We all know searching for a job can be frustrating — whether it’s spending hours working on an online application only to be greeted by radio silence, or worse, finding out the employer had been grooming an internal candidate for the position all along.
Now consider the added complexities that the COVID-19 pandemic has added to the mix, such as companies who’ve invoked hiring freezes or opted to stop sponsoring work visas.
For Meera Satyakumar, a 2020 Jenkins MBA alumna, she was faced with all of these challenges — and more — when she started her job search late last year.
Fortunately, this alum’s story has a happy ending — but the journey she took to get there was anything but easy, and only panned out thanks to her unwavering courage and resilience.
Setting the stage
Before moving to the United States from India in 2008, Meera had already amassed an impressive track record; she had earned master’s degrees in economics and journalism, and had worked professionally as a journalist for various publications.
In 2003, she started working in the IT industry, serving various roles in project management over the next 10 years, during which time she made her move to the US.
By early 2013, Meera had decided to leave the workforce after she and her husband welcomed their second child, Alaina, into the world. She spent the next few years volunteering and caring for Alaina, whose food allergies rendered daycare a non-starter.
Once Alaina started pre-school in 2017, Meera had some time to revisit her career goals, and she decided to re-enter the job market. Knowing she would likely face challenges due to her employment gap, she started thinking of ways she could give herself an edge.
I always knew it wouldn’t be easy for me to get back to the workforce.
“I wanted to pursue a certification,” she says. “So I started researching. And around that time, my husband said, ‘Why not pursue an MBA instead?’”
Meera’s research led her to NC State’s Jenkins MBA program, which won her over with its online rankings and affordability. She began classes in the spring of 2018 with a focus in supply chain management.
Flash forward to the fall semester of 2020, and Meera had begun searching for her next career move after graduating. Although she had been preparing diligently, she still had fears of her employment gap looming, and the COVID-19 pandemic had just struck a few months prior.
Nevertheless, she pressed onward.
One hurdle after another
As she began her search, Meera was hoping to capitalize on what she had been learning as a student. But she suspected her search wouldn’t be a particularly straightforward process.
“I always knew it wouldn’t be easy for me to get back to the workforce — mainly because of two reasons,” she says. “One was my residency status. I’m on a visa, so I don’t have permanent residency. And then of course my career gap.”
As it turned out, many companies were adjusting their hiring policies due to COVID-19. “Suddenly, anybody I would talk to would say, ‘No, sorry, we don’t sponsor visas or hire people who are on an H4 EAD (a dependent visa with employment authorization).’ Even though I had a work permit. So that was a huge setback,” she says.
When browsing online job postings Meera was met with similar disappointment, stating that around 95% of jobs that were posted required a permanent residency status.
On the bright side, Meera felt good about how the MBA program was helping her boost her marketability.
“The practicum projects that I worked on through the SCRC really helped me upgrade my skills. I learned a lot during that time,” she says. “My project with the American Red Cross gave me the opportunity to do a lot of research, gather and analyze data and present it to the management at the company. They were very happy with the recommendations we made, so that experience gave me a lot of confidence.”
The practicum projects that I worked on through the SCRC really helped me upgrade my skills. I learned a lot during that time.
In addition to the project with the American Red Cross, for which her team won the People’s Choice award at the 2019 SCRC Gallery Walk, Meera also worked on a practicum project with Lenovo, which she says gave her the opportunity to apply the data analytics tools and techniques she had learned.
Nevertheless, challenges continued to present themselves to Meera, who was unable to capitalize on the opportunities presented at the College’s virtual career fair due to her residency status.
She even took to cold calling prospective employers, but to no avail.
That’s when she turned to the MBA Career Services team.
Embracing the Pack
In need of some guidance, Meera reached out to John Hutchings, associate director of career management for the Working Professional MBA student cohort. “He was very kind and he understood my situation,” she says.
Hutchings helped Meera devise a strategic plan, which included honing her resume and building her network while the slow-hiring season of the winter holidays passed.
I decided I’m just going to put everything aside and just focus and listen to my coach.
Meera made a shortlist of companies and spent time reaching out to employees who had a shared connection on LinkedIn. “[Hutchings] was there to guide me at every step. So that made a huge difference,” she says.
Even with new tools under her belt, Meera’s patience was wearing thin, and she started applying for jobs online — going against Hutchings’ advice to focus on networking.
“Almost every day I would wake up to see a couple of emails that said that my application was rejected. So that was not at all helpful,” she says. “So I decided I’m just going to put everything aside and just focus and listen to my coach.”
The final leg
In mid-2021, after months of following her coach’s guidance and fighting to maintain a positive attitude, Meera received an email from a Wells Fargo recruiter promoting the company’s Glide Relaunch Program — a program that encourages professionals to re-enter the workforce after a career break.
Given the obvious alignment with her situation, she applied, and was invited to participate in a preliminary screening call.
Unfortunately, however, the screening call did not go as smoothly as she had hoped. She received a rejection letter shortly after and was forced to continue her search.
Over a month later, though, she got a call from the recruiter with some unexpected and curious news.
“She said one of their teams found my resume in their database and they wanted to interview me,” Meera says. “Five minutes later, I got a call from the hiring manager and they scheduled a panel discussion with me for the next day.”
Crossing the finish line
Now that she had finally been given her due, Meera’s strengths shined through during the interview process and she was offered a job as a senior business execution consultant with Wells Fargo.
She accepted the offer, and started her new role this past September.
“In my current role, I support the strategic initiatives of the organization, such as process improvements that could help enhance business performance,” she says. “We work on programs like risk programs, business initiatives, human capital programs, and recruiting strategies.”
The MBA program gave me the confidence to interact with senior leaders, which I do a lot of now.
Meera feels strongly that her student experience is helping her thrive in her new role — and not just because of the support from the Career Center.
“The MBA program gave me the confidence to interact with senior leaders, which I do a lot of now,” she says. “Being in the McLauchlan leadership program also helped me groom my leadership skills and become a stronger person.”
Meera says she’s also thankful for all the in-demand tools she learned as a student, like Tableau and SAS JMP. “I have been using these skills extensively in my role now. Had it not been the MBA program, I don’t think I would have had access to these tools,” she says.
After such a long journey, Meera has some advice that may be of interest to others struggling to navigate the ever-changing job market:
“First of all, be kind to yourself, and never doubt yourself. Also, have a strategy in place and have lots of patience. Work with a career coach. They are there to guide you and help you through the process. They’re really patient and they understand you, they’re very knowledgeable. And they’re there to ensure that you succeed.”
In a recent LinkedIn post by Meera in which she announced her new role, she stated, “I am forever grateful to my mentors … for helping me navigate through tough times and reminding me that if I don’t realize my value, no-one will. They did not let me settle for anything less than what I’m worth and I’m glad I patiently pursued opportunities until I found the right fit.”
To connect with Meera on LinkedIn, click here.