Getting an MBA Job in Technology: Berkeley Haas Q&A

Berkeley-Haas

Getting an MBA job in technology requires you to engage in research and networking before you start your MBA program, according to Julia Min Hwang, assistant dean of career management services and corporate engagement at Berkeley-Haas. In this interview, Hwang, who has spent over 10 years working at Berkeley-Haas and has also worked as the director of MBA admissions at NYU Stern, discusses the opportunities available to MBAs in Silicon Valley as well as what they need to do to get an MBA job in technology.

What are the most common information management job roles for Haas graduates?

At Berkeley-Haas, we generally see three categories of job roles in the technology industry. The first category that has modest availability and high demand from the students is strategy, business development and corporate development in technology firms. The second category – positions with strong availability and demand – include product management, product marketing and corporate marketing. The final category where there's fair availability and modest demand includes finance, operations, supply chain/ procurement, sales and HR.

Which companies are hiring the most Haas graduates for information management jobs?

Our three top technology employers in for our full-time post-graduate positions are Amazon, Google and Samsung. This year’s top summer internship employers were Adobe, Amazon, Cisco, Google, LinkedIn and VISA. In addition to these great, well-known employers, we also have a roster of startup companies that hired our students ranging from Uber, to Omada Health, to Lift Labs.

There’s some repetition between the full-time post-graduate positions as well as summer internships, since one's a feeder to the other, obviously, for many of these companies.

Are most of these jobs in Silicon Valley or are there any other popular regions for information management jobs with Berkeley-Haas graduates?

We have a strong presence in Seattle because of Amazon and Microsoft. But the Northern California region – which includes Silicon Valley and San Francisco – is the primary destination of choice for our students because of the companies and opportunities that are there.

Are MBA graduates now expected to know coding?

We hear from our recruiters that coding skills can give students an added advantage – especially if they are doing product management/product marketing as you're interfacing with engineers who are working on the product. It will help you understand the process.

Berkeley-Haas offers an Introduction to Code for MBAs course which helps MBA students analyze complex problems, communicate clearly with technical colleagues, and start building real web applications. Students are taught the industry-standard vocabulary, tools, and processes used by developers today, essential to a career in the web tech industry. The course is very, very popular – especially for career changers who would need to have some knowledge of programming languages under their belt.

Are most information management MBA students looking to start their own company or work for an established company?

We are seeing a growing trend among our students wanting to work for a startup. The opportunities here are just phenomenal. You can walk down Market Street in San Francisco or south of Market and it's just one startup after another, and it's incredibly exciting. There is still a strong interest in working for established technology companies located in the Valley. Berkeley-Haas students are able to connect with the companies ranging from startup to a Google, living and studying in this dynamic ecosystem.

How does the IT job search differ from the search for other types of MBA jobs?

For Berkeley-Haas students, job search process in technology can be varied. Compared to industries such as consulting or banking where it is very structured, hiring by technology firms can range from structured to just in time hiring. Being in a dynamic and innovative ecosystem, we see fast changes. Technology firms are creating new opportunities, new divisions, new business lines that they need to hire for.

Our office stays in close touch with these firms, to work with each company for their own strategy to be nimble and to identify how they can find ways to connect with our students and find top hires.

We also hear from these firms that they value company culture fit. For students, it is important to learn and experience the culture through treks and other networking opportunities and be able to articulate why they are a good fit.

What's the most important factor that companies look at in assessing whether candidates fit with the company culture?

Generally, we see companies looking for passion for the technology industry, for the company, for their product. It is important to have done your research by visiting the firm, talking to alumni working at the company and attending networking events. Berkeley-Haas students are fortunate to have strong connections with the companies through our industry clubs and to have many opportunities to learn and experience cultures in different firms to know where they best fit.

What can prospective students do to prepare for the information management job search?

As a prospective MBA student, you need to start researching the industry sector to narrow your focus, because it's a very broad field. You want to look at industry subsectors. Those include hardware/software, Internet/cloud, social media, telecom or e-commerce.

You also want to research the company characteristics. Are you looking for large, established companies versus mid-sized versus startup? Startup space is also very varied. Questions to ask yourself include: do you want pre or post funding? What stage of funding: angel to series C? What industries? The different funding stages reflect different company size and culture, but also what may be expected of you on the job. It is important to understand these differentiations.

You can start doing some of the research before you even arrive at business school by reaching out to current students, colleagues at your current employment, alumni network from undergraduate institution. There are so many opportunities in the tech space, it’s important to have some idea of what you're passionate about. Then, when you arrive here you can hone that, because then you'll have to start thinking about which companies to target fairly soon.

One can tell whether students are passionate or not. I've seen students during the admissions process who say "Oh, I just want to be at Haas, because it's a great school" versus "I really want to be at Haas because you have this, and I want to take this course from this faculty."

You will the same kind of conversation with a Google or a Samsung. You may say: “I am excited to see the development of your Product X. I would imagine that your company could bring it to market to your enterprise customers by doing Y. Is that how the company looks at it?” You want to stand out with your passion and research.

Does Haas do anything to prepare candidates for those bizarre IT interview questions?

Berkeley-Haas students prepare for technology interview questions in many ways. Training starts with their MBA studies where they get fundamental training in critical and analytical thinking. The Career Management Group works closely with the student clubs (Haas Technology Club) to further help students to prepare by bringing back alumni who can mock interview them. These firms are looking for candidates who can break down problems, articulate their points and think quickly on their feet.

The Career Management Group has a Super Saturday where we bring alumni from the Technology sector back to campus to conduct mock interviews with the students. The Haas Technology Club helps students with the framework and practice to answer tech-focused case questions. We have graduating students in our Career Coaches program (an extension of our advising staff) who are tech focused and help our internship-seeking students with their interview preparation. 

What are the most common mistakes students make with the tech companies? How can those mistakes be avoided?

Common mistakes range from not doing your research to not being focused. I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to do the work that sharpens your focus around which jobs and industries and products interest you, and then to research the companies you wish to target.

Students sometimes falsely assume they are sufficiently familiar with a company because they are a consumer of the product/service or worked in the industry in a non-business role (especially those with engineering backgrounds). They need to understand and evaluate the dynamics of the employer from a business perspective (such as monetization of a company’s offerings). If they don’t demonstrate the acumen to be a valuable candidate in a business role, they won’t be competitive in the hiring process.

Is there anything else you would like to touch on?

When you are considering a career in technology, it is important to come to a place where you can foster your interest and be connected to firms. Being in close proximity to the firms and all the networking opportunities is important for creating opportunities for your next move.

At a school like Berkeley-Haas, you can create these opportunities by doing a project or independent study directly related to your desired career field. These opportunities will embed you in the space to learn the industry and the people. We see these opportunities leading to internships and full-time positions.  

A question to ask yourself: “If I'm really serious about starting a career in technology, should I be reading about it 3,000 miles away or should I be in it from day one?”

(conversation edited for length and clarity)

Written by Nicole Willson

Nicole is the SEO manager of TopMBA.com, as well as a contributing author. She holds a BA in history and sociology, and a master's in library science. Aside from her work for QS, Nicole is a long-time contributing editor and administrator for WikiHow.

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