From Lighting Technical Director in the film industry to joining Zappos.com’s MBA Development Program in Las Vegas, Jackie Piette, MBA ’17, details how her MBA at Boston College landed her a position in the booming e-commerce industry. She shares why she chose to pursue an MBA to change careers, what courses helped her secure the job, and how the BC MBA is recognized wherever you go.
Where are you headed after graduation?
I will be joining Zappos.com in Las Vegas, Nevada as a member of their first-ever MBA Development Program, which focuses on four core areas: Business Strategy, Marketing, Pricing, and Finance.
Did you pursue an MBA for a career/industry change?
Yes, the MBA was both a career change and an industry change for me. I came into the BC MBA as a Lighting Technical Director from the film industry and I will leave it as a business administrator in an Internal Consultant capacity in the e-commerce industry. I made the decision to change industries because of the way the Feature Animation and Visual Effects industries were shifting. I worked primarily as an independent contractor, which required a lot of relocating and little job security. I was at a point in my career where I felt it was appropriate to move up into management, but as an independent contractor that was never a possibility. As such, I decided to return to school in order to make the switch to a more stable industry where I could make a greater impact at a managerial level befitting my years of industry experience.
How did you prepare for the interview/job at Zappos.com?
Zappos.com sent me a case study over the holiday break that took nearly 3 weeks to complete. After completion of the case study I was invited to fly in for a two-day interview process on their campus. A lot of preparation went into reading about the company’s organizational structure, core values, culture, location, and executive leadership. Knowing that I was interviewing for a rotational program I also studied previous MBA homework assignments across all the functional areas: Business Strategy, Marketing, Pricing, Finance, and reviewed class slides.
What classes have been the most impactful as they relate to your future position?
I literally would not have gotten the job had I not taken four specific classes: Data Analytics, Pricing, Strategic Brand Management, and Accounting. The case study I was sent closely mirrored class projects I had done in my Strategic Brand Management class, so I was able to utilize the frameworks and research methods from that class to put together an effective and impactful set of deliverables. The three Data Analytics courses I took were also enormously influential since a lot of the interview and the case study revolved around analyzing, interpreting, and experimenting with large data sets. Pricing was a critical class because it explored the most current research and frameworks related to pricing methods for multiple industries, not just per-unit pricing commonly seen in manufacturing. And finally, Accounting was extremely important because I had not had any prior experience with reading and interpreting financial spreadsheets, so that class along with Finance was instrumental in building up the base required of a high-level business administrator. All of these classes have equal impact on my future position, since all were necessary for me to fully understand how to be an effective and flexible business administrator.
What kind of criteria were you using for your job search? How did location play into your job search? Were you looking in a specific geographical area?
For my job search I put together a list of goals that I wanted to target and then researched companies in those sectors that had openings available.
The list was:
1.) MBA Leadership Development Programs
2.) Product Management in either the Entertainment, E-Commerce, or Technology sectors
3.) Brand Management in the Technology sector
By having three options I was able to expand my search and not limit myself to a small number of organizations. My primary goal was to find a higher-level stable job in a rapidly moving industry where I could make an impact. The most important characteristic for me with regards to a desirable company was rapid change: the ability to both pivot and adapt quickly to the market fluctuation. This is what made the Technology and E-Commerce sectors so appealing. In terms of geography, I made a list of cities and states that were most desirable to me. Having been an independent contractor in the past I had lived and worked in over 10 states and 3 countries so I had a pretty good idea of the areas where I was most comfortable. All the job postings I researched were in those states and I was enormously grateful I was able to find something in a state I desired to live in. Location did have a very heavy influence on my job search. My summer internship was in the San Francisco Bay Area, which is an amazing location and a fun town, but I knew I would never want to live there full time after my MBA because of the cripplingly high cost of living. In focusing on the Technology and E-Commerce sectors I had to be careful when investigating companies I was interested in because majority of their headquarters were located in cities where I felt my quality of life would be lower due to the high cost of living.
What was the most challenging part of the job search?
Trying to transition out of contracting/freelancing into more stable, high-level positions is unbelievably tough. Interestingly enough the most difficult part of the job search wasn’t even the post-graduate full time job, but rather the internship search. It took 8 months, 83 applications, and 16 interviews before I was able to land an internship. By comparison the full time job search was a breeze, I literally got the first job I applied for. Speaking of the internship, the hardest part was getting potential employers to understand my work history within the context of the industry I was coming from. In the film industry my resume was considered relatively standard, since nearly the entire industry was comprised of contractors. Outside of that industry however potential employers viewed my resume of contract roles as spotty and unreliable. Overcoming this obstacle proved exceptionally challenging, but with a lot of practice interviews with career services, coffee chats with alumni, and improvements to my cover letters, I was able to eventually secure a very good internship with a very reputable organization.
How did you utilize the resources at Boston College such as the Career Development Office?
I think I utilized literally every single career development and BC resource available. Career Development supported me so much. I’m especially indebted to Donna Modica, who was my Career Development advisor. The internship hunt and job hunt could get intimidating and overwhelming at times but Donna was able to help see me through it to the end. She gave me a lot of one-on-one attention and it made a real difference. One thing I always overemphasize when talking to prospective students about BC is this: everything you hear about the Boston College alumni network is true. Whenever I reached out to alumni, be it through e-mail or LinkedIn, they responded. The amount of support and assistance I got from the alumni network was above and beyond what I ever expected. People are definitely not exaggerating when they say that Boston College’s alumni network is the best out there. It was a major selling point for me when I came to this university and it did not disappoint.
What makes you excited about working in your next position?
Zappos.com is a very dynamic company that is willing to experiment with new ideas and is not afraid to take risks. Being able to join such an organization in this role is incredibly exciting since I enjoy a challenge and am not afraid of failure. Being a member of the MBA Development Program will mean the decisions I make (and help make) will be enormously impactful. I will have a front row seat on the front line of online retail business strategy. I’m also excited because the company is famous for its industry-defining customer service; to the point that all new employees, no matter how high up they are, are required to go through new hire training that includes working in the customer service call center for the first 30 days of their employment. Beyond that all employees are also expected to work in the call center during the seasonal holiday rush. This excites me is because it actively demonstrates to me the company’s commitment to understanding the customer, and I am drawn to organizations that take a hands-on approach across all levels in order to understand its customer base. There is no one at the company who is “too good” to work “on the floor” and handle customer service, everyone is in it together and everyone works as one cohesive team.
What will you miss most about Boston College?
I will miss the campus the most. There’s something so electrifying about being on an elite college campus as a student. Boston College is a world-class research university and the wealth of knowledge passed along both inside and outside of class through seminars, panels, and presentations is unmatched. I will miss the air of intellectual curiosity that this campus invokes. As for Boston, I will definitely miss the greenery and the waterfront. Las Vegas isn’t exactly known for lush green lawns and oceans! I will also definitely miss the fall leaves; there is nothing on Earth like autumn in New England.
Any advice you'd like to leave for future BC MBAs?
A BC MBA can open a lot of doors but you have to be willing to put in the legwork to make it happen. Both the university and the degree program will give you all the tools you need to be successful, but it is up to you to make use of those tools and to work hard towards your goals. As mentioned before, the alumni network is unbelievable so definitely tap into it. Even if the alumnus in question is not a graduate from the MBA program, they will still help you out. It’s also important to know that even though you’re getting degree in Boston, if you desire to look for work outside of the Massachusetts area then a BC MBA travels extremely well. A lot of employers in other states (and other countries) treat it like the platinum degree that it is.