NGAN NGUYEN – Be Prepared for Luck

Ngan Nguyen, an MBA Graduate at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill got both her internship and full time job at the last minute. She wanted to name her story “Be Prepared for Luck” but I believe it’s all about her hard work that paid off. Read the story of Ngan, a current Business Analysis Manager at Capital One in Richmond, Virginia.


If I could do my MBA again, I would network more diligently and practice interviews more frequently, from day 1. That would be my biggest recommendation to anyone. There are already many resources, on the Internet as well as in this group, on networking, building your brands or interviewing, from people who are way better than me at that. So, I would like to share some other tidbits that, if you are feeling discouraged or wondering if you are the only one left with no offers, I believe you will find them helpful.

1. Be prepared for luck

“Everyday is a new day. It is better to be lucky. But I would rather be exact. Then when luck comes you are ready.” – Ernest Hemingway, “The Old Man and the Sea”.

I cannot resonate enough to the quote above. I learnt from my own mistake of not following that wisdom.

Early in my first year, I was interested in consulting and applied to all the ones on campus. Mostly due to my not so relevant experience, I did not get a single invite in consulting.  The consulting recruiting season passed and I moved on to other opportunities. I stopped casing and networking for consulting, because I reckoned they would never like me.

Fast forward one year, I, surprisingly, got three consulting interview invites. At the time, I already thought I would not have a chance with consulting, but applied just because they were among the very few openings for international students on campus. I remembered that even my cover letters were very “copy-paste”, and I had no real meaningful contacts in any of the firms. A good explanation is since last time, I collected under my belt some “consulting relevant” experience: (1) I did a consulting project for a real client with a school team, (2) I performed market analysis for a start-up that a classmate introduced, and (3) my summer internship was in marketing and pricing – a hot area. Apparently, those efforts were appreciated by the firms more than I thought. Not very well prepared, I screwed up those case interviews…pretty badly.

Fast forward a few months, I got my current job mostly thanks to casing. In the end it worked out for me. I wondered what would happen if I had been better prepared for those consulting jobs – probably, I would still not get them, but would have felt better for not letting opportunities pass by so easily.

2. Desperation stinks

For an international student looking for jobs here, there are a myriad of reasons to make you desperate. You do not know the right people. You struggle to network. On campus, only a handful of companies are open to international students. Off campus, you dread bringing up the visa question with the “vague” recruiters. You might apply and apply and apply, and probably receive multiple rejections, or usually, no response at all. You might feel like you are the only one looking for jobs while everyone else already secured multiple offers.

I’ve been through all of that, and if there is one thing I can tell you – “Desperation stinks!” That was the first lesson I learnt at UNC – from the professor in charge of international students. What that means is even if you are so desperate inside and just want to scream “I can do anything, as long as you sponsor my visa”, DO NOT let the recruiters see through that. Desperate people are not attractive anywhere, in networking, in recruiting and hey, even in dating. The responses I get from when I show desperation vs. when I do not are vastly different. Just put yourself in the recruiter’s shoes, would you want to have a desperate person on board? Keep your chin up and be persistent, but not desperate. Show them that you love the job, not just desperate for any job. If you still feel desperate, just fake it till you make it.

Also, don’t let desperation keep you from taking actions to learn and improve your profile. I got my internship offer in mid-June – which is very, very late. At that time, most of my international friends had started their internship either here or in their home country. Before that, anticipating that I may not get anything, I reached out for opportunities with local start-ups. My school is near the Research Triangle Area in North Carolina, where there are many of them. These companies always need people but they usually cannot afford to pay much; however, working with them would bring interesting and valuable experience. With the introduction of a classmate, I took on a project to help a healthcare start-up with their market research (for free) while continuing searching for other internship opportunity. When I did get my internship, I still continued my research for the start-up using my free time because I really enjoyed the work. So, over the summer, I pocketed two interesting projects to put on my resume, which did help me subsequently in building a profile different from my “pre-MBA” image.

3. Leverage your pre-MBA experience

Before my MBA, I worked for a few years in financial auditing with a Big Four firm. The job gave me good exposure and development opportunity but it was also narrow and heavily stereotyped. The stereotype posed a challenge, because I wanted to switch my career path. In fact, if I had wanted to advance in auditing career, taking 2 years off for an MBA would even set me back. With that said, the goal of getting a job was my highest priority, and I did not let my pre-MBA experience go to waste. For my full time job search, I cast a widest net possible – and most of the interview invites and offers I received are for audit and accounting jobs. I am not surprised – I was the low-risk candidate for them: I did the job, and I got the right qualifications.

The biggest takeaway is: if you’re like me, with getting a “visa-sponsored” job as the highest priority, be sure to leverage your pre-MBA experience. Even if you want to switch career, having backup choices is never a bad thing.

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