Should you add a specialization to your online MBA? Doing so can be a smart career move.

“Adding a specialization to your MBA is an opportunity to dive deeper into a specific area and become a subject matter expert,” says DeNeatria Robinson, associate director, Career Development for Online Programs at Purdue University. “It's a signal to your organization or a potential employer that you excel specifically in this area and have advanced knowledge and skills.”

If your decision to earn an online MBA is made and now you’re considering a specialization, keep reading. This guide explains how to choose the right specialization for your online MBA.

1. Evaluate Your Interests, Experience and Strengths

Take an inventory of the following: Where do your natural skills and abilities lie? Maybe you’re passionate about change management, or you love to work with data. Which specialization do you naturally gravitate toward?

As part of this process, Robinson and her team help students perform a SWOT analysis.

“SWOT stands for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats,” says Robinson, “and anyone can do one of these. By plotting out this information in quadrants, sometimes students can eliminate one or two specializations and find themselves drawn to another.”

Robinson also likes to use the “where do you see yourself in five years?” query to help students pick an MBA specialization.

“Find what excites and engages you. Determine where you want to be in five years,” she says. “Then ask yourself, which specialization best prepares you to get there?”

2. Examine Your Career Goals

What are your hopes and goals for your career? Do you need additional education to achieve those goals? Are you looking to advance in your current field, or do you want to try something new and change careers altogether?

Consider reviewing LinkedIn job descriptions and reaching out to people in the roles you want. Craft a brief, thoughtful message that describes your mission, and ask them for a 15-minute video call so you can ask about their career goals and how they got to where they are.

Christian Coakley, a Purdue Online MBA graduate, had been working as an engineer for seven years when he decided to switch careers. “I realized that I wanted to learn more about businesses — how they run, how the finances work, how to manage people,” says Coakley. “So I decided to go back to school.”

He enrolled in the online MBA program at Purdue University, and a year into his education, he made the successful transition from engineering to business.

“After I started the MBA program, my eyes started opening up more to the business operations of our company,” says Coakley. “The opportunity to apply for a senior analyst position popped up one day, and I decided to take a chance on it.” The fact that he was in the process of earning his MBA showed his employer he was serious about making the switch.

3. Research Industry Trends and Future Market Demand

There are numerous resources to help you determine what the future might look like in a particular industry or role. Three top ones include:

1. The Occupational Outlook Handbook (OOH)

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) publishes the OOH, arguably the leading career resource about the job market. The OOH provides in-depth information on hundreds of jobs, including salary information, job growth projections, number of jobs and the education and training needed to enter the field.

2. O*NET OnLine

O*NET OnLine is a database from the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) and there, you’ll find data similar to what the BLS shares for hundreds of occupations — job duties, needed education and training, market demand, etc. The site also has assessment tools to help guide you toward suitable careers for your interests and skills.

3. CareerOneStop

Another resource from the DOL, CareerOneStop is a comprehensive site dedicated to career exploration. You can find training and employment opportunities, get help with your resume and interviewing skills and compare salaries by geographical area.

“Use these sites to research job market trends and consider the industry’s future related to your specialization,” Robinson says. “Choosing a high-demand specialization in a growing field could increase your job prospects.”

In addition, Purdue University offers a career resources center with ample tools to help you research careers.

Earn an Online MBA With Purdue University

The best advice may be, according to Robinson, to follow your gut.

“When deciding which specialization to pursue, think seriously about the impact you want to make,” Robinson says. “And go with what you feel is best, not what everyone else is telling you is best.”

Learn what you can do with each of the Purdue Online MBA specializations:

Reach out today to learn more about the Purdue Online MBA program and how it can help you reach your career goals.