Working in the non-profit sector with an MBA? Why not!

In May of 2015, I graduated from Yale School of Management, armed with what I hoped would be the skills, expertise, and experience necessary to positively contribute to growing efforts to change the state of US public education. After two years of struggling with my choice to return to the non-profit sector, I accepted a job at the Achievement Network (ANet), a nonprofit dedicated to the idea that every child deserves an excellent education and the opportunities it provides. Now, over four years later, I still work at ANet, and I love the work that I do and the team of incredibly smart people that I do it with.

In February of 2015, I contributed some reflections on my post-MBA career decisions to an online conversation hosted by the Skoll Foundation. I shared all the reasons why I was confident that my choice to take a job at an education non-profit was a better one for me than pursuing opportunities in sectors like consulting, technology, and finance. Although I’m still confident my choice was the right one, I do sometimes find myself wondering what would have been different if I’d chosen another path.

Why I’m glad I made the choice I did (and what I still wonder about).

In my first year at Yale, I briefly entertained the idea of working at Amazon when they hosted an impressive recruitment event on campus, during which they described a fun, fast-paced experience that would only be available to the best and the brightest graduates. This all feels foreign to me now, an idea long in the past now that I’m out of business school and doing what I care about. Instead of leading operations at an Amazon warehouse, I’m leading efforts to ensure school leaders and teachers have what they need to provide the highest quality education to all students. At ANet, our board members push us to increase impact instead of profitability. And although much of what I’ve learned related to accounting, investment management, and corporate finance has been largely forgotten, I do find myself applying what I learned about customer segmentation, marketing, leadership, and other skills I developed while at Yale. And I do this with a team of people who feel equally urgent about the work that needs to be done to ensure that every child in this country sits in a classroom where excellence is the norm.

For all the reasons I’m glad I made the choice I did, I do still wonder about the opportunities I might have missed. Outside of business school, I’ve spent every year since graduating college in an elementary school or non-profit, which makes sense given my passion and commitment to education reform in the US. That said, I do think working in a new industry would have strengthened and diversified my repertoire of skills, honed my problem-solving abilities, and fostered innovation and intellectual curiosity in me in a different way than returning to the non-profit education sector has. Of course, the window to do this is not closed, but I do think the window is the most open when you graduate from business school.

What I wish I knew in 2015

As I think back on who I was in 2015 and what I’ve learned over the last several years, I think the most important thing I’d tell my MBA self is this – It doesn’t matter if you work at a non-profit, at a private education company, in a school, at a local government agency, at a Fortune 500, or anywhere else. What matters most of all (and what no one said nearly enough) is that the job you choose should give you the opportunity to do what you love, contribute positively to the causes you care about, and learn and challenge yourself along the way. This choice may lead you down a different path than 99.9% of your classmates, who will look puzzled when you tell them what you’re doing next, and that’s okay.