Jake Sisley, an MBA from Scheller College of Business at Georgia Tech, shares how he utilized Scheller's innovative MBA coursework and Career Services to make a succesful career switch.
Name: Jake Sisley
School: MBA, Scheller College of Business, Georgia Tech
Profession: Director, Product Development, AT&T, Atlanta, GA
What are some activities you were involved with outside of class?
I was involved in several extracurricular activities, as was most everyone at Scheller, actually. Even though it is a smaller school, it has just as many activities outside of the classroom as many of the larger MBA programs. So, everyone has the opportunity to be very involved in any number things. In addition to the commitment to making a career switch, I was a Graduate Research Assistant, participated in business plan competitions, was president of the Entrepreneurship Club, and helped with starting an annual student/alumni golf tournament. Add in the academic work, and it’s easy to see how this was one of the busiest times of my life.
The way I handled it was by planning. Every Sunday after lunch, I’d sit down and evaluate all of the things I needed to do for the coming week. I determined priority and estimated the time commitment for each. Then, I’d schedule out when I was going to get it all done. Things never played out exactly as planned, but I’d at least know if I were ahead or behind and could adjust accordingly. Then, there was Saturday. That was my day to do whatever I wanted, which, in the fall, usually involved going to Tech football games. Go Jackets!
What was your favorite classroom experience?
For me, it was TI:GER, which stands for Technological Innovation: Generating Economic Results. It is an interdisciplinary program focused on commercializing new technology. In the broadest sense, it is an entrepreneurship concentration that is very applied and very project based. More specifically, though, it’s a four-elective series that dives deep into how to take university-owned intellectual property to market. It’s a collaborative effort between the Scheller College of Business and Emory Law School. I was on a self-selected team with two law students, another MBA student, and a Georgia Tech Ph.D. candidate in biochemistry.
The Ph.D. candidate was researching a substance that would prevent many of the issues caused by the human body’s response to medical implants. We created a business plan to commercialize the substance as an implant coating to minimize these issues. While we didn’t execute the plan, the learnings we all had from creating it and competing in business plan competitions with it were invaluable.
What do you think is your program's greatest asset?
The culture. Everyone from the administration to the faculty to the career services team has a focus on helping the student become the best he or she can be, and they do it in a positive, engaging way. The students are a big part of the culture of any school, and this is where Scheller’s really shines. I found my peers to be very intelligent, highly motivated, and hard working. What set them apart as Sheller students, though, was that they were also overly friendly and enjoy succeeding together much more than standing out. This created a highly collaborative learning environment and led to the creation of relationships that have lasted far beyond graduation.
Did you pursue your MBA to switch careers?
Indeed. Prior to business school, my career had been in real estate development and construction. I had an engineering undergraduate degree and had developed a very specific skill-set in real estate. When the industry began to take a down turn, I realized that I needed a broader skill set that could be transferrable from one industry to the next and one job function to the next. One of the most important aspects of an MBA is that it gives you the tools to be able to think broadly about business generally rather than only a particular business. At AT&T, a company as dynamic as it is large, this has proven to be very important.
What resources did your school offer you through the career search?
There are a lot of things that stand out about Scheller, but none more so than the MBA Career Services team. There are four dedicated career counselors for about 150 students total, so about a 35:1 or 40:1 ratio. With that ratio, you can and do develop a personal relationship with your counselor, which, by the way, you keep throughout both years. Career coaching and planning starts during orientation with a workshop that teaches best practices for networking, resume writing, info sessions, interviewing, and negotiating.
The workshop continues into the fall and culminates with a mock interview with your counselor. You pick the internship you’re most interested in and prep for the interview just like you would a real one; then your counselor puts you through the paces. While you are required to do one, the great thing is that they are happy to do as many as you want to make sure you are prepared, which is as important as the experience and qualifications you bring to the table.
Advice for Future Applicants?
What is the one thing you wish someone had told you before you started the MBA application process?
I wish someone had told me how to craft an effective personal positioning statement. A personal positioning statement is a twenty to thirty second response to the common request, “So, tell me about yourself.” It’s a brief summary of where you’ve been, what you’re doing, and where you want to go, with an emphasis on brief. So many interviews begin with this question, and I didn’t know that they were looking for a succinct answer rather than a more detailed history. During my interview at Scheller, one of the interviewers politely interrupted my diatribe to move to the next question. Very fortunately for me, the rest of the interview went well enough for them to admit me. As an interesting aside, that interviewer became my career counselor, with whom I keep in touch to this day.
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