Saturday, January 21, 2012

B&T West Coast Trek

One week of school has concluded but I feel it's important to impart what I did for the last couple of weeks of break.

The Business & Technology Club holds a West Coast trek annually to tech companies in the West Coast. This year they combined two sets of locations - Seattle for three days and then the Bay area for a week. From my understanding, the Seattle trek is usually held in the Spring Break timeframe. I went on both sections.

We visited a number of companies here. Usually the visit consists of a tour of the office and a Q&A panel, sometimes a presentation. I'll note if there were exceptions.
- Boeing: Got the VIP tour of the factory floor. A couple of alum work in strategy.
- Expedia
- Amazon: This was very popular. Tepper is a core school for Amazon, and we have a lot of alumni here. The competition for internships is intense.
- T-Mobile: Again, just a couple of alum here. The Qs focused a lot on the failed AT&T deal.
- Microsoft: I think we were there with a few schools, but again, we have a fair amount of alum. We got a tour of their MSHome vision (although our tourguide did confess that it was about six months from being torn down and re-imagined), and a demo of the new Windows 8 and X-Box. At the time, I don't even think Steve Ballmer had seen what they had yet, so it was pretty amazing we got a peek.
- Philips Medical Devices

 In addition to visiting companies, we had a couple of alumni receptions. Two prominent alums usually sponsor a dinner over on Bainbridge Island.

Bay Area
This was a bit more intense as there were a couple of days where we visited three companies in a day as well as participated in networking events in the evening.

- Medallia: We got a T-Shirt with an awesome slogan: "One time I punched mediocrity in the face."
- HP
- LinkedIn: We were the first MBA group they had ever hosted. I believe their campus is across the road from the hangar where the fellows from Mythbusters blow stuff up.
- EA Games: I'll confess... I nerdgasmed all over this place. It was kinda messy. However, I play a lot of EA games, so it was really awesome to see the new Star Wars artwork plastered all over the place. What was even more incredible is the CEO himself came and chatted to us for a while. The HR peeps had to remind him to leave. I know EA has a bad reputation, but it really shows the personability of the CEO that he came down and did this. I was very impressed.
- Yahoo
- Juniper Networks: Again, the founder came by and chatted with us. He's a CMU alum.
- VMWare
- Google: the highlight of a lot of peoples' trip
- Zynga

I also participated in a CMU annual networking night. Holy moly. Nearly every person I met just launched a start-up 4 months ago and was looking for engineers. One person I met, whom I chatted with nicely, ended up saying that he probably needed business people for his startup and won't I come and work for him? It felt a little awkward being on the other side of the fence; normally, I'm the one pushing for the job :)

It was a great time, but I don't think they're going to do the same thing again next year. I know for sure the companies may change, but joining Seattle and Bay area probably won't work. I think there was talk about moving Seattle forward to the week between mini 1 and 2, now that there is going to be one week free purely for the treks.

P.S. for those who were wondering, all students had to pay for the trek out-of-pocket.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Application Tips - "What Can You Do For CMU?"

The "How will you contribute" essay, or the "what will you do for us?"

I found this to be quite tough. Primarily because I had little self-confidence in what I could do but also because anything I could think of didn't seem good enough. I wasn't planning on starting a new club, directing curriculum, winning national case competitions, or even making lots of money as an alum and donating swathes of it. However, I honestly don't know what the winning formula is for this question.So I'll tell you what I said in my essay.  I'll also provide some observations on the involvement of the current class and what may help to mention. HUGE caveat here - like I said, I don't know the winning formula.

What worked for me
I said that I am an active and engaged student who has been known to stimulate debate in class. This is what I did in my undergraduate degree - so I was a teacher's dream student. I also mentioned the desire to plan a trek to Australia.

General Observations

Our year hasn't been very active or engaged in the school in general. While the second years lament over the apathy of the first years, Student Services have been quoted saying that involvement is cyclical - one year is not so engaged, but the next year will be. The apathy of our classmates is pretty easy to see when it came to the GBA elections - there were 6 candidates for president last year and only 2 this year, for example. I can't speak for the clubs, but from those that I'm in, there is also just a smattering of interest in leadership positions.

A second observation, one that I will detail a fair bit later, is that some people tend to form friendship groups only with those that are like them. To put it in a less gentle fashion, all the black people have formed tight knit groups, all the Asian people have formed tight knit groups, and all the Indians have formed tight knit groups. While there is a general niceness to others, these particular people just band too tightly and the benefits of knowing and being friends with other people are lost.

I'm going to aim this tip directly at Indian applicants then: if you are from India (i.e. not an American with Indian parents), you have the toughest job of all. I'm estimating about a third of our class are Indian or come from Indian heritage. Many with computer science or engineering backgrounds. Many want to do consulting or work as a product manager in a high tech firm. The vast majority of them band together in those tight knit groups. I can't say if it's indicative of our class or across all classes, but in some ways it's very exclusionary. It's also very disappointing for people like me who want to take advantage of the benefits of diversity and interact on a deeper level with these people. So I would say my biggest tip would be to tout how inclusionary you are. How you do that, I don't know, it's up to you. I strongly recommend mentioning something that makes you different - like being on the social committee of the GBA, or getting involved in Tepper Cares, our philanthropy branch, or even just saying that you will join social or general interest clubs (i.e. not the B&T club or SABA) and actively participate in order to learn another person's culture or lifestyle. The Indian stereotype is the Engineer interested in consulting or high tech and plays cricket. And please please PLEASE don't just say that you'll do this stuff, make sure that you do. Or else otherwise the greatest benefits of going to an American university is lost.

Finally, now that I'm doing a lot of interview preparation, think of it like a job interview - why would a company hire you if you're just going to do the same thing as the job requires? Don't you think you would make a better candidate if you did something above and beyond the requirements, specifically, helping make the company better? The university is like that too. They don't want people who will just come in for school and then leave. They want people who will make the school a better place.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Application Tips - "Why MBA?"

Second in my series, but it's pretty lame since it's the same information as what is out there. But I'm needing to get back on the horse to do applications for internships since I've been in Seattle all week for the first leg of B&T's West Coast Trek.

Why MBA? - the Why the MBA part

Admissions knows that your career goals will change at school. I came in all gung-ho about working on data accuracy, information systems, and consulting. As soon as I got admitted, I started to talk about operations. At the beginning of BaseCamp, it was management consulting. Now, it's a heavy lean towards product management at a high tech firm (but that's because I'm on the West Coast trek methinks :)).

But, there was never any question about whether I should get my MBA or not. I lie, I did contemplate going to a PhD program, but I think that's in my 20-year plan. What I'm trying to say here is that be certain, completely and absolutely, that you want an MBA. It's OK to be uncertain about what you're going to do with the MBA.

BUT: Don't show that uncertainty in your essays. Or in the interview.

I've noticed that it's pretty common for Americans to be uncertain about getting an MBA. It's been one of the things that have caused me to raise an eyebrow in disbelief. I don't know if it's common in other cultures either, but I'm pretty sure I think I know the source of this uncertainty. It's the undergraduate university system. Americans apply to a college, "find themselves" for a couple of years, then do the upper-level coursework for their particular degree. Australians - we apply directly to the program of the university. No finding ourselves. No building of general skills (these skills are assumed to be already learned by the student through highschool). I applied to business; I did pure business. So when I was assessing my life after a personal shakeup, it was always, to me, a matter of "heck yeah, get MBA". However, I understand others don't have that.

If you don't have certainty on getting your MBA, get it fast or don't bother. just my 2 cents. It's difficult to fake wanting an MBA when you don't know if you do. And trust me, your classmates pick up on it.

What are you going to do with the MBA part

This is easy. Tie in your interests or your background to a short-term and long-term goal that makes sense and have a little belief in thinking this is something you do want to do. Whether it be consulting, general management, finance, whatever. To me, it seems as if this part just says that you are capable of making goals that you're working towards.

One of the first things Admissions said to us was that 80% or so will change their career goals dramatically from what was put in their essay. So they know it's going to happen. So don't stress it. Do some research, find something you would like to do that requires an MBA, and be prepared to talk about it in the interview.

Or, in the words of an alum - Fake it until you believe it. Convince yourself that it IS your ultimate dream in life, squash all doubt, then revisit it as soon as you're admitted.

The Why Now? part

I had the most difficulties with this question, because it didn't seem obvious to me. Just saying "I've always wanted an MBA but I wanted to build real-world experience" didn't seem enough. I felt I needed some statement saying "Oh, I've reached the pinnacle of my current career" or "the angels cried out in an immaculate chorus". Something really meaty. But the fact of the matter was just the simple answer - I felt I had built enough experience to make my education valuable. I also threw in there that my goals were more clearly defined and now capable for me to follow through on... but we both know that was a BS answer too :)

I believe I also mentioned in my interview that I was just emerging out of a personal situation which presented a great opportunity to pursue my dream. But I'm talking essay here.

I'm going to caveat this entire paragraph and say that this may not have been the best tactic. Who knows, I might have needed to say I had an immaculate chorus. I feel that my certainty on getting an MBA really bolstered the other two aspects I talked about here. To me, that's the most important thing - truly believing you want an MBA.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Corporate Presentations

I'm in the middle of writing a cover letter for an internship. I've spent about 3 minutes looking for the brochure that the company provided at the corporate presentation, so I can use some of the information. Their 2011 presentation wasn't videotaped, but luckily the 2010 presentation was so I'm trying to glean insights there as to why I like the company without sounding desperate or that it's a rote response.

 Corporate presentations started the second day of class in Mini 1. At the time, most were for full-time positions, however a couple mentioned internships. I will note, one director of a company was very impressed that I attended a full-time presentation after I admitted I was looking for internship opportunities. I think that got me brownie points, and something I will advise incoming 1st years to do.

However, the shift gradually changed to internship presentations. I made the mistake of just sitting and listening - enjoying the ride. I should've taken notes. I should've jotted down what was impressive about the company, even if, at the time, I wasn't interested. I shouldn't've assumed that the presentation was being recorded, or the slide deck would be available.

Probably should've kept the brochures in a better place.

All that information would've been gold right now for the cover letter. Oh well. Lesson learned for next mini.... and for fulltime recruiting.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Application Tips - "Why CMU?" Essays

This time last year I was writing my essays for admission. I did the wrong thing and left it for the last minute so I didn't party for the new year's celebration, I wrote.

The two essays I had the most trouble with was the "Why should we admit you to Carnegie Mellon?" and "What will you do for the school?" types. I'm going to tackle the first one here, and I'll follow up in the next coming days with the other types and what I did.

There is a fair amount of general advice out there for admissions essays, and I guess they seem to work. Have a solid, achievable goal, personalise the essay for the school, etc, etc. Not being someone in admissions I can't say what works or doesn't work, but I can provide insight on my own experiences.


CMU knows that people will, in a large percentage of time, choose a higher-ranked program if an applicant was admitted to CMU and to another school. This, from what I understand, is derived from a survey where they ask people why they declined to enroll. There is a lot of chatter and whatnot out there about how a program should be assessed for its strengths and that you should select carefully your school, etc, etc - but the fact of the matter is, applicants shotgun top schools because they're top ranking and hope for an admittance. (shotgun means that the applicant is sending applications out to multiple (i.e. more than 5) schools and hopes that one will "hit" - like a shotgun cartridge). CMU knows this also.
The piece of advice here is to really show how much you like CMU and have done your research and selected the school based on its merits - and therefore showing that you are not doing the shotgun approach for a top tier school. One of the criteria that I'm sure they use is "will the applicant actually enroll in the school if we admit them?"

What did I do? I focused on the analytical strengths of the program and compared that to both my background and to my future career goals. CMU has built a brand around analytics, so it's a point of pride. Tying it into both background and future, I think, solidified this statement - I wasn't saying "oh yeah, I love your xxxxx" but showing why I thought it was important.

I think I also I mentioned a couple of other items that appealed to me about the program, but nothing too much - the essay was split into background, short-term and long-term goals, and why CMU.

Other topics that could be mentioned that has a great chance of showcasing your research and differentiating yourself:
  • The faculty. Gerard Cornejols taught me Probability and Statistics in Mini 1 and he just won the Nobel-Prize-equivalent for Operations Research, for example. Being taught the results of research done by faculty is an amazing experience.
  • The specialised programs. CMU is very highly rated for it's entrepreneurship program and does a lot of work regarding this area, especially around technology products. The opportunity to collaborate across campus is also advantageous.
  • The class size. I didn't recognize this as a benefit until I actually started the program, but having a very small class size is probably one of the best things of the program. Studies in networking have shown that the greatest benefits/leads on jobs are usually done by people whom you have small contact with - maybe once or twice a year. By being in a small class you get to know a large amount of the class, if not everyone, and everyone tends to friend each other on FB or LinkedIn, so those networking connections are built. It also creates a family atmosphere, almost, where everyone is willing to help each other out rather than being in constant competition. There are drawbacks to this setup also, but I'll get into that in another post one day and they aren't necessary for applications.
This isn't a tried-and-true formula, and nor should it be taken as such. Yes, it's difficult to write something if there isn't a formula. It's even more difficult to differentiate yourself if you're shotgunning - and admit it if you are. Applying to greater than 3 or 4 schools means you're shotgunning. So I will sign off with this parting piece: if all the schools that you're applying to are ranked the same, have the same career results, and cost the same to attend (and for some, are located in the same place), and you were admitted to all of them, why would you choose CMU over the others? What factors, other than prestige and money, would drive you to choose CMU? And that is the key to answering the "Why CMU?" part of the essay.