By Varun Saluja (MBA’20)
To my fellow Fuquans recruiting for energy internships late in the spring, a word of advice: Don’t give up. Trust the process. Stay the course. It will work out.
Not long ago, I was in the same boat. Allow me to share my experience and some of the lessons I learned along the way.
I came to Fuqua with a specific interest—offshore wind energy development. I was first introduced to offshore wind back in 2016, when the Block Island wind farm was set to start generating electricity for the first time. At the time, I was developing a business expansion strategy into northern European electricity markets for Altenex (now Edison Energy). Offshore wind generation was rapidly becoming a big part of the generation mix in the UK and NORDPOOL, and I quickly saw that it could play a big role in US markets as well.
I was hooked. I quickly became a big fan of offshore wind. I immediately set about learning all I could about the industry. I learned who the big developers were, and I learned about who the key people were in those companies. (Hint: there is a surprising amount of information to be gleaned from LinkedIn searches). I read news articles and sent cold emails; I signed up for email newsletters and happy hours; I bought coffees and drinks. In short, I networked.
While I was doing all this networking, I was also applying to business schools. I knew where I wanted to end up—at the number one offshore wind developer in the world, Ørsted—but I didn’t necessarily know the best way to get there. I also had some knowledge gaps about the electricity grid to fill. I wrote in my application essays that I wanted to make a career in offshore wind development.
Eventually, in late 2017, I had networked my way into an informal role at EDP Renewables Offshore North America, a major renewable energy developer that was formerly the Portuguese state-owned utility. I was fortunate to have a boss who saw my hunger and was willing to give me a shot to prove myself. I took that opportunity to learn everything I could about the industry; he was happy to oblige, since he was trying to build a project that will cost upwards of $3 billion from a starting point of him, me, and one other guy at a WeWork in Brookline. (I know what you’re asking: It worked).
“Chance favors the prepared mind”
A few months into the job, I got a call from Fuqua, offering me a spot in the class of 2020. I was honored to accept. (Fortunately, my boss had come to Fuqua on an exchange program when he was completing his MBA, so he was very encouraging—“Don’t miss Campout!”)
I left for Durham in July and came back to Boston often to visit my wife and kids who stayed behind. As I was immersing myself in not just Team Fuqua, but all that Duke University had to offer, I knew that networking would be key to my custom job search. Wind energy developers don’t come to campus for on-campus recruiting. So, I attended EDGE Seminars, speakers, conferences, Duke “Power Lunches”, and happy hours. I joined the cabinet for the MBA Energy Club. I kept lines of communication open with Ørsted and my EDP Renewables colleagues, and sent request for informational interviews to new contacts. I met allies in classmates, professors, faculty, and staff.
Patience… and panic
The most challenging thing about pursuing energy sector roles during business school is how late in the school year the recruiting cycle occurs. At school, it felt like most of my classmates had long since signed their offers, even as energy recruiting was just beginning. I figured I was just as competent, just as talented as my colleagues; why couldn’t I, too, chill by the S9 pool all spring semester?
Maybe I was overconfident? Maybe I didn’t belong? Was I too focused on renewables in Boston? Did the Admissions Committee make a mistake? Maybe I should have listened to my parents, who “heard through the grapevine” that this “consulting thing” is really interesting, and shouldn’t I “at least consider it”? As the weeks turned into months without an offer, I was forced to broaden my search. I did that, but I also kept following up with Ørsted and the other energy employers highest on my list.
In the spring, I was introduced to my eventual boss. Great, right? Except no offer.
Wise counselors in the Career Management Center and the EDGE Center told me, “No need to panic. Just-in-time recruiting takes time. Energy internships are posted late.”
By early April I was panicking, shooting out emails to everyone I had half-engaged in a sip-circle, regardless of what they did or where. I waited. I sent more emails.
“There are more energy jobs available than people applying,” Katie Kross, EDGE managing director, told me. “You’ll get something you like. Don’t worry.”
Finally, during the second week of April (…April!), Ørsted reached out. Would I be willing to come to New York to have a chat? Hell yes.
I went, I chatted, I conquered.
For all the times I said business school isn’t a real graduate school, I have to say—I dropped knowledge and techniques I didn’t have before Duke. I even impressed myself. Suffice it to say, the interview went well.
I received my offer letter on April 28th, only one day before I was planning to leave Durham for the summer.
And what an amazing summer it was! I got to go to Copenhagen, met the CEO, and pitched a strategy to enter the Californian market that was well-received. The months-long slog; the countless sip-circles, e-mails, phone calls; all the self-doubt was worth it. I didn’t compromise. I ended up exactly where I wanted to be for the summer.
So, hang in there. Find what you’re passionate about and burn your boats. Network every chance you get. Trust the Fuqua team. Trust the process. It worked for me, and it’ll work for you.
Postscript: In May 2020, Varun Saluja graduated with his MBA from Fuqua and accepted a position as Power Purchase Agreement Manager with Mayflower Wind in Cambridge, Massachusetts.