Jordan Nichols is on the Growth Team at Stripe, and a MBA graduate from the University of Michigan (Ross, ’14) Since graduating from Ross, Jordan has coached numerous students and professionals on landing jobs in tech, and recently shared a post that went viral about what he’s learned from coaching individuals looking to make the transition into Tech. He shared his thoughts and his own job search story below.
Over the past year I have had numerous conversations with MBAs looking to start tech careers. I recently hosted a small webinar for the Michigan Ross tech club and wanted to pass on some thoughts that seemed to resonate across my conversations. I also wanted to share my own recent job search story as I hope it is helpful to those of you still on the trail.
Tip #1: Set Realistic Expectations
Your MBA is important… but not until you close the gaps and prove some functional knowledge in the job you are trying to get. – Small companies don’t have the time to bring you in and train you for 9-12 months. They need someone who can hit the ground running. Hence, the job you get out of school might not be (read: probably won’t be) your dream job. You are competing with people who have several years of functional experience in similar companies and are a much lower risk for the company hiring them. Be open to taking a job that allows you to close the gaps and learn the language and ropes. Once you do that, the MBA becomes more powerful as a backdrop and will set you apart moving forward.
Tip #2: Broaden Your Job Horizon
That “Business Operations and Strategy” role you are eyeing…. find a backup plan. -The idea of a business operations and strategy role at a high growth tech company gives just about any graduating MBA goosebumps, but don’t get your hopes up. Here’s Why: Every MBA who graduated from 2012-2017 and worked in consulting or banking is looking at that strategy and operations role… not to mention all the people without MBAs who are equally and more qualified that have been working in strategy and ops in other tech firms. I have seen the applicant pool for these roles and to say it is stacked is an understatement. There are candidates with several years of functional experience both externally and internally who are dropping for these roles. It is important to remember that being qualified for a role is relative to the competition. A new grad is a stretch (at best) to land one of these roles.
Try broadening your horizon. Sales Ops seem to be an under appreciated field by the MBA community and I can tell you it is VITAL to any enterprise company. This is a role that helps shape the go to market metrics, targets, and executional strategy for the sales team. It may not sound as glamorous as other roles you may be familiar with, but it is just as important.
Tip #3: Lead with Value, not Desires
Stop telling people you are passionate about exploring a career in tech… Why do you want to work at THIS company and what do you have to add?
Here’s an example of what not to write: ”Hi Jordan, I am passionate about exploring a career in technology and would love to talk to you about Stripe”…..Technology is a big field. Would you write to an admissions officer for your school and say you are “passionate about getting your MBA and want to learn more about the school”? No. Show you have done some research on the company, why you specifically want to work there, and what you can bring to the team.
While you may be trying to convey your enthusiasm, leading with your passion for a career in tech can come off as entitled and aloof. Remember, a recruiter’s job is to find the best person to fill a role, not to indulge your passions or career objectives. Find a way to articulate what you have to offer rather than what you want.
Tip #4: “He who will fly must first learn to walk, one cannot fly into flying”
If you have no product or engineering experience, you are not going to get hired as a product manager. What a sexy job right? Product management… yea, No.
There are legitimate skills involved here that go beyond strategic thinking. This would be akin to hiring a fresh MBA to manage a construction project. You need to understand how things get built if you are going manage a team of builders. This switch can be made, but doing this right out of school is not realistic. Get into the ecosystem, learn the ropes, take some classes at General Assembly, make an internal move in the future.
A former colleague of mine began on the integrations team before making a move to product management. He built report with the product users during his integrations experiences and became a vital recourse to the product team by passing along customer feedback and offering informed product critiques. When he wanted to make a move to the team, they saw him as a resource and welcomed him with open arms.
Tip #5: Focus on the Task at Hand
While you should learn about company culture, do not ask about internal mobility when you are speaking with a recruiter or hiring manager. -The job you are being hired for, is the job they need someone to do. If you give the impression that you just want to get into the company and then bounce around, you are NOT going to get hired. The companies are not just growing whimsically, they have specific headcount needs and are generally working as lean as possible. Obviously people move a lot these days, but if someone thinks you will be looking to rotate out of the position in a year, they will look elsewhere. (edited)
My Journey to Stripe, with a side of humble pie…
While it may seem like others have their path laid out before them, my job search that led me to Stripe was a prolonged and humbling experience.
After creating a target list of companies, I reached out to sales recruiters at roughly eight firms and all but one of them got back to me quickly. The one that did not get back to me was one of my top choices, however this did not bother me as I just knew I would have plenty of options. I was sure my biggest problem would be slow-playing the interview cycles so I would be able to see all my options before making a decision. Everything went exactly as expected. The recruiters loved me and passed me along to their teams for an expedited interview process.
When I got to my first final-round interview, something unexpected happened…
“Hey Jordan, the team really loves you and thinks you would be a great fit, but not for the enterprise team. Would you be open to interviewing for a mid-market role?”
This was not what I had in mind. I thanked them for their time, said ‘no thank you’, and focused on the rest of my list. As I finished the first final-round interview of my target list, I was sure the next call would be a job offer.
I was wrong.
“Hey Jordan, the team was super impressed with you, but we just don’t think you have the experience we are looking for in an enterprise rep and we worry it would take too long to get you up to speed. We really want to keep in touch as we think you have a lot to offer but you are just not a fit for what we need right now.”
One by one, each company I targeted came back to me with some variation of ‘we really like you, but this just isn’t the right role or the right time.’ The true come to Jesus moment happened when I was dinged from a mid-market job that I had decided I was overqualified for but would take because it got me in the door at a great company. It was time for a wake-up call.
The reality is, a 30-year-old MBA with 1.5 years sales tenure and a mixture of biz-dev/marketing experience isn’t anyone’s idea of a quota crushing sales rep. People didn’t know what to make of me and I was a high risk hire for a sales leader who is on the hook for hitting aggressive growth targets.
Why did I get an MBA to pursue a career in sales when no one cares about my business acumen or education?
I was humbled.
It was exactly one day after my low point that Stripe reached out to me.
“Jordan, I am reaching out about a role on our small but fast-growing sales team. I love the diversity of your experience across sales, strategy and marketing. Your background looks like you could be a great fit here. Can we find some time to chat?”
After multiple “porridge too hot, porridge too cold” experiences, this was just right. Not only were they not concerned about my non-traditional sales background, it was exactly what they were looking for. I accepted a full time offer to join Stripe roughly three weeks later.
Now, I am not saying that someone is going to reach out to you on LinkedIn with the perfect opportunity, but I am saying that one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. Just because you don’t fit someone’s idea of what a product manager, product marketing manager, or director of business development looks like, it doesn’t mean there isn’t a company out there who would jump at the chance to have you walk through the door. It just won’t likely happen overnight, and it may not be at the company you thought it would.
As much as it hurts to get turned down from what you believe to be the job of your dreams, try to get feedback, really listen to it, and adjust course moving forward… both what you target and how you present yourself.
You will end up in a great place if you exercise grit, patience, and most of all, humility.
I hope this was helpful and happy hunting!