Part-time MBA Finds Full-time Work

After two years in the Atlanta area, customer-service specialist Mike Walzak found a new job in the town he’d left.


Two years ago, Mike Walzak and his wife relocated from Seattle to the Southeast to be closer to family. He used OpsLadder to find a new position as a customer-service director.

But 18 months later, his wife was offered a job back in Seattle that was “too good to pass up,” he said, and he was once again in the job market. And back to square one.

“When we left Seattle, I had been working for Boeing; it wasn’t an option to go back there,” he said, because the company was already laying off employees. But he’d had success with Ladders once, and so he signed up again, looking for a job in customer service.

But a few things had changed in 18 months, including the fact that he had started working on his MBA at Auburn University in Alabama. While most of his work was done via online discussions, DVDs and other remote methods, he was required to be in Auburn two weeks out of the year. One of the reasons he chose Auburn, he said, was because it was within driving distance of his home in Atlanta. Looking for a job while continuing his studies created some challenges.

While he was confident in his abilities, he said he was anxious that corporate layoffs were adding people to the job market. What’s more, he was facing a tight market in customer service, where a lot of companies are outsourcing. “Where before a company might have two centers with multiple levels of management, now there is one person in charge of five outsourced centers,” Walzak said. “There’s huge contraction in the marketplace.”

Another challenge: the job market in Seattle had gotten a lot tighter last fall when two of the area’s biggest employers — Starbucks and Microsoft — announced layoffs.

“There were very few openings last fall,” he recalled. “It wasn’t so much that I wasn’t getting any response to my resume; there were not a whole lot of jobs to apply for.”

But in one way, his timing was very good. He was between semesters and had a window of time where he could devote his time solely to a job search. His first semester of graduate school had ended at the end of November, and by early December, he had found a few jobs that matched his experience as a customer-service director. Two of those jobs, in two different areas, were ones he pursued.

With customer service, said Walzak, he could cast a fairly wide net. In his previous job, in Atlanta, he was the director of customer service for a digital-image fulfillment company. “Whether it’s selling a widget or providing cell-phone service, ultimately, it’s about the customer calling with a problem, ” Walzak said, “and you’ve got to solve that problem as quickly as possible.”

An emphasis on training and development

Interviews with both companies were well underway, and he was approaching a new school semester. Not only did he have to spend a week at Auburn, in Alabama, in mid-January, but his class would be traveling to Brazil and Chile as part of his course work, in mid-March, and he needed to ask for time off before he even had a job. “I talked about the program in the interviews, and I think it worked in my favor,” he said. “Ultimately, it makes me more effective in my job. I think they saw it as a plus.”

It certainly didn’t hurt his prospects. Walzak received job offers from both companies in the same week, just as he was preparing to go to Auburn for a week of classes. Over the course of two or three days, he said, he weighed both offers.
“There was a fairly substantial difference between the two companies,” he said. “One was with a large company that offered a higher salary. The other was with a start-up, which was a little more nimble, had the potential for growth and pre-IPO stock options. “I had to weigh the guaranteed income now vs. the potential income later.”

“I had experience in both environments before,” he continued. “I had worked at a startup, and I had worked at Microsoft, which was a big company. I had both of those experiences to look back on. I weighed the pros and cons of both and ended up taking the job at T-Mobile.”

His position, as senior manager of service delivery of Flexpay, is a new position at the telecommunciations company. His group is in charge of the customer experience for a program T-Mobile has recently introduced for budget-conscious consumers.

Managing his new job along with his studies is a challenge, Walzak said, but he’s receiving support from his new employer. “My boss is big on education,” he said. “If I need time to do something during the day, he’s OK with my doing it — as long as I get my work done.”

“I ask myself everyday how I am managing this,” he said. “I do it early in the morning and late at night. I listen to lectures in the car. As long as you stay organized, you can do it.”

Another bonus: T-Mobile is offering tuition reimbursement beginning with his summer semester. He’ll finish his program next May. “I couldn’t have planned it better if I tried,” he said.