What’s it like to be a Harvard Business School student and Google Intern? Let’s find out in today’s podcast!
Our guest today is Shantanu Misra, currently a 2nd-year Harvard Business School MBA student who just completed a summer internship at Google and will serve this year as the product manager for the Harbus, the independent, non-profit news organization of Harvard Business School.
A little background about Shantanu Misra. He graduated from IIT Kanpur in India with a BTech and M Tech in Civil Engineering focused on geoinformatics. He worked for BCG in Mumbai and Singapore until 2014. Then he made a fairly major switch and moved to Switzerland where he became the program manager for Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance. About one year ago, he started his MBA at Harvard.
Shantanu, welcome to Admission Straight Talk!
Can you give us a brief overview of your path to HBS? [1:45]
I did my undergrad in engineering – I learned a lot of tech skills, and then pivoted to more of a business role, because I was fascinated by the idea of trying out different industries and solving strategic problems. That’s what attracted me to BCG after undergrad. I got a lot of exposure to different industries, different geographies, and different types of problems. But like any consultant, I wasn’t owning the solutions – so I was attracted to the opportunity in Switzerland with Gavi.
The role I had there was very interesting. Living in a new country gave me space to reflect on my career, and that’s when I decided to do my MBA. And that brought me to Harvard Business School.
How did you like the shift from advising to, in your words, owning the solution? [3:20]
It’s a major shift. People asked me how I was adjusting to living in Switzerland, and I would say living in Switzerland was easy – adjusting to the job requirements was a little more tricky.
One difference is that as a consultant, you take for granted the buy-in of the partner organization – the machinery runs very fast. But when you’re in an operational role, you’re part of that machinery – you don’t have that senior leadership-driven mandate all the time.
Another big difference is the level of detail in talking about your solutions. As a consultant you work at a high level. But operationally, you need to be detailed and practical.
Why do you feel you need an MBA? [7:00]
I don’t think of an MBA as an investment in the next 10 years of my career – it’s an investment in the next 30,35, 40 years of my career, in terms of the community and resources I’ll gain. That for me was the biggest reason.
Also, I have interests in public health, public education, etc, and in the MBA I’ve been able to work with people who are interested in social enterprise.
What did you find most difficult in the application process? [8:48]
The most difficult thing by far is the essay.
The rest of the package is ready – you’ve done the jobs you’ve done, you have the grades you have, but the thing you can change is how you represent yourself.
There are a lot of people who have a similar educational background to mine, and probably similar grades. So I spent a lot of time thinking about how to differentiate myself.
It’s a high risk event, applying for an MBA – you only get one or two stabs at it. So you want to do it well.
It helps to talk to people you know who’ve made it, so you can understand how you can stand out in your essay.
Did you get the Harbus essay guide as an applicant? [11:13]
Yes, I did! For context, we at Harbus publish a guide with 20-25 successful essays.
When you read these essays you get a sense of what people do, and what are the content choices people make. Every year when I read the essays, they’re so different.
When you interviewed at HBS, what was the hardest or most memorable question? [14:55]
I was really surprised when the interviewer opened with a question about one of the hobbies I’d mentioned in my application – not even in one of the essays – about my experience doing street plays in India. Of course I was not prepared for that question, but it really helped me relax, because I was talking about things I’d experienced in my college life.
Do you remember what you wrote about in your Interview Reflection after your interview? [15:55]
Interview Reflection is an important part of your application. Reflection is a huge part of HBS pedagogy in general. So I think Interview Reflection is important because it helps give them a more holistic picture of you, and also shows how you’ll fit with the HBS culture.
What I wrote about was the question I just mentioned – how it made me relax, thanking the interviewer for that. And then I just reflected on some of the other parts of the conversation.
What has surprised you about HBS? [18:35]
You hear a lot of stories about the social life – that it’s a two-year party. What surprised me was the focus on the classroom. The amount of effort the faculty put in for each single class surprised and impressed me – the way they design and structure the discussion. The richness of the conversation that happens in the classroom is amazing.
How is the case method changing the way you think about business or product management? [20:50]
I think before an MBA the roles you do are more designed to be you contributing as an individual contributor – and I think b-school is great for helping you transition to being a team leader. And that’s applicable to product management as well.
The other thing for me is respect for diversity – that comes from being in a room with multiple nationalities, and you realize how valuable that diversity is.
Earlier, you mentioned your reason for pursuing an MBA was mainly related to the network/community, but it sounds like you’ve gotten much more out of it that you value. Is that fair to say? [23:30]
When you apply you’re focused on what you think you’ll take away from it, and once you’re there you end up taking away a lot more. I’m really enjoying my experience.
Can you tell us about your experience as a summer intern at Google? [24:25]
It’s been great!
I was working as a product manager. I was building on some of the skills I learned as a consultant – you have to be analytical, you have to take everyone along, get initiatives through, etc. At the same time, you’re in an operational role, so you have to be really detailed.
The muscle Google has to design products is amazing. Brainstorming about solutions that will impact billions of users is fascinating. It’s an experience I couldn’t have gotten anywhere else.
Do you feel aspects of your Harvard education have helped in your role as product manager? [26:10]
The biggest help is that I’m from HBS – I can reach out to all the other HBS grads working at Google. HBS has the strongest MBA network.
The pedagogy of HBS is case-based. When I came to Google I worked with game developers. I remembered I’d done a case on game developers – it helps build context on real world issues.
You mentioned the perception that the MBA is a two-year party. There have been rumors that you need a lot of money for the social life and extracurriculars at HBS, that it is elitist. Have you found that to be true? [29:00]
It’s a bit unfair to call it elitist or say you need a lot of money. There are people from different financial backgrounds – some are on financial aid, and some have a lot of money.
But what I’ve found is that there is a strong sense of community, especially within your section, and that people are respectful of boundaries. So if you’re on a budget, people are respectful of that.
You’re the product manager for the Harbus. What does that mean? [30:30]
The Harbus is one of the oldest campus news organizations, operating since 1937. As product manager, I basically own some of Harbus’s products, such as the essay guide. We also have an interview guide.
We’re thinking of launching some other new products. We also have an editorial team that manages our monthly newsletter.
What motivated you to become product manager? [31:40]
I had used the product, which was the biggest motivation!
I’d always had an interest in student journalism, and coming to HBS where we have this great historical asset, the Harbus, I wanted to be involved. And the team is great. So when I was deciding which extracurriculars I wanted to devote my time to (since you can’t do everything!), I chose the Harbus.
What are your plans for after graduation? [32:45]
The plan is for me to make a plan.
A two-year MBA gives you a lot of opportunity to reflect on your career. I want to use this year to reflect on my internship and my interests in tech, public health, etc.
What will you miss about HBS? [35:20]
Being full time in an educational program, the kinds of things you can explore and the opportunity to participate in extracurriculars.
The second big thing will be the community. I’ve made a lot of close friends. I’ll miss that a lot.
What other Harbus products are in the pipeline? [37:00]
We’re coming out with an interview guide, probably next month.
It will have real life interview questions from successful HBS students.
There are three or four other ideas in the pipeline. We may be coming out with a guide for 2+2 students, since that program has its own unique demands.
• The Harbus
• The Harbus on Facebook
• The Harbus on Twitter
• Get Accepted to Harvard Business School, an on-demand webinar
• Harvard Business School 2018 MBA Essay Tips & Deadlines
• HBS Post-Interview Reflections, a video
• Sample Essay from Admitted HBS Student
• What Does Harvard Business School Want?
• HBS 2016 Grad Reflects on Her Experience as a Harvard MBA
• An HBS Student Helping HBS Applicants
• HBS CORe: Teaching the Language of Business
• Breaking Some HBS Stereotypes: An Interview with Ben Faw
• Wharton’s Commitment Project