Tag Archives: business

Five Forces to Getting a Job

One of the virtues of being an alum is that people start asking for your expert advice.  This past weekend, I attended a business conference in Boston, where I met several ambitious young women who all want to land fancy jobs after college.   They showered me with a barrage of inquiries: What interests should I include on my resume?  What kind of suit should I wear to my banking interview?  What about job sites, high school achievements, appropriate networking etiquette?  Finance vs. consulting, pants vs. skirts, New York vs. not New York?  And, my favorite question (if only for its implications that I’m somehow a career sensei): How do I become as wildly successful as you are?

Well, I’m here to say that it’s tough.  Some people just aren’t born with my natural charm, superior intelligence, and strikingly good looks.  But even if you’re awkward, stupid, and heinously ugly, you could still get struck by lightning.  And in this metaphor, lightning equals getting a job.

Given that you’re all astute business students, here is a Porter’s Five Forces diagram to show how the job landscape.


So, good luck everyone.  And if the job thing doesn’t work out, you can always turn to blogging (or, moving to India).

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Reasons to Join a Cult in College

When I graduated from high school, one of my favorite teachers imparted some valuable advice about college life.  “Rule no. 1: Don’t drink too much,” she said.  “Rule no. 2: Don’t take No-Doze.  And Rule no. 3…  Don’t join a cult.”

After four years at Harvard, I’m sorry to say that I failed on 2 out of 3.  There were definitely a few times when I drank too much (sake bombing and my 21st birthday come to mind), but I think most college students can own up to failing on Rule no. 1.  So what other big rule did I summarily ignore?  Well, in my sophomore year, with several papers looming and a long night ahead of me… I innocuously joined a group called Harvard Undergraduate Women in Business (WIB). 

WIB logoUnlike cults that chase after alien spaceships, WIB had a far more modest goal.  Officially, the organization “seeks to empower a dynamic group of enterprising young women” (…which, like all good mission statements, is better when appended with “in bed”).  But all of us in WIB truly believed that we were out to achieve the greater good.  We were reaching for the top.  We were breaking the glass ceiling.  We were embodying the WIB slogan and “Making it Happen”.

WIB was no ordinary, podunk little student organization.  We were the largest undergraduate business group on campus.  We regularly hosted and sponsored events for hundreds of women at Harvard.  We published a nationwide magazine and took career exploratory trips to Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco, and New York.  We met leaders like Warren Buffett, Jeff Zucker, and Bobbi Brown, just to name a few. 

huwibbAlong the way, we led WIB to channel the best practices of our capitalist heroes.  We suited up for recruiting events.  We out-hustled everyone for business cards.  We put together Powerpoint pitches with the official WIB colors (Red 136, Green 0, Blue 0) that had been imprinted into our brains. I remember one night, we stayed awake until dawn, discussing the optimal WIB board structure.  One board member joked, “I don’t need a boyfriend… I have WIB.” 

For fun, we managed to incorporate “WIB” into everyday words, so that a whole new lexicon was created: “I finally got a WIBternship!… Oh, you are such a WIBaller!”  In our board photo (above, and blurred to protect the innocent), we made sure all our legs were crossed in the exact same direction.  It was very Stepford Wives of us, which of course we found very amusing.

Looking back, it is clear now that we were absolutely, positively, crazy.  But there’s something about cult-crazy that seems to justify all of it: the long nights, the email fights, the reconciliatory Sunday WIBrunches…  After all, we were championing women, and who can argue against that?  (OK, maybe those in Alaska can argue against women leaders… but then you probably don’t support the troops, either).

I often look back on my WIB days with awe and just a bit of wistfulness.  There’s a lot of “I can’t believe I did that”, and “Remember how intense we were??”.  But there is also a lot of pride that I had been part of it all, part of something greater than myself.  So yes, I’m proud I was a member of WIB, of that crazy little capitalist cult.  And still, even with so many long, sleepless nights of general WIBauchery, I  never took No-Doze.  Victory.


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Passing Out Business Cards at the Bar

Networking, networking, networking…


The urban dictionary defines networking as: “A yuppie euphemism for kissing ass in order to get a job or obtain a raise or promotion. Ex: Regardless of your skills, intelligence, or education, if you are not good at networking you will always earn minimum wage and live in a trailer park.”  Networking has always gotten a bad rep: for many people, conversations under the umbrella of “career” seem fake and transparent.   They’re forced.  They’re not genuine.  They are just the result of two people, brought together by company booze, pretending to be interested in each others’ jobs while simultaneously gauging whether their partner is worth talking to for much longer. 

With young people, we’re often told that networking is the key to success.  Among us, expert networkers are the ones who carry business cards to the gym, start up conversations with strangers in the bathroom, and have an extensive profile on LinkedIn, detailing all their accomplishments and work experiences.  At conferences, they hunt down panelists and speakers to ask questions about careers, often framing their inquiries in the most flattering way possible (“just how did you become so successful??”).  They get emails.  They follow up.  They send impeccably-written thank you notes.  They can sustain long conversations about the economy, politics, and golf.  They praise people in a multitude of different ways.  The best networkers are probing but not overbearing; aggressive, but not rude.  They manage to make a blip on the radar of the higher-ups, and in a positive way.  At its best, networking is meeting interesting people and genuinely making new contacts.  At its worst, networking is shameless self-selling and pandering to others. 

At a conference I attended a few years ago, a consultant said that networking was more aptly described as netWORK.  That is, it’s work.  It’s trying to get as close as possible to the line, without going too far and coming off as a Fatal-Attraction-esque crazy person.

As much as I hate the self-promoting types who wave business cards at anything that moves, I would agree that there is value in networking.  Good networking arguably leads to better opportunities than good performance.  When we’re buying a car, hiring a babysitter, or shopping for headache medicine, word-of-mouth is often what makes our decision for us.  We may pore through piles and piles of consumer reports, but ultimately, our neighbor Bob’s opinion may lead us to choose the Camry over the Accord.  Similarly, what people think of us inevitably affects our careers, our promotions, and our progress along that corporate ladder.

Plus, we all like it when we’re on the other side, and we find people sucking up to us… just as long as it’s genuine, of course.

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Why Do Young People Hate Their Jobs?

Most college students I have talked to are excited about the real world after school – excited about the work, the perks, but most of all, the freedom. In the real world, there are no tests or papers looming over their heads, no professors to answer to, no dealing with the stresses and dramas that invariably accompany the college experience. Yeah, college is fun, but there’s almost a mythic quality about life beyond college: it’s substituting the sweats for suits, the kegs for martinis, the hookups for a steady, sickeningly-attractive significant other… While college seniors go through the requisite nostalgia in their last few months as an academic, this nostalgia is still often dampened by lofty expectations for the next stage in their life.

Why then, do so many young professionals hate their jobs?

(I must preface this by limiting my observations to those in the field of business. Most would-be doctors I know are happily trucking away in med school, most would-be lawyers are busily debating each other in law school, and for the rest of my graduating class—those who are doing research in Bolivia or writing articles for Mother Jones—they seem, on the most part, relatively satisfied. Then that begs the question: are jobs in the business fields overly cruel, or are those people that go into business just overly hateful? Note: This observation also excludes investment bankers, who should expect to hate their jobs even before they start.)

Some theories:

  • The College Hangover: For many young people, you’re thrown into the fire right out of school. You’re not used to waking up before noon and having to look somewhat presentable. You’re not used to being “on” all the time, every single day, at least five days a week. If only you could skip work without anyone noticing (like college lectures), and still get your big performance bonus…that would be the life. Of course, that would never happen, and thus the nostalgia for college never really goes away. However, the College Hangover only serves as a legitimate excuse for your first few months out of school… After that, if you’re still falling asleep at work in reminiscence of those college glory days, well, you should lay off the drinking.
  • The Bottom of the Totem Pole: You were a pretty big deal in college… president of some organization, captain of some sports team, leader of the beer pong circuit. Now, you’re the entry-level analyst who is seen as the little know-it-all who wants to shoot straight to the top, but in actuality is only making a contribution as a master formatter or lunch bitch. You’re relegated to modeling (thankfully we’re talking only about Excel), and making sure that someone less smart than you looks more smart than everyone else. Of course, no one is as smart as us, so it’s a tough reality to stomach.
  • Those Lofty Expectations: You thought it was going to be first-class, up in the sky, sipping champagne, living the life… Your job was supposed to be glamorous, impressive, and telling of your smarts, skills, and talents. You thought that you’d be challenged every second of the day; you would have interesting coworkers, exciting projects, and intellectual discussions. You’d be an integral part of the company, just short of the glue that holds everything together. Unfortunately, most of us don’t have interesting projects all of the time, and we certainly know a couple of coworkers who have a few screws loose. We don’t foresee the hours of administrative tasks and unrewarded legwork that is part of the daily grind. You start asking yourself why you are here, what you are doing with your life, and how you can get into a new role/company/industry that is way more glamorous than what you are in now…or so you’d like to think.
  • Too Much Freedom: When you’re young, there’s an ordered sequence of how things happen. After pre-school you go to kindergarten. After kindergarten, you’re in first grade. After first grade… etc, etc. The proverbial “life train” goes through a predictable sequence: elementary school, middle school, high school, college—from A to B. But after graduating from college, you’re alone at the train station, and only YOU have to figure out where to next. Get on the banking train, or the consulting one? Marketing, or sales? It always seems like the other train is moving faster, with nicer seats and greener grass on their side of the scenic route to your future. Anxiety strikes. Uneasiness festers. Resentment grows. You end up curled up in the corner of the caboose, hugging your knees, thinking you should have become a doctor instead… at least that would’ve delayed the decision-making for a few more years.
  • Your Job Actually Sucks: If you liked the train analogy above, then your standards for quality have obviously been lowered from your time spent on the job. Maybe all that modeling/formatting/Excel-ing is getting to your head. Or maybe your job actually sucks. Hey, it happens. Perhaps it’s time to go to business school then.

Regardless of all the reasons why many people hate their jobs, most of them are still in these jobs…so perhaps “hate” is a strong word. Only a few recent graduates I know have been so fed up that they decided to quit well-paying, respectable jobs and brave unemployment. Then, despite all the negatives, there must be some reason why we are still in the grind. Maybe it’s the money, or the benefits and perks, or the hope that things will get better. Or perhaps we are just paralyzed by fear that the next job will be worse. The main challenge is to balance the expectations of our jobs with a tempered ambition. There will always be days where unemployment looks preferable, but unless that starts to happen day-after-day, week-upon-week (meaning, Your Job Actually Sucks and you should start updating that resume), I’d say to just put your head down, put the hate aside, file it all under “Learning Experience”, and get to work.

Update (3/30/09): Why Do Young People Stay in Jobs They Hate?



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