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Real Humans of Microsoft: Meera Venkataraman, Chicago Booth MBA ’20, Business Strategy Consultant

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Microsoft is one of the world’s largest software companies and is consistently ranked at the top of the Fortune 500 list. Chances are, a Microsoft program or hardware design innovation is operating in your home or business right now without you thinking about it. To plan and execute business strategy for a company of this caliber, you need the skills and expertise that Microsoft Business Strategy Consultant Meera Venkataraman honed at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. In this edition of Real Humans: Alumni, Venkataraman shares how the Booth MBA prepared her for her career.

Meera Venkataraman, Chicago Booth MBA ’20, Business Strategy Consultant at Microsoft

Age: 30
Hometown: Portsmouth, VA
Undergraduate Institution and Major: North Carolina State University – Statistics and Economics
Graduate Business School, Graduation Year and Concentration (if applicable): University of Chicago Booth School of Business 2020; Concentrations in Strategic Management, Entrepreneurship, Behavioral Science, Marketing Management
Pre-MBA Work Experience (years, industry): 5 years, consulting and technology (digital marketing)
Post-MBA Work Experience (years, industry): 2.5 years, technology (ops/strategy)

Why did you choose to attend business school?
I’ve always had an affinity for leveraging data to solve interesting problems and tell compelling stories, and as I was industry-agnostic, Deloitte’s federal technology consulting practice was a natural fit after undergrad. I loved the scope of projects and working cross-functionally, but I wanted to break into the technology space more directly and take advantage of my analytics background, so I moved to TripAdvisor as a search engine marketing analyst.

I reached a point in my career where I was ready for a new challenge, and with five years of work experience, it felt like a good time to reinvest in myself and round out my analytical skillset with more business acumen to elevate my career and prepare myself for future strategic and/or management roles.

Why Chicago Booth? What factors figured most prominently into your decision of where to attend?
I chose Chicago Booth because of the flexible curriculum and confidence that I could take courses in non-STEM topics like strategy or entrepreneurship, knowing they would be taught with the same rigor and data-driven frameworks I could expect in quantitative courses. Most importantly, as I went through the interview process and spoke with current students and alumni, I knew I would be surrounded by an incredible network of like-minded, passionate, and driven individuals who would constantly inspire me to achieve my full potential.

What about your MBA experience prepared you for your current role as a business strategy consultant at Microsoft?
The MBA experience hits home the importance of taking time to reflect. There will always be a multitude of competing priorities, both personally and professionally, and there is incredible value in stepping away from the frenzy and reminding yourself of the big picture. I also had the opportunity to work with and learn from talented individuals from diverse backgrounds, which is extremely helpful in my current role on a global strategy team. Booth is known for its strong quantitative focus, but the emphasis the program places on leadership, public speaking, and coaching also enabled me to stand out from the crowd, even in an individual contributor role. Once you have empathy for others and understand yourself, you can bring out the best in others.

What was your internship during business school? How did that inform your post-MBA career choice?
I interned at Microsoft in NYC between first and second year. Funnily enough, I applied for a marketing internship on-campus and did not receive an interview invitation during that process… but over winter break, a recruiter from Sales reached out to me saying that they thought my background would be a great fit for the team. The rest is history! I had a fantastic experience and came back full-time.

Why did you choose your current company? What factors figured most prominently into your decision of where to work?
Coming to Booth, I knew I wanted to stay in technology, but I wasn’t sure whether I would swing toward big tech or a startup. I saw Satya Nadella (Microsoft CEO and Booth alum) speak during my first year, and his perspective on “growth mindset” resonated with me and made it my target company. What also stood out about Microsoft is the longevity of people’s careers. It is not uncommon for people to stay for 15+ years, and that is a testament to the company supporting your growth with a breadth of experiences and the ability to pivot into completely different teams. By building the right network, I’ve transitioned from a sales operations role to the worldwide corporate strategy team in just two years. Lastly, the people are ultimately the most important part of where you work, and my colleagues remind me a lot of my Booth classmates – exceptionally friendly and bright, but humble.

How has COVID impacted your industry/career plans?
Working in Microsoft’s Health and Life Sciences practice both pre- and during COVID and seeing the impact in real-time that technology had to advance outcomes and drive results made me even more passionate about the space. While I may not stay in big tech forever, COVID has increased my confidence in the power of technology and data to empower people across all industries to achieve more. 

Advice to current MBA students:
–One thing you would absolutely do again as part of the job search?
Reach out to current classmates or alumni who worked or currently work at your target companies. No one knows the inside scoop better than they do, and this helped me rule out companies that ultimately would not have been the best fit for me. This helped me ignore the noise, learn about opportunities and roles that I may not have known about, and be deliberate about my applications.

–One thing you would change or do differently?
Worry less about the title and more about the job description. You’ll quickly learn that, for example, the responsibilities of a “product manager” varies widely between companies (or even different teams at the same company!), so it’s critical that you take the time to reflect on the core aspects of what you most enjoy about working and look for those attributes as you apply and interview. 

–Were there any surprises regarding your current employer’s recruiting process?
Thankfully, no surprises. Microsoft was wonderful in that we had checkpoints throughout the 11 weeks to monitor progress and I knew on the last day of my internship that I had a return offer. 

What piece of advice do you wish you had been given during your MBA?
There is a natural tendency among high-achieving students to create completely arbitrary benchmarks relative to your peers – take advantage of the chance to break away from that mentality and step out of your comfort zone. You are making a deliberate decision to invest in yourself, so resist the temptation to compare yourself to others and focus on how you will achieve your own personal and professional goals. Also, remember to be kind to yourself! Things will never go exactly as you plan, so learn to live in the moment and lean into your network for support. You’re all in this together, and there’s no one who will empathize more than your classmates.

Christina Griffith
Christina Griffith is a writer and editor based in Philadelphia. She specializes in covering education, science, and history, and has experience in research and interviews, magazine content, and web content writing.