Executive Education

Changing Lanes: Can an Executive MBA Help You Transition to a New Industry?

For most mid-career executives considering an EMBA, advancement within one’s industry is the top priority.

Advancement can entail a variety of outcomes: a pay boost, a turbo-driven path to the C-Suite, or a new smattering of high-level responsibilities.

According to the Executive MBA Council (EMBAC) Student Exit Benchmarking Survey in 2014, EMBA students saw a pay increase from an average salary and bonus package of $155,848 at the beginning of the program to $181,965 by the time of graduation. With numbers like that, it’s easy to see why EMBA graduates in the same study reported overall satisfaction levels with their mid-career education at a 4.1 on a 5 point scale.

But what about people who wish to pursue an EMBA as a means to change industries or even careers? Generally, an MBA gives students the flexibility to change careers, while the EMBA is targeted toward helping its students change offices. This fact becomes especially clear when we consider that most EMBA programs require applicants to secure some type of sponsorship from their employer. While that sponsorship might not be a financial commitment on the part of your company, it does indicate that your organization is giving you the flexibility and time it would otherwise not afford a mid-to-senior level staffer. To simply up and leave for a whole new career path following the EMBA program’s completion could burn a bridge with your company, and leave colleagues frustrated after up to two years of patience with your divided commitments.

That particular expectation that an EMBA student will retain his or her current job while participating in their academic program is a major reason to pursue an EMBA instead of a full-time MBA. With a dual commitment to both career and academics, most EMBA programs are structured around a busy executive’s workday, with classes meeting at night or on weekends.

Perhaps the most important possible setback for a mid-career executive considering an EMBA as a means to change careers is the fact that most programs lack of an internship option. For MBAs, internships are commonplace and are often embedded into the curriculum in one form or another. These relatively low-risk opportunities provide access and insight into corporations, industries and even careers that can be sampled and assessed. An MBA student in an internship gets valuable face time with companies that would otherwise not give entry to someone inexperienced in their core line of business. For EMBAs, there is by and large no comparable program to give participants a taste of the career they wish to try.

Another important factor to consider is cost. A nearly two-year EMBA program is generally not much cheaper than a full-time MBA program. Of course, if you’re an EMBA student who maintains his or her current job, you’re able to still bring in income that a full-time MBA student might not be able to access. However if the goal is to change careers or industries, maintaining your current job might not be a priority. A costly EMBA may seem worthwhile when you consider that the average program graduate sees an average pay jump of about 17% according to EMBAC. But if you use that degree to start anew in a different industry, you may face beginning at a lower salary entry point.

Taking into account many of the variables involved in the EMBA course of study, it seems that these programs are ultimately best suited to mid-to-senior level executives looking to advance themselves within their current company or career. For all-out career changers or people looking to switch industries, an MBA might be a more traditional and perhaps better-suited route to reach that goal.

About the Author

R. Kress is an Emmy Award winning journalist whose reporting and writing has appeared in national media from NBC News to the International Herald Tribune. She has covered news from cities around the world including Jerusalem, Krakow, Amman and Mumbai.