By Arial Starks
Katie Wandzilak graduated from Purdue University in 2017 with a Bachelor’s degree in hospitality and tourism management. She began her career in Chicago, working in operations and sales in the luxury hotel management industry.
“When the pandemic hit (in 2020), obviously the hospitality industry got hit hard. I was furloughed for a while, and then ultimately laid off,” Wandzilak said. “I used that time to really evaluate where I wanted to go in my career.”
After doing some research and networking with human resources professionals, Wandzilak discovered her passion for HR, and knew earning an MBA would be a great step towards her career aspirations.
“I started looking at MBA programs that had an HR emphasis, and Vanderbilt Business was at the top of the list,” said Wandzilak. “Without having any HR experience, it was a great fit for me to be able to get some of the structural backbone of what it’s like to be an HR professional in the MBA environment.”
Before entering the Vanderbilt MBA program, Wandzilak had her resume reviewed by Sandy Kinnett, Senior Associate Director, CMC Coach in the Career Management Center, to get a jump-start on her recruiting efforts. She also attended the Forte MBA Women’s Leadership Conference, as a Forte Fellow, which provided her with an opportunity to network with other women in business.
Once the MBA program began in August 2021, Wandzilak hit the ground running with recruiting preparation. She attended Quant Camp to prepare for the program’s math curriculum, participated in several meetings with her peer coach, and had several coffee chats to network with second year MBAs and alums working in HR.
The HR recruiting cycle began in September 2021 and by February 2022 she had landed an interview with Paypal’s New York City office. After going through 2 rounds of interviews with Paypal employees at all levels, Wandzilak received an internship offer for the company’s HRBP Enablement team and she accepted.
“This experience taught me that I enjoy working in both a strategic and tactical role—identifying opportunities for the future yet developing tools/resources that can be value-added today,” said Wandzilak.
Wandzilak says she has enjoyed the MBA curriculum thus far, especially her Compensation Decision Making class with Professor Ben Elrod.
“It was probably one of the hardest classes at Owen, but for me it was so rewarding,” she said. “During my first week at my internship with Paypal, I got pulled into a compensation meeting and I knew all of the lingo, I knew where the company was at this stage of their project, so for me it was really great to see my coursework translate into my corporate work. That really solidified that this is why I’m pursuing my MBA.”
Wandzilak credits the Vanderbilt network of faculty, peers, and alumni for helping support her throughout the process.
“I have never had an Owen alum who has told me ‘no, I’m not available to connect with you or give you any advice,’ everyone is always so willing to help you here. Whether it’s your professors, career coaches, alums, or classmates, everyone wants to see you succeed—all you have to do is ask for help.”
Click through the timeline below to see a visual of how Katie Wandzilak got the job.