The Kellogg MBA experience can leave you shaken and stirred!
Yajur Taxali shares his experiences as a Kellogg MBA student, what to expect in class (and outside), the recruitment process, the OPT / H1B ordeal and much more. Read on to find out what it means to be an international student in a top MBA program in USA.
Kellogg MBA: Life as an international student
by Yajur Taxali
The first quarter at business school can seem like a whirlwind as you are trying to balance academics, student club activities, recruitment events and a crazy (and fun) social life, all while getting oriented with a new country and environment.
Because of my time with IAESTE (an international student exchange organization) during my undergrad and my international internships and travels, I did not have much difficulty in adapting and assimilating to college life in the US.
However, I had to learn how to prioritize – while there are a 100 cool opportunities and events at business school you want to be a part of, you can do justice to them and to yourself by picking a select few and being dedicated.
As time passed and I got over FOMO (fear of missing out), my MBA experience got better.
I spent a considerable amount of my first quarter learning about different industries – as diverse as travel to consulting to consumer goods to industrial manufacturing to technology.
I attended information sessions almost every day- I really enjoyed this discovery phase which helped me identify which internship opportunities I was going to work towards. I also attended the design and innovation trek to San Francisco in my winter break.
Kellogg was a potpourri of the most interesting people from more than 50 nationalities – my section mates included an internationally acclaimed marksman, the manager of a music band, member of a UN task force, associate from IMF, ex US marines and some heirs of multibillion-dollar businesses.
More than 40% of Kellogg’s class was international and that enriched my experience unlike anything else.
I thoroughly enjoyed the academic experience at Kellogg. It was markedly different from my experience as an undergraduate student in India.
The professors at business school tried their best to make the class engaging. They had office hours multiple times a week and were always eager to help and mentor.
Assignments and exams involved critical thinking and application of concepts instead of rote learning or your mathematical prowess.
Students were highly motivated and engaged – because they had made the choice to forego 2 years of earnings to be in that classroom.
Another aspect that I really enjoyed was the variety of subjects to pick from.
- Worked on the business plan for a community-supported art studio in my art entrepreneurship class (NUvention Arts).
- Learnt about Latin American history, culture and nation branding through a class on Global Initiatives in Management (GIM).
- Got acquainted with design thinking in the Design and Innovation trek to San Francisco.
- Advised the dean and school administration on the future of gig economy through Dean’s Consulting Alliance.
- Learned the intricacies of successful and engaging advertising through ADPlan tool in advertising strategy.
- Discovered the challenges of scaling family enterprises in the family business class.
- Practiced multi-party and multi-issue negotiating in the class on negotiations.
- Gained some very practical tips on how to outsmart competitors in business in the class on game theory.
I had always been interested in learning about the economy and business landscape in Africa and got an opportunity to do so while on an exchange quarter at the Graduate School of Business at the University of Cape Town.
Not only did I get to explore the incredibly beautiful country of South Africa, I also got to skip the winter in Chiberia – a double whammy!
In addition to the numerous learning sessions with leaders from different industries, Kellogg offered an extremely vibrant student social life. I dove into it as I led the wilderness club- and organized camping trips with my classmates.
I worked as a sound engineer on Special K – Kellogg’s annual theatrical production, danced during the Bollywood Bash, played Taiko drums at Japan night, dressed as an emperor during Asian carnival.
I also got to travel to some incredible locations with my classmates over breaks- Peru, Morocco, Argentina, Canada, Uruguay, Italy, Columbia, Mexico and a host of beautiful places in the US.
Another special thing about Kellogg is how committed students are to help and learn from each other – from sharing their knowledge, networks, cultures, cuisines – opening their homes to host dinners and discussions.
When I was in the internship recruitment cycle, a 2nd year missed classes so she could counsel me on some urgent recruitment decisions.
Another prime example of this generous spirit was Daybreak – an extremely witty and informative DAILY newsletter for the Kellogg community.
The fact that an editorial team comprising of students would spend hours putting it together every day – to support and entertain their classmates – spoke volumes of their commitment to enhancing overall student experience.
How to make the most of your MBA Experience
I feel balancing your intent (knowing what you want to get out of the MBA) while also constantly putting yourself out of your comfort zone (through getting to know a classmate completely different from you, trying a challenging course in an area you don’t know much of (for me it was data analytics and finance), being open to different professional opportunities) is the key to getting the most out of an MBA experience.
I joined the MBA with a keen interest in marketing and wanting to recruit as a brand manager role. But after learning more about the details of the opportunities, I realized that general management / consulting roles would be a better fit for me and ended up recruiting for those.
Internship and Job Recruitment at Kellogg
Industry representatives are not allowed to interact with first year students for the first month to give students enough time to settle in and catch up with the pace of things.
In the second half of the first quarter, company representatives come and talk about the opportunities being offered.
Networking nights and coffee chats happen in this time as well. Resume submission for the resume book is due by the end of the first quarter – this book is purchased by the recruiters.
Based on the resumes as well as the employee interactions through events and coffee chats in the first quarter, employers come up with the ‘closed list’ of invitees who are invited for an interview.
Every student also gets a certain number of bidding points to bid on interview spots for companies for which they did not receive an invite.
For example, I wanted to interview with McKinsey but did not get an invite, so I bid points on a certain number of open interview slots for McKinsey, and got to interview, as my bid qualified.
Interviews start in the beginning of the second quarter and go on for most of the quarter with different companies coming in at different times.
First rounds happen on the campus and comprise two 30-minute interviews for consulting, and a one-hour interview for GM (general management) roles.
Most second round interviews are held at the company headquarters.
Results are usually communicated by the next day for first round interviews and within a week after the second round (final) interviews.
There is no restriction on the number of interviews or offers, but once a candidate accepts an offer, they are bound by the rules of the career center to not interview for any more positions.
The CDC (Career development center) played a key role in helping students build resumes and prepare for interviews through seminars, one-on-one coaching/practice, connections to alumni as well providing access to a variety of resources for research on employers and industries.
Every student was also assigned a career coach who acted like a mentor and advisor for the two years of MBA andwas available to meet anytime the student requested for it.
Additionally, second years were the best resources and guides. The collaborative nature of Kellogg really shone in the way the 2nd years invested their time end expertise to prepare first years.
For students who are looking to recruit off campus (start-ups, niche industries), it is a more self-driven process which starts with reaching out to employers through alums, CDC or LinkedIn or networking events, and trying to get interviews.
This process can last months as most of these companies finalize their recruitment just before summer – hence going through off campus recruiting requires more discipline and patience but proves worthwhile – it did for several of my classmates who got offers in PE, technology and clean energy start-ups.
Having researched about the company through coffee chats with alums and other employees really helped me during the interviews. It enabled me to ask relevant and intelligent questions/have discussion about the industry with the interviewer.
I found that being at ease and connecting with my interviewer(s) went a long way – listening carefully to answer the question that is asked is more important than trying to convey your smarts/achievements.
During these interviews, I was asked about my career transitions, my decision to pursue an MBA in the US, my leadership experiences and my learnings from my different roles.
Effectively conveying my operational experience (focus on execution) was the key to success in GM roles.
Most of my classmates were satisfied with the overall recruitment experience. A lot of students tend to get dejected after the first few rejections (everyone gets one at least – after all you’re competing with some of the brightest candidates in the world), but recruitment is more like a marathon.
Every unsuccessful interview teaches you a thing or many about how you can do better in the next one.
Full time recruiting happens in the fall quarter as soon as you are back from the summer internship/break.
I decided to go back to my internship employer for the full-time role as I enjoyed the experience, the people I worked with and the quality of my work/projects.
Several of my classmates ended up re-recruiting in second year for different industries and companies.
OPT and H1B
Only a select few employers sponsor H1B visas and that list is clearly communicated to the candidates before they apply for jobs/internships.
My employer applied for H1B during my second year of MBA (2018) but it was rejected. I applied for my 1-year OPT soon after (April 2018) and received it in June (Kellogg MBA now provides a 3-year STEM OPT to international students).
I had requested my employer for a September joining (so I could spend time with family in India and travel a bit before getting back to the professional grind).
I was advised by the school and the lawyer to not travel internationally before receiving my OPT confirmation. I received mine in the mail by mid-June, about a month after graduation.
My employer applied for the H1B again in March 2019. I received a RFI (Request for Information) in September and finally the H1B was granted in October 2019.
Over the last couple of years, H1B process has become more stringent with a lot of candidates getting RFIs.
Patience and working closely with your employer and lawyer and staying on top of the process by following up with the different stakeholders, helped me successfully get through this long process.
Internship and Life after MBA
I interned with Nobel Biocare (previously under the umbrella of Danaher corporation, now Envista corporation) in the summer of 2017 in the marketing department – where I helped support a new product launch by liaising with the global and local teams and ensuring marketing material readiness.
I joined Envista for a full-time role in their General Management Rotational program, which is designed to train candidates to build their way up and lead the company, by working in different roles in various departments/functions.
I started my first role/rotation is as a Practice Growth and Communications manager in September 2018 and transitioned to my second rotation as a Product marketing manager last year.
My current role encompasses several projects – managing our relationship with partners, marketing and increasing adoption of practice growth tools, internal and external communication, formulating and tracking offers and promotions for the sales team, and supporting new product launches.
Life after Kellogg MBA
Building a new life post MBA-getting to learn in a new country, industry and function – has been exciting.
MBA trained me well in time management and taught me how to look at the bigger picture before making business decisions – to see how different functions need to work together to contribute to growth.
I have liked the work culture in the US so far – due recognition is given for good work; managers respect my time and I feel I am driving my career.
One difference from India is probably the social aspect of work – in India, it is common for colleagues to become close friends, whereas in my experience, people in the US prefer to keep their professional and personal circles separate.
I have thoroughly enjoyed my time in Southern California over the last year and a half – have picked up tennis and volleyball.
The perennially sun kissed days and the ocean vistas make living here (and driving on the Pacific Coast Highway) a delight.
If you’d like Yajur to help you with your Kellogg MBA applications, drop us an email: info [at] mbacrystalball [dot] com