MBA at my stage of life?

Hello WSO,

I work as an investment analyst (2nd year) at a local long-only fund in Korea. I managed to move to the buy-side after 5 years at Equity Research and Equity Sales at a big, but local investment bank. I am 32, married with two kids.

I am considering pursuing an MBA in the US (at one of the top 10 schools) to land a niche, buy-side role looking to hire a Korean-speaking analyst to cover Korea/Asia. I realize how difficult it is to land a HF/PE job post MBA, not to mention the specificity of the role sought. I'm sort of betting on the fact that my years of experience covering Korean equities (8+ years, 3+ on the buy-side by the time I matriculate) would set me apart from younger Korean MBA grads with banking or consulting experience. I'm not looking to move to finance from different background or change role (sell-side -> buy-side). Also, English is not an issue for me and I am also a CFA charterholder for whatever it is worth.

I have asked around for advice, most were positive about the idea. After all, "if you want to get a job in the US without any ties or work experience at a BB, it's nearly impossible" is what I heard and it's probably true. But the more I look into it and considering the fact that I have mouths to feed, the riskier the idea appears. I would be spending close to $300k just to get a shot at finance jobs in the US which by no means is guaranteed. Even if I were to land a job, high tax + rent would leave me practically nothing to save for the first few years (assuming post MBA base + bonus of around $200k). I say that I want to work on the buy-side in the US post MBA, but it is more likely that I will have every option open (banking, consulting, finance job at a non-financial institution, etc.) as getting a job offer would be the first thing if I were to settle in the US with my family. A non-finance job would prolong the period needed to recoup my investment I suppose.

Despite my left brain telling me that it's too risky and I could be putting my family's well-being at risk (I can sustain a fairly comfortable living here with current job and savings), I have a desire deep inside me wanting to take the risk while I still can as I see the upside in career progression incomparable to what I can expect from here.

So my questions are,
1) Does spending $300k just to get a shot at finance jobs in the US make any sense for a 32 year old with kids coming from a non-US, non-target school (although a very competitive engineering school here), non BB or MBB background? (I only interned at a BB and a MBB, and was a runner-up for an ER position at GS after many rounds of interviews and a written exam, if that means anything...probably nothing)

2) Fortunately, the hedge fund/Asset Management industry care less about your pedigree than your ability to generate alpha. Would it be better to spend the time building a track record through publishing successful ideas and get noticed by the buy-side community or use it to cold call prospective employers? I have generated some really good ideas in the past.

3) What are my chances of landing any finance job post MBA at a reputable school (top 10) given my age (34 by the time I graduate) and background? Age is my biggest concern.

Please help me come to my senses here. I know I face a tremendous uphill battle, but without anyone telling me the cold, harsh reality of going after the most coveted position post MBA, I can't help but think that I stand a chance.

Any criticism/comment/encouragement would be much appreciated. Thanks in advance.

Comments (4)

Best Response
May 29, 2017

If I were in your shoes (early 30s, married with kids, in an industry I want to remain with a current job situation that I like), then I wouldn't bother with a full-time MBA program. As you said the cost is way too high relative to the very uncertain (and arguably marginal) benefit given where you're at in your life right now.

Even though traditionally the full-time MBA programs ask for applicants' career goals (and wanting them to be specific goals), the reality is, the full-time programs are ideally suited for applicants who are the most open to a wide range of careers.

In other words, it's ideally suited for younger (and usually single) folks who are looking to maximize their short-term options across the broadest range of industries and job functions, and are therefore using those 2 years to explore those options.

For those who are pretty sure or very sure about a specific path - especially one that is fairly niche - then you're better off spending those 2 years networking your ass off and burrowing deep into that niche sector (getting to know as much as possible) rather than spending those 2 years with MBA classmates who tend to be younger and more open to suggestion.

In your case, if you really want to focus on Korean-centric buyside jobs, then you are best spending those 2 years focusing on just that, rather than spending 2 years with a folks interested in marketing, tech, consulting, investment banking, blah blah blah.

Put it this way. You're thinking about it in terms of money as the cost. But the BIG cost for you is time. Money comes and goes, but time once it's gone, is gone forever. The older you are as you know, the more wisely you want to spend that time.

So in addition to the $300K that you mention, do you want to spend 2 years of your life as well in this situation (b-school) that could be more productively spent in another way that is best not only for you but for your family?

    • 2
May 30, 2017

Alex, thank you very much for your thoughtful advice. I really appreciate it. :)

Just to make myself clear (for other friends at WSO willing to lend a helping hand),

The reason why I'm emphasizing Korean equities is because that is my comparative advantage as a native speaker of Korean. I can also handle US equities (skills are transferrable) as I personally invest in them, but a US employer would be less compelled to hire a foreigner like me over an equally qualified candidate of US citizenship if the role required finding alpha in US equities.

Korea in fact is one of the worst place in the world to practice finance in my opinion due to the culture here and very short history of Asset Management. There is no system in place. This is why I want to leave (not satisfied with current situation) and work at a place where analysts are allowed to express their thoughts more freely and are better compensated for their work.

I will take your advice to heart. I hadn't thought about time as cost but you hit the nail on the head. I could spend those 2 years to become better at what I do. Hopefully ability + networking would also open doors.

May 30, 2017

"niche, buy-side role looking to hire a Korean-speaking analyst to cover Korea/Asia"

Believe it or not, this is a highly competitive space in the US and it's not easy to land a role like this. I'm speaking for a Korean coworker of mine who was recruiting for this type of role. He says it is rare to see an opening at those places and it's all about who you know who works there.

May 30, 2017