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How MBA Grads Can Land Startup Jobs

So, you want to get your MBA to work in a startup.

You’re not alone.

According to Bloomberg Businessweek, more startups recruit MBAs than any other type of organization. In fact, 53% of schools said that they saw more young companies on campus compared to companies with 500 employees or more.

Even more telling, a recent Harvard survey revealed in Fortune that during their 2015 summer internship season, about 600 out of 900 MBAs went to work at a startup.

There’s no doubt that startup demand is increasing at a rapid rate, but that might not be good news for some MBAs.

A blog in the Wall Street Journal unequivocally stated, “I no longer advise startups to hire MBAs, and I discourage students who want to become entrepreneurs from doing an MBA.” That’s because Vivek Wadhwa claims that the skills business school teaches don’t match what a startup needs.

If you don’t agree with Wadhwa’s assessment, it still doesn’t mean that getting a job in a startup is easy. The competition is fierce. While 85% of employers plan on hiring more MBAs this year than last, it’s becoming more difficult than ever to stand out in the crowd. Worse yet, MBAs have some uncomfortable stigmas to overcome that say they are too salary focused, too analytical, and unable to handle an entrepreneurial environment.

So, if you’re serious about getting a job in a startup company after your MBA, you need to be prepared to struggle.

However, that doesn’t mean you’re out of luck. You can land your dream career opportunity by following a few tips.

Know Yourself

Startups want to know that you have the experience they need. You might have an impressive resume with years of experience from large corporations, but that doesn’t always translate well into a startup.

Instead, know how your experience translates into a small team environment and be prepared to sell yourself.

You have to know your skills and abilities well enough to be able to convince a startup to take a chance on you.

You also need to know how you’ll best fit in the company.

It’s critical to know what appeals to you, what you’re good at, and how you can contribute on a small and large scale. Be prepared to explain how you work in small team environments, when deadlines are tight, and when stakes are high.

Seek a Summer Internship

If you want to work in a startup, don’t seek a summer internship at a Fortune 500 company.

Instead, find an internship at a small company that can teach you what it’s like to work for a startup. If you can’t get a paid internship, consider volunteering for a startup a few hours a week.

If you don’t know where to look for a startup internship, go to your university. Many MBA programs have on-campus startup incubators that could use your expertise. Consider offering your services to one of your classmate’s ventures. Then, when applying for your post-MBA job, be ready to speak about your experience.

Don’t Be Overconfident

Yes, startups need MBAs to grow and expand their business, but that doesn’t mean you should act like your presence is a gift.

Most startups start with one to five people, and in those cases, they haven’t needed formal processes, operations, and communication channels. You won’t get the job if you go into the interview expecting the startup to be desperate for your help.

MBAs that work in startups have to be ready to get down into the nitty-gritty and to prove their worth.

Startups need MBAs who not only come up with great ideas, but are also willing to do whatever it takes to grow the business.

Make sure you take the time to research the startup and the industry so you can talk specifics when it comes to adding value. Once you prove that you can be an asset and that you have passion and knowledge, you’re much more likely to get the job.

Don’t Expect the World

You have an MBA, and you’re now $70,000 in debt, don’t expect to pay that debt off quickly by working for a startup.

Startups don’t have a lot of money.

Even well-funded startups can’t afford the same type of employment packages as large enterprises. You need to be willing to take a pay cut and work for less, waiting for the future pay off.

You also shouldn’t expect a ton of recognition.

Working in a startup is about rolling up your sleeves and getting your hands dirty. If you want a job where you regularly get patted on the back and praised, a startup in not the right choice for you.

Typically, everyone in a startup is at the same level, no matter education or experience. Recognize that your fellow employees might not have your same academic credentials but they’re in the trenches right alongside you.

So, now that you know how to get a job in a startup post-MBA, what type of job should you expect?

  • Marketing: Startups need help promoting their product and business. MBAs can be irreplaceable in the marketing department.
  • Business Growth: Startups with fewer than ten employees don’t need formal processes and well-defined policies, but to grow to 100 employees, MBAs are necessary to make the company scalable and financially viable.
  • Research: MBAs can add a crucial element of market research and analysis for startup companies.
  • Network: As an MBA, you should already have a network of influencers, this can provide immense value to helping the startup expand its reach.
  • Human Resources: Many startups lack effective communications since creative types are typically introverts. MBAs can run the human resources department.
  • Customer Service: MBAs study consumer psychology and customer service in-depth during their program, an essential skill for a startup.
  • Finances: There’s no doubt that the largest barrier to startup success is financial management and planning. MBAs are financial experts that can help make startups profitable.

Are you an MBA working for a startup? Share your experience with us in the comments.

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About the Author


Kelly Vo    

Kelly Vo is a writer who specializes in covering MBA programs, digital marketing, and personal development.

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