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Starting a post-MBA job in lockdown

Amneek Kaur will graduate from the Full-time MBA later this month. She recently started a new role as Corporate Strategy Manager at Asda. She explains how the Manchester MBA helped her secure a job in lockdown and shares her experience of starting a new role remotely.

Why did you decide to do an MBA?

I'm from India and before my MBA I worked for PwC in Risk Advisory Services for five years. My time at PwC gave me an excellent overview of process improvement, business process reviews, digital transformation and client management. I worked with clients across the technology, e-commerce, education and energy domains. I analysed their operations in Asian markets and gained a cross-functional view across business functions such as marketing, finance and operations. However, as my role was forensic in nature, I was keen to do an MBA and make a pivot in my career towards strategy. I wanted to learn more about strategy and get practical exposure before moving into a strategic role. I chose Alliance Manchester Business School because of the consulting projects and the focus on practical learning, which is very unique compared to other business schools.

Did you know about Manchester before you came here?

No, it was my first time abroad. When I was looking for different schools, I was not focusing on a specific location. The curriculum and what the school had to offer were more important than the location. I was looking at schools in Canada, Singapore and the UK so it was an international search – not just specifically UK. I liked the whole curriculum at Manchester with the strong focus on practical learning. I had two MBA offers so I had to choose between two schools and it was the toughest choice. But I'm so happy that I chose Manchester because it has been a great experience for me.

What is your new role and what are your main responsibilities?

I am a Corporate Strategy Manager at Asda. I am a part of the strategy team, which supports the design and execution of Asda’s long term strategy and helps executive teams in setting the strategic agenda for growth. My role will be focused on performing strategic reviews to diagnose core issues and recommend growth opportunities. This role has intersections with my internship role and the live consulting projects. I will be able to directly apply my MBA learnings to this role.

What aspects of the MBA helped you to get your full-time role?

I really liked the way the live consultancy projects were structured. We started with the not-for-profit consultancy project - we even got the project brief before the start date of the MBA. As the course started, there were lectures every week on how to conduct the project. Professors taught us about various stages of a consulting project such as dissecting a business problem, designing research methodology, drafting tangible recommendations, etc. As we were learning these new concepts, we were simultaneously applying them for a live client. Then we accelerated and got a medium-sized UK client for the commercial business project, and then an international client for the international business project. The learning curve was amazing: I could see how my skills and thought processes matured with every project and I developed a strategic mindset.

In my interview for Asda, the first round was a case study with a business problem. I had to present a hypothesis on how to solve it and design a project plan. Because of my MBA, these concepts were not new to me. I was able to use my MBA learnings and dissect the problem and design a hypothesis tree. Also, the learnings from the ‘Advanced Strategic Management’ elective helped me to use relevant frameworks in my case study. My interviewer from Asda was impressed to see how structured I was in my approach and how effectively I communicated about my work.

How did you approach job hunting during a lockdown?

During my MBA, I did an internship with Coop Food in Manchester. In April I was due to start a project with the strategy team continuing what I did in my internship. Unfortunately, the project was put on hold in March because of the start of Covid-19. This was very disappointing for me and I was scared that other companies might stop recruiting.

My job hunting strategy was to find a role that would fit well with my experience. I had already applied for various roles that were a good fit and my Asda application was in progress. As the pandemic started, it was a difficult time as the job market was taking a dip. My part-time project was already cancelled and I was scared that other opportunities would also disappear. Waiting to hear back from the companies after applying is a painful process, especially in such an uncertain situation and with my student visa due to expire soon.

The key thing for me was to stay calm and positive in this difficult time. I did many online courses alongside my job hunting to enhance my skills and keep myself occupied so I wouldn’t spend too much time worrying. I also started cooking and doing colouring books to stay peaceful. It's very easy to get demotivated and stressed in such a time, so it's really important to pick yourself up, find what you really enjoy and start doing it to stay positive and calm.

Also, I was in constant touch with the AMBS Postgraduate Careers Service. I had weekly meetings with Naomi and she motivated me to stay positive and also helped with mock interviews. 

What was the interview process for your new role?

I had applied in February and in early March I had the first round of my interview, which was the case study and a virtual interview with a senior manager to get to know me better and test my competencies. I was told that the next round would be a more intensive in-person interview with senior directors at the head office in Leeds. Then Covid-19 happened and I was still waiting to hear about how things were going to progress. 

I had seen with my friends that a lot of companies had refused offers or paused hiring, so I was scared that things might not work out with Asda. I was waiting to hear back and at the same time, I was applying to other companies and trying to find other roles. Then in April, fortunately I got a response that they were willing to switch to a virtual interview, so that was a big relief for me. However as I had no other applications in progress and was getting a lot of rejections, this felt like it was my one and only opportunity and I had to give my best shot. My second round was with a senior director and a HR business partner and my third round was with two senior directors. 

How did you prepare for the virtual interview?

I feel the biggest challenge in a virtual interview is how to show your personality to the interviewers. When you meet in person it is much more comfortable and it is easier to interact. However as the whole world was adapting to a virtual environment, I also had to.

I took a lot of help from my friends and I was in constant contact with the Postgraduate Careers Service. I did 3-4 virtual mock interviews and they helped me refine my answers and get over the discomfort of a virtual interview. Because of the mock interviews, I felt comfortable in front of the camera. 

How have you found starting a new job virtually?

Four months ago, if someone would have asked me ‘Do you want to join a company virtually?’ I would have said no. But I think the whole world has changed and this is the new normal. It's great to see how companies have adapted to the virtual environment. In May, I got my job offer and they asked if I would be ok joining virtually, because it's not something that everyone would be ok with. I think we’ve learned with Covid-19 that you have to be adaptable, so I decided I was happy to join virtually. It's quite strange that I have joined the company but I've never met anyone in person.

Initially I had my apprehensions about joining virtually, but the onboarding experience was good. I had to collect my laptop from a nearby Asda superstore and when I came home and set it up, my calendar was already filled with one-to-ones for the first two weeks with each member of the team of 24. This meant I could get to know everyone personally rather than just having a group introduction, which would have made it really difficult to settle in. On Fridays there are a lot of team activities: we have a huddle where we play a pub quiz every week and there’s also a sharing session where people share anything new they’ve learnt that week. These sessions have helped me to feel engaged and become part of the team. 

The whole process has been very smooth as I was given time to settle in and learn about the company and the different projects I have to work on. Despite the virtual workplace, my team is always available for help and support. We start every day with a meeting so that everyone is pumped up and can share what they're working on. All these things help you to work effectively in a virtual environment.

Did you always plan to get a job in the UK after your MBA?

I was flexible to move out of UK but I definitely wanted a job in Europe so that I could get more international exposure and stay abroad for a few years. For international students, getting a full-time role is more difficult because we need visa sponsorship and not all companies are willing to sponsor. I knew that Asda was a sponsor, but when I applied I didn’t realise that their quota for sponsoring tier two applicants that year had finished. After joining, I found out that they had increased their quota so they could hire me. That was a surprise to me – I was under the impression that it’s really difficult to get sponsorship and convince companies that you can add value. But if a company really likes you, they might be willing to take that step, so don’t be afraid of applying. I really feel fortunate that they took so much effort to get me on board.

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