Posted on February 7, 2022

USC Marshall Final Year MBA Student Shares his Experience/ Advice


Introduction: Former MER student, Eric Tang, had worked as a Business Development and Pipeline manager at Provident Funding Associates LLP for eight years when he decided to pursue an MBA (part-time) from USC Marshal to upskill himself. In 2020, during his second year of MBA studies, he quit his job to seize an internship opportunity at Zillow where he interned as a Finance Manager.

Eric is currently a final year MBA student. Please note that Eric had received admission to USC with a $10,000 scholarship.

In a candid conversation with Poonam, Eric talks about:

  • Academic background- 00:35
  • Professional Journey- 01:32
  • Career Goals- 05:20
  • His insights into virtual Learning- 08:44
  • The most challenging aspect of the application process- 13:25
  • His preference for USC- 17:33
  • Favorite aspects of the program- 20:22
  • What he would have liked to know before the program- 21:39
  • Participation in Extracurricular activities at USC- 24:40
  • Advice to part-time MBA students- 25:48

Poonam: Hello Eric, how are you doing? Thank you for your time for this meeting. I am looking forward to a good conversation.

Eric: Good morning. I am honored to be here. It's good to see you again.

Poonam: Of course, good to see you again after a year. Can you please tell our viewers about your background where you are from? Where did you do your undergrad?

Eric: I grew up in the SF Bay Area and was surrounded by tech companies. I lived down the street from Apple and saw first-hand how massive and impactful the tech industry was, not only within my community but across the world. However, because my dad was a software engineer, all my friends' parents were software engineers, I was inherently against being in the tech industry. Instead, I wanted to work in banking or financial services. With that in mind, I went to UC Irvine, about an hour south of Los Angeles, to study business economics for my undergrad. I graduated in 2011 around at the bottom of the recession or the financial crisis.

Poonam: Can you tell us something about your professional journey?

Eric: While I was in college, I was very interested in the mortgage meltdown, why it happened, what was causing all this distress. So, my first job out of school was in real estate mortgages. I was working in origination at the time, and it was exciting to see how things work on the inside of the mortgage industry. I started to notice how mortgage risk was being evaluated. Post-crisis was very strict compared to how it was before. However, there were still many remnants from the housing crash, as there were still ongoing foreclosures and short sales while we worked on originating new loans under new regulations and stricter requirements. Before the MBA program, I spent about eight years in the mortgage industry, with most of my time on the operation side, managing teams that worked on mortgage underwriting and credit analysis. We worked with different agents to get loans closed and with client management to build a strong client base.

Poonam: So that brings me to the next question, why did you want to pursue an MBA?

Eric: In eight years, I learned everything about the mortgage industry. I went to Business School to learn more about the business side of things, such as understanding the financial levers of a company and its impact on business decisions and long-term strategy that I could not see in my current field. And it's a jump from operations to the finance business side. I decided to pursue the three-year part-time MBA instead of the 2 yr full-time program because I had a great career at the time, and I wasn't ready to leave all that behind. I wanted to see whether I could leverage the MBA to move into my goal of being on the business finance side.

So in the first year of my MBA program, I worked full-time and went to school part-time.  After the first year, I realized that I needed to take a leap of faith to intern somewhere, get that learning experience, and then move into the business side. So, in my second year, I left my full-time job at Provident funding, and I entered the MBA recruiting cycle alongside the first-year full-time MBA students. I landed this amazing opportunity at Zillow, working on their finance team in the mortgage division. I had a great time and received an offer to go back as a full-time employee when I graduate this summer.

Poonam: Wonderful. Congratulations on getting this fantastic internship offer and now a full-time offer at Zillow. You started as a career enhancer and midway turned into a career switcher. That's unique about your career journey.

Eric: It's great that it came. USCR allows part-time students to recruit for an internship during the second year.

Poonam: What are your career goals now?

Eric: I have two different career goals; the first goal is more of a personal goal to be in a position of influence regarding financial risk strategy decisions in the real estate mortgage space. And hopefully, it will help avoid another mortgage meltdown like the financial crisis back in 2008. I remember going through college when I saw so many negative impacts of the recession on my peers, their families, and colleagues at work who were laid off. I know it won't be my own decision to do that, but it would be my overarching aspiration to be a voice of influence. On a professional and career note, I want to be like a VP or a CFO in the long-term for a company in the finance area to learn different components of finance, Treasury, controller, etc. I want to be able to get a little bit of that in my next job at Zillow and build my wealth of knowledge because I'm just starting in this new field, and I want to learn what I can to make an impact and be in a better position in the long-term.

Poonam: So, how have your two years at USC prepared you for your career goals.

Eric: There are so many things at USC to help me prepare for it. The first and foremost part is that the Career Center and different clubs on campus for finance, consulting,  and operations help provide a clear direction on what career paths or functions are favorable for a specific background. Given my background in mortgage, they helped give clear guidance on how to navigate my path to land certain positions. They also helped me position my story to highlight specific skills or experiences to help leverage myself into this new career leap. Lastly, the class also taught skills that were instrumental for both the interview process and the day-to-day tasks during the internship (and beyond). They have specific classes on real-life experiences and using certain software in classes or the career field.

Poonam: I'm so glad that you are enjoying your time at USC? You had started your MBA program in the summer of 2019 under normal circumstances. In March 2020, all the educational institutions switched to the virtual instruction format due to COVID. Can you share your experience with online instruction?

Eric: I started in person, went online for a year and a half, and then now I'm back to in-person classes. So I saw the before, during, and after online. I think USC has done a great job transitioning to the virtual learning environment in such a short period in March 2020 and keeping us in that environment for a year and a half. The professors were very engaging. They would have breakout rooms for us to discuss particular cases or in a small group environment because on zoom, you can't have a conversation with 50 people. They would discuss current events in the news to make them relevant to us.  There were also many advising sessions by the Career Center and the Program office during the beginning and middle of COVID to help us navigate this. They provided different options if we wanted to defer the MBA for fears and thoughts in person, we could They told us what to expect for virtual recruiting and prepared us for our employers’ expectations in the online environment. Given the circumstances, USC has done a phenomenal job providing us with the best learning environment. However, since a part of the MBA experience is about having open dialogues in a live classroom setting, I sometimes felt disappointed in the lack of physical engagements with peers and professors. Unfortunately, we could not experience that for almost a year and a half. However, now we're fully in person, and it's been wonderful.

Poonam: How does it feel to be back in the classroom setting? Can you please share your experience to be back in a classroom setting?

Eric: It's been amazing to be back on campus and see both peers and faculty in person. There's so much energy among the people who are back as people talking and getting lunch. There are so many live-in rich conversations,  but the professors are also making accommodations for those who can't make it for various reasons like a sickness. There are also live zoom links that they can tune into. There are also a lot of tech updates for professors to be able to see the students in the back on a separate screen. You can choose if you want to attend an in-person or online class. And lastly, there's also a required weekly COVID testing which makes me feel very comfortable because we get the email if someone's sick or positive. We haven't had many cases out of 40,000 students on campus, which is good.

Poonam: That's wonderful that they're taking all the precautions to keep the students and faculty safe and healthy. So, do you anticipate any other changes in the final year?

Eric: The significant change in the final year is that we had this major international capstone trip as part of the MBA program where we go to other countries like East Asia or Asia and South America and work on a consulting project for an actual firm. For ten days, you study the firm and talk to different stakeholders there. It was announced that the trip is canceled for this spring again, so it is the third year it has been canceled. Unfortunately, that is the major change that will be happening for the third year. But we fully understand safety is more important. We are now taking other classes to make up for that trip.

Poonam: Of course, we know this is something that no one has control over. This decision is only for the safety of students. Looking back, what was the most challenging aspect of the school admission process? How did you approach that challenge and overcome it?

Eric: The most challenging part of the admissions process was formulating a cohesive story and clearly understanding why you want an MBA. The story must be genuine and needs to tie into your personal and professional life. The Ad Com read probably 1000 stories every year, so they can tell if your story is made up. Your resume and your essay need to highlight specifics that tie in with the story, and you should also be able to articulate what you want to gain from the MBA experience. And I remember working with you, Poonam. You really helped me build that story because you could bring forward the experiences that I thought were irrelevant - small things that I didn't even care about. You have heard so many stories, and you know what's important, so you were able to kind of extract things to formulate a narrative from a third-party perspective. That was super helpful for me to put down my essay and tell that in the interview. So, I appreciate that. Thank you so much for your help.

Poonam: I enjoyed working with you.

Eric: Of course, likewise. And that's why I'm here.

Poonam: What advice would you give to prospective applicants facing similar challenges in the application process?

Eric: First and foremost, I suggest talking to either current students or recent graduates, ideally in similar fields, you want to get into, and also, in the schools that you want to go into. Interview them, have a coffee chat, and find out what their program offers. Learn about their story, how they moved from their previous career to the program, what they gained from the MBA, and how they shaped their career journey? Everyone in the MBA program has gotten so much help from those that came before them, so they're incredibly willing to talk to people, especially those who want to go to their school. So don't be afraid to go on LinkedIn and message a few people. The worst that can happen is they will ignore your question, but I have yet to have someone who ignored me. Also, I suggest doing a deep analysis of your prior experience, what parts of your career you loved/ hated, what direction you want to go, and what aspects of the MBA can be that 'bridge' to get you there. Speaking to current students will also help you connect the past and future in your story. That's probably the best way to get started and get the most candid experiences from those who are currently in it.

Poonam: Yes, that is so helpful. And now, in the past two years, you are also helping prospective applicants who are approaching you.

Eric: Definitely. I have gotten so much help so 'it's only fitting that I provide some feedback for future students.

Poonam: You applied to only one school USC. How is USC the best school for you?

Eric:  I have lived in Southern California in LA for about 14 years now. I went to college at UC Irvine, and I have always admired USC. It is a very powerful brand around the LA area with a prestigious alumni association. It's been going up quickly in ranking compared to other schools I have been following over the last ten years.  So it has been my dream school for a long time. I love football, and  I have always cheered for USC football, so it was a no-brainer to apply here because I also wanted to stay in LA. My wife has a promising career in LA, so I want to be in LA. My wife went to UCLA for undergrad, so I wanted some of that USC/ UCLA rivalry. Family rivalry is fun. I have very close friends from college who did their MBA from USC before me, and all of them achieved their post-MBA goals, landing prestigious jobs ranging from Consulting to Asset Management to Tech. Lastly, the network here is impressive. It is like a family, and people here lookout for one another. Even though many of us were applying for the same opportunities during the recruiting cycle, I never felt  I competed against my classmates. They all helped each other out to get internships or get jobs., and that's why I enjoy being here.

Poonam: Great. I know you love the program, but can you name your most favorite thing about the program?

Eric: I love that our professors are mostly industry hires, with decades of real work experience on the topics they are teaching.  In a small classroom setting, we can have in-depth discussions on our past experiences and how they will impact the business world going forward. I like that the teaching style is very hands-on, instead of theory or research-based learning. Another thing that I love is that they have dozens of small Electronic Learning Classrooms (ELCs), where the school can record you for various soft skill classes, such as presentations, negotiations, or high-stress team-building situations. Then, you can play it back and see how things transpired. You can see your body language or team dynamics that you would have missed at that moment.

Poonam: That's so interesting. Is there anything you think you should have known before joining this program?

Eric: I wish I had done more research on the potential career tracks before starting the MBA.  For example, I wanted to work in the finance sector. Still, I didn't fully understand what it took to land an opportunity in corporate finance, investment banking, private equity, or asset management. To me, they're all the same. However, each of those has vastly different background requirements, recruiting timelines, and career trajectories. It would have been more helpful if I had spoken with current students before starting the program because I had to learn all of that in the middle of the recruitment cycle. Things move extremely fast during recruiting, so it's best to go in fully prepared.

But the good thing for me is that I did it through your program. So, I learned it in my first year and went into the recruiting cycle in my second year. But for those that are going into a full-time program, you start the MBA on  August 3rd or 4th, and you should be ready to recruit by August 25th. So you have to research the different paths being offered in the program to be ready during those critical few months of recruiting in the fall of your first year in a full-time program.

Poonam: What do you think you did well at USC?

Eric:  I am naturally shy, especially in a large group setting. So I think I did fairly well with networking and meeting my classmates during that second year in the  COVID virtual environment. I do a lot better on a one-on-one meeting than a big 30-40 people networking event. I made a significant effort to reach out to different classmates, LinkedIn to learn about their journey,  and I met many diverse individuals that I likely wouldn't have met in person. So, I think I did an excellent job of learning and expanding my network and taking in what people could give me for advice.

Poonam: It must have been a great experience hearing their perspectives and learning from them. Let's talk about extracurricular activities. Did you get opportunities to participate in extracurricular activities as a part-time student? I know you are a football lover, so did you get the chance to pursue your hobby?

Eric: The great thing is that all the extracurricular activities are open to part-time and full-time students. So, we can join anything that we like. My extracurricular activities were fairly limited during my 1st year since I worked 8 am-5 pm, and it took an hour to drive to campus. Most of the events were in the afternoon, which made it challenging to participate. However, when things became remote, and I wasn't working,  I joined many clubs, networking events, and social events. So, I took full advantage in my second year and now my third year as well. I am a part-time student but not working, so I am kind of full-time and have been going to different events, which has been a lot of fun.

Poonam: Do you have any advice for people who are considering a part-time MBA program?

Eric: If you're considering an MBA and can see it added value to your goals, do it regardless of COVID or other unusual circumstances. There are a lot of time commitments, working full time and doing school, so make sure you're ready for two or three years. An MBA is a highly valuable degree, especially post COVID where things are being more automated. It is good to have that extra leverage when you're looking for a job or for a career and a part-time program.

Poonam: Thank you so much, Eric, for your valuable insights. I'm sure people would be benefited from it. Is there anything you think I should have asked?

Eric: No, I can't think of anything. I think you have covered it all. These were great questions that captured the entire experience  I went through.

Poonam: It was wonderful chatting with you after a long time, and I wish you good luck with the remainder of your final year at USC and in your personal and professional endeavors in the future. It was wonderful chatting with you. Thank you so much. Have a good day.

Eric: Thank you so much for having me. Bye.

You can connect with Eric via LinkedIn.

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