Breaking in from an Online MBA - My Experience
Online MBA's get a ton of shit, and there are some good reasons why. But for a small group of people interested in IB, they make sense, and I wanted to share my experience and how I broke into IB in case it helps anyone out.
I weighed the pros/cons and was set on pursuing a top MBA full time once I finished up my military officer commitment. Took the GMAT a few times and scored a 710. With what I had been doing in the military, I knew I was at least competitive. Then found out I wasn't going to be able to get out as soon as I had thought due to some paperwork I had signed very early on in my career. Whoops. Extra two years meant delaying my MBA start till I was 33, meaning not hitting the desk until 35 as an Associate. So, like Jared in Silicon Valley, I pivoted.
Got into UNC KF's Online program and started while working full time.
Here are my impressions, lessons learned, and advice for anyone considering online. (I'll try not to make these specific to UNC)
Academics: Solid. In terms of content you'll find 90% of the courses you'd have access to on campus. Downside is that classes meet only once a week live, so a lot of your learning is done via pre recorded classes. These vary in quality, but for the most part are good. Can't stop to ask questions, but professors have been outstanding and usually respond to emails very quickly and will hop on Zoom to discuss a topic or look at a problem with you. Plus, you have the advantage of being able to rewind. Overall, between the core courses and the finance concentration I felt like I had a solid base when I exited the program. Talking to friends at M7 schools, I don't think there is much of a difference in academic content between most programs to be honest. You will get more current case studies and tie things into current events a lot more full time, for sure, but that is less important for IB. Biggest gripe is that new class recordings in an online program aren't revised often enough.
Recruiting: Here is where the online MBA loses, big time. Dramatically. Destroyed. To be honest, I was pretty shocked by how little help there was for those interested in Finance. To be fair, I don't think many people who chose online were looking to break into IB. I did it out of ignorance. Being in the military my whole career, I didn't know how IB recruiting and internships worked. All I knew was the comp was good, I enjoyed and was good at working with numbers, and I'm fairly personable (read: socially competent). Seemed like a good fit. Anyways, after starting the program and expressing interest in IB at my first career counseling session, I was basically written off. They said "OK we'll put you in touch with our head on-campus recruiter for the FT program." When I talked to the head of campus recruiting for IB, they were very nice, gave me some advice, and told me to keep them in the loop. Expected a little more, so I started calling friends who were in or had recently graduated from top 10 FT programs and had gone into IB or I knew were pursuing it. At this point I was a couple weeks into school, and I hear from my buddies that I am way behind. Learned that the normal IB recruiting process starts week one, or earlier, and commenced panicking. I called the campus recruiter back about flying down to join the on-campus recruiting weekends that were coming up. Was told "You can't." Blew my mind. I guess due to competitiveness in IB and the fact that the FT students are the face of the MBA program, they don't want to add more to the candidate pool? Bizarre, frustrating, and frankly, unacceptable.
How to Make It Happen:
Networking: Most of the students you'll meet in an online program are looking to move up within their current organizations. Not many career switchers outside of the military folks like myself, though there are a few. There are some great connections to made, however. A lot of the people are a bit older, and are already fairly high up in their organizations and those connections will pay off in the future. Networking is everything in an online MBA. And I don't mean among your classmates. You have to leverage everyone you can think of and not be afraid to look like an idiot. I started by making an excel sheet with every friend of mine who had attended a top MBA program. They were willing to share their connections in IB, even if they hadn't gone into IB themselves, and were simply sharing contacts of friends from school who had/were headed that way. I was pretty relentless contacting these people. Started off as a trickle, and looking back on those early conversations I cringe a little at how clueless I was. But I learned a little on every call and they improved. Before long I knew enough to hold my own and started switching the focus of networking calls from informative to 'Hey, I'm interested,' thinly veiled by the 'informative call.' One call often leads to an additional two, as people often say, "I'd like to connect you with so and so and so and so." So the schedule can fill up pretty quick. At the peak, I probably had 8-9 calls per week. Time to transition to the next phase.
Creating Demand: Toughest part is locking down that first expression of interest, but once you have that, things get a lot easier. I knew initially I had no shot out of an online program/EBs, so I started to target my calls to the MM/Boutiques. Eventually I had some interest from a few places, and I scheduled follow up calls with a few places that I knew were slightly up the food chain. I shamelessly name dropped the places I had interest from, and sure enough, got some interest in return. My big break came when I got a text from a friend asking me to call a buddy of his at an EB. We had a great talk, and honestly I think he was impressed by how far I had gotten, especially without an internship (remember I was working full time. I knew I needed to lock down an offer by late October, as by then, any banks who had interns not returning FT would have extended offers to others. The EB he worked for ended up filling their positions (TBH it was never realistic, but other banks didn't need to know that). That connection was the interest I needed, and once that broke, I had interview offers from a few of the top MM banks and some larger but not quite BBs.
Things worked out, I worked my ass off prepping for interviews, knowing that I couldn't afford any slip ups. With no internship and an Online MBA, I had to be basically perfect on any technicals. Studying that stuff is the easy part though, you all know how to do that. I got an offer from the bank I liked the most, and knew beforehand that comp was top of street.
Good luck out there, if an Online MBA fits the bill for you personally, go for it. However, an MBA is not just a check in the box, as I thought going into mine. Its a networking tool more than anything, so consider that before choosing any school outside of an M7/top 10. Networking is the best thing you can do to help yourself hands down.
Supplements: In addition to my MBA coursework I did the following:
offerings provided by UNC
A Simple Model - Affordable but more basic version of your standard prep coursework. Start here.
- Did their premium package. Probably the best of what was available at the time.
WSO didn't offer their product at the time, at least not that I am aware of, so, sorry Patrick, I can't speak to the WSO syllabus.