Acceptance / Pre-MBA Internship

December 15, 2016. D-day.

I knew that decisions were expected to trickle in on this day and I had the worst sleep the night before, in anticipation. Your 1:1 interviewer would be expected to call admits between 9 – 10 AM EST so I was awake at 6 AM PST counting down the hours. And by 7 AM, I had gotten the call. I couldn’t have been happier. It definitely took me that entire day to process what exactly had happened. Immediately, I began searching for housing, which professors I wanted, what classes to take. This was the last school I had been waiting on, with rejections from the rest, and I honestly couldn’t have been more blessed for the results to turn out the way it did.

That day, I started planning out what I would be doing for the next 8 months before school starts in August. The traditional thing that almost everyone will tell you to do is to travel. That’s fine and all if that’s something you want to do but having spoken to many students (check my networking post if you haven’t already), you travel a lot in business school. I wanted to utilize this opportunity during the summer to learn as much as I can prior to the start of school.

I know I want to get into venture capital someday and without having ever worked in the trenches, it would have been hard for me to break into the industry. Having spoken to a fellow Wharton alumni who is currently in VC, he gave me 3 tips to best utilize my time during the summer:

  1. Spend time researching a sector and industry that will be hot in the next 5 – 10 years. Being knowledgeable about one specific focus, becoming the expert in that area, and creating something to show for it (whether it be a presentation or a market map) will carry a long way. With this in hand, you can set up some time with existing venture capital firms to compare notes and hopefully break into the industry in that regard.
  2. Intern at one of the portfolio companies of one of the VC firms you admire. Getting the operator experience of what it’s like working at a startup and potentially getting face to face time with investors is another aspect of breaking into the industry.
  3. Intern at a less of a brand name VC firm to get the experience of what it’s like being a VC which may include drafting investment memos, performing due diligence, market research, meeting with founders, etc. Having this exposure without any previous experience will prove invaluable when it comes to recruiting during your first year for your summer internship.

What you will find is that many companies, at least ones that go through the standard recruiting process of applying online, will not hire interns either 1) this late in the year (as most recruiting for the summer in the fall) or 2) that are not currently in school and are not about to graduate so as to convert full-time. This was the struggle I personally faced.

I was fortunate enough to be given the option to decide between options #2 and #3 and after careful consideration, chose to go with #3 since working at a startup for a short 2-3 months will not be as impactful to both myself and the company relative to the personal gain of working at a VC firm who often hires summer associates. As a result, I will be working as a summer investment associate as my pre-MBA internship from May until July and still have one month to travel before the start of the school.

Killin’ two birds with one stone.

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Building that network

Throughout the application process, I cannot emphasize how important it is to speak to as many existing students, alumni, and professors. Not only is it beneficial for the application itself but it provides an authentic view of what the school is about and whether or not you can see yourself fitting in with the culture for the next 2 years.

The three forms of “networking” that I have found to be the most useful/successful in terms of conversion are (in order of importance):

  1. Your work network: Within Google, we have Google groups for each of the top business schools where alumni from each of the school get together and form their little own community. I did my fair share of stalking and cold emailed anyone who happened to work in the same department as me, was in the same function, or happened to graduate from my alma mater, UC Berkeley in addition to having gone to one of the business schools for which I was applying.
  2. LinkedIn: Again, it is all about establishing some sort of connection and touchpoint. If you are interested in speaking with an HBS alumni, don’t go searching LinkedIn for anyone who went to HBS but look for people who share a similar background that you can call out. When I do a Google search I would search “linkedin berkeley hbs analytics” as I wanted to find alumni who went to UC Berkeley and are now HBS students or alumni who have a concentration in analytics. Send them a friend request and send them a LinkedIn message asking if you can borrow 30 min of their time to chat. This has been extremely beneficial and you will find out that business school alumni are gracious and willing to donate their time to help a future prospect.
  3. School website: Look for business school professors who are doing research in an area that is of interest to you and reach out to them via email. You’ll get a response maybe 1/2 the time due to the professors’ busy schedules but getting the perspective from both students and professors paints an overall better picture of what life at the school will be like.

I will say that looking back, not all schools were as generous with their responses. Not to be biased now that I am going to Wharton, but I will definitely say that by % of response rate in descending order:

1. Wharton and Kellogg
2. MIT
3. HBS and GSB

I emailed Wharton and Kellogg students, alumni, and professors alike and they were all extremely helpful, not only emailing me but I also had a face-time call with an existing Kellogg student and had students voluntarily check up with me to see how my application was going. Some of them were even gracious enough to read my essay despite having never met them in my life.

HBS and GSB, on the other hand, were rather cold in their responses. Of the 10 people I interviewed in total, I received 2 responses to which there was never any follow-up afterward. This is all anecdotal and not meant to be taken as fact but definitely, reach out to people from the school and their responses will definitely give you an accurate feel of how you see yourself fitting in because remember these are the people that you are going to be establishing a lifetime connection with.

Interview Process

Due to guidelines, I am unable to tell you guys what the exact prompt was for the Wharton interview process but I hope the sharing of my experiences will help you in your prep. Plus, I believe (though I’m not 100% sure) that each round of each year has a different prompt but the general idea is the same.

When Wharton sends out the interview invites, you are given the prompt and your selection of location and time to interview. For me, I was strategic about where and when I wanted my interview to take place.

Time: Every Thursday, Wharton students are invited to a pub event where they gather for happy hour and as a result, candidates who interview on Thursdays are allowed to join and mingle with 1st and 2nd-year students. Having never visited the campus before nor spoken to many current students, it was a great way for me to not only get to know the student body but also to do some networking and get my name out there.

Location: Despite living in San Francisco, I chose to do my interview on campus for three reasons:

  1. I’ve never visited the campus before and interviewing on campus includes the option of a campus tour, sitting in on a class, and/or attending the student pub event (only for candidates who interview on a Thursday).
  2. Most of the interviews in remote locations are conducted by alumni and faculty members whereas interviews on campus are conducted by admission fellows (2nd-year students who help out with admissions). Depending on your comfort with interviewing, that can play a factor in how well you connect and establish rapport with your interviewer.
  3. Working in engineering, in tech, and in Silicon Valley, the likelihood of interviewing with other candidates of a similar background is extremely high. By traveling to Philly to interview, I would be placed in a group with other prospects coming from a wide range of industries and as a result, I can use the fact that I was an engineer to my advantage. More on this in a bit.

Having chosen to interview on a Thursday and on campus, I had more than a month to prep the prompt. For Wharton, the interview process is different from most schools as it is called a **team-based discussion**. How that works is that you will be gathered in a group of 5-6 Wharton prospects and for the first 30 minutes, you will be working together to solve the prompt and for the remaining 10 – 15 minutes, you will be interviewed in a 1:1 setting which typically consists of a general recap of the team-based interview and some general questions.

TBD: Candidates who I felt were strong were ones who were outspoken and not only recapped what other people said but supplemented their own points in addition to others. They were agreeable but weren’t afraid to ask follow-up questions to spark the conversation. As the only engineer in the room, I made sure to use this to my advantage by bringing an analytical perspective to the discussion, whether it be outlining certain success metrics or establishing a methodology to measuring impact.

Follow-up Interview: The majority of your prep should be towards the TBD. Having completed the application and gotten this far, you should be quite familiar with your business school *story* (i.e. Why business school? Why now? Why Wharton? Post MBA goal, etc.). These questions will definitely be asked in addition to your thoughts on how the interview went and your contributions to the team-based discussion. As I had mentioned before, by realizing early on what you can bring to the table, the follow-up interview will not so much be an interview but a conversation. In preparing for this section, just imagine yourself having been in a group situation where there was conflict and how did you go about choosing sides? What could have streamlined the process? What would you have done differently? Just ruminating these thoughts will prove helpful when it comes to the follow-up portion of the interview.

Results

December rolls around and all the R1 school decisions have been released. In order of having found out:

R1 HBS (Harvard): Ding without interview
R1 GSB (Stanford): Ding without interview
R1 Sloan (MIT): Ding without interview
R1 Wharton (UPenn): Interview

I will admit, after finding out that I had gotten rejections to Harvard, Stanford, and MIT without any interviews at all, I was quite devastated. Because these applications are so subjective, it was hard for me to figure out where I had gone wrong.

For HBS and Sloan, was it because I submitted a GRE test score instead of a GMAT score? For GSB, I had already accepted the fact that they were looking for above and beyond candidates. Being a data scientist from a large tech company was “typical” and wasn’t anything that made me stand out from the rest.

Banking on Wharton as my last hope, I was ecstatic when I found out I got the interview. Wharton is known for their quantitative rigor and their data – driven curriculum (and yes, the fact that they have a lot of finance people) so it makes sense that I would fit right in. As this was the one and only school I got an interview for, you can imagine how nervous I was when it came time to prep for the interview. More on that in my next post.

Applications

I apologize for it being almost a year since my last post as I got quite busy with all my applications but here I am now to reflect on the entire process and to hopefully leave you with some tips and tricks that may help you with the process.

Tip #1: Don’t save your application until the last minute

Although quite self-explanatory, I know too many people who procrastinate and end up saving their application until the very end, which increases the chances of avoidable human errors. I started each of my applications at least 1 month prior to the application due date and made sure to have friends proofread my application for any typos or grammatical mistakes.

Tip #2: Start writing the essay of your backup school first and your dream school last.

In hindsight and in rereading my essays, the first essay I had written for HBS was not as strong as it could have been. It felt very disconnected and did not strongly emphasize any one point relative to my Wharton essay which was the last essay I had submitted. Having applied to 4 schools in total (in order of submission: Harvard, Stanford, MIT, UPenn), my essays got progressively better with each submission as I had more time to think about what I had done and refine my points to tell a more convincing story. It is through the filling out of the application itself as well that made me think more about the value of my work and why it was that I wanted to go to business school.

Tip #3: Talk to as many students, alumni, and professors

I can not stress this point enough. With each school I applied to, I made sure to talk to at least 1 student, 1 alumni, and 1 professor as each one offers a different perspective. It is not about name dropping who you talked to in your essay, but bringing into the fold some of the clubs that you may be of interest in participating in, or some of the industries in which fellow alumni have transitioned into, or even some of the research that you would want to participate in during your time there. For example, in my Wharton essay, I had reached out to Professor Peter Fader, one of the foremost thought leaders in data analytics, and we conversed about some of the projects I had been working on and how it tied into his research on customer lifetime value. That conversation alone got me super excited about the curriculum of Wharton and that’s exactly what I wrote about in my essay. It is these conversations alone that spark new insights that could drive home what you write about in your essays.

Tip #4: Recommendations

Most schools require at least 2 recommenders. Initially, I had followed this guide here:

How to put together a KILLER recommendation package!

to create a recommendation package for my 2 recommenders but what I soon realized was that this was overkill. Your recommenders should be close enough to you and understand the work you’ve done that you don’t need to provide so much detail for them and have their letters sound artificially produced. What I ended up doing was writing a paragraph or two emphasizing some of the traits that I wanted each recommender to call out such that there would be no overlap and that the letters would paint a picture of my overall character. For instance, my direct manager would comment on my work ethic and my leadership skills whereas my direct marketing manager would comment on my analytical and problem-solving abilities.

You will get a notification everytime your recommenders submit their letters, so make sure you keep track of which schools have been submitted and for those that haven’t be done within 7 days of the deadline, send a friendly email reminder. Once you find the results of where you are going (bad or good), it is very important that you show your recommenders your token of appreciation, whether it be a small note or a gift. For example, my manager loves photography so I wrote a hand-written note and gave him a gift card to B&H as a sign of appreciation. For my other recommender, I gave him a hand-written thank you note and a nice bottle of whiskey. It doesn’t have to be anything extravagant but just thanking them for their time and support goes a long way and is a must.