One night this July, Kevin Yang sat on the Caltrain with tears streaming down his face. As the train sped up the San Francisco Bay Area’s Peninsula en route to San Francisco from a Silicon Valley networking event, Yang couldn’t stop the salty moisture leaking from his eyes. Somehow, some way, despite graduating with an MBA from a top school, he was unemployed.
Yang sat exhausted, dejected, confused. His mind played thought after thought about all of his fellow classmates who also left the Michigan Ross School of Business armed with MBAs. Various social media feeds coldly revealed that the vast majority were traveling before entering new positions. Others had already settled into new lives and professional roles. They were doing what MBAs from top schools were supposed to do: graduate, celebrate, travel, then start a hot new job.
And yet here was Yang, riding the rails southbound to sleep on the floor of a friend’s San Francisco apartment. He was jobless and essentially homeless. His email inbox was awash with rejections.
Then a phone conversation brought him to a tipping point. On the way back from another tiring networking event he called a good friend to lament his plight and gain support.
“The friend suggested going back home to my parents’ house in D.C. to look for a job in consulting,” Yang explains by phone, his emotion still resonating. “And I was thinking, ‘You’re telling me to give up on the entire reason I went back to business school.’ That I spent over $100,000 and two years, just to go back to what I left in D.C. He was telling me I had failed.”
‘YOU HAVE TO PLAY A LITTLE BIT TO MOVE UP’
After graduating from the University of Virginia with a business degree, Yang had gone to work in consulting for Pricewaterhouse Coopers. He liked the company’s approach to teamwork and problem solving. But he wasn’t keen on the bureaucracy and politics that can come with some large consulting firms. “You have to play a little bit to move up,” the 29-year-old, Chantilly, Virginia native recalls.
After a few years, Yang came to the crossroads of committing to a senior position with PwC and solidifying his place on the consulting career track, or making a pivot and pursuing something entirely different.
“I looked at my bosses, and to be honest, it was one of those moments when I said to myself, ‘I don’t want to be like them 10 or 15 years down the line,’” Yang remembers. “I saw what they were going through with the amount of hours they were putting in and the politics they were dealing with to move up in the food chain.”
Yang chose to pivot. Specifically, he chose to pursue tech. “Even if tech didn’t work out, I felt confident the MBA would open doors into anywhere else I wanted to go,” Yang says.
TECH OR BUST?
Both of Yang’s parents and his sister had graduate-level degrees and he figured it was only a matter of time before he got one of his own. So he applied in round one to Virginia’s Darden, Cornell’s Johnson, and Michigan’s Ross. But one school stood out.
“Visiting Ann Arbor is when it hit me,” Yang recalls. “To me, Michigan was this far-off place. But no one’s from Ann Arbor originally and so everyone is making friends immediately. I soon learned everything Ross sells about their tight-knit community is true.”
Not to mention, Yang saw the promise of a diverse and well-established alumni base. “I looked at the Ross network before I went to business school and saw so many people going into Microsoft, Amazon, Apple, all those big tech companies,” he admits. “And I thought to myself, ‘If that’s happening, why couldn’t I be one of those people?’”
THE INTERNSHIP OF HIS DREAMS
Soon after his Ann Arbor arrival, he felt the full effect of on-campus recruiting. “When school started and the McKinseys and the Bains and the BCGs came on campus and did the corporate presentations, I told myself not to get sucked into that,” he says.
Yang quickly formed some job search ideals. The company he was in pursuit of had to be tech and it had to be in California’s Bay Area. “What came on campus was such a small fraction of all the tech companies,” Yang says. “They aren’t coming on campus to do the corporate presentations like the bigger companies, but they’re still hiring interns and full-time. I realized I was doing myself a disservice just looking at companies that came on campus.”
So Yang began doing his own off-campus search and recruiting efforts. His first year zoomed by and Yang found himself with an internship offer he didn’t really want, from a company that didn’t meet his targets for sector and region.
Yang took it down to the wire, but in mid-May of his first year, a call did come, and Yang indeed landed the dream internship for the summer – at Stitch Fix, a mid-sized San Francisco tech company providing online personal styling and clothes.