Ayan Halder, currently an MBA student at the Simon Business School (Rochester University) walks us through his experience.
I’m from Kolkata, West Bengal where I lived until I moved to Bangalore for my undergrad. College was a wonderful experience for me. It was the first time I tried my hands with skits and plays, participated in hackathons and robotics competitions.
Upon graduation, I joined Tata Consultancy Services as a software developer in Mumbai. My manager was supportive enough of each team member’s progress – Within a year and a half, I was leading a huge team of developers and addressing customer pain points across more than 100 countries. As a team, we were handling over 300 customer issues in a single day during peak seasons.
However, this also gave me the opportunity to connect directly with the clients and understand their business. I leveraged this exposure and my customer-facing experience to zero-in on my next career goal – product management.
But shifting from coding to product management is tough, especially if you’re targeting famous B2C or B2B companies. I needed to have both managerial understanding and an end-to-end product experience. That’s when MBA popped up in my mind for the very first time.
The application process wasn’t easy. There were just too many uncertainties – country, universities, the format (a one-year vs a two-year one), finances, weather, job prospects etc. I wish I knew business modeling then as I know now! I explored quite a bit before deciding on the United States. It wasn’t an easy decision especially when immigration was a huge issue (and it still is).
Thankfully, MBA Crystal Ball’s website had just too many MBA success stories to draw inspirations from. When you read through the success-after-struggle stories of so many people, you start believing in yourself.
I applied to five schools and received admits from three with substantial scholarships.
Simon Business School really stood out because of its data-driven curriculum that I felt would be essential as a product manager. The school is small which makes it easy to increase visibility and you get the opportunity to take on leadership roles that shapes you 360 degrees. I met the admissions team during the MBA Tour in India and submitted my application the following day. I heard back in a couple of weeks for an interview, and fast forward two more weeks, I had the admit.
It was a long journey from deciding for an MBA to getting an offer from a US Top 40 program.
After an admit and deciding to pursue product management, I took up an internship with an impact investing startup in the Bay Area in April. Since I had quit my job, this was an effective way for me to keep my profile updated and to gain further exposure to the world of product management. I worked remotely for three months and helped them launch their fintech platform.
Simon’s online coursework had started at the same time (three months before I set foot in the States). Those initial three months, known as the “Day One” program is dedicated to making students job-ready. From polishing resumes to crafting STAR stories and connecting with current students to decide on a career path and continuing thereon, those three months gave a very strong glimpse of what was ahead of me. By the time we started our first quarter (Simon works in quarters instead of semesters), a sizable portion of our class had internships with companies such as Amazon, Intel, and Google.
I finally landed in the US in July for my first quarter and slowly got to know my classmates. Everyone had amazing credentials – from someone who had his own crop analytics company to someone who traveled over 20 countries and someone who worked at Indian Premier League, everyone had already excelled in their field before joining the program. I had colleagues joining from over 20 countries.
The curriculum at Simon is very team-oriented. We were assigned to a team of five, with almost everyone from a different nationality and with a unique background. My first team had people from academics, healthcare, technology, and finance. The coursework is extremely flexible. The first year has core classes with three electives, but the second year is entirely comprised of electives and each student can choose the courses that match their career interests.
Moreover, there are ample extra-curricular opportunities. I could join a consulting team to work with a real company as a management consultant and provide a solution to an issue they’re facing in real life or a school-backed venture fund, research on startups, pitch them to the board and help them secure funding. I took up a project as a consultant, helping a company to correctly price their product and suggesting the best channel for them to introduce their product in the market. Too many clubs, too little time – prioritization is the key in an MBA program.
Simon also has an excellent alumni base across the world. You can connect with them and seek help with internships, course selections, and learn more about their industry. Simon also has a mentoring program where each student is matched with an alumnus of their preferred industry and he/she helps in every feasible way to make sure the student is industry ready. From practicing mock cases to sharing internship leads, they make sure that you succeed in your endeavors.
Besides, there are Student Career Advisors who are basically second-year students mentoring the first-years with creating STAR stories, helping with practicing cases and providing industry insights. This eases out the job search a lot.
I recently visited San Francisco as a part of our Annual Tech Trek and I met with an alumnus who’s also an entrepreneur. Upon expressing my interest in his company and my affinity towards product management, he offered me a project where I get to be a product manager. I’m still working with him and this has contributed extensively to my learning.
Job hunting for international students isn’t easy in the US, especially with all the issues going on with immigration. Yet, the career management center does an excellent job of bringing companies to campus. Most of the companies visiting the campus are Fortune 500 and as of mid-May, almost everyone in the class has internships with companies such as Facebook, Whirlpool, Citi, Credit Suisse, Google, and Tesla to name a few.
The technology enthusiasts are going to the West Coast while the Finance guys to the New York City. Others are moving to different parts of the country for internships in Healthcare, Logistics, CPG etc. I would be moving to California for my internship in the product management role right after the quarter closes.
Although Simon is known for its Finance program, Pricing is an equally lucrative option with companies such as Parker Hannifin, FedEx, Volvo, and Nissan recruiting on campus.
I’m in the program for almost eight months now and I have worked with three different companies in three separate roles, became the Vice President of a club, won a case competition, and working with the school’s leadership on planning activities that’ll further enhance the experience of incoming MBA class.
From my experience, networking is very important – be it within the school or outside. It is important to understand that industry professionals (alumni or otherwise) are busy and to do your homework before reaching out. People respond when they see the value.
Also, stick to what you came here for. It’s okay to keep backup plans, especially when you see plethora of career opportunities once you reach on campus, but make sure to evaluate the options early and go full-force for your dream role. I got mine, I hope you do too!
– Ayan Halder
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