CUONG DINH – Focus On Your Strengths

Cuong Dinh came to the U.S. for his MBA after working as an Aircraft Engineer in Vietnam for 6 years. Thinking back on that journey, Cuong admits it wasn’t easy for him to get his job in America. He is now a Product Manager at a startup based in Nashville, Tennessee.

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I came to the U.S. for an MBA, got my summer internship as a Data Analyst in a startup building web-based operating room performance applications and got my full-time job as Product Manager at the same company. My only pre-MBA job is Aircraft Engineer at Vietnam Airlines for 6 years. I was in classes specialized in physics at secondary and high school and attended Hanoi University of Technology. Here are a few things I did that led to my current job:

1. Talk to a lot of people about available options and what I want to do: 2 particular contacts decided my current job. The first is an international alum who gave my the advice to focus on my ability to work with numbers. I had absolutely no ideas what I would do at the beginning and considered nearly all conventional options: HR, finance, marketing, operations. This alum suggested that my quantitative strength would best suit operations and would give me the best chances to get a job. The second is my econ professor, who was at that time very interested in helping international students – I heard that he’s very aggressive and not at all friendly to the previous and following classes. I often came to him for advice on how to get a job. He told me to first and foremost improve my English and introduced me to my current boss. Looking back, I think his advice on improving English is tremendously valuable and he was literally the one who got me my job. In the week I got my internship offer, I came to his office on Monday. He flew out of town on Wednesday met my boss, talked about me on the flight. I had an interview on Thursday and got the offer right after that.

2. Do things that I’m interested in, not limited to classroom: I was and am still interested in starting my own company. In school, I volunteered at a startup incubator managed by one of my professors. I taught myself VBA in Excel when volunteering, which turned out to be very useful in my current job. I don’t think they would have hired me if I didn’t know VBA.

3. Be persistent: I got my internship quite late, 1 month into my summer break. Should I have given up, I would have had no internship and different or no full-time job. There have also been ups and downs in my internship and part-time job at the company. My persistence kept me going through to the full-time position.

Reflecting on my MBA/job search experiences, 1 questions usually came to me: what should I learn from an MBA degree?, as I can hardly recall what I learnt in these 2 years, except my Excel classes and my job searches. What am I supposed to master (the M in MBA stands for master)? Pondering this question, I realized that the students with better job offers are the ones who talk to a lot of people and know nearly everything about their favorite industries, companies, jobs available in these companies and what it takes to get these jobs. So to me, the most important knowledge to learn in an MBA program is the information about companies and jobs that you’re interested in; the most important skill to acquire is the ability to communicate to relevant people about what you can offer and what you want to do and the most useful tool to master is Excel.

Providing all these, here are some advice I would love to give myself when I just started my MBA degree. Sadly, I never had the chance to help my younger self. So I hope they can be useful to people who see themselves in my experiences/education:

1. Study English, both writing and speaking, 2 hours every day. No need to exercise on reading and listening because there’s a lot of those in your classes.

2. Once a week, talk with a person working in your favorite industries/companies about job, any alum who shared some background with you (e.g. international student) if you don’t know what you want to do yet. Limit to 2 things: (1) their job, the company, what they do and required skills/knowledge; (2) who they can recommend to talk to next. Please note to TALK to people, not email, not face-to-face. Email can’t carry much information and face-to-face conversation, though best for you, is time-consuming for the people you talk to and significantly limit your reach.

3. Take Excel classes.

I wholeheartedly believe that anyone who can do these 3 things will find very good jobs, so I hope that they can be useful to people reading my story.

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