Earlier this summer, I joined Plaid as a Product Manager, culminating my transition from HBS back to the “real world.” My path to joining Plaid full-time didn’t follow the traditional recruiting route. My plan was to join an early to mid-stage tech startup, which typically don’t participate in on-campus recruiting and don’t necessarily want to hire for roles months in advance. Knowing this, I was intentional about not formally recruiting while I was at HBS and decided to wait until I moved back to San Francisco.  

Despite what may seem to be a non-traditional recruiting route, I was able to leverage two opportunities during my final semester. One was an Independent Project (IP), and the other was the final project for the Scaling Technology Ventures course.  

Career Exploration Using Alternative Methods 

In the fall semester, I worked on an IP with a section-mate and our Financial Reporting and Control (FRC) professor, Jonas Heese, to write a case about stock-based compensation, and actually got to work with Twitter’s CFO as part of the process. Independent Projects are flexible arrangements that allow students to explore interests beyond the curriculum. A student (or team) simply needs to scope out a project and get a faculty member on board as a supervisor. My objective for the spring semester was to work on an IP that resembled professional work as preparation for returning to the real world. At the same time, I saw it as a convenient opportunity to also interact with a company I was considering joining after school.  

Enter Plaid. Plaid is a startup that enables businesses to access their users’ financial information by streamlining the connection to their users’ bank accounts. This service is not only a core building block for many startups, but also provides immense value for businesses that need to assess an individual’s financial information, such as lenders. Ultimately, Plaid’s mission is to empower innovators by democratizing access to the financial system.  

I had always been interested in Plaid and one of my previous managers at Dropbox, who wrote one of my HBS recommendation letters, was now Plaid’s Head of Finance, so I reached out to him to set up the project. Next, I asked Karen Mills, professor of The Entrepreneurial Manager (TEM), to supervise. As the previous Administrator of the Small Business Association (SBA) on President Obama’s Cabinet, she was familiar with Plaid’s role in helping small businesses and was excited to oversee my Independent Project.  

Another part of the curriculum that supported my career goals was the Scaling Technology Ventures course I took my second year. The course focuses on studying growth-stage tech companies and is taken by most of the class who plan on working in or investing in tech. The final project for the course involves picking a growth stage company and doing a deep dive into a critical growth issue the company is facing. On this project, my partner and I were able to get feedback from Plaid’s Head of Corporate Development on our research.  

By taking advantage of these academic opportunities, I was able to learn about Plaid’s products, their customers, growth vectors, and much more. In essence, I was able to understand Plaid's business at a more intimate level than I would have been able to through an ordinary interview preparation process. Exploring the academic side of the job search also opened me up to experiences I would have never imagined. Professor Mills had been writing a book about the FinTech ecosystem, and Plaid was a stop on her book tour, so I was able to attend that event. Eventually, once I was ready to start recruiting, my previous manager who is now at Plaid introduced me to Plaid’s Head of Product, a fellow HBS graduate, and we started conversations about me potentially joining the Product team.  

Now that I’m at Plaid, I focus on the Plaid Link product, which is the module that our customers build into their apps to be able to connect to the bank accounts of their millions of users. So far, it’s been exciting to learn the nuances of developing a product in a B2B2C environment while also becoming more familiar with the FinTech ecosystem.  

My advice is to take advantage of opportunities at HBS that let you explore your interests in creative ways – you never know what other opportunities, both personal and professional, those may lead to. Regarding the non-traditional recruiting path, my advice is to not succumb to the pressure of graduating with a job if you don’t find an opportunity that absolutely excites you by graduation. This is especially the case if you want to join an early to mid-stage tech startup that’s accustomed to hiring for roles as needs appear; it’s also much easier to have conversations with such companies when you’re in the same city, and when your schedule is flexible. In doing so, you could end up finding opportunities that didn’t even exist while you were still in school.