Haas School of Business, University of California-Berkeley
Describe yourself in 15 words or less: Afghan by birth, American by choice.
Hometown: Herat, Afghanistan
Fun Fact About Yourself: As a person who has travelled to more than 22 countries and tried many different cuisines, I am proud to say that my favorite food is Burger King’s Whopper.
Undergraduate School and Major: Walsh University: Business Management — Organizational Leadership, Government & Foreign Affairs, International Relations
Employers and Job Titles Since Graduation:
The Timken Company, Communications/PR Representative
Dabbas Trading & Investment Inc., Business Development Manager
United States Embassy/Military, Afghanistan, Linguist/Cultural Liaison
Describe the biggest accomplishment in your career so far: In my senior year of college, I became interested in writing speeches, press releases, brochures, and news articles for a Fortune 500 company. But there were a few issues: I spoke English as a third language; communications was not my major; I had no prior experience in this field; and I knew that the Fortune 500 company never hired communications reps right out of college. Nevertheless, I went ahead and applied. A few months later, I was sitting in front of several VPs, advising them on better communications and writing strategies, while speaking English with an accent. Although this was a nontraditional job for my educational background, it became one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. The knowledge I gained during those three years prepared me for not only business school but also future endeavors.
Looking back on your experience, what advice would you give to future business school applicants? First of all, if you are reading this article, know two things: 1) You are among the 1% of the world’s population — having a bachelor’s degree and now preparing for graduate school. It is an absolute privilege and honor to be studying for the GMAT or writing essays for business schools. So be proud and thankful for having such an opportunity. 2) You are qualified. You graduated from a good university; you have a few years of work experience where you demonstrated leadership and hard work; and, above all, you are pretty smart. However, there are many other qualified candidates with the same qualities who also want the same seat. So how do you differentiate yourself and show the admissions committee that you deserve one of those limited seats at their school?
That’s where GMAT, essays, recommendation letters, etc., come into play. Although these are not comprehensive enough to fully evaluate a candidate, they do a good job of showing the admissions committee whether you deserve to be in their school and have what it takes to graduate and be a future business leader. I agree that a high GMAT score does not necessarily show intelligence, but it does prove that you are committed and willing to work hard. The same applies for essays, recommendation letters, interviews, etc. If you have the commitment and perseverance and can demonstrate that to the admissions committee, you should have nothing to worry about. Always remember that you deserve to be at Berkeley Haas as much as every other student. The only question is: Are you going to demonstrate that to the admissions committee?
What led you to choose this program for your full-time MBA? There are so many factors that led me to Berkeley Haas, including the mission of the school, the core principles, the location, the small class size, and the diversity of student body. However, one particular reason stands very dear to me.
Early on this year, I was fortunate to be admitted to a few other great business schools, and, in fact, I was leaning toward one on the East Coast. One morning, while still waiting to hear back from Haas, I got a call from an unknown number. It was Morgan Bernstein, the admissions director of the school. This call was unlike any other calls I had received so far. Morgan talked about different parts of my application, especially the parts she liked or connected to; she knew the details of my essays and expressed them perfectly. She appreciated the hard work and effort I put into my application. At that moment, I realized that at Haas, I wouldn’t be just a number. I would be a person; I would be Sal.
Tell us about your dream job or dream employer at this point in your life. Since my first business, which was selling hardboiled eggs to kids in Afghanistan, I have always wanted to be an entrepreneur — a problem solver. And today, that ambition and drive is still alive. I believe the problem we face today is not taking full advantage of our time on this planet. I believe humans are a lot more capable than we realize. Many of us pass through this world without uncovering our sense of purpose or our inner strength. And those who do seem to find them late in life, after wasting many precious years. We do mundane things not because we want to but because we don’t know any better. Time is the most precious resource available to us. So my goal is to create a product that uses current data and trends to help people find their purpose and strengths early in life so they can plan ahead for the future.
What would you like your business school peers to say about you after you graduate from this program? I want to be remembered as someone who fully embodied the Defining Principles of the school; someone who took full advantage of these two years and paid it forward; someone who made a positive impact on campus and made 250+ new best friends.