Category Archives: Personal

2017 Blogging Goals

Happy 2017 everyone! This post marks the 20th post (not counting the two “About” pages)! When starting the blog in July 2015, I did not expect to rediscover my interests in writing. I initially only intended to use it as a platform to mentor more international students and share my successes and pitfalls. At the beginning, I had a lot of doubts, because I was not sure what traction my blog would receive and if it would be worth the effort. As I wrote more, I found myself enjoying the process so much that I am now simply writing to stay happy. 🙂 My love for words is getting so strong that I plan to blog with a stronger focus on writing quality in 2017.

Before covering the 2017 blogging goals, I want to do a quick recap of the posts in 2016. A few highlights in 2016 include collaborating with Jessica of Pretty Prints and Paper when we shared each other’s posts that centered on job search and receiving a shout-out from my college professor on Twitter and Linkedin (I follow his Phil’s Career Blog religiously). The most popular post is Podcast and Small Talk, probably because this topic applies to both students and young professionals. In 2017, I hope to include more topics for these audiences. My personal favorites are Networking Hack #2 and FOMO and 20 Slots. Even though neither fares as well in readership, both topics involve important discoveries for me, especially the latter. Maybe I will rewrite them someday using a different approach.

For 2017, I have set three blogging goals, in content, critique, and publishing frequency. First of all, be a better storyteller. In the past, I wrote a lot of practical “how-to” posts on networking, interviewing, and finding job opportunities. They were logical with concrete actions. On a few writings I shared with my friends, one feedback I received is that the words missed some passion. This year, I will write more personal stories that read less like a manual and are more emotionally engaging.

Second, get more writing critique. Whenever I ask someone else to read my writing, I always learn a lot.  Apart from the “emotion” feedback, another feedback is that I often write longer sentences with independent and dependent clauses, making it harder to grasp the ideas. I definitely agree with such observation. I sometimes even catch myself do the same thing when talking and end up losing my train of thought. In 2017, I intend to solicit feedback more frequently and focus on not only content but also sentence structure and grammar. Through Googling, I find that Houston has quite a few writing groups that meet regularly to provide critique. I plan to check out these meetings sometime!

Third, write at least 12 posts. I published 9 posts in 2015 and 10 posts in 2016. I took a writing break from March through May in 2016, partially due to some loss of writing motivation. Fortunately, I found renewed energy after reading Elizabeth Gilbert‘s Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, the story and details of which I will share at a post this year. As much as I enjoy blogging, it is only a hobby and I have other competing priorities. As a result, I am changing my publishing commitment from every other week to monthly. So far I am one post behind!

quotes-from-elizabeth-gilbert-big-magic

Thanks to blogging, I have developed the habit of constantly evaluating writing topics, which makes me more self-aware and reflective. I do not think I will have any problem picking 12 topics for 2017, from the growing list of 15+ draft ideas. A lot of the ideas involve personal stories, so it will be a fun challenge to take on this year. In the end, I would like to thank you all for the support you gave me since 2015 summer. Thank you for signing up on email subscriptions. Thank you for sharing my posts with others. Thank you for providing me feedback, leaving comments, and inspiring me with more ideas. I am super excited for 2017!

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:

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!

Podcasts and Small Talk

A couple of days ago, I ran into a coworker in the office break room and we were discussing what we were up to.

“I picked up Chinese recently!”

“Wanna learn my secret of mastering English? It might give you an idea on learning Chinese.”

“Yeah?”

My question clearly got him interested. I pulled him aside and lowered my voice, “I don’t share this with others – what worked really well for me is to listen to lots of podcast.”

Of course, calling it a secret is exaggerating and podcast is not the only source of material you can listen to. It could expand to radio, audiobooks, and even TVs and movies. However, I am dead serious that listening is a great way to pick up a new language, because it allows you to be immersed in that language environment. In my case, it is English. In this post, I will highlight the two benefits of listening, with news radio and podcasts being the medium. Then I will share my favorite podcasts.

I am a big proponent for two reasons. First, it facilitates the speaking environment while enabling you to multitask. As children, we acquired our mother tongues through interaction – not only with our parents and other adults, but also with other children. We were constantly surrounded by conversation in that language. Thus, lots of listening to podcasts is to provide us the same language immersion. Besides, listening is so easy, because it frees up your eyes, hands, and feet. My podcast listening philosophy is that it’s OK to space out once in a while and miss some sentences, since environment matters more.

  • Get ready in the morning? It does not hurt to turn on NPR (National Public Radio) while you are getting dressed and eating breakfast.
  • Commute to work? Finish the list of headlines before you go into the office.
  • Time to clean the apartment? House chores will never be boring once you listen to a story from “This American Life”.
  • Going on a long run today? “Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me” is so fun that it is a perfect distraction from thinking about the rising heart rate.

The list goes on… For me, I try to tune in at any occasion that is routine and does not require my full attention.

Apart from the convenience that you can do it often, you could pick up knowledge of interested topics without too much time investments. Unlike reading that requires you to sit down and stayed focused on the book, you can be kept up to date via listening to podcasts.

  • No time to browse through the Wall Street Journal? Let NPR tell you all the breaking events.
  • Curious about psychology? Listen to “Arming the Donkeys” hosted by Dan Ariely, psychologist and best-selling author of “Predictably Irrational”.
  • Wanna stay current for trash talk for your fantasy football league? “ESPN Football Today” will inform you of the players and games updates.

Most importantly, you can accumulate knowledge of interested topics to prepare for small talk. Small talk could be a new concept to international students – it is “a friendly, lighthearted precursor to the main, “serious” portion of the discussion” as the HBR article “the Big Challenge with America” described. The conversation “creates a quick sense of rapport with potential employees”. Once you secure a job, it allows you to “bond with colleagues, boss, clients, etc”.

Small-Talk-2-

Have you noticed that at a networking event, some people invite themselves to a conversation smoothly by bringing up football, weather, weekend plans, etc before introducing themselves? When you meet a recruiter for interviews, isn’t it nice to have a conversation while he/she takes you to the end of the hallway to the interview room? Put yourself in the recruiter’s shoe – do you prefer to walk in silence or with someone that you could talk to? The goal is to quickly establish commonalities with the recruiter prior to the official interview. If small talk does not come naturally to you, use podcasts to do your homework. The more prepared you are with potential discussion topics, the more at ease you will be next time you see a senior executive in the elevator and would like to introduce yourself.

Small Talk

As an iPhone user, I use “Podcast” app to subscribe to my favorites:

  • NPR radio – It includes both global and local news. The local news will cover your residential state and city. Now that I am in Houston, I will not get insider scope on the new fried food at the MN State Fair, instead I hear about discussion on the livestock show at the Houston rodeo. By the way, NPR has its own standalone app and helps you find the local station.
  • Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me! – It is a weekly light-hearted news quiz with lots of wits!
  • This American Life – Before Serial becomes THE podcast that everyone talks about, its producer Chicago Public Media has “This American Life”, which is primarily a journalistic non-fiction program with a theme each week.
  • Pop Culture Happy Hour – Get the latest feed of popular books, TV shows and movies.
  • Stanford DFJ Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders Series – Each week, usually a start-up founder or a VC investor will share his or her thoughts on running a company, career development, etc.
  • A Prairie Home Companion – my friend Emilie puts it best “This is where you get a taste of the quintessential Minnesotan life”.

That is plenty of listening time for you! One thing I struggle with is that I cannot keep up with my podcasts! Serial is still on my to-listen list… Having a habit of pushing the play button during my downtime is important, but I then recognize that my brain sometimes just needs quiet time without any input.

Share with me your favorite podcasts!


Next post spoil alert – recruiting season is coming up and this fall I am heading to University of Houston to recruit for Ecolab! I have prepared a checklist that covers all the critical points in recruiting, taken from the posts I have written in the past year. Think about it as a recruiting crash course! 😀