Chaitra Garalpuri, originally from Bangalore, India, discusses how she transitioned from engineering to business and highlights the impact her MBA class and faculty had in helping her adjust to life in a new country at William & Mary's Mason School of Business. She also explains the importance of utilizing your school's alumni network and career development programs to gain a deeper understanding of the industries and careers that interest you.
Why did you choose your MBA program? Do you have advice for students on how to make a decision?
An MBA is a great way to provide breadth and depth to your experiences. For me, as an engineer, school had always been far more technical. In an MBA program, it is more about current events and how you can handle different situations. A lot of the learning happens through conversations with the faculty and students than with text books. You are treated as working professionals from day one and the program is designed in a similar way as well. There is almost always never a right or a wrong answer. It is about what risk you are willing to take and how you plan to mitigate the risk. If you are looking to widen your experiences, change careers, learn about several different aspects of what constitutes the functioning of an overall company, or looking for the next step in climbing the ladder in your current field, an MBA would be the right step for you.
What do you think is your program's greatest asset?
I think one of Mason School of Business's greatest assets is the kind of people they bring to the class. The program is designed to ensure diversity. One of the first things I noticed when placed in my study group was that each member came from a different background with varied experiences. Over time, the study group became my go-to network and support group. We hung out and studied together, did assignments together and even helped each other out in market research and other school work. Since we had such a diverse background, we exchanged different thoughts and ideas and helped each other grow. The class is a larger extension of the study group. Our class had people coming from a dozen different countries, with experience levels from fresh out of college to 10-12 years in various industries. When the class is so diverse, the conversations you have in and out of the classroom provide for multifaceted views and a kind of learning very difficult to find anywhere else.
When it came time to look for jobs, did you find yourself interested in a new career that you hadn't considered before doing your MBA?
During the second year of my MBA, I found the job that I am in today. It was completely new to me and I had no idea what it entailed. It was not something that I had sought after, but I was willing to give it a try. After getting an offer, I wanted to learn more about the job itself so the company arranged for "a day in the shoes of" experience. They invited me to their campus and paired me up with a current manager whose role was very similar to what I would be doing. I spent the day shadowing him and learning some of the high-level aspects of what it would be like in the role. This gave me a clearer vision than I had during my interviews After I joined, the company put me on an MBA rotation program and gave me a 2-year period during which I was able to spend 6-8 months in various departments to gain deeper understanding of the kind of work being done. At the end, I was able to choose the department that I thought was a good fit for me and the company.
What resources and support did your school offer you through the career search? How did you highlight your personal and career achievements on your resume?
One of the highlights of the MBA program at Mason School of Business are the Executive Partners. These are men and women who have spent 20-30 years in the industry and now act as mentors to guide, help, and support current students. Each student group is assigned two mentors who are available for all meetings through the program. The mentors not only have immense knowledge of the industry, but they are also willing, and make themselves available, to help you at every step. Apart from this, our class had access to dozens of Executive Partners who were assigned to other groups or are not assigned to any group at all. You can look them up and reach out to the Partner who you think can help you the most. You will find that each and every Partner is very approachable and always willing to go above and beyond to help you. Being interested in the technology field, I reached out to a few Partners who had prior experience in technology. Along with my own mentors, I used the Executive Partners as sounding boards while working to build and enhance my resume. They provided an eye towards what the potential recruiters may be looking for, allowing me to best highlight my skills on my resume.
What advice can you give to ease the transition to a new country?
Transiting into a new country is never easy. My suggestion is to plan early and be mentally prepared for the journey. The first couple of months will be hard as you look for a place to live, get a new cellphone, bank account, etc. These are just logistics which are a hassle and you will get over them. Once you have settled down, there are larger things, such as understanding the culture and traditions of the country and the people. Basics, such as the way we react or different mannerisms become alien to a foreign national. There are many days where I felt truly home sick and wondered if I would ever fit it. However, these are natural feelings for anyone during such a large transition. Sometimes, we are our own worst critics. Give yourself time and you will see that things start to get easier in the second year of school.
What resources did your MBA program have for international students?
The Mason School offers an International Orientation to help settle you in. Above and beyond that, it is the students and the faculty who have a great impact. With a large international population every year, the Mason School is empathetic to the large and difficult transition an international student has to go through. You will find yourself surrounded by very warm people who will do everything they can to make you feel welcomed and at home in your new town. The study group is a perfect example of this. The school ensures that there is a good mix of international and local students in each group. Because of this, my group was my strongest pillar of support. They helped me understand the new cultures, traditions and the new ways of doing things. All this accelerated my adaption curve, and I started feeling at home very soon. During class there are always discussions on how businesses and situations are handled in various countries and how things are seen differently by other cultures. This helps you gain a unique experience and understanding of the world.
Advice for Future Applicants
What is the one thing you wish someone had told you before you started the MBA application process?
One of the things I wish I had known better is that talking to alumni will definitely help you gain a larger understanding of what to expect from the program and the school. Most schools offer similar programs and it becomes very hard as an applicant to distinguish one program from the other. It is in making these distinctions that the school's alumni can play a major role. As a confused applicant, I had a number of questions. Also, there is so much information available on the internet, it was hard for me to know who to trust. At this stage in my application process, if I had spoken to alumni, it would have provided me with at least some of the answers I was looking for.
Did you come from a non-business background? If so, how did you highlight your achievements and tell your story when applying?
I have my undergraduate degree in Engineering and worked in the technology field before my MBA. So, I came with no previous background in business. What worked for me in my application and interviews was explaining to the admissions team what I was looking to achieve with my MBA degree. What I found is that the admissions department at the Mason School of Business is very understanding and willing to listen. They listen to your expectations and suggests thoughtful ways to help you at every step. They were very willing to connect me with existing students and faculty so that I could get a clear vision of what the program had to offer. All this helped me make a more definitive decision to join the school.