Business Schools

Wounded, Dejected…and Hired


"I walked out of the room feeling like I'd been chewed up, spit out, and booed off stage"

I had just completed by far the worst interview I'd ever encountered. I have always assiduously prepared for interviews and have received my share of job offers over the years. However, this interview at Kraft's (KFT) Oscar Mayer division here in Madison, Wis., was unlike anything I'd ever experienced before: three 2-on-1 grueling sessions of hard-hitting questions that could stump even the most adroit interviewee.

Take this exchange for example:

"If you had a lemonade stand, how many lemons would you purchase each year?"

"O.K., do you want my thought process or an actual number?"

"A number."

"A number?"

"Yes, a number."

Digging Right In

At this point, already feeling wounded and dejected, I seriously pondered giving up. For a nanosecond, I wanted to politely say: "You know what? I have no idea. Thanks for your time." But, I'm no quitter. I knew I had nothing to lose, so I dug in and crafted an answer. I remembered conversations with friends as we discussed sensitivity analysis based on a list of assumptions, so I twisted those details to fit this fictitious lemonade stand. (Thank God, I have nerdy friends.) I couldn't tell if the interviewers were buying it, but at least my answer was something more than "I've got no clue."

I went home and buried myself under the covers. I tried to look at the bright side. I did have another offer, so this was clearly not the end of the world. However, as the consummate overachiever, whose dad only somewhat jokingly raised her to believe that a score of 98 is bad because it's two points below a 100, trying to rationalize a perceived failure did little to cheer me up. To make matters worse, I had to attend a dinner for the Wisconsin School of Business Diversity Weekend. On a night in which I wanted to talk to no one, I had to go face a group of strangers, talk about how much I loved B-school, and answer the question every second-year gets daily: "Do you know where you'll be working yet?"

In the end, I did what all fighters have to do. I sucked it up and faced the world. It was a bit a hard at first, but I soon forgot about the interview. After the dinner, I went out with the prospective students. And it turns out that evening was exactly what I needed to forget about the interview. In the coming days, the experience was a distant, painful memory. I had let it go and moved on.

Home Free

Four days later, a call came from Kraft. I got the offer. Talk about shocked. Shocked, stunned, and flabbergasted to be exact. I couldn't believe it. I sincerely thought I had bombed. Once the news settled in, I felt grateful and humbled. I was grateful for the opportunity and humbled because through the highly competitive process Kraft picked me to join its team.

I signed with Kraft right before the semester ended, and I've been relatively stress-free since then. I packed my schedule in the first three semesters, so that I could have a light final semester. I'm taking only three classes: New Product Practicum, Quantitative Models in Marketing, and Seminar in Supply Chain Management. I enjoy all three, but Supply Chain is my favorite. The entire class is based on a computerized simulation in which you compete against other teams in making the product development, manufacturing, and supply chain decisions for a fictitious business. I enjoy it because it is a synthesis of everything I've learned in B-school. You get to take ownership of routine business decisions and see how it affects financial statements and key performance indicators. Too often, I feel as if we have great projects in B-school, but we don't get to see the financial implications of those decisions. This project forces you to approach situations with realism and acknowledge that every great idea has a cost and a consequence.

As a result of my light course load, I have time to devote to other interests, such as planning for graduation and finding an apartment. I wouldn't say that I have senioritis, but I have to admit I've spent a lot of time pondering things like stainless steel appliances, granite countertops, and finding the perfect outfits for graduation festivities. It's easy to fall into a false sense of security during the second year. For instance, it's the midterm, and I haven't had any tests or major assignments. All the major deliverables come at the end. You have to be disciplined and keep on top of things. You don't want to get behind and have everything come crashing down in April and May.

Despite the stress from job hunting, second year has been a lot of fun. I've enjoyed leading organizations, taking in-depth marketing courses, and getting to explore more of what Madison and the university as a whole have to offer. I will be sad when my B-school career comes to a close. Luckily for me, even though I have to say good-bye to school, I will still get to call Madison home.

Coffey is a member of Wisconsin - Madison's MBA class of 2008.

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