Oct 30, 2023

My International MBA in the US got me a job at Altria!

Yousuf Khan, GMP Batch 2011, SPJIMR, Mumbai & Brandeis, Boston  

I come from a family of engineers, and I saw the kind of work my father, uncles, and even my cousins did which inspired me. I knew I was born to do the same. So, I applied to several engineering colleges having no inclination toward any one specific specialisation, however, I knew I wanted to pursue a core subject. So, when I got through Electrical engineering at DCE, I was thrilled and went ahead.

My tenure at the Delhi College of Engineering was quite smooth, I got a job through campus placements and worked for around 3.5 years in construction. Initially I was handling a position that required me to work from the head office, however, post demonetisation, when the company was short-staffed, I was required to fill in for them. That’s when I realised that I was not cut out for this specialisation. It required me to work for extended periods of time outdoors, in the scorching heat. I also felt stagnant in my career, and that I wasn’t growing the way I had anticipated, and expected.

That is also when I realised my desire to take up managerial roles, my keen interest in project management, people management, and basically the business side of the spectrum. I knew that getting an MBA degree would be advantageous if I wanted to move in that direction, that too in a new country since I love travelling and exploring new places, meeting new people, and trying out authentic cuisines. I was considering B-schools in the US. Why you’d ask? The USA is a big economy, with a larger number of job opportunities as compared to the other markets, and no language barriers either, as seen in Europe. I also have a number of relatives and friends in the US, as opposed to the other parts of the world. Having said this, I wasn’t very confident about being able to fit in, adapt to the weather primarily, and the culture, and find a job there on my own. There’s a lot of uncertainty that lurks when you know you have to fend for yourself, in a foreign land. So, as much as I was excited to dive into my application process, I also wanted to have a life jacket on, or some kind of safety net, so that I am mentally at peace when I set foot in the US.

That’s when I saw an Instagram ad for the Global Management Programme being offered by what I considered the top B-school in MumbaiX IndiaX The WORLD!✅

What made GMP a good option?

The Global Management Programme by SPJIMR had alumni across the globe, including India, which provided me with an option to fall back on, just in case things did not pan out the way I wanted them to. GMP’s partnership gave me the option of completing my education in the US, and coming back to my family in India since it’s one of the top B-schools in Mumbai. Moreover, the job sector in India is also booming – there are numerous tech startups coming up now, more than ever, which is driving candidates back from foreign countries. This seemed more like a privilege to me than an option or a programme highlight. All other programmes, be it UG/ PG, require you to choose between your own country or another, this, however, was different. Hence, SPJIMR’s GMP is incomparable! It’s designed to provide management education, with a global experience. It was also not just a candidate’s perspective, I had friends in a number of B-schools like ISB, and IIMs, and even in different programmes at SPJIMR but this stood out in the ways its students and alumni spoke about it.

All these factors made it very easy for me to choose my B-school.

Having friends around made everything easier!

I was on the campus for a month when the lockdown was announced (due to the pandemic) and we were asked by the authorities to pack our bags and head home. I packed light, and left for Delhi, leaving the other important things behind, thinking I was coming back two weeks later… Little did I know, 2 weeks would turn into neverending two years!

We have all at some point learned new fancy recipes from YouTube, but an online MBA was mindboggling, and I don’t think any of us were ready for it. Yes, there are online MBA programmes too but they are designed very differently. Having to do a full-time MBA, designed for the classroom, online at home was just depressing.

I missed the classroom energy and debates with my peers, and I even found myself appreciating the constructive criticism from the faculty. The pandemic did in fact make me appreciate the little things that I’d roll my eyes at, otherwise. Nonetheless, when I look back now, I realise the steep learning curve that it was, and it also contributed a lot to our personal development and laid a very strong foundation as I moved to the US for my remaining 1 year of the GMP programme at Brandeis.

There were a number of us from SPJIMR who had opted for Brandeis, US. Five of us got together and rented an apartment to live in. It was a party all the time, at least at the beginning. It felt like home, away from home.

I chose to rough it out!

The winter, of course!

My B-school was located in Boston, one of the coldest places in the US. I had never experienced snow before, and I just couldn’t wait to do so. All that enthusiasm, however, melted away with the snow, within a week of having to live with it and clear it, regularly.

Life, and education in the US are very different from what we have in India. Although GMP was very interactive and focused on brainstorming and discussions more than the theory from books, the US B-school was completely application-based. I worked on multiple live projects, working with companies, and applying the concepts that I had learned in theory.

I had no concept of part-time jobs for survival, neither in Saudi Arabia, nor India. We have a culture of having everything provided to us as long as we are living with our parents. However, it was very different in the US, since I was away from home. I was working round the clock – studying, and doing multiple part-time jobs – in the cafeteria, library, as a research assistant, and as a teaching assistant. This was again a very steep learning curve for me as I learned time management. It was also a choice that I made. The other students found their own unique ways to manage their expenses, and I knew I could too! This also helped me to network with people from diverse backgrounds.

Since Brandeis is an international B-school in the US, the atmosphere is very light and friendly. It was all very inclusive and diverse. I was never alienated just because I belonged to a different country, I did not worry about not being able to survive in that atmosphere, EVER!

Getting exactly what you want is tough.

I faced millions of rejections before landing my first internship. Some companies are open to hiring international candidates, however, there are also some that consider it a hassle and avoid doing that. But landing your choice of internship is challenging, and becomes equally it is important to stay as resilient as possible, and always keep applying!

Brandeis was a part of the Latin American professional community called the “ALPFA” which provided professional development to its members. ALPFA has annual career fairs where I met the team from Altria. They were hiring for sales roles at the time, but I still enquired about any openings for Analytics or consumer insights, in the future. They got back to me weeks later, informing me about a position in consumer insights. They organised a Hirevue interview, wherein you have to answer pre-recorded questions, followed by a panel interview a few weeks later. After a lot of back and forth, I finally got what I was desperately waiting for – the offer letter!!

I finally landed an internship in the CPG industry! My long-term plan was to get into product management, and while this wasn’t exactly that, it was a step in that direction. Consumer insights, market research, and data analytics are an integral part of product management, and my role as a Consumer Insights Intern at Altria helped me get that exposure. I got numerous perks even as an intern – I got a laptop, and a car, and was assigned an apartment to live in. I was super excited, and it was all worth the wait! I wanted to make a mark for myself in the company.

Working in India vs. the United States

I have experience working in two different countries – India, and the US. Both are very different from one another, even in terms of work culture. Although I aspired to grow in my career, the environment in India I found myself in, was far from conducive to my aspirations. Despite my dedication and hard work, I realised that the opportunities for growth in my company were limited. I felt like I had a lot of potential that was untapped, and my aspirations were being stifled. I constantly hoped for a company where I could thrive, learn, and explore new horizons.

In the US, however, I feel supported. They are always moving towards betterment – if they feel you’ve done something and are capable of more, they will try to work with you on how you could improve the same thing, or where you went wrong, without any judgment or looking down upon you. People here appreciate the uniqueness that you bring to the table, value you for who YOU are, and encourage you to shine in your own light.

The expertise and the support that I felt in the US were very similar to the supportive atmosphere that the faculty at SPJIMR had created. This culture has contributed immensely to my personal development. I have grown a lot as a professional, and also in terms of my confidence – till a few years back, I could not speak a full sentence without fumbling or stammering especially when I met someone new. However, today, I happily interact with people, communicate effectively, and even speak extempore during official presentations.

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