Applicant Question: Career Change from Sales and Startup to Private Wealth in Business School

Happy Thanksgiving Weekend! This time of year, people are back at home spending time with friends and families.  Many of them are just relaxing. Others are students, taking a break from classes, before finals period. And there’s another group of people, that are using the break to apply to business school. They’re hoping next year that when they’re sitting at the table, they’ll be able to say that they’ll thankful for “getting in”. To make the a possibility for as many students as possible, I’ve been responding to lots of email questions this week. One question came from a reader that had a question about career changes in business school. 

In a recent email, I was contacted by someone I met during my online chat series. She asked me about career changes in business school. Specifically, about how to move into Private Wealth Management (PWM) from her current career track. She noted that she had moved away from the path that she had intended so she thought that PWM seemed like a longer shot. 

I’l note that I didn’t recruit for the Private Wealth Management industry here at Kellogg.  Likewise, I also didn’t recruit specifically in the finance industry. But I do know a fair number of people that did, and I do still have a few thoughts to share on the topic. See below for her question, and below that for my response.



Dear Jeremy,

Thank you so much for your time and for the suggestion. If its OK, I have one more formidable challenge in addressing my application. I am from an engineering background, with 3 years of experience in sales – financial products, insurance industry. I have a very good record in performance and was in the top 10 of the region consistently. However, due to a stalled career and little growth prospects… i got bored and due to lack of further personal and professional growth..clubbed with a mandatory topological relocation.. I took up the opportunity at a a Strategy and sales consultant…and have done pretty well here.

My challenge here is that my interest is in Private Wealth Management, that cropped from my exposure to financial products while with my earlier company. But however, my present industry is Advertising and marketing… so my biggest concern is how do I relate my goals and interest to my present job and validate my interest in PWM?? because the shift in industry and job role isn’t realy easy to connect to my goals. My apologies for the long mail– I just thought U should get a more or less clear idea about my get a good advice from you.

Any insightful suggestions would be much appreciated…

P.S: On a personal note, I’d also like to know what would u have done had u been in my shoes?? 🙂

Thanks you in advance!





No problem on the email. Happy to help however I can. So if I interpret correctly, you spent some time working in the sales and marketing space and currently work for a startup, but you want to go into PWM. after business school  Is that correct? If that’s the case, then even though you have a bit of work to do, the transition may not be as far fetched as you think. 

Before, I jump straight into the question, I’ll point out that your diverse background is certainly not a bad thing. In fact, having a diverse background is often times a strong plus. It shows you can succeed in lots of professional environments, that you can work well with all different types of people, and that you have variety of skills and interests that could translate across a number of employers. And one of those employers could very well be in the private wealth industry. 

In terms of the career change, there are usually two simple things you will eventually have to prove – that you can do the work itself and that you’re a good fit for the firm and industry.  Both things are very achievable but as you might suspect they also both take a bit of work.  Below, I’ll talk briefly about both. 

First, you’ll have to prove you have what it takes to do the job. For recruiting, PWM teams put an emphasis on sales skills, financial acumen/skills and understanding of the markets. It sounds like you’ll have a head start on sales/marketing part given your background, which is good news. Kellogg and most other top MBA programs also have great marketing classes that will also be very helpful.  In terms of the financial acumen, that’s something I bet you can pick up in business school as well. Not only will you have a chance to pick a lot of it up once you get to business school but it sounds like you also know a bit about financial products now, in your current role. In the mean time, it can’t hurt to continue to increase your knowledge in that area. Take an extra class. Read the WSJ a lot more. And study the industry. Keep in mind that you may be competing with people from the finance industry and with bankers for these jobs, so knowing as much as you can will be helpful.  And third, you should also study the markets in general.  From what I hear, everyone that interviews for PWM is asked about the markets. How are the markets performing? What’s happening today? And what insights you have for the future? So understanding that will be very important. 

After getting through that part, you’ll also have to make sure you’re a good cultural fit for the industry and specific firms you want to interview at. People at banks tend to work longer hours, like working with numbers, think very analytically, and often have a lot of energy. And PWM folks specifically also tend to have certain types of personalities. Usually very outgoing, collaborative, high energy, and people oriented.  Getting to know them during the recruiting process in the fall will be very important. Not only to show them that you can fit in but also that you would enjoy working in the environment and with their teams specifically. This is true in most industries on business school campuses, but in PWM, it’s definitely very important. 

But perhaps just as important as all of this is to keep in mind that people change careers all the time in business school. Some people switch between finance, startups, consulting, general management, and marketing. And not just comparing pre-MBA with post-MBA but also taking into account summer jobs. As such, most people can get a job in an unrelated industry from a top school, you’ll just have to prove focus and be sure to put in the hard work to make that happen.
That said, I’d also say that nowadays, it’s harder than ever to make drastic career switches. Not only are there less opportunities, given the economy but candidates in all industries are stronger than ever before. So you’ll have to work extra hard to make it happen. You’ll have to make sure you study finance, marketing, and the markets. For some people, they have to use the internship as a stepping stone, only to get their perfect job the next year during full time recruiting.  But if you put in the work, it’s definitely a real possibility. 

All of this infomratoin should fit very well into your essays. You just have to be sure to show focus and to tell the right story. Hope this helps.

Good luck. And Happy Thanksgiving!
Friday, November 25th, 2011 Admissions, Business School, Careers

2 Comments to Applicant Question: Career Change from Sales and Startup to Private Wealth in Business School

November 29, 2011

Thanks Jeremy!!!

Jeremy C Wilson
November 29, 2011

@Rebecca No problem. Happy to help however I can. Best of luck with everything.

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Jeremy C Wilson is a JD-MBA alumni using his site to share information on education, the social enterprise revolution, entrepreneurship, and doing things differently. Feel free to send along questions or comments as you read.


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