Young Women in B-School: Interview with Vanessa Hering, MBA/MA Candidate at The Wharton School/Lauder Institute
Vanessa Hering is an Associate (Junior Manager) at the strategy consultancy Oliver Wyman based out of the Toronto office. She specializes in Financial Services advisory, where over the past three years she has consulted banks, private equity, hedge, and sovereign wealth funds across three continents. Vanessa holds an International Bachelor of Business Administration from Schulich School of Business at York University in Canada where she graduated with distinction. She is currently pursuing a joint MBA/MA at the Wharton School and the Lauder Institute at the University of Pennsylvania.
C: Tell me a little bit about what you were doing before business school!
V: Directly before school I was working in a junior manager position at Oliver Wyman within their Financial Services practice advising clients such as banks, and institutional investors like private equity, hedge, and sovereign wealth funds. Due to our global staffing model, it was pretty travel-heavy. I've worked on 3 continents and 5 countries, most recently I did a stint in the Middle East.
C: Wow, that's a lot of travel. Tell me a little more about the Middle East. I understand you were the only woman on your team there. What was that experience like?
V: It was a really eye opening experience. Like many b-school applicants, I have worked abroad and travelled a lot, but this was the first time I worked in a culture vastly different from what I am used to. While I don’t see myself in that region long-term, I feel really lucky to have had the opportunity. Wearing an abaya or hijab to work everyday and just being part of a different environment gave me a much broader appreciation of diversity, and allows me to empathise better with women globally from different backgrounds.
C: So working at a large consulting firm allowed you to enjoy some really unique international experiences. It sounds like you were doing really well there too, right?
V: For me it was a fantastic fit from the beginning. I have worked on a variety of diverse projects which kept me on my toes and continuously challenged. Because of the merit based culture and promotion structure based on your individual performance, I was able to get promoted twice in about 2.5 years from an entry level consulting role to a junior manager role. When you work on projects you really care about, it makes you want to work harder especially when you feel appreciated for it!
C: That’s amazing! So basically, you were a rockstar at your job. That begs the question - why apply to b-school?
V: I wouldn’t go that far! It sounds simplistic - but ultimately I applied to school because I really want to learn. For finance, the opportunities offered at Wharton are unmatched. I was really attracted to the academics, professors, research opportunities and access to important institutions.
C: Why was now the right time? You’re on the younger side at 25, so what made you want to go now? What were some of the tradeoffs you had to consider?
V: In hindsight, it was a perhaps a huge risk to apply on the early side. I am below the average candidate age at most business schools including Wharton. For me it was primarily the momentum of my friend’s application in the same round that made me do it now. It sounds silly - but there is a lot to keep track of from the GMAT, to networking events, to school visits and application deadlines. Having someone go through it at the same time made the whole thing a lot more manageable for me.
Overall, investing in my education at an earlier stage of my career made sense for me, as I wanted to get more academic knowledge before taking on more responsibility at work. Also, being able to pay off student loans at a younger age, and finish the process in my early twenties was very appealing. I had to weigh those positives, with the lower likelihood of admission given my age and fewer years of work experience.
Another thing to keep in mind is the time commitment for the application process. It’s easy to say you can apply younger, and always re-apply if you are not admitted the first time, once you have more experience. Given how long the process took however, I really can’t imagine I would have done so. I got lucky it worked out this time!
C: I know personally as a candidate on the younger side, I have had some second thoughts about going to b-school. Have you had any?
V: Sure, I had a lot of second thoughts, not just about going but about applying at all. I dealt with my self-doubts was to speak to mentors, friends, and alumni who really understood my profile and what I was up against. Hearing from alumni that they believed in my application gave me the confidence I needed to apply despite the huge time commitment involved, and potential rejection.
C: How did the application process go for you? What were some of the challenges you faced?
V: The main challenge was finding time to do this on top of work and other commitments, especially around the GMAT. There was also just the challenge of working up courage to ask for recommendations, and putting yourself out there as someone who is applying despite the very likely chance of rejection (for anyone - admission statistics are grim!). A lot of my free time and basically all my vacation time in the last 12 months went to applications. It was a whirlwind!
C: If you could do something differently, what would it be and why?
V: I would have started sooner. There is no good reason why I had to write my essays in the last month before the deadline, or why I didn’t do my GMAT maybe a year earlier and really take my time with it to get a higher score. Instead of one year between the decision to apply and application, I would have taken two and stretched out the activities for a less stressful experience.
C: In the end, all that stress and hard work was worth it because you got into Wharton and the Lauder program! Congratulations! Why were you attracted to Wharton and the Lauder program specifically?
V: Wharton was my top choice all along. Given my work experience in financial services, and intention to continue in the field, it is the best school for me. Wharton has a phenomenal amount of electives, particularly in finance that allow you to focus on your specific area of interest. You can also waive out of core courses like statistics, accounting, and marketing to be able to really tailor your curriculum to your interests which was important to me. I wasn't interested in taking introductory classes again!
With Lauder, I get the chance to have a smaller tight-knit community and take Arts and Sciences classes while improving my second language proficiency. With a half-German, half-Canadian background, I’ve always wanted to increase my professional exposure to German speaking countries so I could seamlessly work there from a language proficiency perspective. Lauder gives me really personalized language classes in addition to cultural studies courses that I can pick based on my interests. So far during our summer travel immersion program (which kicked off earlier in the summer) we have had a chance to meet with senior advisors at the European Central Bank, and the Deutsche Bundesbank!
C: Sounds like a great fit for you. What are you hoping to do after the program?
V: I really loved what I was doing before school, so I plan to continue further down that path working at Oliver Wyman in the Financial Services field, just with more academic knowledge to help me make a more meaningful contribution and progress my career.
C: What parting thoughts would you like to leave with candidates who are applying to b-school this cycle?
V: I would just reiterate the importance of mentors, and friends in this process. There are so many exceptional candidates out there, and what can really make the difference are having mentors guide you through the process, and friends to bounce ideas of, or even just study together and proofread essays. I am confident without my support system that I would not have gotten in.
Want to connect with Vanessa? You can find her on LinkedIn.