How to Make a Career Pivot: from MBA to Startup


The labour market is changing rapidly, requiring its participants to adapt their strategies. But it is often more difficult for those who have already achieved certain success to decide to change something in their careers. These people usually ask themselves why they should take risks and drop the strategy that has brought results. How to prepare for changes, assess the risks and opportunities of a career pivot, and choose the training that will become a career driver? NES graduates Ruslan Karmannyi, a finance and technology innovator, and Gayane Simonyan, an MBA student at MIT, as well as Lyudmila Orzhekhovskaya, an expert with 20 years of experience in recruitment, discussed these topics in an episode of the “Economics out Loud” podcast. They also shared several options for changing the career track, one of which is launching a startup. GURU brings together the main ideas of the discussion.


Current situation in the labour market

Lyudmila: Many new, often very difficult and highly paid, jobs are emerging thanks to technological advancement. Existing professions are changing, and fundamentally new ones are emerging with certain business processes being replaced by IT solutions. Therefore, people can choose from two options: either to learn new skills by doing in their current company, or to go to study and quickly improve their skills. 

Ruslan: The developments in the labour market are quite logical: cheap and low-paid jobs are being taken over by automation. Jobs that require complex skills, such as the ability to lead a team, formulate hypotheses, or write articles based on research results, cannot be done by robots or computers. Today, we live in an environment of technological uncertainty, realising that in the future artificial intelligence can wash away many professions. But one should better consider it as a great opportunity to try something that has long been only dreamt of. 

Gayane: According to my observations, the demand for niche expertise is growing: the market is moving from general skills and broad experience to narrow specialisation. I am in my second MBA year, so I am already actively looking for a job as a product manager in a tech company. And every time recruiters ask me about the niche experience that I have. 

Lyudmila: Applicant’s age matters. Firstly, recruiters do actually filter CV by age: those over 40, and sometimes even over 35, are no longer among favourites. Secondly, young managers may be afraid to hire a candidate with extensive work experience, since people do not always have enough competencies to lead those who are older. 

It is an open question whether it is more profitable for companies to retrain an experienced employee or hire a junior specialist who already has the necessary skills. Development of a person who has just graduated requires a mentoring system, and even large firms do not always have it. And the chances of an experienced candidate may depend on their willingness to change and learn, i.e. on their personal qualities. If recruiters see the desire of an experienced specialist to change, they would opt for them. 


Your industry is disappearing or stagnating: what should you do

Lyudmila: Any action begins with defining a goal: it can be, for example, urgently earning money, finding a dream job, moving to another country, finding a remote job. Having decided where you are heading, you need to understand the job search channels you should use. 

Nowadays, we have access to people from different countries and can offer our expertise almost anywhere. However, the competition has also intensified. While in Russia a job opening on HeadHunter (popular online recruitment platform) may receive some 100 applications per day, the same position on LinkedIn would get 100 000. The competition is global. 

As a recruiter, I have seen very few people who make up a career plan, this is an exception rather than the rule. A lot of actions are done intuitively, and the plan may fail. A successful career pivot is the one when people are able to see opportunities in changes. 

It is easy to change your specialisation within a company where everybody knows your capabilities. I have my own experience of such pivots, which would hardly be possible when moving to a different firm. But if you want to change both your specialisation and the company, then a consultant with a confidential contact with the employer can help: they can convince the latter to consider a candidate without relevant experience. The consultant will be able to ask the right questions, suggest some training, and help set goals. But it is important to find a good expert, not someone who will just tell you how many paragraphs to have in your CV.

Gayane: Changes need to be prioritised. If there is a goal of career pivot, then first of all you need to answer the questions "where to?" and "how?". My choice was between changing the country or industry. I realised that I was not ready to change everything at once: first, I decided to change the country, and then move on.

Working at, I understood that it was time to either grow inside the company or move to another industry. I didn't want to change the industry, so I reasoned the following way: if I stay in the company, then I need many more years to gain experience in order to take on more serious tasks, and if I move to a new employer, then I need an upgrade in the form of education. That's why I decided to go to an MBA program. I consider it as a stepping stone that will allow me to apply for positions similar to my role at in larger companies. So, my pivot is a transition from a small firm to a larger one within the same industry. 

Ruslan: My main rule during any career change was not to mix emotions and logic. I try to answer two questions: what do I like to do and what can I do? The second question can be answered with a preliminary study of my abilities and skills that are valued in the market. We should all understand what resources we have, how we can monetize them, and try to do it in the current environment. 


How to find an idea and build a startup team 

Ruslan: What is the value of having an experience in a startup? It is an institution that connects the interests of active creators and those who have some resources. After you set up a hypothesis and start testing it, you receive a lot of criticism – from both competitors and venture capitalists to whom you present it, as well as your team. 

Team dynamics are very important, and there should be long-term trust between partners. Another challenge is to find a technical director, a CTO. For example, the Y Combinator accelerator does not consider startups that do not have MVP and software written by co-founders. 

Our Wad Labs startup is trying to solve the problem of liquidity management. We all do this every day – either at work, or with your personal finance. I have been working in corporate finance for 25 years without algorithms and software for this task. When you manage a large portfolio, there is always an opportunity to use the human factor. But this method is not available en masse; there are no good technological solutions on the market yet. 

Gayane: I spent this summer at the MIT accelerator delta v. Six teams worked in its New York office on their ideas, mainly in the field of sustainable development and finance. I was in a social media team and worked on user scenarios. And I agree with Ruslan: accelerators give startup founders the opportunity to communicate with a large number of mentors in a very short time and get so much feedback that is almost impossible to get just by yourself. In three months we had several mentor meetings, and in our case, we received about 60 rounds of feedback from each of the CEOs of companies working in the social media sector. 


What should your business school application essay be about

Gayane: I applied to six universities, and in each case the emphasis in the essay had to be based on their specifics. Some were interested in entrepreneurs, others in people who see themselves in C-level positions in the future. Somewhere it was required to talk about past experience, and somewhere – about plans for the future. My first essays were devoted to academic and professional achievements. 

In my essay for MIT, I wrote that I consider my biggest achievement to be hundreds of letters from children with photos of them standing with diplomas in their hands, and in the background they have a huge collection of diplomas and certificates that they have been carefully collecting for several years, and each one has my signature. And I wrote in the essay that if I'm interested in the job myself and able to spark the same curiosity in the user, then I'm doing it right. 


What are the benefits of educational certificates

Ruslan: Before, a good CV, as a rule, helped to get a job, but now it is no longer enough. Employers want to see that a candidate is headed somewhere and understand what their interests are. Certificates of additional education can confirm this: they will not secure a job by themselves, but they will be an additional bonus for at least tech companies. The side projects that you are doing can also be a good sign – they are like precious stones in your CV.

Lyudmila: Certificates of education and other bullets about education in the CV are useful. Any activity that demonstrates that you are doing something useful and getting results is important. It is especially valuable for the CVs of university graduates who do not yet have any job experience. Projects are a good scenario when there is no financial capacity to take expensive courses. Such bullets in the CV will not give you a job, but they will increase the chances.


What should you learn for career development 

Ruslan: My first education was in maths: I graduated from the Moscow State University of Mechanics and Mathematics. Since then, I have had several transitions: classical finance, asset management, consulting, etc. I made a pivot every time, when there was a clear understanding that I was moving into a dead end. 

Before launching a startup, I was planning a career transition into the field of Data Science. I have completed training in modelling, optimization and machine learning at Stanford School of Engineering. But then I realised that this knowledge would not be useful at that moment, at least in those companies that I could reach, and therefore I changed the vector. Subsequently, I received a second certificate in Computer Science at Stanford. It was a very rewarding experience.

In my opinion, the most advantageous strategy is still to learn something new, I have been following it throughout my career. It is clear that you can always improve your skills and thereby achieve a salary increase, but this is not as interesting and valuable as learning something from a completely different field and becoming an interdisciplinary specialist.

Gayane: Sometimes we study rationally, sometimes irrationally. A few years ago, friends asked me to give a speech at their wedding, but I realised that I had no experience in public speaking. So I hired a coach and began to study with her. At the same time, I asked the PR director of to sign me up as a speaker at various conferences and workshops. At some point, I realised that I start each of my speeches with the same topic – the concept of growth and fixed mindset by Stanford professor Carol Dweck.

During an interview at MIT, I talked about my passion for this topic. Imagine my surprise when the very first lecture there began with Dweck’s theory. It turned out that I went to study in an area completely unknown to me and this brought me to the point where I am now. Therefore, I would like to urge everyone to discover these interests in themselves, not to be afraid to start studying at any age and circumstances, because you never know what it will lead you to and why it will be important.