Category Archives: Career

Email from a Blog Reader – FOMO and 20 Slots

Last month, I received an email from a blog reader:

letter-from-blog-reader

It’s so fun to receive emails from the readers. Sometimes I wonder who are reading the blog apart from my circle of friends. Now I could get to know the readers at a more personal level. Thus, I am creating a series of posts to answer questions from the blog readers on college and career development. I will try my best to respond to the questions as they come up. Readers could also find all the prior posts by clicking the tag “#HiSijie”, which includes the referenced article “Email from a Mentee”.

Now back to business – I recommend the reader consider the following:

  • What is the minimum required GPA for your desired career path? Is high GPA a requirement? Consulting and Investment Banking usually place a bigger emphasis on GPA. What’s more, if the GPA is lower, do you have some impressive experience on your resume that will make up for it?
  • Seek help from academic advisors on managing class load and talk to professors and TAs about the courses you are struggling with;
  • Prioritize – think about your daily schedule and what you are involved in. Are there any events that will not help your short-term goal? I wrote a post last year for the Class of 2019 that highlights the importance to explore various majors but eventually develop a concentration. The great thing about college is that you are never short of classes to attend or events to participate in, but the drawback is that you cannot do everything within the four years.

The challenge of balancing multiple priorities is no stranger to anyone – we juggle projects at work/school, decide whether to work on a presentation deck for an extra hour or to go home and relax, and make plans for the weekend. In my spare time, I go through many decisions such as: after work, go to a yoga class or attend a networking happy hour? On a Saturday night, stay in or go out with friends? Do I want to take this class on Coursera or should I invest more time building and writing my blog? … The struggle is real – everything looks super fun, but time is limited. As a result, the term “FOMO” (“fear of missing out”) is coined to describe the anxiety that if you miss an event you will miss out on something great.

fomo-cartoon

The article that reduced my FOMO and changed my 2015 is called “Warren Buffett’s ‘20 Slot’ Rule”. It describes that if we are only allowed to make 20 financial investments in a lifetime (“20 slots”), we are forced to think more thoroughly and end up making better decisions. The philosophy is to direct all the energy and attention to fewer tasks and focusing on mastering them. The article was a trigger for me to reflect what my “20 slots” are. At the time, I have been sitting on the idea of blogging for a while. I wanted to help international students succeed but I could not speak at on-campus workshops at University of Minnesota as I used to after moving to Houston. To replace my physical absence, I planned to use the blog to record the lessons. Upon determining mentoring students was definitely among the “20 slots”, I overcame my fear of imperfection and started writing. Thanks to the Internet, the reader base has expanded from international students at University of Minnesota to students around the US. I also have opportunities to introduce new topics instead of repeating myself at different workshops on how to effectively network. More importantly, I have rediscovered my love for writing. Until sixth grade, my dream job was to become a writer. Therefore, I am putting my writing skills to use again.

After picking up this blogging project, I set my mind to prioritize ruthlessly. I turned down some invites to social gatherings. Instead I spent quality “me” time training for a half-marathon and working on blog posts at home. Of course, a glass of wine helps when I am drafting posts! 🙂 My priorities shifted the end of last November when I chose to spend more time training for the half-marathon and hanging out with friends over the holidays. I scheduled myself on a writing break and did not resume writing until January.

One trick that keeps me on track is to develop a routine based on the order of importance and stick to it. For example, I dedicate one weekend evening writing new post so I know when to get into the writing zone. The routine could also apply to weekly tasks, such as buying groceries, working out, etc. I usually like to shop at the same grocery store (Trader Joe’s, of course!) and practice yoga at the same studio. I have to admit that it is definitely fun to try something new, such as going to a new grocery store or a new gym. However, since they are lower on my priority list, I would rather stay at one location so that I do not waste time figuring out where all the grocery is or who the best teacher is. I do realize that change of routine could be a good thing, so I am working on mindfully weighing the pros and cons before jumping to conclusion.

It has been a year since I read the article that motivated me to reflect on my “20 slots” and to start writing. I have less “FOMO” and become a lot more grounded when making decisions, because I know better about what matters the most to me. Blogging is one of the best decisions I have made because writing makes me happier. I will continue writing and hold onto the dream that I will become a writer one day as my 10-year old self dreamt.

What are your “20 slots” and what are you going to do with them?

fomo-series-pics


Have a question for me? Feel free to email me at sijieand500words@gmail.com. I look forward to hearing from you!

From the Other Side of the Table – Recruiting Checklist

Another new school year has started! So has the recruiting season!

I am so excited to recruit at University of Houston this fall. Recruiting is always a passion of mine because I get to share my favorite experience with the company, help the company find the right talent, and be a mentor for them. I used to volunteer on the recruiting team at University of Minnesota. Now that I moved down to Houston, it is logistically challenging to participate in events remotely. Thus, my recruiting focus for the past two years has been to attract analysts in Minnesota to Houston, help them transition into the new office smoothly and coach them to develop the fundamental skills to succeed. Since University of Houston is added as a target school this year, I am back in recruiting again! What’s more, I will get to know the candidates more at on-campus interviews!

For the past one year, I have written a series of articles on recruiting and networking based on my experience as a student and as a recruiter. My posts include both what worked well for me as a student and my “I wish I had”. If you are a lower classman, you are not expected to participate in a recruiting event, but it is a great practice round without any pressure to impress recruiters for a job. To see my take on making the most of college, you could check out the post written last year. I have one mentee that took my driver’s license advice to heart after reading my post and was able to put her driving skills to test when she got a summer internship in a suburb this past summer.

In this post, I have segmented those articles into various stages of recruiting and presented them in the form of a check list. Each segment includes the link to the original article that covers the recommended actions. I also added a few anecdotes to demonstrate my point.

Before you start reading them, I want to advise you not to be overwhelmed by the long list. To be honest, sometimes even I am not able to check everything off. I cannot stress enough how important execution is. Try targeting a few actionable items first to develop a habit and then add a couple later. Do not give up if you cannot accomplish everything at once. The goal is to start doing some.

PreparationAce the Recruiting Season – Part A

  • Have the right attire and dress to impress

In my freshman year, I made the mistake of wearing a casual sweater to an Accounting reception. As soon as I got to the venue, I wished I had not signed up to volunteer at the check-in table…

  • Practice some powerful poses mentioned for a boost of confidence
  • Research and narrow down the list of companies you are interested in
  • Ask good questions in the “statement + follow-up question” format to show that you have done your due diligence

At a pre-career fair mixer at University of Houston a few days ago, I met a few students that talked about their experiences the whole time and did not ask any questions on the company. That raised a red flag to me, because it came across as throwing darts on the board and see which one sticks instead of being genuinely interested in the company and proactively reaching out. Demonstrate your interests and fit with the company by asking questions.   

  • Follow up with your networking contacts, especially when you have committed to

After the pre-career fair mixer, one of my coworkers was a bit disappointed when a student he met committed to following up within 48 hours at the event, but no response from the student after 48 hours.

InterviewAce the Recruiting Season – Part B

  • Nail your “Tell me about yourself” story and focus more on “why” than “what”
  • Prepare a portfolio of stories that show your qualities in various scenarios (academic, part-time job, student clubs, internship, etc)
  • Follow the STAR technique

Networking – the two key principles are “make it easier for others to help you” and “return the favor” when you can.

  • Start the networking meeting with a clear sense of purpose and identify the right contacts for the meeting
  • Articulate the purpose in the introduction email
  • Propose specific actionable items in the follow-up email with your contacts

When people reach out to me about job postings in Ecolab or ask me for referral, I love it when they send me a job description or tell me the position requisition number, so that I do not need to sift through the internal job board for them.

  • Provide feedback based on their career and personal interests to return the favor to your connections

I always appreciate it when my mentees emailed me and told me what they liked about the blog and what blog posts they were interested in seeing.

  • Share resources, such as networking event invite or relevant articles
  • Provide status update to those that have helped you

Two years ago before moving to TX, I spoke at a career workshop on campus and was approached by a freshman after wards. She asked for my contact information and later emailed me for advice. Recently, she sent me another status update saying she was able to find an internship in the US her sophomore year summer. That was definitely one of my” proud mentor” moments. 

Small Talk

  • Prepare a few topics to discuss at a networking dinner or to kick off the conversation with the interviewer

Out of Town Job Search

  • Consistently have high performance to build a personal brand, because you never know whether who you get to work with in the future. When you are doing out of town job search, communication with the contact is your most visible brand.
  • Explain succinctly why you are reaching out to the contact and follow up with them, if necessary
  • Prepare a list of questions to discuss with the contact
  • Write thank you email, express interests in the firm or potential openings (if applicable), and stay in touch

Best of luck!

phonto-02

Email from a Mentee – What Makes a Productive Summer

After my job search story published on How I Got My Job in the US (also available on the blog), I saw heavy traffic on my blog and received quite a few subscribers. Thus, I felt motivated to write more often for my fellow readers! A couple of weeks ago I received an email from my mentee who is finishing up her sophomore year:

Letter from Mentee

Her email got me reflecting on how I spent my summer and decide to dedicate this post to sharing what I think can make a productive summer.

First of all, whether you are in the States or home for the summer, having some work experience will definitely give you an edge. Gaining relevant experience in a professional setting will make recruiters feel comfortable that you are capable of being responsible for deliverables and working with others. Thus, you will not only increase your chance of being invited for first round interview, but also have plenty of examples to talk about for behavioral questions.

As an international student, my disadvantage in the first two years of college was that I did not have any work experience in the US office setting. My mentor suggested that recruiters might not be as familiar with internship opportunities in China and find it challenging seeing the skills transferred to the US. They might think you are fine working in your home country but still wonder if you can manage working in the US speaking a different language and practicing different office etiquette. Depending on the office culture, working in the China office of a global company could be an exception. To alleviate the potential concerns, I decided to find an opportunity in the US for my sophomore year summer.

Unfortunately, My plan to find an on-campus job failed with no words from the hiring offices. The career advisor in my business school recommended checking out the internship postings of Minnesota Council of Non-Profit. Even though most positions posted were unpaid, I decided to give it a try. The great thing was that I received responses from recruiters after multiple online applications, different from my on-campus job application experience. I eventually interned in the finance department of MS Society in Minneapolis for 15 hours a week.

My main project responsibilities were to do an inventory count of all the office furniture – put a label on each piece and record them accordingly. The project was not quite challenging, but I remember hearing that “you need to do the simple tasks incredibly well to gain trust”. So I did. Once I finished up the project ahead of time, I volunteered to make some process improvement involving the general ledger (take initiatives) and worked with employees and volunteers to manage additional workload during the fundraising period (work in a team setting). Most importantly, I learned to adapt and manage expectations with my supervisor. Before the internship, I was used to the Chinese value that you must do whatever the manager tells you. There is no room of negotiation. Thus, I found it intimidating to talk to my manager about changing the schedule to accommodate my summer travel plan and the lower work demand in the office. Funny how tiny that issue is to me now. At the time, I scheduled an appointment with the career advisor to discuss how to have the conversation step by step. Here is a plug for the career center – take advantage of the available resources! The advisors are incredibly helpful!

Apart from my own stories, after college graduation, I also met a couple of current international students who were able to leverage part-time job or non-profit internship. One student completed an accounting internship at the Minnesota State department in 2015 summer – no sponsorship is required to work in the state department. She just started her summer internship with E&Y assurance in Minneapolis. The other student completed an internal audit internship with YMCA and went on to intern in the internal audit department of Select Comfort.

My own experience and their stories remind me of the importance of starting small. As a young professional, there are areas outside finance that I want to try and I have been figuring out how to acquire the skills and knowledge. I wish I had reached out to the local non-profits sooner to volunteer and learn. Similar to Minnesota Council of Non-Profit, Volunteer Houston is a wonderful website!

Apart from gaining professional experience, I highly recommend brushing up your technical skills. If you work in Finance or Accounting, mastering Excel is a must. The knowledge will not only save you time down the road, but also impress your future employer. I definitely see the difference when I started managing the summer interns in the office. It makes my job easier when the interns know how to use vlookup, match, index, pivot table, etc. Fortunately, my business school offered Excel classes over the summer for free, so I took all three classes (intro, intermediate, and advanced) in my sophomore year. What’s more, Google is a great resource to find explanations of how a function works. I rely on Google heavily when I am stuck in Excel.

Networking and reconnecting with your contacts is also a great investment of time. Now that you do not need to worry about class schedule conflict, you could arrange to meet up with your contacts in their offices or even travel out of town to their cities for in-person meetings. I have discussed conducting effective networking meetings, developing sustainable relationships, and finding jobs outside your current city in my prior posts.

Save the best for the last – use the break as what it is intended to – rest and recharge! If you could afford to travel, go to other cities! If you have fun books you are putting off reading, now it is time! If there are local restaurants, shops or museums you would like to explore, grab a couple of friends and go! If you are considering picking up a new skill, you have the perfect window to do so! Regardless, do not just spend your free time on the Internet or on TV! 😀

Starting small, brushing up the technical skills and networking skills, and doing some much needed R&R are what I think make a great summer. Enjoy it while you can, because you do not get these long breaks anymore after college!


Have a question for me? Feel free to email me at sijieand500words@gmail.com. Maybe your question is what everyone else is wondering. I look forward to hearing from you!

 

Serendipity in My Job Search

Preface: this is an article I am writing for “How I Got My Job in the US“, which shares stories of how international students got job offers in the US.

In Steve Job’s famous commencement speech at Stanford, he said “You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backward. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever.” Commonly speaking, it is easier for international students with business degree to find positions in the public accounting, consulting, or investment banking firms because these firms are used to hiring international talent. As one of the only two analysts with international backgrounds in Ecolab, whose company profile does not belong to any of the three industries above, I believe my story has a twist of serendipity. Looking backward, I am able to connect the dots that led to the job offer in the end. However, I am not here to discuss karma, which is out of our control, but rather courage and commitment.

The first key event is when I ran for the freshman representative of a student club. It happened during my first semester abroad after 18 years in China. I hesitated whether I made a strong candidate as a foreign national. Nevertheless, I pushed aside the insecurities and participated in the election because I felt connected with the club and had quite a few ideas to improve member’s experience. I got the position and served on the board for two years. Even though it was all voluntary, I took my role seriously, just as a part-time job. It was through serving on this leadership board that I met someone two years my senior that joined Ecolab after graduation. When I was looking for internship opportunities, he helped me connect with Ecolab’s recruiting team and shared insider’s tips to prep for the interviews.

Someone else also helped me with my Ecolab interviews, but it took at least four connections in between to meet him. Let’s begin with Tom, who I met through my mentor Bill at the business school. I learned from Tom that he knew an American in legal that speaks fluent Chinese and could be of a good connection. Thus, I emailed Tom and said I would love to be introduced to this connection because I wanted to find out how to leverage my bilingual background. Tom responded and connected me with Jack. Jack happened to be quite involved in the US and American business exchange in Minnesota and invited me to attend a speaker event on leadership. I vividly remember debating whether to attend this event or not because I had to spend more than an hour taking two different buses to get to the event venue on a Saturday morning (I didn’t own a car at the time). What’s more, I was not sure if this event could provide the immediate benefit that I was looking for – internship opportunities. In the end, I convinced myself to go despite the long commute and unknown benefit because it could potentially lead to something and if I didn’t go, I would never find out. Furthermore, it was not the time to be picky – when I didn’t have any offer in hand, I should jump on any opportunity even if it would require going the extra mile. It was at the event that I connected with Ann, whose husband works for Ecolab Finance. When I mentioned that I would have my second round interviews with Ecolab in a week, her eyes lighted up, “No way! You should totally talk to my husband!” Thanks to Ann’s introduction, I received more pointers on my second round interviews.

By now, you might be thinking – “you were fortunate to meet these two people, but everyone’s story is different”. As I reflect on the past, I have several takeaways that could apply to anyone. First of all, own your success and have confidence. When reading Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In, I learned the phrase “the Imposter syndrome” that describes the uneasiness that one is not qualified enough and would be uncovered any time (women experience it more often than men). That was exactly how I felt when I ran for the leadership position and even after getting elected. I am glad that I ran for it regardless. Fake till make it – even if you have doubts in yourself, you should never let them stop you from pursuing your interests.

Second, you need to consistently build a brand for yourself. If I did not put in the effort when serving on the executive board of the student club, I would not have people invest time in me and provide me guidance. Thus, the next time you feel like slacking off on a group project or any assignment, think about how you will be perceived and the possibility that they could become your future coworker, manager, etc. Take advantage of any opportunity to show that you are someone worth vouching for.

Third, Rome was not built in one day. It takes time and hard work to see results. I learned in freshman year how competitive it would be for international students to find internship due to the work visa constraints. Thus, I spent the remaining 3.5 years of college working relentlessly towards closing the gap. I broke down the goal of getting a job in the US into smaller milestones – building a good resume, receiving an internship, and securing the full-time offer. In sophomore year, I realized my weakness was no experience in a professional setting in the US. Therefore, I gave up my spare time to scroll through on campus part-time position listings, finding those that match my objectives, and tailoring my resume and cover letters accordingly. Unfortunately, I did not have much luck, so I was advised to try out internship opportunities with local non-profits. Although most of them are unpaid positions, they make equally good experience. My search eventually paid off and I got a part-time finance internship with the MS Society. The whole search and networking experience not only taught me to be patient, but also the importance of going the extra mile.  Had I not invested time to find the internship and not pursued opportunities with my networking connections, I would not have built the resume and the connection necessary to receive the internship offer.

Again, you might be objecting – “My situation is different. You started since freshman year while I am already a senior in college and don’t have enough time to build a resume like you did. Time is not on my side anymore!” This brings me to the last point – time is relative considering your entire lifespan. I have some friends with no summer internships during their junior year, but kept working at it and got a full-time offer. I also know a couple of people that didn’t have a job when graduating from college but continued looking during the one year allowance from OPT and succeeded in the end. Their success stories were examples that if you want it bad enough and are willing to go above and beyond, you will get what you want. Your follow-up question might be – “what if luck was not on my side and I was still not able to find anything once the one year is up?” Well, don’t let that define the rest of your life. One of my favorite quotes is “Life is not a sprint but a marathon”. Should working full-time in the US be your goal, you always have the option of returning to the US for MBA. You will get there eventually and your commitment is tested through the passage of time. Encouraged by “He who laughs last, laughs best”, I always stay hopeful even if I fail. Because I know as long as I keep trying, failure is only temporary.

Looking back, each event serves a purpose – giving up leisure time to find work experience built up my resume, letting go of my inner insecurity and pursuing networking connections got me connections with the company I would like to work for, and always being committed to whatever I do led others to become my advocates. No matter where you are in the stage, do not be discouraged if things don’t turn out the way you hope. Keep at it and have faith that things would eventually work out for the best.

Steve-Jobs-Quote