Cornell MBA Student IV: Career Change, China, and Campus Culture

By - Dec 6, 10:02 AM Comments [0]

Johnson (JGSM) 2-Year MBA (2MBA) Class of 2015 students.In this interview, Cornell Johnson student, Sam Griffiths, tells us about the Johnson culture, his likes and dislikes about the program, and a number of important tips for applicants and incoming students. Thank you Sam for sharing your story with us!

This interview is the latest in an blog series featuring interviews with current MBA students, offering readers a behind-the-scenes look at top MBA programs. We hope to offer you a candid picture of student life, and what you should consider as you prepare your MBA application.

Accepted: We'd like to get to know you! Can you tell us where you're from, where and what you studied as an undergrad, what other degrees do you hold, and some highlights from your work experience?

Sam: Before I went to Cornell for my MBA, I went to BYU and got a Masters and a Bachelors degree in Information Systems. It’s also a great school. I worked at an investing firm for my internship during my last summer at BYU and due to the economic downturn, our fulltime offers were revoked at the end of the school year when I graduated. Since the economy was down and no one was hiring, I went to China for a year and taught English in a high school. I figured it would give me something on my resume and would be a great experience. It was everything I hoped it would be. I learned a lot about myself, my students, Chinese culture, and further developed a passion for understanding different people and cultures.

When I came back the economy had picked up, I got a few job offers and went to work for a healthcare consulting firm in Portland Oregon. There were a couple things that stood out to me about my work at that company. The first was my first evaluation, which went terribly. I knew there were a couple things my boss didn’t approve of, but knew that the software we worked on took a long time to ramp up on, and thought that it was still normal. It turns out it wasn’t. When I found out I got bad reviews on my evaluation I was really surprised and learned a lot about communication. I started talking with my boss about what he expected and made as many changes as I could, as quickly as possible. For the next several evaluations I was marked really well. Most of this was due to the realization that my boss’ idea of what a ‘good job’ was, was the only one that really mattered when it came to my progress in the company.

Even though I was in a consulting firm, I was hired for my business/tech skills and spent most of my time adjusting business software. I enjoyed it, but wanted to spend more time with people. I learned their software really well, but wasn’t using a lot of my natural skills. One afternoon I was lucky enough to end up at lunch with someone who had gone to Johnson. He talked a lot about what an MBA could do for someone, and several months later I decided to apply and see if an MBA could unlock a different career path for me. I came to Johnson looking to switch into general management/marketing and am excited about the options for work coming out of Johnson.

Accepted: I see on LinkedIn that you also spent some time as a locksmith. Can you talk some more about how your varied jobs led you to pursue a business degree?

Sam: A good portion of people at Johnson have known they wanted an MBA for a long time. For me, it was just the next step as I’ve learned more about the world and what I want out of it. This also explains why my resume looks like it’s all over the place. Even though I hit a lot of different job types, all of my work experience (including my missionary service), has common values, and has helped me recognize those values that are important to me in my work. It took me several years to acknowledge them. They are the desire to learn, explore, and create a bigger and more positive impact on others through my work. An MBA gives me a chance to expand each of those.

Accepted: How would you characterize your fit with “Johnson”?

Sam: I think I’m a good fit for the Johnson culture. We’re all pretty different, since Johnson works hard to pull a lot of diversity into each class, but Johnson loves people with a great story and diverse experience. One of my classmates came out of writing public policy, another was a mechanical engineer in Brazil, and another was a concert violinist. We all come from a lot of different places and cultures. But the fit doesn’t come from that. It comes from how we mesh with what’s important to the school, which is also what makes our school unique. The Johnson school is a great place for people who like a small class size, like to know their class mates by name, and believe in teamwork.

Accepted: What is your most and least favorite thing about Johnson

Sam: Oddly enough, I think they’re the same. It’s the drinking of the fire hose of knowledge during your first semester. There’s so much to learn and so many things going on that it’s impossible to be a part of everything. There’s always an amazing speaker, or a club meeting, or a big assignment, or a recruiter on campus, and you have to learn how to prioritize what’s important and make sure you use your time wisely. I hate that I have to miss out on so many things, because there isn’t time for all of it, but I love being in a place with so many options and opportunities.

Accepted: Is there anything you wish you had known before starting school this fall?

Sam: I wish I had started the habit of reading about industry trends and cut things out of my life that weren’t necessary before school started. Knowing a lot about the industry you want to go into goes far with recruiters. It also helps you feel get to know your target industry better, making it easier to find out if it’s a good fit for you. Also again, time is precious. Going strong the first semester ensures that you can play later and that you won’t have any regrets.

Accepted: Are you involved in any clubs on campus? How central to student life is club involvement?

Sam: Clubs are a huge part of student life at Johnson. I’d say all clubs fall into two main categories: professional and leisure. The professional clubs are a huge help if there’s one for the career you’re targeting, like Old Ezra (the finance club), the Marketing association, or the consulting club. They help students prepare for recruiting and internships and are a great doorway to understanding your target industry better. The leisure clubs give you a chance to decompress with classmates over a shared interest, which is a lot of fun and is really important if you want to get the most out of your experience. I’m currently a member of a few clubs. A lot of people join several. I’m in the Marketing Association, the General Management Club, the running club, and we’re looking at joining the bowling club. (I’m terrible at bowling, but hear it’s pretty popular and a lot of fun.)

Accepted: Do you have any application tips to share with our B-School applicants?

Sam: First off, I’d say talk to as many people as you can about the jobs that come out of the MBA program you’re applying for. I recognize now why they spend so much time encouraging applicants to know what they want to get out of an MBA. Your time is really valuable in a good MBA program. There are so many good speakers, classes, and clubs, that spending time on companies you don’t want to work for becomes frustrating fast. Recruiting starts at some schools as early as September. If you can come with a strong idea of what you want to do it will help you get the most out of your time in the program. If you’re not sure how to do that start surfing Linked in or reaching out to your friends and networking. Nobody will fault you for trying to understand more about what an MBA program has to offer.

For one-on-one guidance on your b-school application, please see our MBA Application Packages. For specific advice on how to create the best application for Cornell Johnson, see Cornell Johnson 2014 MBA Application Questions, Deadlines, Tips.

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