2008, 2009 MBA grads share experience, wisdom with students

Five Olin alumni who graduated during the worst economic recession in the US since the Great Depression share what they learned with the class of 2020 and 2021, who now face their own anxious, uncertain future.

“It’s not fair.”

In a panel Zoom conversation on Friday, April 17, among full-time MBA students and five alumni who graduated during the 2008-2009 recession, Davi Bryan spoke bluntly to the students.

“Relative to students who graduated a year or two ago, you are going to have to put in more work,” said Bryan, MBA ’08, and executive for workplace experience, North America lead at Avande. “It is going to be harder. You are going to have to bring more creativity to your search. And is that fair? No, it’s not. But at some point, you’ve just got to do it.”

Bryan, along with Jeannie Chan, MBA ’08, associate director at Merck; EJ Hullverson, MBA ’09, digital project lead at Nestlé Purina; Bobby Stewart, MBA ’08, marketing consultant at RDS Marketing Solutions; and Julie Zuick, MBA ’09, senior consultant for diversified search at Grant Cooper, shared their experiences and wisdom with students hoping to find jobs or summer internships amid the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting economic downturn.

Find the “new doors” that open

Recognizing that the uncertainty caused by COVID-19 has closed doors for students, who might face hiring freezes or rescinded internships, Olin’s Weston Career Center invited the five MBA alumni, who had experienced similar tumult in their own job searches, to share their insights.

Panelists and full-time MBA students gathered with Weston Career Center staff on Friday, April 17 to discuss career searching during an economic downturn.

The panel, moderated by Kendra Kelly, MBA ’21, encouraged students to consider ways this change in plans might lead to options they might not have previously considered.

“In tumultuous times, opportunity can arise,” said Hulverson. “Being able to flex and bend and approach the situation looking for opportunities is what defined my job search.”

Bryan agreed, remembering her fear of failure because she couldn’t find the jobs she’d dreamed of and planned for. “I think my experience and those of the others here today speak for themselves: this isn’t something that follows you forever, and it doesn’t create an insurmountable hurdle.”

She explained how she turned an experience working for Walmart, after which she chose to move toward consulting, still helped her land her desired job at Deloitte because she had a story to tell about what she learned about herself: “I told them the skills I’d learned. Now I’m telling Deloitte a story of how I fit in there, and how the skills I learned at Walmart make me a better candidate.”

Stewart reminded students that large, publicly traded organizations—which may have frozen hiring—aren’t the only choice for getting experience. “Use your entrepreneurial spirit, the resources Olin has provided you to help other organizations get where they need to be.”

Zuick put it simply: “Each job, each company will teach you something,” she said.

Be prepared, work hard, use your skills

It’s no secret that the class of 2020 and 2021 will have to work hard and be creative in their job search—but the panelists explored how that might set them apart.

That need to be flexible, hard-working and agile in the job search is the same need companies have for their workers. As Hullverson said, “I don’t think the world is getting any more certain. Being able to pivot is extremely valuable.”

Zuick reminded students to do their research—and keep up that hard-work mindset once they’ve landed the position. “You might want to take on more,” she recommended. “You’ll get a project—knock that out of the park. But if it’s going well, ask for a second project where you can gain more skills and become a leader.”

The panel encouraged the students to stretch. “You’re going to have to do a lot of things that are uncomfortable,” Bryan explained. “But just because it feels uncomfortable doesn’t mean you’re not good at it.”

Be yourself

At least once in the hourlong session, each panelist reminded the students of the most important part of the job search: be who you are, and be real.

The panelists recommended that students not shy away from the impact COVID-19 is having on all of us. “Be sensitive about it,” said Chan. “But there is something that everyone is going through right now. Start a conversation by talking about this common experience, and become a real person to the person on the phone.”

Stewart reminded the students, “you’re competing against a lot of other very smart, very talented people from top MBA programs. Personality really does matter.”

After an hour of question-and-answer, students expressed their gratitude at the chance to talk to people who understood what they were experiencing—and had lived through it.

Adam Hull (MBA ’21) felt edified learning from the perspective of another class who faced challenging economic times. “It was inspiring to see that each member of the panel had built a fantastic career and had used the economic difficulties as a way to build resilience and adaptability.”

As the event wrapped up, Kelly asked the panelists for parting thoughts. Bryan summed up her hopes for the class of 2020:

“I hope you are being stretched and learning things about yourself, so that you emerge from this experience knowing who you are and what your value is. Then, you’ll be able to weather whatever comes before you. That’s my wish for each of you.”

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