Q&A with Career Changer Janeflora Henriques (MBA ’12)

Janeflora Henriques came to the U.S. from Kenya in 2002 to follow her bliss. At first she pursued a career as a scientist. Along the way, though, she realized that business—accounting, especially—was where her professional interests lay. BCAM met up with the indefatigable Henriques to learn how she survived and thrived the many professional twists and turns before reaching her goals.
(Read her background story here)

BCAM: What was the hardest part about changing careers?

JH: The apprehension regarding how to sell your seemingly irrelevant past skills and experiences to a new industry. The easiest part is actually selling this diverse and different background.

It turned out that a big part of what employers want to know is whether you are capable of producing results, whatever your previous endeavors. So all you have to do to package your seemingly irrelevant past is to effectively communicate your accomplishments to would-be employers, both on paper via resume and in person at interviews.

When I interviewed with a partner at Ernst & Young, all he wanted to know was what scientific discoveries I made while working on my senior thesis and how they were worthy of publication. He didn’t care that my accounting knowledge at that point was minimal. My interest in accountancy as a result of my failed startup was enough to show that I was serious about this career path.

BCAM: How did working with Zicklin’s Graduate Career Management Center (GCMC) help shape your transition?

JH: I learned plenty about me while working with the GCMC to makeover my resume and hone my interview skills.

I realized that in everything I have done I have consistently delivered strong results, oftentimes beyond what was expected from someone at my level. And I could use that to support the assertion that I will perform beyond expectations in the future.

In short, I stopped self-bashing and realized I was not a clueless pseudoscientist masquerading as a newly minted business type but rather a talented individual with boatloads of potential and a strong track record.

BCAM: How did earning an MBA fit in with your career plans?

JH: To co-opt a friend’s words: Business school is the only school where you are taught both academic material and how to become more polished as an individual. A big part of my life is self-actualization, and business school provides a measure of that in the company of like-minded peers.

Yes, some say that an MBA program—known as offering a little of everything—results in a jack-of-all-trades but master of none. I disagree. The little of everything so far has immeasurably added to my life skills, which is a big part of what I sought in an MBA.

BCAM: Could you give us some examples of life skills enhanced by your MBA program?

JH: As a result of my LAW 9800 class, I’m more knowledgeable when engaging in contracts. I am still not a lawyer and may need one from time to time, but if and when I do hire one, we will understand each other much better.

As a wife, I apply some of the principles of operations management to make my life and that of my partner more efficient.

I feel better equipped to negotiate, be it for personal or business reasons.

Also, now I better understand ways to manage my money: I’m not a superstar investment professional, but I can keep myself from bleeding away my financial resources more effectively.

BCAM: Why did you choose Zicklin for your MBA?

JH: Once I became aware of the Zicklin MBA Program, nothing else made good business sense. Granted the initial trajectories of a Columbia University grad and Baruch alum may not be the same. But, from my observations, skill and results are what matters in the end.

I was entering business school at a time when the economy was still shaky and job prospects were fleeting. To borrow heavily to finance an education with no guarantees of immediate lucrative employment was a bad business decision, especially since I still had undergraduate student loans. A Zicklin MBA was without question good value for the money.

Interestingly enough, I heard about Baruch from my husband, a Columbia University alum, who rated some colleagues from Baruch a lot higher in terms of performance than others from some more esteemed schools.

BCAM: What has been your favorite part of the MBA program?

JH: The Lyon Winter Study Abroad experience. As a French speaker, I had always longed to go to France. Engaging with the French students greatly expanded my understanding of the economic environment of France and the European Union, not to mention the cultural exchange we experienced. I can confidently say that I am measurably more knowledgeable and worldly in great part because of the Lyon experience.

BCAM: Are there other standout experiences?

JH: The 2011 Aspen Business & Society International MBA Case Competition. I was a member of the Baruch finalist team (we represented the whole of Zicklin in the final round). Working under intense pressure in one weekend to solve a real-world case problem with exams and other day-to-day pressures also bearing down on us was a huge test of creativity, tenacity, team work, and perseverance.

These were precisely the experiences I sought in choosing to pursue an MBA. The real world can be very unforgiving, so what better way to hone your mettle than in these kinds of experiences? We lost, but at the finals gala event, I had a chance to see for myself what the winning team had that we did not. Those insights made that weekend of blood, sweat, and tears worthwhile.

BCAM: What did you takeaway from your internships?

JH: The most significant thing I learned was how to achieve success through the choices I make. We’ve all heard it: Life is what you make it. But before my MBA program, no one ever really explained to me how to be aware—really aware—of my choices so that I can make the best ones. This was one of the “aha” moments of a conference I attended as an intern.

At the E&Y intern conference in Disney World, we were introduced to the concept of the “R-factor.” The basic idea is that you have a choice not to react to circumstances. You have a choice not to react to a bad economy by hoarding cash. Instead figure out what new opportunities may have arisen from the bad economy. You have a choice to stop and evaluate every “supposed” setback and find its silver lining. You have a choice not to be complacent but rather push yourself and see just how far you can go.

Also, one of the more striking things I learned from the intern experience is that in a competitive environment the best way to differentiate yourself is to be yourself.

BCAM: Is the work routine as an accountant different from what you expected?

JH: My day-to-day in an accounting career is far more multidimensional than my day-to-day was as a researcher. As an accountant, I have to balance more with smaller allowances for error. That’s surprising for people to hear.

As a researcher, if, for any reason, I bungled an experiment, I most often could simply repeat it. Not so as an accounting intern at Ernst & Young. When calling a third party to follow up on discrepancies, there is no room to bungle anything—even when the person on the other end of the phone is quoting accounting principles I’ve barely heard of.

BCAM: What are your plans for the immediate future?

JH: I have accepted a full-time offer with Ernst & Young, so my postgraduation plans are as good as solid. I’ll try to complete the CPA exams before starting my full-time position at the end of summer. If I can, I’ll also squeeze in a trip to Kenya… It’s been too long!

BCAM: Do you have any longer-term plans?

JH: In the next two years, I plan to have obtained or be working toward my CPA license. However, my long-range plans are pretty clear: I intend to focus on entrepreneurship in the long haul.

BCAM: A final, irresistible off-topic question: Is there a story behind your unusual first name?

JH: Yes, there is a story behind my name, albeit nothing mesmerizing. When I was born, my oldest sister (who was a difficult child) insisted I be named “Florence” after a movie actress she idolized. My sister threatened consequences if I weren’t. On the other hand, the tradition of my tribe dictated that I be named after my dad’s eldest sister. Fearing whiplash from in-laws, my mother was wary to skip naming me after my aunt. At the same time, my mother was concerned about a daughter who said she would have nothing to do with me if I weren’t named Florence. So my mother shortened my aunt Jennifer’s name to “Jane” and Florence to “Flora” and gave me both.

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