My Thoughts on a Graduate Degree

I just read an article from 20SomethingFinance and really wanted to respond back. As I was typing up my response, my comment started getting too long, so I decided to create a blog post instead. The topic is about whether graduate degrees are worth the money.

From the recruiting and hiring perspective, here is how the employer perceives graduate education. 

  • Specialized degrees (like PhDs) will narrow you down, and sometimes will work in your disadvantage. Most graduate degrees (minus law and medicine) will lead you to a very general path, where you'll find your coworkers probably don't have a grad degree. I used to hire for Google, and whenever candidates coming from elite universities like Stanford, Berkeley, or MIT couldn't find job within the company, it was discouraging. Imagine spending 7 years of intensive academics/research and not being able to find a fit at your dream company. That being said, when you specialize and want to work in industry (versus in research/academia), be prepared to work on something that's outside of your dissertation. The lucky ones may find something within their realm of research, but that's typically a minority (I'm just setting expectations here).
  • Having a graduate degree on your resume does not necessarily mean more money. A graduate degree without the right experience means almost nothing. If you have a masters, but have no internships or work experience, you are just as entry level as someone with a Bachelors. 
  • You can't bank on a graduate education to open up doors for you.  Recruiters and employers aren't necessarily going to jump to hire you simply because you have a masters. 
  • You don't need to go to business school to learn to start a business. If you want to start a business, the best way to learn is to just do it.

Alright, so it sounds like I just went on a rant of why going back to school is a bad idea. If it's such a bad idea, then why am I going back to school? Why am I willing to invest 140K (sigh, I know) in getting an MBA? 

Graduate school is a huge investment. For me personally, I know that if I'm going to spend THAT much money, then I'll need to miiiiiiiilk it as much as I can. Meaning, I better utilize all the resources that Duke will give me to the absolutely core. I'm willing to make this financial investment for a few reasons: grad school is going to give me a whole new level of intellectual capital that no one can take away from me. I might be able to self study basic business concepts on my own (which would forever), but in school, my learning curve is exponentially accelerated.  More importantly, you go to graduate school for the social capital and experience. A graduate program allows you to diversify your network and perspective, along with give you access to people of the same intellectual and socioeconomic status. Bigger networks means access to more opportunity (but of course you'll still need to put in the work). 

Overall, my advice to those deciding whether or not further their education is to really understand why they want the degree, and what they want to with it afterwards. Are you interested in getting a masters in say, history, because you just really love the subject, or because you want to make a life long career with that knowledge? Can you get your "dream job" without having that degree? Talk with people who are older and more experienced who have your dream job to get their perspective. Don't go to grad school because you want to make your parents happy, or because you think it's "the right thing to do." Do it because you absolutely know and believe that having that higher degree will lead you to the path you want. 

Recruiter Tips: Things a Candidate Should Know

Being a job candidate is hard. Lots of uncertainty, waiting around, overanalyzing what's going on, etc. I've helped coach and counsel many of my friends who are in their job search, and found a few common themes I wanted to share. From the perspective of a recruiter, here are things all candidates should know:

1) We are rooting for you. Believe it or not, we want you to pass the interviews and get the offer. Even though it may seem like the recruiter is working against you (by leaving you in the dark/not getting back to you), get that out of your head --  we want you to succeed! (in all honestly, sometimes this is partly for selfish reasons, like wanting to close the requisition and move on).

2) We don't mind if you follow up with us. In fact, we prefer it! Even though it may seem like you are pestering us, please don't hesitate to follow up if you haven't heard from us in a while (use this sparingly, of course).  Sometimes we make mistakes and things fall through the cracks (aka we forgot), so it's good when candidates send us a reminder.

3) Sorry, but we can't give you feedback. Even though we wish we could, we just cannot mainly because of legal reasons.  We can't tell you want to improve on, nor tell you exactly why we rejected you (it's frustrating, I know). But sometimes we do, and when that happens, it's probably because we really like you as a person (otherwise, why would we bend the rules?).

Another update -- three of my friends that I've been coaching at the beginning of this year received job offers in Q1!! :) I've walked through this process with them from the beginning (pretty much felt like I was interviewing), so it's really rewarding that they've finally received their offers, and will be making the move in the next month or so. I'll write more about this later!!

Long-Term Unemployment Story: My Dad Finds a Job!

In 2013, the company that my dad worked for had gone through a merger. Earlier this year, his team went through a massive restructuring. Unfortunately, my dad was part of the workforce that was laid off. It's been a tough couple of years for him. Unlike current day Millennials (including myself) who hop around from job to job every year or so, my dad was part of the baby boomer generation who values stability and loyalty to an employer.  He had stayed at a company for roughly 25 years, and has worked for maybe a total of 4 companies in his whole career (I'm already at company #4 and I'm only 4.5 years out of school). Back in 2010, he went through a round of layoffs with that company, but was able to easily bounce back into the job market. This time around, it took him nearly 8 months to find something new.

Since I live in Northern California, and my family is in Southern California, I didn't realize the severity of my dad's unemployment situation until my mom and brother called to tell me. My dad has always been someone who prided himself in his work; he was a workhorse who stayed up late and focused a lot on his career. After a couple months of not being able to find something, he lost confidence and one could tell he was generally not happy.

It took a lot for us as a family to get him out of that slump. My mom, brother and I agreed to be more involved in his job search, and to be a better support network. I came up with the idea to start giving him "homework" about things to think about (aka soul search); he had a lot of free time now, so I wanted him to find his passion or find things that actually interest him. Over Thanksgiving break, we ended up practicing interview questions for about 3 hours.  I think it gave him more confidence going into the interview, and it definitely paid off, as he got the job. He's planning to start after the new year :)

I learned a lot about myself and about my dad during this whole process. There were definitely a lot of generational differences between what how my dad (baby boomers) and how I (Millennial) saw a career.

Here's what I learned:

1) Life is not all about work. This is always a good reminder to know that there's more to life than just working away and making money. No matter what generation you are in (Baby Boomer, Gen X or Gen Y), there's always more to life than working your life away.

2) Confidence is key. Over the years, I've learned that one must be able to convince yourself first before being able to convince others. Maybe this falls into the "fake it till you make it" category. Either way,a huge factor into why one might not get a job is their level of confidence and being able to communicate that to the interviewer. Oftentimes, candidates automatically weed themselves out by saying (or even thinking) stuff like "I'm not experienced enough," "I haven't done that in the past," "I'm too junior."  Whenever this happens, you fail to convince not only yourself, but also the interviewer that you are not a good fit for the job. Be confident, stop doubting yourself, and stop giving the interviewer reasons to reject you.

3) Take time to reflect and find your passion. Traditionally, people work to pay the bills, feed the family, pay off loans, etc. What's fascinating is that some people go through the motion and put in many years (or even decades) never figuring out what they truly want to do.  Even after they've found a way to make ends meet, they stick with their traditional corporate job.  They are not entirely unhappy but not passionate either, and never question what else they could do to merge their passions and career together; after all, we spend a majority of our lives working. This was exactly the case with my dad; even though he's saved up enough money to retire, he felt at a loss of what to do with his spare time.  I strongly urge everyone to take time to soul search occasionally and re-evaluate their career paths to see how they want to spend their time.

4) Keep pushing. Job searching is tedious. Rejection is difficult. Interviewing is hard. There are so many hardships in trying to find a job, but at the end of the day, you need to keep pushing. Push yourself to send just one more application each day. If you aren't reaching for it, someone else is. Remember that job searching is a numbers game; the more applications you send in and the more you network, the greater the chances you have of landing a job.

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This wraps up my posts for 2014! Happy holidays to all my readers and thanks for reading! More tips to come in 2015.

Career Fair Tips

A few weeks ago, I finished my last rounds of college career fairs.  Fall is always a busy time for college recruiting, especially since many companies begin new grad interviewing in Q4.  From my second year attending college career fairs, I've noticed that strong students are on top of things early on in the game; for example, Stanford's fall career fair began one week after school started (I was impressed to meet so many well-prepared freshmen!). After attending several career fairs as an employer, here are a few tips that I wanted to share. These tips apply for both new grad and industry folks.

1) Do your research on the company. The people "boothing" will meet with many, many prospective candidates. Usually, I get asked the same questions over and over again. "What does your company do? " "What are you looking for?" "What are the next steps in the process?"  While these aren't terrible questions to ask, these are commonly asked, and that makes you blend in with the rest of the crowd (yawn). Show them that you have done your homework beforehand (and make it easier on them so they don't need to constantly repeat). You don't need to be an expert on what the company does, but a general understanding is fine.

Tip: spend some time before the career fairs to go through and research all the companies that are attending (yes, it can be tedious). You might not get to all of them, but choose at least the ones that are interesting or within the field you wish to enter. Bonus: go to that company's careers/job listing page and see what they are hiring for! If something sounds interesting, bring it up to the person at the booth: see if you can learn about the role and how to apply.

2) Stand out as much as possible. This doesn't mean doing something crazy to your outfit or handing out a pink resume so that the person will remember you. Be yourself, but show how and why you are unique.  My company (and most other companies) will pick up couple hundred resumes from the career fair. We review every single resume that is dropped off, but chances are, we might not be able to put a face to the name or remember exactly who we spoke with. There isn't enough time to jot down notes, so in your brief 2-4 minutes of alone time with the company representative, make sure you've presented a clear and compelling image/story of yourself.

Tip: If you have a project that you've worked on that could help visualize your work, demonstrating this to the representative would help you stand out. For example, my colleague met a student who had created an iPhone app that he demo'ed on the spot. Other ideas would include: creating a one-pager document of products/projects you've launched (for PMs), one-pager sample designs you've created (for designers/UIUX), etc. You could attach this to your resume, or pull this up to the representative when speaking to them.

3) Don't ask repetitive questions. Recently I sat in an info session for an MBA program. The program coordinators put together a nice, thorough presentation and left time for individual questions at the end.  I noticed that most of the questions that had been asked were already been addressed during the presentation (or was something you could easily find online). Don't be that person. This makes you blend in with everyone else, and it clearly demonstrates that you were not listening.

In respect to how it works at a career fair, if you are waiting in line to talk to the company, and you overhear the answer to your question from someone in front of you, don't get back in line and re-ask what was just asked. Big minus points because 1) you are making your rep repeat what was just said and 2) re-asking the same question will not make you stand out.

4) Really.. Don't be shy! When I was in college, I used to be terribly shy at career fairs and professional networking events. The whole idea of it made me uncomfortable: having to walk around talking about yourself, wearing business attire and pretending to know what you're talking about, not sure how to leave resumes at the table or grab free swag.. I know, it's uncomfortable. But think of it this way: from the other side of the table, the companies actually want to talk to you! They spent all this time and money attend the fair -- they are there to specifically recruit and look for people like you. Plus, it just looks bad when no one is at their booth talking to them.  So do them a favor too: stop by and grace them with your presence! Don't be afraid of the lines either.

Tip: Sometimes students cluster with their friends, which could be both a good and bad thing. Good for moral support if you are shy and you have an assertive friend with you; your assertive friend could help you get conversations going and make the transition easier. Bad if you are shy and not making an effort to stand out but instead getting overshadowed by your friend.

5) Be prepared. Okay this one should be self explanatory, but I'll include it anyway. Being prepared means having your resume with you (edited to perfection), out and ready to hand out. It doesn't mean having to sift through your backpack at the end of a conversation to find it crumbled up at (yes, speaking from first hand experience). It also means having extra copies so that you don't run out. Being prepared encompasses the first three points of my article: do proper research on the company, find a way to stand out and ask meaningful questions. In addition, keep an eye out for pre/post career fair events, as companies may host on-campus info sessions or networking events.

For those working in industry, it would be helpful to research which schools have an "open career fair," meaning you don't necessarily need to be a student to attend because they don't check ID's (hint: Stanford).

Tip: Most schools have a career service center that will help critique your resume and give you pointers, especially before a career fair starts. Utilize this service! You've already paid for it in your tuition :)

6) Lastly, follow up accordingly. Reps will usually bring tons of business cards to career fairs, so be sure to pick one up. If you had a good conversation with a company during the career fair, make sure to follow up! Chase those companies that you are particularly interested in.  Write a strong email and be assertive about which role you are interested in, and attach a digital copy of your resume.

How to Kill Your Chances at a Job in Less Than a Minute

In theory, we all know what we should do when applying for job and reaching out to recruiters. But, sometimes silly mistakes happen that end up hurting your chances. Let's discuss this cold email I received from a candidate who was interested in a position at my current company. This candidate would have been someone that I'd be interested in talking to further, except for some some slip ups. Let's take a closer look, as I walk you through my thought process.

Screen Shot 2014-09-15 at 9.14.25 PM

1) Title of the email is strong. Naturally, it peaked my interest, so I opened it and read through it. Just looking at the school email address, I knew the candidate had a strong educational background, which is great.

2) A little strange that the candidate cc'd another email address, but OK, that's fine.

3) Minus points for spelling my name wrong! This was one of the first things I noticed. It wasn't exactly a deal breaker, but something to be noted.

4) This first sentence is overall pretty strong. It is direct, and gives a good overview of why the candidate emailed me.

5) Again, the fact that the candidate has the right type of technical background we are looking for prompted me to keep reading and look at the attached resume.

6) This paragraph is overall very, very vague. Be more specific in why you are interested in this role. Candidate should have thrown in some past internship experience here, and that would have made it much stronger.

7) There is a call to action here, but it isn't as direct as it could be. Say it in half the words, and be very explicit. A simple "let me know if I'm a good fit for X role" would have done the job. Also, there are grammatical errors here.

8) My company does not offer a rotational program, so I was not sure what he/she was referring to.

9) Okay, it makes sense now. Clearly, this email was not intended for me, since my company was not listed here. This alone is a deal breaker.

10) Overall, take a look at all three paragraphs. Find any similarities? They all begin with "I." Don't be a me monster. Yes, while you might be a great candidate, be sure to tie into what you can do for the company!

..And that's about it! Take into consideration all those points above, and you have a verdict. I hope this helps to shed light into what recruiters look for and evaluate when opening emails from candidates. We do read them. The strongest candidates that advance to the next stages not only have strong relevant backgrounds, but also have strong writing skills that engage and lure in the reader.

Especially if you are mass emailing a bunch of companies, be sure to always double check your work and be as specific as possible.  Don't let silly mistakes immediately kill your chances - it happens more than you think!

Hello World!

My first post! I am so excited to start writing and share with you my job hunting and career experiences from the perspective of an HR personnel. When I was first starting out, I remember how hard and competitive it was to get in the job market. It was time consuming and frustrating, and made me lose a lot of self confidence. Knowing what I know now (but from the opposite side of the equation), I want to help Millennials crack and better understand the science behind the job search and shed light to what career advice I have. About me: In 2010, I graduated from a top 50 ranked school, with no job lined up after graduation. After applying to 40+ full time jobs, barely hearing back from anyone, and facing rejection, I was completely devastated.  To make matters worse, my plans to attend graduate school fell through.  I ended up settling for a sales job at a small Chinese company; the job economy was rough, and it was the only offer I received, so I accepted.  I was in my early 20's, living at home making 30k/year, and completely miserable.

Fast forward four years: since my "dark ages," as I like to call it, I've worked for some great companies, including LivingSocial, Google, and my current start-up. Not only have I more than quadrupled my initial salary, but I was also getting sought out for job opportunities! My initial not-so-glamorous sales job ended up being a really great opportunity, opening a ton of doors that I couldn't even imagine.

Moral of the story - through practice, focus, determination, networking and the right timing, you too can refine your job prospecting skills and increase your chances of landing a job.  My "dark ages" is what sparked the inspiration for creating this blog; I want to help those who feel like they are facing a slump or hurdle in their job search.  I also want to help give a bit more encouragement and motivation to those who need a little inspiration.

What this blog IS: I'm writing this blog for Millennials, or those born between 1980's - 2000's.  If you are currently in school, a recent grad with no job lined up, early in your career and looking to switch, or have been working for several years and not sure where to start, this blog is for you.  If you are someone in the high tech/internet/Silicon Valley industry, you might also find this blog even more relatable.

What this blog is NOT: One of the biggest frustrations with job searching is having a negative attitude about the whole process and about yourself. This is NOT a blog where readers come to collectively rant, complain, or take pity on themselves. Instead, this blog will be a useful coach and arm you with optimism during your journey. 

You don't need to come from a top 10 school or have the highest IQ to get the job or career you want -- just come with the right attitude, have an open mind, and know that there are always back routes. I look forward to sharing with you my secrets and stories of how to tackle the job search, including job seeking tools, resourceful websites, and of course, resume, interviewing, and offer negotiation tips.

-M