I graduated from UC Davis in 2011 with a double major in Economics and Communication. I had a 3.7 GPA.
I scored a 740 on the GMAT. I had a rough GMAT experience that spanned 11 (!!) months. I started off taking the Manhattan GMAT prep course which was great. The structure gave me peace of mind that I was being as efficient with my study time as possible (I can't stand inefficiency and time wasting).
I scored a 710 after taking the course, but had decided long before that I would take the GMAT a second time since everyone always told me that the majority of people stand to improve their score with more familiarity and confidence the second time. However, the second time taking the GMAT, I scored a 710 again with the exact same quant and verbal breakdown. That was frustrating. I decided to take the GMAT one final time before clicking submit on my applications, and that's when I scored my 740.
I took a different approach preparing for my third attempt versus my second attempt. For my second attempt, I tried to improve my weaknesses in critical reasoning and geometry. That clearly didn't work. For my third attempt, I focused on sentence corrections and test taking endurance. I focused on sentence corrections because I was already pretty good at them. However, I wasn't getting 100% of them in my practice tests, so I kept drilling sentence correction problems until I consistently got 100% in my practice tests. For endurance, I took a practice GMAT every three days (even if I had to retake a practice test and saw some repeat questions). This made a huge difference compared to taking a practice test every two weeks as I had done previously.
I worked for four years as a consultant at Triage Consulting Group, a San Francisco-based healthcare consulting firm that helps hospitals with their revenue cycle. Triage was truly a great experience. In less than two years, I was managing my own client engagement and managing a team of associates. Triage also helped establish a data-driven and analytical foundation to problem-solving.
Outside of work, I volunteered at a local Asian health clinic and drove a project to optimize their patient intake process, reduce wait times, and decrease no-shows.
Well, I had always had my sights set on business school although I wasn’t 100% sure of where I wanted to take my career. I just knew that an MBA would pay long-term dividends over the course of my remaining 30-40 years of working. I was interested in both the healthcare and technology industries (especially the intersection of the two), and I knew an MBA would make sense whichever path I chose. What’s more, I knew the MBA experience would afford me the opportunity to dabble in both and delay my decision.
Haas, Anderson, Stanford. I decided to only apply to California schools because my girlfriend (now wife), friends, and family were all in the San Francisco Bay Area and I wasn’t willing to move across the country. Had I not gotten in to any of those schools, I would have applied again the next year.
I visited all of the schools, and managed to secure coffee chats with students and alumni from UCLA and Haas.
I was accepted to Haas with no scholarship and Anderson with an $80k scholarship. I chose Haas due to its proximity to San Francisco / Silicon Valley and because I identified more with the culture.
Be sure that you only apply to schools that place well in the geographical region you want to be post-MBA, because that will also be a leading indicator of how big your network will be in that region for years to come. If you aren’t insistent on landing in any specific region, then this advice wouldn’t apply.
The first couple of weeks of business school is like drinking water through a firehose. There is so much going on in terms of programs, events, meeting people, etc. At Haas, most of us arrive to Berkeley at least two weeks before classes start for Math Camp (two weeks before classes start), and then “Week 0” (the week before classes start). Math Camp is a a program Haas offers to get everyone back up to speed with the math and statistics concepts we all learned in college (or high school for some), so that we can hit the ground running when the actual classes start. In Week Zero the following week, there are tons of social activities (both the day and the night) where I met probably every single person in the class (there were ~240 of us).
On the first day of Week Zero, we were all surprised when David Cush, CEO of Virgin America, walked through the auditorium doors and spoke to us about the genesis of Virgin - it was super inspiring! We also heard from Revolution Foods co-founders Kristin Groos Richmond and Kirsten Saenz Tobey (both 2006 Haas grads).
Another exciting part of Week Zero was getting to meet my study group and my cohort. Haas splits its class of 240 into four cohorts of 60. The cohorts are named “Blue”, “Gold”, “Axe”, and “Oski”, and within each cohort, individuals are placed into five-person study groups. Your study group is who you spend the most time with and become closest with, working through class projects and preparing for case studies together.
The first semester is broken up into two “Fall A” and “Fall B” sections, each lasting for 7 weeks. We take four core classes per section. For Fall A, we took Data and Decisions, Microeconomics, Leading People, and Leadership Communication. In Fall B, we took Accounting, Finance, Marketing, and Ethics.
The second semester is similarly broken up into “Spring A” and “Spring B” but rather than taking four core classes per section, we took two core classes per section. The Spring A classes were Macroenomics and Operations, and the Spring B classes were Strategy and Design Thinking. The rest of the units during the Spring are filled with electives (most students took two electives in Spring). The electives span across the entirety of spring (they are 14 week classes, not 7 like the core classes).
I really appreciated going through the first semester classes with the same set of 60 students in my cohort. Not only was it great for developing deep relationships, it also allowed us to get comfortable participating in class very quickly, when the majority of us experience imposter syndrome.
Perhaps (definitely) I’m biased, but the professors at Haas are amazing. Not only are they obvious experts in their particular fields of study, but they really embody the four principles at Haas and care deeply for their students. A good example was my accounting professor, Cheit Award Winner professor Omri Even-Tov. Knowing that I wanted to go into Product Management, he actually reached out to me unprompted to see if he could do a warm introduction with one of his friends who worked at a top tech company.
I was was the co-President of the Haas Healthcare Association and a member of the Haas Tech Club. If anyone has the opportunity, I 100% recommend becoming a club president. You learn so much about your own leadership style and how to motivate a team. On top of that, it’s great for building relationships with companies, because when these companies want to visit campus to potentially attract top MBA talent, all of that correspondence happens with the co-presidents.
My co-President and I also organized a “healthcare speaker series” which was a one-unit class where students could hear from executives from top healthcare companies each week. In getting speakers lined up each week and then taking them out for dinner afterwards, my co-President and I were able to forge strong relationships with these executives. We also opened up those dinners for anyone else in the class who wanted to join. The students really seemed to appreciate the chance to network with executives over a meal in these small, intimate settings.
I’m pretty sure most people don’t enjoy networking but realize its criticality. I’m one of those people! My mental model is that networking comes in two shapes. The first is large event networking, where tons of folks stand around scattered tables drinking drinks and enjoying hors d’oeuvre’s. The second is the more intimate type of networking where you grab coffee or a meal with someone, either one-to-one or in a small group setting. I tended to bias towards the second, and I find them much more fruitful than the first.
With that said, though, sometimes you have to go through the first type of networking in order to get to the second type of networking. Or put in marketing terms, if networking were like a funnel, then the large event networking would be top-of-funnel and the intimate setting networking would be lower-funnel.
One final point on networking is that you can never go wrong with authenticity. Bring genuine curiosity about the person and a willingness to lend a helping help if possible.
My internship recruiting experience was insane! I originally thought I was going to do a healthcare internship, so I spent the entire first semester researching, preparing, and networking for healthcare. As December rolled around, I had an internship offer at Genentech which was my number one choice at the time due to its brand name and the weight it would carry on my resume.
However, as I pondered the offer, I just wasn’t excited. I realized I was going through the motions of what I viewed as the safe path, even though my true interest was in digital health products and not biotech/pharma. But digital health is such a narrow space, and the opportunities to work in product management in digital health (especially without product experience) were few and far between at that time. Heading into the Christmas break, I decided to pursue a product management role in a traditional tech company to develop my product manager skillset, while continuing to monitor the digital health space. Unfortunately, the number of digital health companies, and the companies themselves, have not grown much and therefore the PM roles are still few and far between.
Back to the story, because I didn’t start down the PM path until January, I had missed out on nearly all of the on-campus tech recruiting from the major firms (Amazon, Apple, Google, Microsoft, Adobe, Cisco, Salesforce, etc.). But thanks to my amazingly helpful classmates and a phenomenal career coach at the Haas Career Management Group named Hoyt Ng, I was able to craft my story and position my resume enough to land my first two interviews with Intuit and Samsung. Neither of them panned out but I learned a great deal from those two interviews about where I needed to prepare more. By the time early March rolled around, product management intern postings kept popping up, and I noticed I was getting more and more invites to interview. This is because the supply of MBA interns drops significantly the further removed from December we are (the big tech companies finish recruiting by January). On top of that, it’s a riskier proposition for non-West coast MBA’s who are recruiting for Bay Area tech to wait until March or April, because every in-person interview requires a plane flight.
Taking my learnings from the Intuit and Samsung interview experiences, I worked tirelessly to better articulate my product sense, empathy for customers, and ability to form and defend opinions. I eventually landed three PM offers - two offers came from Pandora and one from Upwork. I decided to go with Upwork (who just IPO’d!) because my boss graduated from the Haas Part-Time MBA program and I could tell she was committed to making the summer internship an amazing learning experience for a fellow Haasie.
Don’t treat the MBA experience as some finite resource whose output must be maximized. Come to grips with the fact that you will never waste the MBA experience, even if you change course midway like me and so many others. It’s never too late to change course, even if you’ve already invested time, and perhaps even your summer internship, heading down a different path!
You come to business school with a set of hypotheses, but the MBA is about gathering experiential data to either prove or disprove those hypotheses. As the MBA experience progresses, you may realize that what you thought you wanted to do is not actually what you want to do. That’s okay, and in fact, be thankful that the MBA experience helped you realize that so you could pursue a different, and probably better-for-you, path.
I should start by explaining what Upwork is, for those who don’t know. Upwork is the world’s largest online freelancing platform. People can go to Upwork to find freelance work, or hire freelancers. I worked on two different projects, one to help improve the suite of features that Upwork offered to help freelancers and clients work more effectively together (for example, the chat feature). The other project was working on the applicant tracking system feature on mobile. This feature allows clients to use the mobile app to go through job applications from freelancers who applied.
Most important of all, I learned that product management in tech was absolutely the career path I wanted to pursue. Not only was the the work was exciting, but I got some positive feedback on my performance which gave confidence that I could excel in this role. I also learned what things I needed to work on, and I’ve since taken that feedback into account in my current product management role. Another thing I learned about product management is that the soft skills matter way more than I thought. The ability to articulate oneself concisely and convincingly is one of the most important superpowers a PM should have.
Treat the internship as an experiment and reflect on the experience at the end of each week to consider if you’ve gathered any additional information to help you prove or disprove your career hypotheses.
From a mental standpoint, as a first year, you run around frantically trying to figure things out and to make the most of every piece of programming the business school offers. I can’t really describe it, but imagine waking up every day with this mix of excitement (because you get to be around some wicked smart, impressive, driven people all day) and eagerness (because there is just so much to take advantage of). First years constantly feel FOMO (fear of missing out) so we try to do everything - be at every social event, attend every speaker session, etc. But as a second year, I was much more mellow, having validated that summer what I wanted to do with my career.
My favorite class was Entrepreneurship. This is the most in-demand course at Haas, and for good reason. Taught by Cheit Award winners Toby Stuart and Rob Chandra, the entire class is case based and the two professors bring invaluable insights and perspective from both the entrepreneur vantage point (Professor Stuart) and the investor standpoint (Professor Chandra, who is also a Venture Capitalist).
My second favorite course as New Venture Finance taught by Adair Morse and also mostly case-based. The course gives MBA’s a firm foundation in how entrepreneurs can raise financing by understanding the different types of investors, their particular incentives, which type of investor is best aligned with the entrepreneur in different situations, and the general rules of the financing game. What I enjoyed most about the class was learning about the relatively new types of financiers. Not only do we learn about VC’s and angels, we also look at syndicates, angel groups, incubators, accelerators, crowdfunding, impact investing, venture debt, and corporate VC.
I knew I wanted to pursue product management at a brand name tech company, so I set my sights exclusively on those roles. Recruiting for a full-time position ended super quickly for me. I applied to one company, had one interview, and by Christmas I had secured and accepted a full-time product management offer from Adobe.
Adobe’s interview process is very structured and efficient. First, Adobe sent two Adobe employees who were also Haas alumni on-campus to interview students who applied. Those applications were just general applications, as the job posting doesn’t specify a specific role but rather a number of different functions that they are hiring for. That is the “first round”.
If you do well in that first round, then you are invited to their “MBA Forum”. MBA’s from all over the country are brought into Adobe’s San Jose headquarters for a two-day recruiting event. It starts with a reception in an auditorium. Every Adobe team that is hiring for an MBA role has a booth in that auditorium, and in most cases it was the hiring manager and a colleague in each booth. MBA’s are then invited to approach each team whose roles they are interested in to learn more about the role, tell the team a bit about himself or herself, and hand their resume. After the reception ends, before MBA candidates head off to a networking event and eventually our hotel rooms, we are asked to rank the top roles we’re interested in, and hiring managers are asked to submit the top candidates who they’d like to interview the following day (taking into account the conversations they had at the reception as well as they resumes they were handed). Then, the Talent Acquisition team works tirelessly to pair MBA Candidates and hiring mangers who are mutually interested.
At 1 AM that night, I received notice that two teams wanted to interview me the following afternoon. One interview went clearly better than the other, and that was the team that ended up extending an offer to me, and the rest is history.
I was actually sad to graduate. These two years had been so amazing that I was genuinely sad it was ending. Before we departed, we had what’s called “Dis-O” week, or disorientation week. There was an overnight cabin trip with a ropes course, wine/beer tasting, and white water rafting. There was a Six Flags theme park trip and a food bus tour. There was our annual awards show fondly known as the Haascars, which is a hilarious, music-filled, yet sentimental production put on and hosted by some extraordinary classmates. And finally, we had a class BBQ where we competed in various activities for one last time in our respective cohorts.
Forge close relationships with folks who you weren’t able to with in your first year. When you have class projects (which you will have a lot of since second year is all electives), go out of your way to work with people who you don’t know as well. Also, be sure to help the first years below you however you can, whether it’s giving advice, telling them to slow down, doing resume review or interview prep with them, or simply making them feel welcome.
At first, it was an adjustment! Gone are the days where, at any time I want, I can exercise, catch up on news and sports, grab coffee with friends, or go down a rabbit hole researching deeply whatever topic interests me that week. But even with that, it’s nice to be earning a paycheck again while doing work that I enjoy. It makes me evermore thankful for my business school experience and the role it played in facilitating my career change and giving me the confidence to be successful in something I had never done before (that being product management).
Text messaging, social media, random meet ups, and Haas-sponsored events.
But when I think of Haas, I’ll always think of our business school dean, Dean Lyons, singing and playing his guitar in front of captivated audiences. He was the quintessential representation of the Haas culture.
I wish I had taken advantage of all of the opportunities to travel with my classmates. However, due to wedding planning (did I mention I got engaged right before business school?), getting married between my first and second year, job hunting, and other miscellaneous poorly timed commitments I had made, I had to skip out on most of them.
My advice is that applicants should research school cultures just as much, if not more, than any other aspect of the schools. Choose the school whose culture you identify most with, because that’s probably the place where you will personally and professionally flourish the most. Don’t get caught up in vanity metrics like the percent of the class that places in such and such industry, or average salary upon graduation, etc. Those metrics reflect in large part the role preferences and industry choices of the class.