How an MBA from Anderson Helped this Career Switcher

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This interview is the latest in an Accepted blog series featuring interviews with business students, offering readers a behind-the-scenes look at top programs. Here’s a talk with James about his experience at UCLA Anderson. We first met James three years ago – you can find that post here.

Accepted: Welcome back, James! For those who haven't read your previous interviews, can you tell us a little about yourself? Where are you from? Where and what did you study as an undergrad? Where did you go to business school?

James: For sure! My name is James Huntington. For a while now, I have been blogging as MBAreapplicant84, but recently switched the name over to MBA Afterlife. I was born in Okinawa, Japan, and lived there from about eight years. Other than that, I primarily grew up in California. I actually dropped out of high school when I was 16, but somehow made my way to Brigham Young University for my undergrad.

Since it had been awhile since I had lived in Japan, and I really wanted to reconnect with that part of my life, I decide to study Japanese Language & Literature during my time at BYU. I went to business school at UCLA Anderson. Before Anderson, I worked for 6 years, the last 2+ years as a Senior Operations Analyst at Goldman Sachs.

Accepted: What was your favorite thing about UCLA Anderson? And if you could change one thing about the program, what would it be?

James: There are so many things that I loved about UCLA Anderson. The students were great, the academic experience was solid, and I definitely can't complain about the location (I have three kids and I took them to Disneyland 50+ times during the two years we lived in LA). That being said, my favorite thing, or rather the most important thing for me, was being able to do several part-time/academic internships during the school year, in addition to my summer internship. This was without a doubt the reason I was able to make the dramatic career shift from finance/operations to tech/marketing. It's not something the school markets enough in my opinion. The start-up and overall business scene in LA is fantastic, and because of the connections and experience I was able to gain, by the time I was interviewing for full-time marketing roles, I had an entire year of marketing experience under my belt, not just a 10-week summer internship.

If I could change one thing about the program it would have been the timing when we started first-year. Anderson at the time started almost a month after most other business schools, so we had to work extra hard to get up to speed with recruiting. That being said, I know Anderson just this past year moved up the start date quite a bit to help students hit the ground running.

Accepted: Can you share some advice to incoming students, to help make their adjustment to b-school easier? What do you wish you would’ve known when you started the program?

James: Growing up, for me good grades equaled academic success. Just like many of my classmates, we were all used to pushing ourselves to do well in our classes. I think the toughest initial adjustment I had when starting b-school was realizing that, while I wanted to do well in my classes, success was more than just good grades. A 4.0 doesn't guarantee a great internship or an ideal job. Finding a balance between academics, recruiting, networking, and socializing was crucial. The faster you can find balance, the better off you will be.

Also, with so much going on, you are definitely going to experience some FOMO (fear of missing out). But a lot of what is going on may just be a distraction to whatever your goal is in b-school. For me it was about being able to successfully make a career transition. I would recommend seriously evaluating anything that you do that isn't helping you work towards that goal. When I got focused, I started experience the opposite of FOMO... JOMO (joy of missing out). I was happy when I was working on things that mattered to me and wasn't allowing myself to be distracted by all the other noise. That being said, make time for fun and don't take things too seriously.

Accepted: Looking back, what was the most challenging aspect of the b-school admissions process? How did you approach that challenge and overcome it?

James: My work experience was a bit all over the place (retail management to e-comm operations to investment banking ops). I also wasn't completely clear on what I wanted to do after business school. In hindsight, there was a lot I should have done and figured out before I went to school. Both of those things made it very difficult for me to tell a really tight story with my application. This is something I learned was vital to a good application while I was a student admissions interviewer at Anderson.

It was hard to overcome this. It took a lot of introspection and evaluating of my skills and experience, and figuring out how it aligned with my post-MBA goals. It was hard to fight the tendency to want to highlight every cool thing I had ever done, but there were a lot of things that wouldn’t strengthen my story, they would have just confused it. I had to be disciplined about highlighting the points that strengthened my story and stripping away the ones that didn’t. I think the best way to think about it is: Where do you want to go? What are the skills you need to get there? What are the applicable skills that you already have? How are you going to gain the skills that you need?

Accepted: Now that you've graduated, what are you up to?

James: Since graduating, my family and I have moved from Los Angeles up to the Seattle area. I am working as a Digital/Content Marketing Manager at Microsoft. I have been in my role for almost a year now and am really enjoying it. I am also doing some freelance writing and graphic design. Other than that, my three boys (ages 8, 5, and 2) keep me busy with baseball, legos, and 3-on-1 wrestling matches. 🙂

Accepted: What role, if any, did UCLA Anderson have in securing your position at Microsoft?

James: UCLA Anderson played an absolutely crucial role in my securing a position at Microsoft. The Anderson brand and the connection the school has with great companies like Microsoft opened the door. Academics combined with the internships/consulting projects I was able to do while at Anderson prepared me with the skills I needed to make the career transition I did. The Anderson alumni network helped me to better understand what to expect from working at a place like Microsoft. Finally, the Parker Career Management Center (which I can't speak highly enough about) helped me do a ton of introspection so I could figure out what direction I wanted to take my career, and then ultimately prepare me to be successful when I interviewed. Could I have gotten to where I am right now without Anderson or an MBA? Maybe, but certainly not as fast as I did.

Accepted: Lastly, do you have any other advice for our business school applicant readers?

James: Start preparing early. Try to figure out as fast as you can the direction you want to take your career. That being said, stay open, because you will have possibilities and opportunities you didn't even know would be possible or existed opened up for you. Take control of your MBA experience and your career. An MBA from a top school doesn't guarantee a great job. Be willing to work hard and put in the time to build the skills that you will need to make you successful. Finally, don't get caught up in the idea of a "dream job" or "dream company." There are a ton of jobs and companies you could work for and be happy. Instead, focus more on building skills and cultivating a passion that will drive you in the long-term. I am not happy simply because I have a job at a great tech company like Microsoft. I find satisfaction in my career because I have the opportunity to grow and build out my writing, graphic design, and communication skills - things that I really enjoy. Working at Microsoft is just the cherry on top.

Take the time to figure out what you enjoy doing. I think "follow your passion" is terrible advice, because it supposes that everyone has a pre-determined "passion." I never really had a passion that seemed applicable to a career. I don't know about you, if I were to have followed that advice, I would be reading, watching football, and surfing all day long. I like the idea of following your curiosity more. Find what you are interested in. Explore that. Grow that skills. Then when you have earned the right to be skilled at something, you can call it your passion.

You can keep up with James' journey by checking out his blog MBA Afterlife, following him on Twitter (@iamjameskenichi), or by connecting with him on LinkedIn. Thank you James for your time and advice - we wish you continued success!

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Related Resources:

What MBA Hiring Managers Look For
Exactly What Are Goals?
Academic Performance in Your MBA Admissions Profile

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