Siju completed a full time Master of Business Administration at the Alberta School of Business, with a specialization in International Business. His insight was so good in this Q&A that we couldn't help but ask a bonus question!
BAA: Tell us about your undergraduate experience at the Alberta School of Business. What are your favourite memories?
Siju : All I have are lots of good memories from my time at the Alberta School of Business. Getting out of the workforce and back to school where my sole responsibility was to learn, build my professional network, make friends and socialize were all upsides for me! I’ve made some amazing friends and have an entire alumni network at my fingertips. At times I wish I was back in school as things were much simpler, exciting, and there was always something new to learn.
BAA: Can you tell us about your current job? What kind of work are you doing?
Siju : I recently had the opportunity to take a break from my regular job and work with RBC’s Innovation and Intrapreneurship team in Toronto. Employees from across the organization with diverse skill sets are picked through an interview process, placed in teams of four and are given a real world business challenge to solve that RBC is facing using design thinking.
Design thinking has a human-centered core. It encourages organizations to focus on the people they're creating for, which leads to better products, services, and internal processes. In employing design thinking, you’re pulling together what is desirable from a human point of view with what is technologically feasible and economically viable. The method consists of 5 phases - Empathize , Define, Ideate, Prototype and Test - and is most useful for tackling problems that are ill-defined or unknown.
Our challenge was: How can Canadian banks better serve women entrepreneurs? We started the process with secondary research where we tried to understand some of the barriers women entrepreneurs face such as impostor syndrome, perception of lack of confidence, risk averseness, limited access to professional networks, mentors, female role models, and lack of awareness about funding options. Some of these issues are systemic in nature and require efforts by government, public and private sector to bring about equity. Only 2% of VC funding goes to women owned businesses. Women weren’t allowed to have their own credit till the 1970’s. The persistent gender pay gap has resulted in women having less savings and less capital to invest in their own startups.
We interviewed a lot of women business owners and got to hear firsthand their stories and challenges. We narrowed down to the 3 main areas where we can make an impact: access to professional networks and mentors, access to capital and access to business acumen. By constantly ideating, developing prototypes and testing with users, we were able to narrow down the scope of our problem and arrive at an effective solution that will have an impact on women entrepreneurs and break down some of the barriers they face.
BAA: Can you share more about how your career has developed post-graduation through to today?
Siju : It’s been nearly 3 years since I graduated and time has flown by so fast! I had the opportunity to work for another big bank but I choose to pass that up even though the pay offered was higher. Early on in my career, I had changed organizations for better pay but it didn’t improve my job satisfaction or happiness which led me to realize pay wasn’t everything.
Work culture, organizational values, career growth trajectory and mobility were key issues that mattered to me, which led me to join my current employer, RBC. Being part of a large organization like RBC gives me the ability to make career moves between cities and try different roles if I wanted to.
RBC has an internal case competition that lets employees in Alberta and the Territories address business challenges and provide creative solutions. Funnily enough, I never did a case competition during school but ended up being a finalist two years in a row at RBC. That exposure gave me the opportunity to work with RBC’s Intrapreneurship team in Toronto for 9 weeks, interact with senior leadership, and understand some of the moving pieces that makes an organization with 80,000 employees tick.
BAA: What opportunities and experiences have helped you get to where you are today?
Siju : I don’t know if I would narrow down where I am today to a certain opportunity or experience I’ve had. I think we are the sum of all our experiences throughout our life. Some key lessons that have helped me get to where I am today are:
- Embrace failure as an opportunity to grow. Looking at failure in a different way can be one of the most profound changes that you will make in your life. The moment of failure sucks, but what you can gain from it might just transform your life.
- I don’t know everything but I’m willing to learn
- I’m not perfect but I’m willing to change and improve
- I’m not the smartest person in the room so I should listen better
- Develop a growth mindset
BAA: How has your Alberta School of Business education influenced your career and life post-graduation?
Siju : My undergraduate degree was in electrical engineering and my previous jobs were technical in nature. After having spent 5 years in the workforce I realized that I had lacked key skills that were necessary to succeed on the business side. Some of the key weaknesses that I had identified in myself were public speaking, presentation skills, accounting, finance and leadership. I can say with absolute certainty that the MBA program has enabled me to successfully close those knowledge gaps, change careers, and give me the confidence I need to succeed in tomorrow’s workplace. The lesson of networking and finding mentors along the way has opened many doors in my career. I have developed my 'personal board of directors' of key women and men at the bank who advocate and help guide me. Just a few years ago, I was a student trying to figure out my career and place in the workforce. It wasn’t easy back then and if anything, it’s gotten harder for new graduates. I’ve realized the importance of giving back and I actively engage with students who reach out to me for advice and connections. I don’t have the ability to make hiring decisions but I can definitely connect them to those who do.
BAA: Do you have any advice for new graduates just starting out in their careers?
Siju : When I graduated [ŵith my MBA] in 2016, Alberta was going through a recession due to low oil prices. I was planning to return to my previous employer but they were affected by the downturn and had a hiring freeze. I was left without any options and had to explore a new career a month before graduation. I probably applied for 50 jobs online and didn’t hear anything back. It’s easy to be demotivated and lose perspective when that happens.
I didn’t have the networks or experience required and I did initially have to start at a lower level but I was happy to start somewhere. Sometimes, as an international student, the barriers we face are higher: access to networks, Canadian work experience are highly valued by employers here. Instead of getting demotivated on the failure of my short-term career objectives, I started thinking from a long-term, 30 year career perspective. I may not be where I want to be today, tomorrow or even next year. But do I know where I intend to be personally and professionally during my 30 year career span? Absolutely yes! Am I working towards it? You bet! It’s easy to get frustrated when we think short term and obstacles keep coming up in front of us.
Actively seek support: Sometimes it’s harder to land that perfect job post-graduation. Start somewhere. Reaching out for support is a great way to gain the insight you're lacking – whether you're starting your career or considering a change. Tap into your alumni network. They’ve been in your shoes and are willing to help.
Be your own advocate: You can have the courage to seek support, but if you don't believe in your value, you'll only get so far. If you’re seeking to make a career change, figure out how your skills are transferable and build a powerful story around it. I realized I have an incredible story to share, my own personal story that makes me stand out from other candidates and I needed to get that message out to people in my network who could help me. An MBA by itself doesn’t guarantee you a good job or a six-figure salary but what it does give you is credibility and an edge over other candidates.