How UW Foster helped me land my MBA internship

Kelsey Zhou at AutodeskTo spend my MBA internship as a Sr. Financial Analyst at Autodesk in the bay area was beyond my wildest dreams, in a good way. Entering Foster as an R&D Engineer, I had zero finance background. I wanted to gain business insights throughout the MBA program and pivot into a data-driven role in a tech company, but I didn’t know how. Thanks to Foster, I had a great experience at Autodesk in the beautiful San Francisco Bay Area, so here’s my five-step journey.

Step one: Surviving the first quarter

Like all the 2nd year MBA students told me, fall quarter was probably the toughest quarter academically. If you make it through first quarter, you’re halfway there. I was teamed up with 5 extremely collaborative classmates and we worked together tackling case projects. During the beginning of the quarter, my team drafted a team contract as a guiding principle for meetings and discussions. Later, we also scheduled informal case preps and debriefing sessions to optimize our team contract to better serve our needs as a team. Looking back, the brutal team cases like ‘ocean carrier’ and ‘golflogics’ were instrumental in helping me develop leadership and problem-solving skills that laid out a strong foundation for internship seeking.

Step two: Exploring options and networking

Forte receptionUntil I participated in the annual Bay Area Tech Trek hosted by the Foster Tech Club, I wasn’t aware of the huge footprint and brand recognition Foster has outside the Greater Seattle Area. During the Tech Trek, students have networking opportunities with alums and visit tech firms like Autodesk, Google, Facebook, and Salesforce. Autodesk was on top of my recruiting list because, as a mechanical engineer, I’m fascinated by how Autodesk’s software products have enabled the re-imagining of the engineering process by improving productivity exponentially.

Step three: Get prepared for interviews

When the Autodesk job was posted on the Foster Career Website, I was excited, but I knew I wasn’t ready, so I proactively reached out to the career office. I consulted with the career coaches, who gave me tremendous help in mock interviews and resume polishing. I then approached Peer Advisers with further interview preps, and my 2nd year friends Mia Wang, Sam Mattera, Sean Wales, and Scott Mackenzie who also interned at Autodesk last year. They shared with me their experience, company culture, and how much Autodesk reminded them of the collaborative and supportive spirit of Foster. Their tremendous experience is really the positive reinforcement I articulated on my cover letter. I was convinced this is the culture I wanted, so I applied, went through rounds of interview process, and was fortunate to receive an offer; however, I wasn’t sure if, as a career switcher, I could succeed in the role.

Step four: Seeking activities that get you prepared for the internship

UW gathering in SFThat’s when Foster’s strong academic and mentorship pillars kicked in. Since many MBA students are considering a corporate finance career path, Foster has many great finance and accounting cores and electives available. I not only enjoyed the Core Finance from Thomas Gilbert and Accounting from Ed deHaan, but was also impressed by how much I learned from electives such as Lance Young’s Merger & Acquisition and Financial Statement Analysis taught by Sarah McVay, which prepared me well enough with concepts, approaches and professionalism. On the Foster mentorship side, I had multiple sessions with my mentor Shirley Cai, a Microsoft Foster alum as who provided me with guidance on different career paths in corporate finance, how to communicate and earn trust from manager, and best practices from her previous interns.

Step five: Deliver results for the internship

Kelsey Zhou with Neal DempseyDuring my 12-week internship, I developed new features and financial metrics for the internal financial dashboard that enables different stakeholders to measure financial performance and impact business decisions. The work was challenging, but it was lots of fun to work with a sharp and supportive manager! At the end of the internship, all the finance interns are required to make a five-minute presentation in front of the CFO and executive staff. Thanks to the public speaking training sessions Gregory Heller from career management taught me, I felt confident presenting my deliverable in front of the senior leadership team; it was well received.

One of the biggest challenges for out-of-town interns is that we miss Seattle a lot, but Foster taught us how to have fun as a skillset. This year, we had eight Foster MBA interns in the Bay Area, and we enjoyed our gatherings in the city, and even had the honor of having a coffee chat with our distinguished alum Neal Dempsey. We also got connected with interns from other MBA programs such as Berkeley Haas, Cornell Johnson, and UCLA Anderson.

Overall, I had a blast this summer at Autodesk, surrounded by a work environment full of respect and support. Because of this experience, I have a much clearer picture of what I want to achieve during the 2nd year of my MBA at the UW Foster School of Business in Seattle and I am excited to start the next phase of my journey.

Kelsey ZhouGuest post by Kelsey Zhou, MBA class of 2019.