Ashwini Anburajan ‘When you switch sectors you wonder if you did the right thing’
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The Financial Times MBA blog features students from across the world who write about the highs and lows of their business school experiences. But what happens on graduation? Where do they work and was the MBA a help or a hindrance?

Ashwini Anburajan graduated from the Judge Business School, Cambridge, in 2010.

What happened after you graduated?

I spent about eight months looking for a job. I had a background as a journalist and the economy was still bad in the UK where I went to business school and in the US. No one wanted to take a chance on someone without a “true” business background. I wanted to work overseas, but I was getting nowhere – no interviews at all.

So I went home to the US where I had a stronger network from my previous work, my college alumni network and family and got a job at a digital media group. It was not glamorous – they put TV screens at gas stations and sold the media on them.

Going from working at huge media companies with access and coveted roles, it was humbling. But also necessary – I needed a job. I was offered a role at the Huffington Post but it was under the editorial umbrella. So I went with a tiny place that no one had heard of as the director of business development.

It was a great move because it opened the door to the role I have now as director of partnerships for BuzzFeed, the social news and entertainment website. Now I think people value my background because I was a journalist – the combination of business and content has paid off – but only once I broke through the door.

What was it like to return to the workplace?

There was a huge period of adjustment. Especially when you switch sectors you wonder if you did the right thing, did the investment pay off. You compare yourself with your classmates and what they’re doing and want to feel like “you made it too”.

Do you have MBA-derived debt?

I definitely have a lot of debt. When I did my “acceptance day” at Cambridge, they told us that many students pay off their debt in two-to-three years. Maybe all of those students are in finance or consulting. Working in media doesn’t allow you to clear a lot of debt quickly.

How about your MBA network?

I am 100-per-cent in contact with friends from the MBA. Having such a small class at Cambridge made a huge difference. I feel like I can go anywhere in the world and have drink, a meal or a coffee with someone I know just from my class of 160 or so students.

I haven’t used the network to look for work, but that’s mainly because I am in the digital media/publishing industry and there aren’t a lot of graduates from Cambridge in that field yet. I think that is changing though.

Any gaps in your knowledge?

There were definitely gaps – maybe because I hadn’t studied hard enough.

But I also think skills like how to run a meeting, the dynamics of reading a room, managing partners etc were things I had to learn through experience. I don’t know if you can really teach that.

And the million dollar question: was it worthwhile?

For me it was 100-per-cent worth it, but I was determined to make it so. I wanted to switch into a business role, to work on the operations and strategy of a company, and to be part of the bigger conversation of monetising digital. And I was willing to take a step down in some ways with my first job to get the skills I needed.

I think it’s hard for people who are switching sectors because it’s seductive to go back to what you were doing. You’re an easier sell; you might get paid a little better; etc. Maybe I would have done that too if I hadn’t been a journalist, but MBAs are pretty worthless in journalism.


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