Interview by Howie Rhee '04, with contributions by Coco Chen. Added June 21st, 2016
Tell us about what you studied at Duke and which program you were in?
I completed Duke's dual MEM/MBA degree with Nicholas School of the Environment and The Fuqua School of Business. At Fuqua, I concentrated in Corporate Finance and Decision Sciences. At Nicholas, I completed the Energy & Environment concentration, which provided a strong overview of energy systems and allowed me to develop the tools and skills to tackle questions like how to mitigate carbon emissions while ensuring grid reliability. For my Master's Project, I worked for Tyton BioEnergy Systems, a Virginia-based start-up that has been using tobacco as a feedstock for ethanol production. My team and I were tasked with finding alternate commercial applications for the tobacco plant and did an environmental and financial analysis on using tobacco biomass for bioplastic production.
Talk about your prior work experience.
As an undergrad at Emory, I studied comparative religion and Middle Eastern Studies. I've always been drawn to cultures other than my own and find religion a fascinating lens in which to understand the way that people see and understand the world. After I graduated, I moved to Washington, DC and worked for the U.S.-Saudi Arabian Business Council where I helped U.S. companies find distributors or investment partners in Saudi Arabia. As you can imagine, I worked with a number of energy and manufacturing firms and was drawn to the complexities of the industry. I like to joke that I liked my clients so much that I wanted to be them.
What did your recruiting process look like? How many people did you reach out to?
With the dual degree I was fortunate to have two internships. For my first summer, I knew I wanted to intern with an energy firm that was working on early prototypes. Through my network, I had a connection to TerraPower LLC, a nuclear technology firm based in Seattle that is developing a Gen IV reactor. I reached out to the Sr. VP and pitched the idea of taking me as an intern and offered suggestions of how I might be able to add value to the firm. I made my first contact in early January firmed up the final details at the end of April.
My second summer, I wanted to test out working in a large corporate environment. I started the recruitment process in September by attending National Black MBA. There I met the finance team from The Dow Chemical Company and made some great contacts. I initially applied for their finance internship; however, after the first round, I was contacted by the Sustainability team and did final rounds for their MBA Sustainability Leadership Program, the internship I ultimately decided to accept.
Throughout fall and early January I interviewed with about six firms in the energy and chemical space, which included both on- and off-campus firms. I aimed to have around three solid advocates in each firm that interested me. You want to make sure that you have people inside the firm that are excited about the possibility of you joining the team. I think it's also important to know when to let things rest so that you are able to accomplish more in your day than just information interviews.
This summer, I'll be joining BASF's Leadership Development Program. It's a two-year program that involves three domestic assignments and one international assignment.
Talk about how you thought about location (city) as it related to recruiting. Did you know where you wanted to end up or were you exploring?
My recruitment was driven by finding a global firm in the energy and manufacturing space. I wanted to be part of a company that made real impact and provided the opportunity for me to work overseas in the near future. There are not many firms that fit these criteria so I decided early-on that I would need to be flexible about the geographic location of headquarters. The most important factors in my search were the countries in which the firm operated and if they provided the development programs and opportunities that would allow me to be promoted through the ranks.
What was a favorite article or tip that someone gave you on the job search process?
Be authentic. Be you, not what you think the firm wants you to be. This is advice I always heard but was nervous to really test the waters, so-to-speak. However, I took a chance and found that it really worked. Being true to my personality and interviewing style helped me be more confident and engaging. Yes, you need to be smart and skilled but you also need to be someone who is personable and enjoyable to have on the team. If the firm is not the right fit from a culture standpoint, then you are lucky to discover that sooner rather than later!
Anything else you'd like to share with Duke students that are doing their own job search?
Know what you want. Although it has worked for some, I don't see your MBA as an opportunity to "explore." You have such limited time to take advantage of all the incredible resources at Duke that you’ll want to dive deep instead of “boiling the ocean.” The key to my recruitment success was my passion and excitement for the industries in which I was recruiting. I was a talented individual, like many of my classmates, and there was no doubt that this was the career I wanted and that I was committing for the long-haul. It's much easier for the recruiters to say “yes” when they know that you’ll be around for the investment in you to pay-off. If you're lucky to be one of the individuals that truly knows what you want, don't second-guess yourself. Stay committed to your ambitions.