Interview by Maximilian Hofmann, Media Relations
US American Pamela Taylor forges ahead: The HHL alumna completed her MBA studies with DAAD honors in 2014 and has been developing a successful career at the international media company, Bertelsmann, since then. At the beginning of 2018, she took up her new role as Director Employer Branding & Talent Acquisition. In an interview with HHL, Pamela talks about her success story and gives some important advice for international applicants.
How did it come about that you as an American decided to study at HHL? What was your motivation?
It all started with a very personal motivation: my (now) husband is German, and when I was 23 we decided we wanted to build a life together here in Germany. It was a big decision, but I had studied abroad in Germany during my Bachelors, so I had already fallen in love with the country and culture, and I had always wanted to gain more international experience. When I got here, however, I discovered that my bachelor’s degree in English Literature wasn’t quite as valued on the job market as I had hoped. It took me a while (and a lot of German classes), but eventually, I got my first “big break:” an internship in online marketing with an e-commerce start-up in Munich. After nine months, they offered me a full-time position. During this period, I continued taking German classes at night.
At some point, it became clear that if I wanted to progress in my career here in Germany, I would need to earn a graduate degree. I did a ton a research and found that an MBA program would suit my goals best. I looked at many programs but there were three criteria I knew the right program would fulfill: It had to be AACSB accredited (in case I ever wanted to work again in the States), it had to have a strong reputation in Germany, and finally, I wanted a university with a strong alumni community in Germany, since I knew that building a strong network was crucial to my long-term success. At the end of the day, HHL was the best fit with its focus on entrepreneurship, strong alumni community, great scholarship opportunities and location in Leipzig, which has turned into one of my favorite cities in Germany.
How was your career start after finishing your MBA studies?
The start of my post-MBA career actually overlapped with finishing my studies. Before beginning at HHL, I thought I wanted to continue on my path in Marketing. Through my studies, however, I developed a deep passion for strategic HR, and one evening my current company, Bertelsmann, did a company presentation at HHL. At the get-together afterward, I was able to talk with one of the company representatives, and through that conversation, I ended up landing an internship in Talent Management at the Bertelsmann Corporate Center during my final semester at HHL. I really loved it and it seems they returned the sentiment. At the end of my internship, they offered me a position in my current function, Employer Branding & Talent Acquisition, which is the perfect combination of all the things I love about HR and Marketing. Just a couple of months after I finished my internship, I started full-time at Bertelsmann.
How did the HHL Alumni network help you with your career start?
In general, during my studies the HHL alumni network helped me to better understand the similarities and differences between German and US-American professional culture, which empowered me to find unique opportunities in Germany that best fit my strengths and passions. Therefore, I would not say that there was one specific contact or conversation that brought me further, but rather just being in an environment full of open-minded people with whom I could talk at eye level and ask just about anything.
Now that my former classmates and I are also alumni, the network has only grown more valuable to me. A close friend of mine has a start-up in Hamburg, another is working in private equity, while yet another is a consultant. Many of my former classmates have pursued even more diverse career paths. Whether we stay in tight contact, or just grab a beer at Homecoming or the next Accelerate Conference, our shared time at HHL makes it seem like no time has passed. Having friends, alumni, and former classmates as sparring partners or sounding boards, hearing about their experiences, their challenges, and what they are excited about gives you more insights about what is possible and what you maybe want to do. This differs a lot from the more formal atmosphere you might have with colleagues or what you might read on some career websites.
From which competencies you acquired at HHL do you benefit the most in your job?
Understanding and challenging different business models is probably one of the most important things that I took away from my studies at HHL. This competency is tremendously helpful to me in my current role, as I need to be able to explain Bertelsmann (a media conglomerate with businesses in television, book and magazine publishing, music rights, financial services, supply chain management, printing and for-profit education) to ambitious, entrepreneurial students looking for the right career entry point. One student might be interested in a certain business and the next person might be interested in another business; I need to be fluent in all of them.
From your experience: How “open” is the German labor market for international applicants?
It’s no secret that Germany is hungry for bright, hard-working professionals with international experience. International students studying at HHL certainly bring these qualities to the table! Nevertheless, my personal experience has been that there is a high correlation between your ability to speak German and your professional opportunities here in the German-speaking “DACH” region. If you have a C1 level or above in German, you will have a lot of opportunities in Germany.
Would the language aspect also be the advice you would give international applicants, who want to take root in Germany?
Learning German would definitely be my top advice to students looking to stay in Germany after their studies. My suggestion would be to work on achieving a B2 level in German before you even start at HHL. HHL does a great job providing access to high-quality, on-campus language courses, but the reality is that your MBA is going to a very, very busy time, and you might not be able to give language learning the full attention you’d like to. Coming into the program with a solid foundation in the language is going to help you build on it in your spare time so that when it’s time to look for an internship or full-time position, you can “hold your own” in a German-speaking office.
My other advice? Get to know the students in other programs! Unlike the MBA program, the majority of students in the M.Sc. program are German. Student initiatives like Accelerate or European Ivy League are a great way to get to know other students and build your HHL network (and practice your German, if you’re feeling fancy). Likewise, get to know the students in the part-time programs. Since they are working full-time next to their studies, they can also give you really good insights into the different corners of the German job market.
In your opinion, what is the most important factor/criteria when choosing an MBA program?
I think there are three questions that can help you choose the right MBA: Where am I now? Where do I want to go? What program will help me best to get there? Sounds simple, but with all the MBA rankings, B-school blogs and GMAT prep material out there, it’s easy to forget that the real reason anyone does an MBA is for themselves. Figure out why it is that you want to go back into the classroom, forego at least one year of income – and pay a hefty tuition fee on top of it – and you’d be surprised to see how quickly you come up with a very narrow shortlist of schools that actually make it worth it for you.
Thank you for the interview, Pamela.