Accepted.com is continuing a blog series featuring interviews with current MBA students, offering readers a behind-the-scenes look at selected MBA programs. We hope to offer you a candid picture of student life, and what you should consider as you prepare your MBA application.
Here’s a talk with a student who came to the University of Virginia/Darden from South Asia with a background in electrical engineering and IT, transitioning into a consulting career.
I had to wake up pretty early to call you. Where are you right now?
I’m on my lunch break here in London. Right now I’m completing my internship at a British telecom, in internal consulting. We’re looking at the kinds of problems that a company faces and determining what kind of solutions should be brought in to resolve them.
Well, I’m going to brush aside British civility and ask you the hard question first. The brand question. That’s what a lot of students, especially from overseas, are worried about these days when it comes to an MBA. How can you justify the money and time investment in a Darden MBA, which compared to some schools might not have top name recognition worldwide?
You’re right. Darden doesn’t have the cache of a HBS or Wharton degree, and the school is well aware of this. Officials are making greater efforts to understanding the ranking system, to travel internationally and to communicate the value of the education for the money. It’s paying off – Darden cracked the top ten for the first time in the most recent Forbes ranking.
So what does this mean for me though? Just like anybody else I’ve got to get my name out there. I’m the first intern from Darden at this company – so the pressure’s on to make a good impression – for my future and for the school. But you know what, yes, the brand can do a lot of things for you, but the brand is also what you make of it. Go to a school that fits you. MBA’s cost a lot of money and time – and if you don’t find a good fit, it’s not worth it.
So was Darden a good fit for you?
Absolutely. First, I knew that I wanted to get to know my classmates really well. From prior experience I know that when people attend a school in big cities like New York or London they’ve often got pre-existing networks. Charlottesville is a laid back community, and with a small class size – average around 310 – we got to bond really quickly.
Second, I really liked Darden’s case study method. The school is best known for its general management curriculum, so in the first year you’re set up really well with the fundamentals. Then with the case studies you’re given a problem set of data, and you have to do the best you can with that set of data. It’s great preparation for my planned career transition into consulting.
Tell me more about this career transition.
I graduated with a degree in electrical engineering, and got my first job in IT at a bank. I got bored pretty quickly, so I left and spent the next five years at a big telecom in Toronto. I started out as a business analyst and moved into a strategy role. But I started to feel like I was getting to pigeonholed into technology and I wanted to expose myself to other aspects of business. Consulting sounding exciting — a career where I can tap into my past skill set and build new strengths.
What are other popular specialties at Darden?
I know a lot of people going into finance, corporate and investment banking, and asset management. If you look at the employment report, going into finance is a pretty consistent trend.
How about after graduation – if you don’t want to settle in Virginia, what are your options?
For consulting, I will have absolutely no problem getting traction for a position in a big city – that’s the lifestyle I had before now and where I’d eventually like to settle. The top three or four consulting firms hire here.
But it also depends on what you’re trying to get into. I had a friend who wanted to get hired by a niche investment management firm – not a traditional big name. He had to put in a really big effort. He spent a lot of his own money going up to New York, introducing himself – showing he was more than a name on a resume. He got the job. But for other big firms, you wouldn’t have to spend anything. They will fly you up to audition.
How did you lock down your internship?
It was pretty straight-forward. British Telecom came on campus – it’s their first year recruiting here. I found the job posting through career services. They invited five or six people back for interviews, and I was the one they asked to come on over.
Moving over to academics, who would you rate as your best professors?
Michael Ho, hands down. He teaches a course in valuation. One of the dangers with case method is that it can have professors who are not used to teaching, or can teach the wrong way. He’s a professor who will step in and tell students that they’re not going down the right path, and will help you correct course.
What was one of your toughest times?
If you speak to a lot of students, there’s a period of time called Black November. You’ve preparing for tests on three tough courses, and that’s when you have all the recruiting wrapping up. There was just one day when I had like, three classes and three cases, and I needed to prep for my interviews. I had a moment there when I wasn’t sure I could do it, but everyone has one of those days, at Darden I guarantee you will.
To wrap up, what are the best things about Darden?
It’s a great school where, because of its size, the professors and students socialize together all the time. With that much contact – you really become friends – and they can reach out and become great advocates for you on the job hunt.
Interview conducted by Michelle Stockman, who worked in the Columbia Business School admissions office, has a Masters in Journalism from Columbia, and has assisted Accepted.com clients applying to top business schools since 2007. She is happy to help you with your application.