We came across this awhile back: “Is 30 too old to work in a startup?”
Hmmmm. If there’s a bias against “older” in startup recruiting, and “older” is defined as over 30, and there’s already a bias against MBAs in Silicon Valley… Peter Thiel and Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg have all been on the record in the past about not valuing the MBA.
So you’re trying to transition to tech, and you’re not in tech now, and the tech world has a strong bias in favor of tech experience.
And you’re looking at the beginning of your fourth decade on this planet, and startups are stereotypical young and Red Bull fueled.
And you’re thinking that the way to get there is through a very expensive path called business school…
Seems like there’s a lot of assumptions there that probably should be tested out.
Crossing the threshold to 30 and older by no means rules you out of the full-time MBA equation, and certainly there are many in Silicon Valley who are trying to be more diverse, not only on the racial/gender spectrum but even anti-ageist too. You might even – gasp! – find someone in their 40s working in a startup sometimes!
When you’re looking at the MBA as a possible means to transition to something new, then you need to look at where you’re starting from, and what you bring to the table, and the standard options that are traditionally available to those graduating from that program.
The traditional recruiter on the business school campus is the consulting firm, and the Wall Street bank. That’s certainly changed in the past ten years and now Amazon recruits as many grads from some programs as Deloitte does. When a company is big enough that they have a dedicated team doing recruiting at these schools, then that means they have a standard track that they put most of those hires through — which means that they’re looking to the schools as a funnel into their organization. They’re looking to the bschools as a channel. It’s like meat into a grinder to create sausage: They want a particular grade of meat to create a particular kind of sausage product. They need standardization and conformity in order to make it a cost-effective means of production. (Yes we have just equated MBAs with meat in a sausage factor. Deal with it.)
This means that the jobs that they’re recruiting for on these bschool campuses are more similar than not, and they operate within specific bands. There are standard expectations for what level in the organization these hires will fit in to, and what type of role, and how much those roles pay.
If you’re going into a consulting organization, the expectation is that you will be traveling quite a bit, to be on site at the client location during the week. It’s the nature of the job.
If it’s going to Amazon, then you might be expected to move to Seattle, where HQ is, or perhaps you’ll be at one of their DCs in the Southeast.
You’re going to have different opportunities available geographically, and some will pay more than others, but all will be within a standard band.
If you’ve already been building a career for 10+ years, then your pre-MBA salary might be higher than what these firms pay coming out.
This is one issue with the “older” candidate.
A lot of this comes down to, how well have you done your research? How much do you know about what this post-MBA career is going to be like? Are your expectations matching up with reality? Or do you only have ideas for what’s available and what you’ll be qualified for?
This is why this type of firsthand research is super important — now, before you apply.
How do you even know that the MBA is the right next step?
If you’re enamored of going to work in a tech startup, do you have the skills today that that startup will be able to employ?
You can’t expect the MBA alone to give them to you. That’s just not realistic.
Tech startups are very risky enterprises, by definition. They’re building something from nothing and trying to create a business around it. Some will succeed; most will fail.
Because the founders of those startups usually know the most will fail truism, the startup itself might be very risk-averse. They may be quite inflexible and unwilling to take a risk on, say, an MBA grad with no on-the-ground experience in anything tech-specific.
Now that all the business schools of the world have, ahem, pivoted so that they’re (finally) catering to this burgeoning interest in tech, and more and more bschools are providing resources and an ecosystem for students to start their own companies so that they’re quasi-incubators, things may be changing and more opportunities may make themselves available. If you’re a bschool student wanting to get a job in a Silicon Valley startup, be prepared for a tough job search . It won’t be a recruiting experience the way your peers going into consulting or finance will go through. Startup jobs don’t come to campus for recruiting. They don’t have info sessions with pizza or ice cream socials to pitch you on opportunities and try to entice you to submit for an interview. YOU need to go find THEM.
Are you aware of how that will work?
This goes along with the common refrain from BSers everywhere that they want to go to a school because of “the network.”
What does having a network mean to you?
Have you leveraged your own network in the past? How? To what end? What were you able to accomplish — or contribute — through the cultivation of the network you already have?
If you want to go to work for a Silicon Valley startup, then first you need to recognize that they typically don’t pay as much (unless you’re a programmer, and if you are that, then you don’t need an MBA to get a job in a startup, and if you’re not that, then you’re not going to learn that at bschool). You need to especially realize that it’ll be up to you to knock on doors and make the connections you need to land an interview and convince one to hire you. Perhaps that’ll be easier as more and more bschools nurture the startup thing and there are more startup companies within that one school’s orbit. You will be able to leverage the network effect of the school within the startup space more than had ever been possible. (At least, until we have another crash in this part of the market, but apparently that’s not happening yet.)
When the adcoms are reluctant to admit a candidate who’s in his 30s, it’s not because the think that 30 is old. It’s just that often, that candidate has not sufficiently articulated why they want an MBA based on what they plan to go do with it, and how they’re qualified for that, and how they’ll be successful in landing a job coming out.
If you don’t do a good job of laying this out, then it’s just gonna be much easier to pass you up. The adcoms know that a lot of consulting firms prefer less-old graduates entering their recruiting funnel. If you don’t know what opportunities are right for you, then why should the adcom give you a spot when there are plenty of other candidates more in the sweet spot for what that school caters to?
If the school is in the business of supplying meat to the sausage-making industry, then it’s in adcom’s own self-interest to be choosing the fresh cuts of meat that will be easier to sell to those buyers.
Yeah, really crude analogy, but it makes sense, doesn’t it?
If you see yourself as a commodity, then it can offer some perspective on the market and how you might be valued.
It’s always up to you as the individual to stand out.
You may also be interested in: