With CommonBond, we talk a lot about our mission, which is all about providing education to all. There is a lot that can be taken away from you, but education is one that can’t be. Education gives you an advantage over others. Therefore, for every loan paid off, we provide a scholarship for a student in Africa, particularly in Ghana. In fact, our CEO is in Ghana now [late February] meeting with students who received scholarships. So showing a passion for a mission-based company is something that my colleagues and I look for. We find that those who really believe in the mission thrive in this environment like CommonBond; they want to work to serve the higher purpose versus just trying to work for a profitable company. So entrepreneurship, along with this appetite for working at a mission-driven company, is something that jumps off the resume to us.
P&Q: What kinds of skills does CommonBond anticipate needing in the coming years that you may not possess enough of now?
KK: Things are a little different for a company like ours. In order to get an MBA internship with us, it needs to be a role that couldn’t be filled by a full-time person. We don’t hire the same five interns every year because the needs of the business are always changing. We want the MBA internship to be a really robust experience. We don’t consider MBAs interns; we consider them and treat them as full-time employees who just happen to return to school in two months. There’s a difference there. Interns produce “real work.” They receive ongoing feedback, set goals, and participate in the performance review process. They really see what it is like to be a CommonBond employee. We don’t know what we’re look for until a couple months before we start bringing them onboard. Ordinarily, we’re holding interviews in March and April, which is really late for MBAs. We’ve actually pushed our recruiting schedule up for the first time this year in order to increase the candidate pool. We tend to look for candidates with varied skills, who are open to learn new things and go outside their comfort zone.
Since we are growing so quickly, consistently building out new products and going into new segments, the projects that we outline in February during the interview process may change slightly by the time they arrive in June. So we want someone who isn’t afraid of the challenge and OK with not knowing exactly what their role is going to look like. We are very honest and open about that and that’s something our people understand and agree with.
So it is hard to say exactly what is needed. Right now, we have 100 people now – and will have 130 by the end of the year. Everyone plays their role. We are very disciplined about increasing the size of our company because we want everyone to have a really strong role here. We want interns to come in so they have that full-time experience. Again, we want someone who isn’t afraid of ambiguity or a challenge.
Take marketing. We don’t necessarily want someone coming in who has marketing skills. You go to an MBA program to change your career because we can’t expect that everyone who has that background wants to keep doing that. So we expect people will want an internship with something that’s different. Here at CommonBond, our greatest success is when an employee who comes in as an operations professional turns into a head of product. So we really appreciate people who have the skills to be very universal and be able to take on new projects. That diverse type of backgrounds will make you very successful here as well.
For a role like engineering or capital markets, a finance background will obviously be very beneficial. Being able to code is also very important for that as well. For something like marketing and strategy, we’re looking for someone who has diverse experience because we can help them grow into the role. We want to learn as much from them as they will learn from us. That’s what makes it such a strong internship program.
We have requirements for MBAs, but they can be changed or adjusted because we want people who’ll learn and grow their skills. We also have MBAs here who are hiring managers because they know what MBAs are going through and they want to do something different. So we can’t have an exact box that we’re looking for, but we want someone who can grow in a broader role as well.
P&Q: What advice would you give to students who have their hearts set on working for you? How can they enhance their job prospects?
KK: The nature of our business is that we do a lot of outreach. We hold open houses at CommonBond. We encourage people to come and stay in touch with us. We go on campus a lot. We hold events and educational sessions, so students can get a read on us and talk to us about their experience and what they’re looking for. We do a lot of informational sessions and informal networking sessions to get to know each other. Obviously, it is very helpful for MBAs here to have relationships with their campus career center; we have great relationships with them and they send us a lot of good candidates as well.
Also, we have informal conversations, whether on campus or in our offices here in Soho. In addition to these regular visits, we also host a ton of in-office treks. We’ll sponsor different club conferences and events for MBAs on campus. We also have a real good brand recognition among MBA students because we offer MBA loans. We’re actually the #1 private lender at Columbia Business School, Tuck School at Dartmouth, and Yale School of Management. So we already have the name recognition; MBA students know about CommonBond and we’re really fortunate in that regard in terms of hiring. It’s a real differentiator for us because we have the relationship building already done on campuses.
P&Q: Give me an example of a successful MBA at your firm.
KK: Regarding full-time, let me tell you a story about one of our MBA interns who went to work for us full-time. We had intern named Dave Carter. We was a full-time MBA at Stern and he came to us for a summer. He had no sales experience, but he was actually the first person who was fully dedicated to partnerships. Our head of marketing persuaded David to go to Stern part-time and come to work for us as a full-time employee after his summer internship. He completely changed his MBA program to accommodate his full-time job here. Now, we have a 15-20 member partnership team that was actually started by an MBA intern. We gave him such an opportunity that he didn’t even want to wait a year for it. He wanted to do it then-and-there. Dave is now a director and has been hugely successful in building up the team and a huge cultural carrier. That’s an example of what we offer our MBAs. It’s always a unique situation.
P&Q: Recruiting can be a two-way street. What has CommonBond done to make itself more appealing to MBA candidates?
KK: For the MBA interns, for the 10 weeks that they’re here, they get a really wonderful educational experience. They also live within their organization as a full-time hire in terms of what their expectations are. They really get to stretch themselves and learn something new. They get exposed to everyone in the company, including lunches with David Klein, to talk about entrepreneurship and growing with the company. He gets to know all the MBA interns; they’re really an important part of life at CommonBond, so we want them to have a wonderful experience.
Let me you an example. We had one intern who developed investor decks. She had never done them before. She worked with our head of strategy and built a deck that is being presented on a daily basis. She has the ability to go back to her next employer or school and say she had a wonderful experience and really impacted CommonBond within 10 weeks. A lot of interns can’t say that. A lot of organizations don’t have that kind of exposure to be able to really go end-to-end and just earn it.
We also do lots of networking during the internship. They have a lot of exposure, so they can develop their network. Last year, we had five interns and they became very close friends while also developing relationships across the company. We also hold a lot of fun activities related to networking too. We have a monthly happy hour, where we bring the entire company together. For example, this month, we are having an Olympic-themed happy hour where we are representing the countries of our employees with drinks and appetizers. For people from the UK, we have Pimm’s cocktails. For people from India, we have Formosas. That’s another example of a fun activity outside the office for these MBAs to get to know more people and expand their network.
We actively solicit feedback from our MBA interns to make our programs better each year. During the 10 weeks as interns, they get to really know what it is like to work at a leading FinTech company. We also stay in touch with all of our interns, providing career counseling and opening up personal and professional networks for them. For example, let’s go back to the intern I mentioned who put together our investor decks. Her hiring manager put her in touch with a friend in San Francisco and she was able to get another opportunity through that network at a small company where everyone knows each other. That network is priceless and that’s another big advantage.