One M.B.A. Struggles to Make a Career Change

A lack of jobs in a particular field or geographic region or simply the poor economy can stymie some b-school graduates attempting to make career changes. These factors have been working against Kathryn Wiyninger since she earned her M.B.A. from the University of Oklahoma’s Michael F. Price College of Business in 2001.

Ms. Wiyninger wasn’t able to change to her desired field of art-museum management or public relations when she finished the degree. Then, after taking a position in business development in the high-tech industry, she was laid off in August.

Now job hunting, she still insists that the M.B.A. was “definitely worth it,” since she’s able to apply for jobs that pay more than double the $25,000 or so she might have earned annually before getting the degree. “It was a wise decision,” she says. “I’ve seen a dramatic difference in the jobs I’m qualified to apply for.”

Originally expecting to make her way as an artist, Ms. Wiyninger earned a fine-arts degree in studio art from Oklahoma State University in 1985. She moved to California, where she began working in retail stores while establishing herself as an artist. As it turned out, Ms. Wiyninger had a gift for retail sales “and the more successful I grew in retail, the further away I got from my art.”

She was recruited to manage stores for several retail chains, such as Esprit and Express, which transferred her around the country. After getting married, she quit to move to Belgium with her husband. The couple had two children and moved back to Oklahoma to be near family.

Ms. Wiyninger wanted to return to work when the children neared school age, but wasn’t sure what she would do. “I wanted it to be something I absolutely loved if I was going to be away from my family,” she says. She thought a job in museum management or public relations would marry her love of art with her sales experience and skills, and she discussed her options with museum executives, who suggested she complete an M.B.A.

But with only two major art museums in Oklahoma City, job hunting wasn’t easy. “I had picked an extremely narrow field that was filled with people with doctorates. I was overqualified for entry-level jobs and didn’t have quite enough education for the jobs I was qualified for,” she says.

Now a single mother, Ms. Wiyninger wanted to stay in Oklahoma despite the lack of job opportunities in her field. A friend who worked at Advancia Corp., a professional technical-services company in Oklahoma City, suggested she apply for a business-development opening at the firm. Customer-service and relationship-building skills were required, and she was hired. “It was challenging, but I was successful at selling technology services, and I learned so much,” she says. But after 13 months, the firm changed its strategy and laid her off.

Now Ms. Wiyninger is considering a wide range of jobs, including openings in Oklahoma state government, where she developed contacts while working at Advancia. “While I’m pursuing the museum idea, I think my true love is meeting people and helping them solve their needs,” she says. “This will translate into a lot of areas. I am very self-motivated, and people with this ethic can be successful. What’s difficult is defining the position I want. I’m more interested in the atmosphere of the company and the people I will work with, and it’s hard to articulate in job interviews.”

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