Category Archives: Growth

On Choosing Major and Discovering Passion

In college, I was afraid of picking the wrong major and ending up in a job that I do not enjoy. Putting interest aside, I had an even tougher time when “staying in the US or going back to China” was thrown into the mix. What major I choose could determine how challenging it would be to find a job in the US and get H1B visa sponsorship. Having worked for 4.5 years while still discovering my strengths, weaknesses, and passion, I would like to share with you what I have learned. The article is primarily intended for college students, but might help anyone in pursuit of a fulfilling career.

Picking One Major/Job Does Not Restrict You from Exploring Other Interests

I struggled with deciding on my major, mainly because I am naturally curious about many different subjects – I love the talent focus of HR, excel in the analytical side of finance, get intrigued by the creative energy from marketing, and always enjoy reading insights shared by the psychologists. With the H1B complication, I even contemplated the accounting major, since public accounting firms then were usually generous with visa sponsorship. I was overwhelmed.

I remember talking to Irene, the co-founder of STLF and a Bush Foundation Fellow, and she shared that in college she had planned to graduate with major in marketing and minor in both supply chain and entrepreneurship. However, she felt a lot less freedom fulfilling all the different requirements of majors and minors than taking the classes that she was truly interested. Thus, she gave up the minors. Even though major(s) and minor(s) could demonstrate the commitment to a particular field, taking classes I love outside the business school and doing part-time internships matter more than what show up on transcript, I had one major (finance). Nevertheless, till this day, I am still learning about other disciplines either at work or outside work. I serve on marketing committees at employee resource groups, develop training programs for new hires, mentor college students, and read psychology books (the Heath Brothers and Dan Ariely all make great authors). I do not let the finance major define my interests. As a bonus, I rediscovered my passion to write, since blogging became a great avenue to help more international students.

Make the Call and Don’t Punish Yourself Later

Before deciding on finance, I seriously debated accounting because I wanted to stay in the US after graduation. At the time, I liked finance a bit more and had a neutral feeling towards accounting. An important factor was that it was easier to find jobs in the US with degrees in accounting than in finance. Then the questions I had to answer are:

  • US or home?
  • Am I willing to go back home when I can’t find finance job in the US?
  • Am I willing to take a less desirable job so I could stay in the US?

In the end, I favored interests, because I could not see myself spending another year studying accounting to receive 150 credits (Most public accounting firms require 150 credits to sit for the CPA exams). I thought if I could not find a job in the US, I would be happier doing something I enjoy in China. Fortunately, I was able to find a finance position in the US.

Had I decided staying in the US was more important and looked for a job in public accounting, I might not be as fortunate in hindsight. Soon after my graduation, the US immigration services started the lottery system to decide who could receive visa. A couple of public accounting firms stopped providing sponsorship due to the risks that new international new hires may not be able to stay. Regardless, if I ended up being the unlucky one, I would remind myself what I prioritized to make the decisions. I would not punish myself for the change of events because lottery and sponsorship were factors that I could not possibly predict.

Research and Start Somewhere

What worked incredibly well for me in the interest search process is learning from people in the fields that I am interested in and getting hands-on experience, the latter of which helps me reflect on my likes and dislikes.

Here are my suggestions:

  • Use all the resources. In my previous post, I discussed the importance of standing upon the shoulders of giants instead of uncovering everything on your own. It makes better use of your time and allows you to experience more.
    • College career center should be your first stop
      • I always recommend Future Fright Week workshops to any Carlson student. The workshops do a fantastic job highlighting different career paths of the majors.
      • Reach out alumni for coffee and job shadowing opportunities (I have written a post on informational interviews).
      • If you are thinking about returning home after graduation, this interview might give you some ideas. This is featured on the International Careers facebook page which includes interviews with several other international alums.
      • University of Minnesota Alumni webinars are great for college graduates and could serve as good guidance for current students as well.
    • The Internet is a gold mine. You could find a lot of relevant articles by googling. The resources are particularly abundant if you are interested in consulting and investment banking.
  • Start small with projects/internship to explore your interests. Even taking on a leadership position in a student club will shed some light.
  • Understand your strengths, weaknesses, and values. Even though I was skeptical about leadership training, thinking it was just theoretical and fluffy, I embraced the concept and actively participated in LeaderShape and First Year Leadership Institute. The experience allows me to reflect on my values and receive feedback from a close-knit community. 7+ years later, I still hold all those learnings to heart and highly recommend them.
  • Develop a routine to keep track. Whether they are follow-up actions from a networking conversation, articles on industry trends, a great story for future interview questions, find a way to record them. My friend Jess, a passionate educator and talented handlettering artist @prettyprintsandpaper, shared her method of using bullet journal to capture her findings and stay organized. I really like “Bullet Journal for Career Planning” and “Bullet Journal for Job Interviews”. These two articles not only have enlightening content, but also are fun to read because her handletterings are so pleasing to the eyes!  bullet-journal-career-job-search-1                                          (Image courtesy of PrettyPrintsAndPaper)

If you are not 100% happy with what you do, do not stop exploring. I have faith that diligent research, experimental projects, and self-reflection will eventually allow you to connect all the dots.

Stand Upon the Shoulders of Giants

My mentee from my undergraduate school reached out to me for advice on choosing majors. The first question I asked was “Have you signed up for the Future Fright Week sessions in the fall?” After explaining to her what Future Fright Week sessions are (workshops aiming to educate underclassmen on majors and the associated career paths), I told her that I was glad that she asked me (That’s what mentors are for!) but that “I am not the only resource you have. Take advantage of all that are available to you”.

After that exchange, I had an epiphany – it is very important to be resourceful! How do you define “resourceful”? Jeff Bezo considered it the most important characteristic he looked for in a wife, “a woman who could get me out of a Third World Prison“. In all seriousness, I define “resourceful” as knowing how to identify and engage resources to help you. In the world of international students, being resourceful could include knowing what workshops to attend to polish up certain skills, finding articles to read to stay informed of the industry trends, involving outside assistance (academic advisors, career advisors, professors, alumni connections, mentors, strangers on Quora.com, etc).  Isaac Newton once said “If I have seen further than others, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants”. You do not need to handle all the problems alone. If you could ask an expert and solve a problem in 20 minutes rather than spend more than 2 hours figuring it out yourself, why not raise your hand? Although the outcome might be the same for both scenarios, you could save a lot more time to deal with even bigger challenges.

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Speaking of giants, I want to give a big shout out to Michelle Moylan at University of Minnesota who led the initiative to build a new Career Website for Minnesota’s International Students and Alumni. I am so excited about it that I wrote this post right away. In her own words, “On this page you will find information to help you with US job searching (including lists of companies who have hired U of MN international students and lists of what companies in what states and cities sponsor H1B visas), with non-US job searching, applying to graduate school and more.” Furthermore, if you have suggestions for additional content, you could email Michele at moyl0002@umn.edu. By doing so, you are not only getting your own questions answered, but also doing a favor for the rest of the audience. Michelle also spearheaded the International Careers Facebook page, which shares the latest relevant articles and provides updates on various program initiatives for international students.

If you are an international student, drop everything and add the two sites as your favorites! Even if you do not attend University of Minnesota, great resources have no boundaries thanks to the power of the Internet. If you are not an international student, I hope this could be a reminder that we have more resource than we think. It just takes a little digging and the courage to say “I don’t know about this. Can you help me?”

I have been aspiring to be “a giant” for my fellow readers. Subscribe to my blog by putting down your email address (quick painfree process!) so you will receive notifications when I share new learnings and reflections!

P.S. On a different note, I was a little bummed that the readership stats on my last post “Email from a Blog Reader – FOMO and 20 Slots” did not fare as well as I expected. I could probably write it a bit more concisely. Regardless, it described my big learning in 2015 that I found a sense of direction to some extent. One of my favorite bloggers on Medium Bo Ren also mentioned “FOMO” in her article on “maximizer” and “satisficer”. I highly recommend.

Email from a Blog Reader – FOMO and 20 Slots

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

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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?

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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!

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