Blanka Thibaud was ready for a change.
She’d been working as an economist, but had an eye on a career in commercial real estate development.
In 2016, she enrolled in Maryland Smith’s Part-Time MBA program (now called the Flex MBA), loading her schedule with real estate courses that would give her in-depth knowledge of the development process. While a part time student, she worked for a real estate developer in Washington, D.C., and then was hired at Freddie Mac as a real estate asset manager.
In early 2020, before COVID-19 turned everything upside down everywhere, things changed for Blanka, as she and her family moved, permanently, to Paris. Her dream move would soon lead to a dream job in the French capital.
“I started outlining a plan to continue working as a real estate consultant with my clients in D.C. while I looked for full-time positions,” she says, explaining her job-search strategy.
She pushed to gain more experience in the field, and earned a certificate in Advanced Real Estate Financial Modeling. She joined three professional organizations, connecting with other professional women and other commercial real estate professionals, growing her network across Paris. “It became a circle of people recommending me to others, and today I am proud to say that I have a very strong base of connections all over Paris,” she says.
In less than a year, she had landed it: A dream job as a real estate transactions manager for Amazon in Paris.
“The process moved as quickly as we would expect from a customer-obsessed giant like Amazon,” says Thibaud, who is nearing her 2021 graduation date.
First, she would apply online. She knew she was a good candidate: The listing called for someone with extensive real estate financial investment experience and knowledge of the EU markets.
A few weeks later, the interview process would begin. There would be eight rounds of interviews, plus a challenging logical reasoning (math) test and a written exercise.
“Amazon is notorious for a very challenging interview process, especially when it comes to the all-day loop interview where you meet back-to-back hiring managers including a ‘bar raiser,’” she explains. “The bar raiser is evaluating whether one would be a good fit for Amazon against the 14 leadership principles and making sure that the potential hire is better than 50% of those currently in similar roles.”
Thibaud was determined to do her homework and perform at her best in the interview. She knew that the best interview answers would follow the STAR (Situation Task Action Result) method, offering specific examples from her career that demonstrate her expertise and achievements.
“I contacted (Maryland Smith career coach) Julie Neill at the beginning of the interview process and we started working on my STAR responses relating to each leadership principle. I also worked with an external coach with whom I practiced my responses in French,” she says.
“As I moved along the interview ladder, I worked with Julie again to sharpen up my responses. My last round of interviews went so well that Amazon offered me a more senior role than I originally applied for.”
To future Maryland Smith grads, Thibaud offers six tips, drawn from her own experience:
Find what you are truly passionate about. I knew I had my heart in real estate finance and I relentlessly pursued this field.
Continue developing technical skills. The knowledge you have today will be obsolete in two years.
Join professional organizations within your interest group. This network will ease you into creating new business relationships and keep you up-to-date with industry news.
Create a spreadsheet of dream companies. Refer to it often, as you look for connections there. She says “The 2-Hour Job Search” book helped her do this. Contact people and schedule virtual coffee meetings. Be genuine and authentic when explaining your story to strangers.
Work with Smith Career Services. And reach out to other coaches and mentors if needed. Thibaud worked with three mentors and three coaches in the six months prior to her job offer, and says they helped her in every aspect of her career.
Don’t give up. “Some days are harder, but those are the moments when you have to ask yourself, truly what are you afraid of and face those fears head-on,” she says. Find out what your dream job requires, what skills you can develop, and what webinars and networking events can help better prepare you.
“I landed my job at Amazon by doing exactly these steps,” she says. “Although I was not an internal referral, I met somebody who worked with Amazon real estate deals who walked me through the processes and provided me with tremendous information that I was able to leverage during my interviews. You never know who can help you out.”
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About the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business
The Robert H. Smith School of Business is an internationally recognized leader in management education and research. One of 12 colleges and schools at the University of Maryland, College Park, the Smith School offers undergraduate, full-time and part-time MBA, executive MBA, online MBA, specialty master's, PhD and executive education programs, as well as outreach services to the corporate community. The school offers its degree, custom and certification programs in learning locations in North America and Asia.