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Alice Wen: Leveraging an MBA in the US tech industry

interstride logo by Interstride
January 23, 2024

International alumna Alice Wen recently graduated with an MBA from Rice University and is currently working at Dell as a Global Commodity Manager. Before her MBA, Alice worked for eight years in the electric machinery, computer, hardware, and fashion manufacturing industries in China and Vietnam. In this blog, Alice shares her journey to her current job and tips on how to transition to a new industry as a current or former international student in the US.

What made you want to pursue an MBA? 

During my time at a footwear manufacturing company as a Global Purchasing Manager, I had to do a lot of cross-functional communication with other departments to figure out solutions for our brand customers and suppliers. For example, I had to consult with the finance and accounting departments to resolve financial issues. Oftentimes, although I understood the big picture, I was not able to articulate details directly with the suppliers. I would always have to ask the finance or accounting manager to join my meetings with suppliers to explain the details to make sure that there were no misunderstandings.

That’s when I acknowledged I had a big knowledge gap that I wanted to fill. I started thinking about pursuing an MBA since an MBA gives you comprehensive training in finance, accounting, data analysis, and marketing. I figured it would be beneficial to have a more well-rounded skill set that can help me thrive in my future career.

I knew I wanted to change industries. The tech industry was the most fascinating to me because it’s always changing. There are always a lot of innovations… and it’s a good industry to stay with. You can keep gaining new knowledge and new skills, so I wanted to pivot to the tech industry.

How did you choose Dell? 

Dell has been cooperating with Rice’s MBA program for a long time. I reached out to previous alumni about their thoughts on Dell because many of them went to Dell either for an internship or their full-time job. I asked about how they feel about the company, the culture, and if they are satisfied with their job. All I got was positive feedback, so when I saw Dell openings posted on Rice’s career website, I talked to their recruiting team. That’s how I started. 

What was most appealing to me about Dell was that they encouraged internal rotation. After 18 months, you can proactively apply to work with another department. If you’re interested, you are free to reach out to other department managers to say, “Hey, I want to talk about your work here to see if I’m interested in this position or not.” They’re very flexible in that way. Dell doesn’t limit you to always staying in the same position or department. 

It’s a good benefit for me because I am interested in a lot of things. Someday if I want to change my career path, I can start again with the internal rotation to give it a try and see if I am a good fit for different roles. This is better than trying to start a new role I’ve never had experience with at a new company. It would be difficult to get hired with no related experience to prove myself. 

What was the process like transitioning from an internship with Dell to a full-time position?

I got my return offer before my internship ended. I was happy to hear that, but at the same time, my manager was very open-minded and encouraged me to explore other opportunities. I have the same mindset as him, so I wanted to make sure that I took every opportunity I had to find the best fit opportunity so that I wouldn’t feel regret someday. 

My internship ended in August and they asked me to reply to them by December. I remember I negotiated with them about postponing the deadline because I was still waiting on responses from other recruiters, but I ended up accepting the offer. Since I interned with them, I was pretty confident about their culture. I knew I would like it. For the other job opportunities, I heard a lot of negative feedback from alumni and people in my MBA cohort who interned with them, which ultimately impacted my decision. At the end of the day, I felt the most confident about Dell and their culture.

How was the experience going from STEM OPT to an H-1B visa with employer sponsorship?

People like me who got the offer from Dell very early on got an extra chance to do the H-1B lottery. I joined Dell officially in June, but the H-1B lottery was before that. Dell started the H-1B process for us, so we were automatically entered into the lottery rounds each year on OPT. It’s great if you land an offer and accept it early on because you can ask your company if they’re willing to start the H-1B process even before you officially join. I think most of the time the companies will do so if they already say they sponsor, but you need to check.

When you were looking for internships and full-time opportunities, did you ask the recruiters about sponsorship? 

I didn’t, but I did a lot of my own homework during recruiting. It can be kind of devastating for international students because there are limited resources that give you one view of which companies offer and don’t offer sponsorship. Sometimes the descriptions are not accurate. Sometimes they don’t sponsor, but they would say they sponsor and reverse. You have to ask alumni and your classmates.

As a former international student, do you have any key takeaways or learnings to share? 

Peer pressure is real, but don’t let it impact you too much or distract you from things you need to do. I know it’s hard, but try not to waste time being discouraged or envying others. Unfortunately, that’s what I did during the recruitment period. I spent a lot of time envying others and wondering why they had so many interview opportunities but I was still waiting to hear from the companies I applied to. Eventually, I learned it’s a waste of time. You should concentrate on the other preparation work you need to do for recruiting.

Sometimes misfortune can be a blessing or opportunity in disguise. Temporary failures don’t represent you and you never know when good luck will come to you. Just focus on preparing yourself. It’s the most important thing.

What tips do you have for standing out during the interview process and what should we spend the most time preparing for?

Spend most of your time preparing your story. Job interviews are all about storytelling. I was not good at it before since I didn’t grow up here and never worked in the US. I was not familiar with the working or recruiting culture here. I spent a lot of time developing my elevator pitch and my story of my background and experience. 

At first, I didn’t think it worked well. Then, one day, I talked to a woman in my MBA cohort. She was in marketing, so she was pretty good at storytelling and promoting herself. I asked her to do a mock interview with me. She helped me line up my talking points and combine them to make them more logical and appealing to the interviewers.

I recommend you reach out to any people who you think are very good at storytelling and personal branding, and ask them to help you develop your story. Sometimes when you are doing it yourself, you’ve got blind spots. You need other people to listen to you and help you develop a story together. Also, when you do those kinds of mock interviews with your friends, you are less nervous and are more yourself. You are not afraid of asking clarifying questions, and you are not embarrassed. So it’s easier to have friends help you. Ever since my friend helped me, my interviews went pretty well. I got an internship and eventually landed the offer with Dell.

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