28 Jan 2022

Recalling My First Cold Call: A Conversation with EC Students


by Dorian Salinas

The start of 2022 not only marks a new year but also the graduation year of the MBA Class of 2022. As they begin their last semester, we asked Elective Curriculum (EC) students about their first cold call, case method teaching, and how both aspects might help them in their career.

Yarden Halperin (MS/MBA 2022)

Halperin, a student in the MS/MBA: Engineering Sciences Program, is the co-president of the Harvard Business School (HBS) Women’s Student Association, social chair of the MS/MBA program, and the international representative of section H. She is also a member of the Tech Club, Health Care Club, Entrepreneurship Club, and the Women In Investing Club. After graduation she will be joining Amazon as a senior technical product manager in Amazon Web Services (AWS), where she completed her internship last summer.

What do you remember about your first cold call?
It was a completely different experience for me. In college I studied computer science, and those classes usually don’t have much participation—just a lecture and individual exercises to complete. All of my previous schooling was in Israel, so I was used to a learning culture that does not always include classroom discussion. On top of that, due to COVID, I started all of my Required Curriculum (RC) classes virtually—including this one—and I was not in a classroom setting frame of mind. I remember feeling prepared to discuss the case but after I was cold-called and gave my answer, I felt like I did not address everything I wanted to say. I used this as a learning experience and decided to find a comment buddy—someone who would give me feedback and vice versa. After every cold call or participation, my comment buddy would send me a message with their opinion of my performance: how well I got my point across, if I used the right tone of voice, suggestions for next time, etc. Since then, I have seen a huge improvement in my classroom performance and being able to get my point across clearly.

How do you think learning through the case method will help you in your future endeavors?
It will be extremely helpful. When you are in a leadership role, or any role where your input is required, you will be asked things that you might not be prepared for. Once you have the skill of gracefully and factually answering unexpected questions, you will be able to handle future questions well. Learning the skill of discussion is like training a muscle, and it’s exactly what we are training here.

Varun Nagarajan (MBA 2022)

Nagarajan is a member of the HBS Show Club, Entrepreneurship Club, and the South-Asian Business Association. He is also a part of the i-lab venture program and is currently working on a startup in the food space with three fellow classmates.

What do you remember about your first cold call?
My first cold call happened during a Leadership and Organizational Behavior (LEAD) class my first year. We were discussing the case “Erik Petersen (A),” which is about the problems a recent MBA graduate faces in his job as a general manager of a mobile cellular company owned by a parent corporation. I had spoken up and participated in previous classes, so I did not anticipate being cold-called. But as always, it comes when you least expect it. We were still attending classes remotely, and as I opened the Zoom link on my screen and was joining the class, I was asked to start off the discussion.

Being cold called on Zoom was a bit unconventional, but it was also a great experience. In a virtual classroom setting, you are in the comfort of your own home but you still have 72 classmates and a professor staring at you through a screen. Since my first cold call, I have seen a massive difference in how I respond. This will be useful later in life when I’m unexpectedly asked for my opinion and can deliver a clear and concise message. Being caught off guard shouldn’t mean that you can’t summarize what you want to say effectively and immediately.

How do you think learning through the case method will help you in your future endeavors?
The way the case method is taught at HBS is phenomenal. The case method gave me an immersive way of learning that I have not found anywhere else. By using a company, a protagonist, or a set of issues as examples, I’ve been able to relate the cases to the real world. If I’m ever in a similar position in the future, I can relate that to a case discussion rather than a certain concept or a bunch of slides that were presented in class.

Kathu Gatobu (MBA 2022)

Gatobu is co-president of the Africa Business Club. She is also a part of the Women’s Student Association, African American Student Union, the Black Investment Club, the MoMBA Club, and the Wine & Cuisine Club. After graduation she plans to join Boston Consulting Group.

What do you remember about your first cold call?
My first—and only—cold call happened in my second semester during a hybrid class. I am the education representative (ed rep) of my section, which means that I help facilitate communication between the professor and the students. Prior to class I met with the professor for a 15-minute chat to discuss the support he would need. When class started, the professor announced that the ed rep would be starting the class discussion. I was stunned! It took me a moment to realize that I was being cold called. I was asked a question regarding a country’s development structure and was given three minutes to gather my thoughts before answering. I quickly jotted down the strategy with which I wanted to attack the cold call, and I can say it went well. I always make it a point to participate in the classroom, so although this cold call was unexpected, it was something that I felt prepared for.

How do you think learning through the case method will help you in your future endeavors?
The case method was one of the main reasons why I wanted to attend HBS. I knew the case method would help sharpen my ability to think fast while still being able to think in a structured manner and compose a logic-and-analysis backed argument. In my next role I’ll be consulting for senior or executive leaders—they will have many questions and I must have organized answers. With the case method I have been exposed to different disciplines in multiple industries. I feel confident that even with limited information, I will be able to give good recommendations in a very short amount of time. This will be invaluable for my career.

Liam Dorpalen-Barry (MBA 2022)

Dorpalen-Barry is a member of the HBS Democrats Club, Entrepreneurship Club, and Outdoors Club. After graduation he plans on starting his next startup venture.

What do you remember about your first cold call?
What I remember more vividly than my first cold call is when I was cold called and did not know the answer. I was in my first finance class and was asked a detailed question about financial modeling. Learning to be able to say, “I don’t know,” gracefully and humbly when all eyes were on me was a much bigger lesson than previous cold calls in which I knew the answer.

How do you think learning through the case method will help you in your future endeavors?
The case method has helped me expand my business knowledge across different industries. Before coming to HBS I was the CEO of a startup and only focused on the software industry. Through the case method I learned the colorful stories of great leaders in hundreds of industries—ranging from politicians, to miners, retailers, financiers, and many more. It opened my eyes to how broad and diverse the world is and how although all these industries are different, great leadership skills are needed for all.

Lucia Cuneo (MBA 2022)

Cuneo is a part of the Women’s Student Association, Latin American Club, Entrepreneurship Club, Food and Agriculture Club, and the Australian-New Zealand Club. After graduation she plans to move to Australia, where she will pursue a career in the food tech industry.

What do you remember about your first cold call?
My first cold call was in a Technology & Operations Management (TOM) class during my required curriculum (RC) year. We were discussing a topic that involved bottlenecks, processing capacities, and cycle times. In the split second after my name was called, I had to think about how I wanted to answer the question, but I also looked back at my past experiences to add to my answer.

After my cold call was over, I came to the realization that our lived experiences play a huge role in the classroom discussion. In a traditional classroom you are expected to have a specific answer, but that’s not what the professor is looking for here. With the information we are given and the diverse backgrounds that we have, our different perspectives add value to the classroom discussion. The important component of the case method is how we individually think about the case, and the professor is always there to guide the conversation.

How do you think learning through the case method will help you in your future endeavors?
Through the case method we start with a problem, something to solve, or a decision to make. In real life that’s how problems occur, without a theoretical exercise that has a formula to give you the answer. In a case study we are given an overarching problem with the context, details, and exhibits. This gives us have a broad overview of the problem and helps us consider all components to solve it. As an engineer, I come from a background that mainly uses formulas to solve problems; coming to HBS has helped me expand my problem-solving skills by introducing new challenges in the classroom.

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