Stanford MBA - Interview with 2018 alum Fernanda Chouza

  • Applicant Profile

    Can you give us an overview of your work experience prior to bschool and what made you decide to pursue an MBA?

    Prior to getting my MBA, I was in the advertising technology space in New York City. I worked for a go-to-market consultancy called Digital Media Review that worked with startups on their early stage sales and marketing efforts. I had the privilege of working with a wide variety of entrepreneurs and their teams from around the world and knew that I wanted to pursue an entrepreneurial path. For me, an MBA was a way to get a skillset I felt would be helpful in pursuing entrepreneurship and take some time to reflect on my long term goals.

    Aside from your work experience, what other activities were you involved in that boosted your profile (volunteering, entrepreneurial experiences, passion projects, etc) ?

    I was living in New York where there is no shortage of amazing people and causes to get involved with. Personally, I care a lot about women’s empowerment and mentorship so that is where I invested my time.  

    If you're comfortable sharing, what was your GMAT score and how was your GMAT experience?

    My GMAT experience was stressful and long, but positive. I did a course at Manhattan GMAT which forced me to dedicate the time and structure my process, and I would highly recommend it. I got a 760 on my GMAT.

    What was your previous education, and if you're comfortable sharing, what was your GPA?

    I did my undergrad at NYU, majoring in Political Science. I got a lot out of it - but to be honest probably wasn’t a stellar student, my GPA was ~ 3.7.  

  • School Selection

    Given your career goals stated in the first question, what schools did you decide to apply to and why?

    I applied to a few schools: Stanford, Harvard, Kellogg and Wharton. To me the most important criteria were curriculum and culture. Stanford was my top choice because I felt that it would give me the skillset to navigate a more non traditional career path with its entrepreneurial bent. I applied to Wharton because I was really interested in Lauder, their international program - and their strong quantitative curriculum. I applied to HBS because of the strong and structured academic curriculum, the entrepreneurial bent and the teaching method. At Kellogg I applied to the MMM program which is a dual degree that includes an M.S. in Design Innovation. It is a phenomenal program for people that want to go into PM or PMM roles, and touches heavily on innovation and design.

    What type of research did you do on these schools before you applied (campus visits, coffee chats, etc.)?

    I did campus visits where possible, and spoke to as many alumni as I could find (including many cold emails/LinkedIn messages). I attended all the info sessions in New York. Visiting a class is great, but you also get so much information from coffee chats with alumni. You’d be surprised how open people are to sharing their experience.

    Which schools were you ultimately accepted into (any any scholarships) and could you walk us through your decision?

    I was accepted into Stanford, Harvard and Kellogg. It was a tough decision because all three of them are exceptional and have really unique strengths. The choice for me ended up boiling down to Stanford’s entrepreneurial focus, the type of people the program attracts, and the focus on personal and interpersonal development. I believed this experience would empower me to pursue a untraditional career path in the long term.

    What advice would you give to future MBA applicants with respect to school selection?

    Talk to everyone. Reading this blog is great but, seek out students and alumni. Talk to alums whose lives and or careers you admire and understand if and how the MBA impacted that. Really spend a lot of time reflecting on why you want to do this, what the school uniquely offers to your development and what you can offer back to their community.

    Getting into bschool is tough, so once you are in the process, it can feel sometimes like you are just begging them to let you in (or am I the only person that felt that way?) Don’t lose track of the bigger picture and remember that you also need to be critical about where you spend two years of your life. Consider the application process a two-way process and be deliberate about it.  

  • First Year Experience

    Walk me through the excitement of the first couple of weeks of business school

    I did a global seminar prior to starting school, which is basically a 10 day global academic trip with 20 other classmates, 3 student organizers (MBA2’s) and two members of GSB faculty. It was a great way to get started because we got to develop strong friendships prior to arriving on campus, meet and get advice from our leaders who were one year ahead of us in the program and spend 10 days learning about monetary policy in the European Union, meeting with some pretty impressive people and of course having some fun nights out too.

    What were the classes and professors like in the first and second semesters? Do you have any stories or anecdotes you could share?

    At the GSB pretty much everyone has the same schedule during first quarter, including core classes like Strategy, Accounting, Organizational Behavior, Managerial Skills and a class called Leadership Labs which is an experiential class that involves a lot of role playing. The first quarter sets the foundation for the next two years, and it was especially useful for me since I didn’t have a quant/business background so a lot was new to me.

    Winter quarter of first year was a little rough. At the GSB it’s when you take a lot of your quantitative classes - like Data & Decisions (stats), Finance, Economics and Operations. It is also around the time when a lot of folks start recruiting for summer internships, so it can be stressful.

    What clubs did you get involved with, and how was that experience?

    During first year I volunteered for our Women in Management club to organize the yearly career trek. We ended up planning a day visiting a few companies in San Francisco including Eventbrite, WeWork, Uber, Box and hearing from the founder of Mixt Greens. I also took on leadership roles in the Wine Circle and the Hispanic Business Student Association.  

    Can you give us an idea of how you felt about and approached networking?

    I was a terrible networker when I started my MBA. I remember starting to hustle for internships and feeling complete panic. I didn’t really have a choice though, because I realized early on that I didn’t want to do a formal recruiting process so the only other option was networking.

    Thankfully the career center at the GSB understands that a majority of students end up finding jobs through networking rather than job postings so they were very supportive and helpful along the way. I developed great relationships with the team and would get advice as to what alums may be open to chatting at different stages of my process.  

    Walk me through your internship recruiting experience. How was it and how did you ultimately choose where to intern?

    I had a comically long recruiting process both years. I wouldn’t advise it, however for me it was a way to explore options, talk to a lot of interesting people and learn a lot about myself. In my opinion, if you don’t know what you want, the worst thing you could possibly do is fool yourself into thinking you do. I knew I was open to a lot of alternatives, so I took the time to explore what resonated with me - from management consulting to operations, project management and marketing. I interviewed everywhere from Fortune 500’s, to startups working out of actual garages.

    It was a huge learning process for me, and I probably got as much out of it as I did from some of my classes. It was painful, and stressful but necessary and eye opening. I ended up interning at a GSB founded startup called PayJoy based in SF. It was an opportunity for me to get to work with really talented founders that I admired, in an operational role, in an emerging space with an unproven business model. The job was unlike anything I had done in the past, I remember literally spending my first week driving around the Bay Area to sit in bodega’s talking to store owners.

    What advice would you give to future MBA's to make the most of their 1st year?

    Don’t get caught up in group think! Know what matters to you, and prioritize. I’d say try anything once, but learn quickly where you want to spend your time because during an MBA you are constantly making tradeoffs between great choices. Push yourself out of your comfort zone, but also be true to yourself. Meet as many people as possible early on, and invest in relationships that’ll go beyond just bschool.  

  • Internship Experience

    What did you work on as an intern at Payjoy?

    My project was focused on increasing sales productivity across their US retailers. It was a fairly open ended and challenging problem, where I was focused purely on one key metric and testing out “lean” ways to make a meaningful impact on it. I had a lot of autonomy and got to leverage design thinking in tackling it over the summer.  

    What are some things you learned from your internship - whether about yourself, the industry, the role, etc.?

    I learned that I thrive in places where I can bring structure, logic and creativity to ambiguous, strategic projects. A lot of what I bring to the table are strengths I gained in my first few years out of college, working in an unstructured environment where I was often doing things for the first time with little guidance.

    I also learned that I get a lot of joy out of building relationships at work and that the team is really important to me. That was something I loved about PayJoy, and a priority I carried with me into my full time recruiting.

    What advice would you give to future MBA's to make the most of their internship?

    Know what you want to get out of it. I thought about it as hypothesis testing and had a few questions that I was trying to answer over the summer.

  • Second Year Experience

    What would you say are the major differences between life as a first year and life as a second year?

    Academically, your second year is all electives. This is where you get to specialize and make the program whatever you want to get out of it. Personally, you’ve built relationships and second year is about deepening friendships. It is also more calm, a lot of people have answered their pressing career questions after the summer and enjoy their second year a little more.

    What were some of your favorite elective classes and why?

    • Negotiations with Maggie Neale.  Maggie is a genius and if I could, I would hang out with her every day. Her book is amazing, and her class was focused on applying what we learned through role playing and real life application. As part of the final project I negotiated a $1000 refund from an airline!
    • Startup Garage - this was a two quarter class where we got to build a startup prototype with a team (our startup didn’t take off but I know of a few that were more than just prototypes). You learn from a group of about 8 teachers who range in experience, including VCs and founders, and get to work on a startup idea through the lens of design thinking.
    • Aligning Startups with their Markets is taught by Bill Barnett and Andy Rachleff. It is about finding product market fit in early stage technology ventures. For me, it was a perfect connection between the work I had done before school in positioning startups, and the more analytic and strategic mindset I was hoping to develop in my MBA.
    • The Art of Self Coaching is a class taught by Ed Batista who is an incredibly talented executive coach. The class is focused on learning and applying the principles of coaching, such as setting and navigating both personal and professional goals, dealing with change and leading with mindfulness and compassion.

    Please describe your experience recruiting for a full-time role and how it compared to, or was influenced by, internship recruiting and your internship experience. Where did you ultimately end up accepting your offer from?

    Because I am a masochist who loves prolonged recruiting processes, I believe I was recruiting for almost one year for full time roles. I started with on campus recruiting, which are always the first opportunities that come up. That lasts from about September into January. I realized that the type of roles I was looking for weren’t the ones where hiring managers are necessarily planning 12 months out. Come to think of it, I don’t even think my current manager was in her role at the time that I started recruiting. Sometimes you just need to let things fall into place.

    Around February I decided I wanted to narrow in on Product Management and Product Marketing, which, depending on where you work can actually overlap quite a bit. I took a brief pause from recruiting, but continued to network, reaching out to roughly one alumni a week to schedule a coffee chat or call. Around May I started seriously recruiting, I had my first call with Zendesk in June and accepted my offer about two months later.

    I think the biggest difference during second year was that I knew I would rather delay my job search, and run the risk of taking longer to find the right fit, versus settling for something that wasn’t the right fit.

    How did you feel upon graduating? Did your class do anything special before you all departed?

    Graduating is the craziest mix of emotions. Sadness, joy, fulfillment, pride, panic. At the GSB we have “disorientation” which is the period after classes end and before graduation. Our classmates organized a great lineup of “last lectures” by some of our favorite professors, and of course a few social events.

    What advice would you give to future MBA's to make the most of their 2nd year?

    Enjoy it! Know what you want to get out of it and spend your time doing things that challenge you, give you a sense of accomplishment and joy. One of my favorite things second year was inviting professors over for dinner at our house.  It’s a great opportunity to get to know them beyond the classroom - and they can be a lot of fun.

  • Post MBA Life

    What's it like being back in the working world after getting your MBA?

    I love it. I got a ton out of my MBA, but was also craving a different kind of challenge in terms of growing in a role, building functional expertise and being part of a team. It’s been exciting to be back in the real world, spend more time with family and ground myself in things that are important to me but are hard to prioritize while you are in school.

    How do you stay in touch with your classmates?

    I try to do as much as I can to stay connected. I recently joined an womens circle through our alumni network where I get to meet up every month with a group of 8 alumni from different graduation classes and talk through life and career challenges. Also, staying in the Bay Area helped since a lot of folks ended up here.

  • Reflection and Advice

    What is the one thing you'll remember most about your business school experience?

    For me it is all about the community that I feel grateful to be a part of and the friendships I built.

    What is one thing you would have done differently?

    I would have taken many more “across the street” classes (classes in other departments at Stanford). One of my favorite classes was an intro to machine learning class in the engineering department. However, if you don’t prioritize those it can be tough to take them since you are navigating undergrad registration, prerequisites and things like that.

    What is the one piece of advice you'd give to the next generation of MBA's that might challenge their perspective or a commonly held belief?

    Go through the thought exercise of whether you would do it, if you couldn’t tell anyone you had an MBA. In the past, maybe an MBA was a sure bet for a certain growth trajectory on the corporate ladder - but that is increasingly less common. In my opinion - the best way to “future proof” your choice is to think critically about the skillset you will gain, the opportunities and people you’ll be exposed to and what your alternatives are.