What Haas alumni taught us about entering the job market in a recession

By Om Chitale

Berkeley Haas recently hosted a panel talk called, “Weathering the Storm: Stories of Career Success in Challenging Times” where Haas alumni who graduated in 2009 shared tips and inspiration about entering the job market in a recession.

The facilitator of the conversation, Mark Friedfeld, spoke with a panel of five MBA students to discuss what it was like to enter the job market during difficult economic times and how they still found their way to rewarding careers.

Allow yourself to be agile

MorganMorgan Bernstein, Director of Strategic Initiatives at the Haas School of Business, isn’t shy to acknowledge, “We all come into business school with certain intentions. We all wrote about it on our Haas applications. I can tell you that a career in higher education administration was not what I wrote about on my Haas application.”

Instead, after her dream internship at Google didn’t yield a full-time job offer, Morgan had to come to terms with the fact that her first job out of b-school might be “more about paying bills than fulfilling a passion.”

Morgan says, “This is a marathon, not a sprint. The first job might not be perfect nor what you conceived in your business school application, but it’s a step forward. You’ll gain skills and experience that will accelerate your career, one step at a time. Give yourself permission to envision an alternative path.”

In time, Morgan’s agility led her into an unexpected path in higher education that was more rewarding than she would’ve expected. “Be open to opportunities that weren’t necessarily on your roadmap when you started your MBA,” she advises. "I never would have thought that 10 years post MBA I’d be back at Haas, but I couldn’t be more grateful.”

Lean on your network

OmarNearly every panelist in the discussion spoke to the importance of an MBA network. Omar Garriott says, “To be part of Haas and even Berkeley at large is awesome. The Haas network was really huge for me [in 2009].”

The Haas network is how Omar found his first job post-MBA degree, “By virtue of the Haas network, I got in the door. And I was off and running.”

Omar also explains that the far-reaching nature of the Haas network is incredible. 

“There are just amazing successes that people have in the job search no matter what state you live in, and no matter what the economy looks like. What you really need to lean on is getting those referrals like I did. They make up only 7% of applicants—but 40% of actual hires. Each job you have throughout your career is going to be through your network and your ability to tell a story about where you’ve been and why you’re the right fit for this next thing.”

Think in terms of long-term relationships

DuttaDutta Satadip, agrees that leaning on your network is critical, but his advice is about realizing the importance of a network while obtaining your MBA degree. 

Before Dutta could rely on a network, he realized that he needed to first build it, which Haas allowed him to do. 

Dutta says his first year at Berkeley Haas was about making connections. To help combat some of his imposter syndrome, he realized he “needed to make some more friends and be in the ‘in-crowd’. My approach—because I love to travel—was that I joined a lot of international business seminars and signed up for class trips. There are also some programs like Haas@Work that really helped me mix and mingle with folks who were in other cohorts.”

Even though Dutta still had a job after he graduated from the evening and weekend MBA program, he was still applying for a better fit and more responsibilities. He met many failures while trying to land his ‘dream job’. But, one day something clicked. 

“I found somebody who was in the company I wanted to work for. There was not a direct connection, but a classmate that I had worked on a Haas@Work project with wrote a glowing referral to his friend who then forwarded it to somebody in the company. That's how I ended up getting my first transition and upgrade.”

Look for empowerment and inspiration

UrviNetworks at Haas aren’t only about job placement. Taking on the Student Always mindset that’s so precious at Berkeley Haas, Urvi Parekh used her network to continue learning post-MBA degree.


“I think that everyone at Haas is so disciplined about having it together and knowing how to have those conversations and being proactive. I remember during 2009 alums were really responsive. I think they understood how hard [the job market] was. Even if it was a person who said, ‘I have no jobs at my company,’ they still would take a coffee with me or they'd still have a conversation.”

From those conversations, Urvi said she was able to learn more about industry lingo and have more interactions. 

She learned that people within her industry know each other in many instances.  Eventually she’d come across connections that would say, "Oh, I know someone at this other company, and I've heard they were hiring."

Urvi says, “I think building those connections created a lot of power for me in feeling ready to transition and make the move.”

Urvi also recommends reframing conversations with hiring managers. “Change the rhetoric from being about what you want to learn to being about what you’re going to be able to do for [the company] based on what you’ve already done.”

Tell a convincing story

JaimeJaime Colmenares admits he’s a rare breed. He went into his MBA degree at Haas with a very narrow set of interests. From day one, he knew where his academic focus would lay. 

This streamlined focus narrowed his job search. It also meant he could create convincing stories for hiring managers because he was leveraging his experience very squarely.

Jaime says, “In a moment of crisis there are fewer jobs. There are jobs out there, but there are fewer jobs. A lot of those companies that are hiring are looking for people who are going to hit the ground running. And so you need to be really self-aware, more pragmatic and realistic than probably any time before.”

To catch the attention of hiring managers, Jaime says you need to be able to tell a convincing story. Crafting the best story means, “Leveraging your previous experience and how your strengths at business school have prepared you for this next step.”

Join the Haas network and weather this storm together

There is no wrong time to get your MBA degree. But, perhaps there is a perfect time to go back to business school.

In the midst of an economic downturn, creating a strong network of like-minded professionals can help you strengthen your industry knowledge or introduce you to your next hiring manager. All while you’ve learned the skills that keep your story convincing and help you move agilely through the job market. 

Learn which Haas program suits your needs best.

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Posted on June 16, 2020
Themes: MBA Benefits
Om Chitale
Om was the Director of Diversity Admissions at Haas from 2019-2021, as well as a graduate of the full-time MBA program (class of 18). He started his career in consulting at Deloitte, then switched paths into education access and equity work through an Education Pioneers Fellowship in Memphis. He's now Sr. Program Manager of Inclusion Recruiting Partnerships and Communities at LinkedIn.