How I used my online MBA degree to land a six-figure job

BY Sydney LakeApril 07, 2022, 12:26 PM

While there are plenty of reasons to head to business school, salary increases are one of the top motivations to pursue an MBA, according to the Graduate Management Admission Council’s 2021 Prospective Students Survey. And the median starting salary offered to MBA graduates in 2021 was $115,000, according to the findings of mba.com’s 2021 survey, Is Business School Worth It?

But for some people, the salary increase is just a “byproduct” of earning an MBA. Jared Singleton, a former professional football player and financial services professional, decided to earn an MBA degree to take his career to the “next level” and pursue his goal of creating impact. 

Singleton enrolled in the University of North Carolina–Chapel Hill (Kenan-Flagler)’s online MBA program in 2019 with the idea of switching careers to the consulting industry, but discovered a different interest along the way—environmental services. It was a “COVID-proof” career path, as he puts it, since so many industries (aside from environmental services) had suffered due to the pandemic. 

After completing his MBA in 2021, Singleton landed his current, six-figure salary role at Republic Services, where he’s in the general manager accelerated program. During this two-year program, he spends time in rotations in sales, maintenance, operations, human resources, and other functions. At the end of the program, he’ll be placed as a general manager and lead a team. According to Glassdoor, the average general manager salary for waste management company Republic Services is $157,285. The former AFL and NFL player also serves as a college football commentator for the Southern Conference Game of the Week on ESPN+.

“When you focus on impacting other people, all the other things will take care of themselves,” Singleton tells Fortune. “All the things: salary, job opportunities, promotions, titles—those things will take care of themselves.”

Fortune sat down with Singleton to learn more about how he leveraged his online MBA from UNC Kenan-Flager, which Fortune ranks as having the No. 1 program in the U.S., to land his current job and what his return on investment has been thus far. 

The following interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

An MBA can ‘really take your career to the next level’

Fortune: Why did you decide to get your MBA in the first place?

Singleton: I played college football at Wofford College, and then had an opportunity to play in the AFL and, really briefly, in the NFL before I had to really start my professional career. I love working with people, so I started out working in the banking sector, then transitioned to corporate finance, and that’s when I saw that you really need to get your MBA to really take your career to the next level. 

Why UNC specifically? What were you looking for in a program?

A lot of their core values align with my core values as a professional and in my personal life. Two of those main core values that stood out to me were inclusion as well as impact. I think teams work best when they have points of views from different people, different backgrounds, different experiences. Teams can flourish with inclusion. 

Despite what your background may be, we all have an end goal of creating impact—impact for the communities in which we operate and also, obviously, impacting our personal life. That was really important to me, and the fact that it was also important to Kenan-Flagler really attracted me to them.

Were you looking for a career change or seeking a higher salary when you went back for your MBA?

Going back to why Kenan-Flagler—I’ve always wanted to create impact. I’ve always wanted to lead teams and help make a difference.

With that being said, I noticed that in order to get to certain levels, to have that kind of direct impact, you have to get your MBA. I had progressed through my career early on and had a lot of success, but I still fell short compared to my peers that I was competing against for certain jobs. I realized that one of the biggest differences between myself and those people I was competing against was that they had their MBA. I made the investment to continue to work full-time, but also find time in the evenings through this online program to allow me to go get my MBA. 

Coming into the program, I knew I wanted to transition again to that next step in my career. And that was one of the questions that I asked some of the admissions and counselors with UNC: What does the career process look like? What does that timetable look like? What are your relationships with top companies around the world that can provide a platform for students to be recruited and to get the exposure that they’re looking for? 

UNC provided all of those things and more through career coaches, the academic advisers. Even the professors provided amazing feedback on how to navigate and take those next steps in your career and the relationships that they have already with various Fortune 500 companies, various sectors across the business world really made the whole process worth the journey.

Making the most of opportunities in an online MBA program

Did you feel like you got just as much out of an online program as you would have with a full-time, in-person program?

We’re able to meet in all parts of the world and we’re able to even log into and see the classroom live online. It really has closed the gap. The quality of the education is very parallel, and you’re not missing out on a lot of opportunities just because you’re doing it from a technology platform.

A lot of jobs that were onsite are now being shifted to a remote platform because the quality of work is still as if people were doing it in the office. I think the same will translate in the education sector for MBAs whether you’re doing it online or whether you’re doing it in the classroom setting the quality is still there, especially at a place like Kenan-Flagler.

At what point during your MBA journey did you discover your new career passion?

It was about halfway through when I made a shift. Initially, I came into the program wanting to go into the consulting sector, and as attractive as that was, I found other sectors such as the environmental services industry, which I’m currently in. I found those to be quite interesting. That’s where the experience of our career coaches, experience of the academic advisers, and professors really provided me the right feedback and insight on how to navigate that and provided countless opportunities for exposure. 

Why did you take interest in the environmental services industry?

It was the COVID-19 pandemic. A lot of industries were drastically affected by the pandemic and still are trying to recover. One of those sectors that remained relatively strong was the environmental services industry because whether there’s a pandemic or not, people, businesses still manufacture trash and still manufacture waste, and someone has to do something about that. Trying to find a career that was COVID-proof after the MBA was definitely something that made me shift my thinking as far as what I wanted to do post-program.

Post-MBA salary is ‘byproduct of the ultimate goal’

How did an online MBA help you land your six-figure job?

The data is the data. Most people can research what MBA graduates can expect. As far as when it comes to the actual salary—I think the salary part is the byproduct of the ultimate goal. I think that comes with the territory. When my peers and I talked about why are you getting your MBA, very few said anything about ‘because I want to make more money.’ Most people wanted to be the boss that they didn’t have. 

They wanted to be the leader that they never have experienced before—so they can make someone else’s life more impactful, so they can actually have the autonomy, see the change that they’re looking for whether it’s in their communities or whether it’s in the business themselves.

What was the job hunt like for you?

The university does a great job with providing access to career fairs, companies, information sessions, and giving daily updates through their career services platform where you can see down to the hour the latest job, who the recruiter may be, how to reach out to the recruiter, how to prepare for the interviews, and how to prepare for the career fairs. 

They also do a great job with the career coaches, with prepping you and getting your resume correct, making sure that you have done your research on your end to be fully confident going into career fairs and info sessions and interviews to perform at the highest level. 

At the end of the day, the coaches can only coach so much, and it’s up to the students who have to deliver when they get those opportunities. And I felt very prepared through my various classes and through various coaching sessions.

How to become an ‘authentic leader’

What do you think your return on your investment has been thus far?

Whether it’s salary, whether it’s title, whether it’s promotion, I believe those things are byproducts of the ultimate goal, which is how do we impact people on a day-to-day basis. That was my focus getting my MBA because I’ve had good managers and I’ve had managers that I didn’t like. 

I’ve always wanted to be in a position where I can lead a team and be that manager that understands their people and understands the communities that they operate within. To me, that’s the return: when you have team members who feel a sense of purpose, when you have a team that is motivated, when you have a team that can bring their best selves to work because they feel that they’re working in an environment that’s inclusive, and they’re working in an environment where people actually care about them and that they feel appreciated and valued.

What advice would you give to future MBA students?

Understand what type of leader you are, what’s your vision, and understand how your vision can make a difference to other people. How can you serve other people through your vision? When you focus on impacting other people, all the other things will take care of themselves: salary, job opportunities, promotions, titles.

As an MBA student, they’re going to take the same statistics courses and things like that. But how can you become an authentic leader? I think you become an authentic leader through self-reflection, through understanding who you are as a person and being able to adapt to various personalities. You need to focus on those skill sets while you’re still in the program in order to be an effective leader down the road.

See how the schools you’re considering landed in Fortune’s rankings of the best business analytics programsdata science programs, and part-timeexecutive, full-time, and online MBA programs.