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Real Humans of Microsoft: Cynthia Vargas Hernandez, Washington Foster MBA ’23, HR Program Manager

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In this installment of our Real Humans: Alumni series, we have a story of opportunity and transformation from Cynthia Vargas Hernandez, who shares her journey from Mexico to Microsoft. She arrived in the U.S. fresh from earning her bachelor’s in business in Mexico with bigger goals in mind. She chose the MBA at Washington Foster after finding its values, culture, location, and more to be ideal for achieving her goals, and their financial support and scholarship options sealed the deal. Read her story here to find out how Washington Foster helped her develop her confidence and the strategic thinking skills to thrive at Microsoft.

Cynthia Vargas Hernandez, Washington Foster MBA ’23, HR Program Manager at Microsoft

Age: 32
Hometown: Mexico City, Mexico
Undergraduate Institution and Major: Tecnologico de Monterrey, Business Administration
Graduate Business School, Graduation Year: University of Washington, Foster School of Business Class of 2023
Pre-MBA Work Experience: Sevenstep, Talent Acquisition Manager, (Feb 2017 – Sept 2021)
Post-MBA Work Experience: Microsoft, HR Program Manager (Jul 2023 – now)

Why did you choose to attend business school?
There were two main reasons. Firstly, I wanted to expand my professional network. I moved to the US in 2016, right after finishing my bachelor’s degree in Mexico. As an immigrant, I found myself having to navigate my new career options with a limited network. My first job in the US, and pre-MBA role, was at a small to medium-sized company in the staffing and recruitment industry. Even then, my network remained limited in size and scope. Secondly, I wanted to transition roles and industries. I felt ready to move from an operations to a more business strategy role. After serving technology clients, I wanted to be directly involved on the client side within the tech industry. The MBA seemed like the ideal way to accelerate this transition and elevate my career.

Why Washington Foster? What factors figured most prominently into your decision of where to attend?
I would say rankings, value, culture, and location. Foster is consistently placed among the top 20 business schools in the country, which I attribute to their academic excellence, but also the strategic network it has due to its location. The University of Washington has a strong presence in the Pacific Northwest (PNW), which is also home to a number of great companies that I was interested in, such as my current employer, Microsoft. And while I always thought the MBA, with its prohibitive price tag, would be impossible to attend, I learned that Foster offers multiple financial support and scholarship options. It was indeed through a Consortium fellowship that I was able to attend the program with a full-ride scholarship. Finally, Foster’s culture really stood out to me during the application process. I felt very much like the admissions committee knew who I was not just as a professional, but most importantly as a person and the value that I could bring to the Foster community. Having a smaller class size, you can really make an impact, and the relationships you develop are really strong, all while taking classes on a beautiful campus that makes you feel excited about being a student again.

What about your Washington Foster MBA experience prepared you for your current career at Microsoft?
So many things, but two stand out – confidence and strategic thinking. In business school, you build the confidence to network, lead a student club, build a business case, and defend an idea. This confidence is something I don’t think I had before business school, and it has been tremendously needed in my new role post-graduation. Additionally, the MBA experience is all about asking questions; being a student again makes it ‘ok’ to ask questions. That builds your strategic thinking abilities, and then you realize that it’s always ok and in fact you must ask questions and engage with others to solve the hairiest of business problems.

What was your internship during business school? How did that inform your post-MBA career choice?
My internship was as a Talent Manager on the Career Team at Microsoft, working on a mentorship application project and a learning path for career growth. The team I was on sat within a Center of Excellence, meaning it had a company-wide impact. I had never worked on projects of such a large scale, which made me very curious to explore opportunities that have global impact. In my current role as HR Program Manager for Global Offboarding, I get to work on projects of international scope where I have learned processes for many of the countries that Microsoft operates in. 

Why did you choose your current company? What factors figured most prominently into your decision of where to work?
I wanted to work in tech, particularly at Microsoft, a company that has made history and is shaping the future. During my interviews with other tech firms, Microsoft truly stood out as a place where I could envision myself long-term and grow my career while being true to myself. And of course, the benefits are also a factor! I’m also part of a 3-year rotational program that allows me to explore different roles and gain exposure to multiple projects before deciding on my long-term team.

Advice to current MBA students:
–One thing you would absolutely do again as part of the job search?
Reach out to your classmates for help and pay it forward. There were people who interviewed for the role I got before me, and their help was key in securing my internship offer. I paid it forward the following year by assisting those applying to the same internship. Setting the tone for a collaborative approach from the beginning will benefit all of you as a class, and this may be the only time you get to experience something like this because sharing interview details with your ‘competition’ is uncommon in the ‘real world.’ However, creating a supportive environment with your classmates will lead to all of your success and a stronger network in the long run.

–One thing you would change or do differently as part of the job search?
I recruited early, and thankfully my job search was not long. However, I did become curious about consulting at some point, and I managed to get an interview with an MBB consulting firm. I didn’t feel prepared; I case prepped very little, and of course, I didn’t land the role. Looking back, I would have invested more time case practicing, knowing that even non-consulting roles include cases as part of their interview process.

–Were there any surprises regarding your current employer’s recruiting process?
The kindness and level of engagement of all the interviewers were impressive. The brand name and job titles might be intimidating, or at least they were to me, but the people who were part of my recruiting process are living proof of the type of culture Microsoft claims to have.

–What piece of advice do you wish you had been given during your MBA?
I wish I had been given this piece of advice, but now it’s something I tell others:It doesn’t have to end on graduation day. For me, the MBA was truly a transformative experience. I immersed myself in the program, not just in academics but mostly in extracurriculars, such as club leadership, mentorship programs, cultural activities, and professional development. The MBA was not only a goal at the top of my list; it was a dream. So as I approached graduation, I felt a sense of loss, thinking that it was all going to be over, that the Cynthia born during the MBA could not exist outside of the MBA world. I was wrong. The community always needs leadership, new ideas, and people with the drive to develop, help, and serve others. Now, I’m part of organizations that serve Latino professionals in Seattle, which is a version of a student club for professionals. I find purpose in this, and I hope that those graduating also realize that their community involvement and leadership don’t have to end on graduation day.

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.