
The short answer is: it depends. Changing careers is a delicate dance between highlighting your transferable skills and exploring new areas under proper guidance. Heading to grad school could be an excellent mid-career move if you're shifting to a new industry.
We've created a guide for marketing pros considering an MBA as part of a big career switch. In it, we cover:
- Knowing your marketable marketing skills
- Do you need an MBA?
- So you're leaving marketing. Where to next?
Knowing your marketable marketing skills
Pursuing a new career path may feel like you're starting from scratch. As a marketer, however, you've accumulated skills other industries seek in new candidates.
Before jumping into your job search, let's look at the unique expertise you've accumulated after years of experience in a marketing career.
Think back to how many times you've analyzed marketing data in your current role. You've translated market trends, tackled A/B testing for email campaigns, and even calculated cost risks.
Most importantly, you've transformed complex data into something tangible. Perhaps you're an SEO writer or editor. Writing website copy or blog posts based on a list of ranked terms is just the sort of strategic thinking companies look for in an employee.
If you could imagine yourself crunching numbers and deciphering research full-time, the world of analytics is vast and lucrative. For example, operations research analysts pull in an average annual income of $86,200 according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Whether you're a creative director or part of a larger team, you've had a hand in communicating a business's goals to the public. In other words, you've seen it all, even if you haven't been the one managing it quite yet.
Marketing responsibilities can include:
- Balancing budgets
- Connecting a company's goals to your marketing strategy
- Coordinating multiple teams
- Managing long-term social media campaigns
- Working directly with customers for feedback and research
Absorbing these skills often drives marketers to start businesses of their own or take on a higher management position at a dream job. In such instances, some career changers eye an MBA with a specialization in entrepreneurship.
Writing and creativity
Countless creatives find their way into marketing. Everyone from writers to graphic designers sees digital marketing as a way to showcase their skills in a financially stable field.
However, this isn't the only field looking for these niche talents. For one, an MBA could help you transfer your skills from your current job to running a freelance business. It may also help you build on your creative background to work in a related field, such as publishing or art gallery management.
You could also naturally pivot these skills to positions in a different field. Nonprofits, for example, seek grant writers and designers to support fundraising efforts.
Have you spent the past ten years selling athletic wear? This unique industry know-how puts you a step ahead of many applicants.
Transitioning within an industry is ideal for avoiding entry-level positions while still shifting out of the marketing department. For example, your new role could tackle the sales or product side of the business by leveraging your current contacts.
With an MBA, you can also hone your managerial skills. Combine the new degree with your tight community in the field, and you'll be on track to land an excellent new job.
Think back to the complex projects you've coordinated with who-knows-how-many cooks in the kitchen. A great project manager is highly sought-after in a range of fields.
Most marketing roles have experience:
- Building campaign and project timelines
- Clarifying the scope of a project to freelancers
- Managing the time and related costs for each task
- Setting tangible goals and deadlines for each task
- Tracking team progress
- Utilizing software to streamline projects in the future
Some people have a knack for keeping teams on task, and for them, this role is an excellent fit. Project managers play an integral role in making a company run smoothly.
Do you need an MBA?
The MBA lets employers know that you've covered all your business management bases. Even if you run your marketing department, you may not have the specific management, operations, accounting, and analytics skills you need to leap to a management position.
But should you get an MBA merely to transition out of marketing? This depends on where you're headed and where you see yourself in the next three to five years. Here are some things to think about when deciding for yourself.
If you're seeking a higher salary, double-check that an MBA in your field is necessary for the raise. Deciding whether an MBA is right for you has a lot to do with weighing the costs, especially since some programs can run over $100,000 from start to finish.
High-level marketing managers may also want to consider an Executive MBA, a fast-paced program for those looking for the final push to C-level roles.
Overall, consider that an MBA is a significant undertaking that covers a vast field of topics. If you plan to shift from marketing to something familiar, such as PR or sales, you may not need the degree to break into a new business.
In the end, your new career goal should align with your work and life philosophies. Are you comfortable spending more time in the office, or do you want more flexibility at home? Taking on a new degree is a huge commitment and requires a significant schedule shift.
Thankfully, many online MBAs, such as the program at Howard University, are tailored to busy professionals. Students can complete either the MBA or EMBA within three years or less, depending on the schedule they choose.
This program balances both synchronous and asynchronous classes for both flexibility and access to a professional community.
Connections and experiences
Expanding your community is one of the top reasons to head to grad school. A handful of programs, such as Southern Methodist University's online MBA, promote global immersion trips with hands-on business projects. Between these unique opportunities and the school's massive alumni network, students graduate with a much larger pool of collaborators and an impressive list of experiences to add to their resumes.
Lastly, double-check whether you can acquire your new skill with the help of a certificate program or a bootcamp. Some data-based and tech roles only require hands-on knowledge of a specific skill to get started.
Above all, imagine yourself in your new role. Would the overarching education of an MBA help you succeed or land that dream role? Bootcamps may be efficient but don't often provide the real-world applications and skills covered in a multi-year program.
Keep in mind that if you launch into this new career with a few new certifications and hit a wall, the MBA is still there to help you take the next step.
So you're leaving marketing. Where to next?
Changing careers can feel daunting, even disorienting at first. A background in marketing means that you're equipped with a long list of applicable skills that many businesses would dream of having.
Let's look back at what we've covered to narrow down some post-marketing career options.
Tired of chasing someone else's dream? Build a business of your own from the ground up with your marketing strategy and data skills. You can also jump on board with a new startup to help develop its founding principles. An MBA is beneficial for this career path, depending on the size of the role you're hoping to take on.
Nonprofits and the public sector
Communication plays a huge role in a nonprofit and government agency's image. The right specialists can help community leaders build trust with their citizens or donors. Since you're already inside the minds of customers, the shift may come naturally.
Management and operations
Your resume showcases your proven management skills, from coordinating a marketing team to tracking multi-level projects. Is there an industry about which you feel passionate? Perhaps you marketed products and services in healthcare, education, arts, or retail spheres. As noted earlier, your industry knowledge can put you on a clear path to management when paired with an MBA.
Tech and data analytics
Last but not least, your marketing research skills can help you directly pivot into several tech-savvy positions. If you look forward to the analytical side of your job each day, these fields need your detail-focused mind. Consider a tech-focused bootcamp, computer science master's program, or even an MBA to make the leap.
An online MBA could be the key to making your exit from a marketing career. Whether you need the degree or not, however, is up to you. Either way, you already have at least some marketable qualities necessary for a smooth transition.
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