Category Archives: Job Search

How to make your summer internship a success

IMG_1888-e1496689718596-986x1315A few weeks ago, TransLoc’s interns started work. Each year, TransLoc hires a handful of interns across departments to help us tackle projects and help them gain work experience. We take onboarding seriously here at TransLoc, even for our interns. They are welcomed with balloons, company swag, and approximately five pounds of their favorite candy. With all the Reese’s Cups, Kit-Kats, and Sour Patch Kids we have floating around, it’s a good thing walking trails surround our office and a gym sits right across the road.

In addition to the copious amounts of sugar, one of our other onboarding practices is a one on one with each department head to share how their department advances TransLoc’s mission, introduce the other people on the team, and share any other TransLoc wisdom worth sharing.

This past week, during my meeting with our new interns Kayleigh, Joyce, Nancy, and Jess and our new salesperson Dustin, I introduced them to my department and also provided some advice on how to make the most of their experience at TransLoc. Beyond their usefulness in the short term, these tools can also help them identify compatible organizations to work for, wherever they end up later in their career.

Here’s the advice I shared:

Turn your inexperience into an asset

It’s easy for someone new to an organization to question their ability to contribute, especially those just starting out in internships or entry-level positions. What do you know about the industry? Or the products? Or even the company culture? Probably not much. And while this lack of knowledge undermines many newbies’ confidence to contribute, that’s a mistake. Your very inexperience is what makes you so valuable.

You possess a perspective that is free from the assumptions or blind spots that those of us who have been neck deep in the business for years have missed. So how do you turn this inexperience into an asset? Ask good, hard questions. Listen carefully. Apply logic to what you hear and politely ask for clarification if things don’t make sense. Bad organizations will be threatened by this questioning and it’s better you learn that quickly. Good organizations will welcome this approach and your contribution to the “marketplace of ideas.”

Make your teammates look good

In any organization, there is always more work to be done than can be possibly be done. Only the most effective “Essentialists” will ruthlessly prioritize the most important things and clear the decks of the extraneous fluff that doesn’t move the needle. For the rest of us, we’re in a constant battle between the urgent, the important, and the “Holy Crap.”

Recognizing that your boss and your colleagues likely exist in this world is the first step towards using this reality to your and the organization’s benefit. The more you can anticipate their needs, ask for work, or just jump in and start identifying problems you can tackle, the more they will appreciate you. Another benefit: it allows you to practice a critical skill that will be necessary as you grow in your career: making a recommendation. Many times, your boss will take your recommendation and implement your ideas. Other times will be opportunities to get great feedback on what your recommendation may be missing. It can be scary to open yourself up in this way, but great managers appreciate this initiative.

Begin with the end in mind

You won’t work here forever. Whatever job you’re in, it will be for a finite time, even if you do not always know the specific length of time that will be. So it’s important to begin with the end in mind. As Yogi Berra so eloquently stated: “If you don’t know where you’re going, you might not get there.”

So think about what those bullet points are that you want on your resume when you finish your internship or job. Is there a specific skill or software you’d like to learn or a specific type of project you want to gain experience in? Share that with your manager so that they can help figure out a way to make that happen, which is easier if the skills you want to learn are something your team needs.

A caveat: beginning with the end in the mind doesn’t mean that you run as a one-man wolfpack, pursuing projects that benefit only you. It simply ensures that both your interests and the organization’s interests align so that you both receive value, which is how any good relationship works. The motivation sweet spot is where your interests and career goals intersect with the needs of your team and manager.

What other advice would you share with our newest employees as they begin their TransLoc careers?

P.S. If you would like to work at TransLoc–either as a full-time employee or as intern–please let us know!

(Crossposted from the TransLoc Blog)

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The humanity beneath your Uber driver’s star rating

“How’s business?”
“I’m not talking to customers today.”
Well, this is getting interesting.
I persisted. “What’s going on?”
“Some guy gave me 2 stars yesterday.  And I drove for 13 hours yesterday and made $37.”

When I booked my Uber on my way to the Houston airport, I noticed the driver–Anne–had 4.7 stars out of five.  Most drivers care very much about their star rating, with Uber penalizing drivers if their star rating drops too low.  4.7 stars is about the lowest I’ve ever seen an Uber driver.

When my colleague John and I got into our Uber and had the above exchange, I got an inkling of why she may have received two stars from a passenger.  Anne was having a bad day or, likely, several bad days.  I had known Anne all of 30 seconds and she had made quite an impression on me.  

I recalled a recent terrific podcast Tim Ferriss hosted with comedian Whitney Cummings.  In it, Whitney describes how she deals with the daily struggles of life and people and her needs and their needs.  She simply says to herself prior to interacting with anyone for the first time, “I love you.” This simple act humanizes the person and allows her to see that they are just as frail and broken as she is, though in different ways.

After the humanless computer program failed to deliver any decent fares yesterday and some guy penalized her for feeling frustrated, Anne was feeling unhuman.  The easy way out would have been to simply murmur something polite and then stare out the window for the next 20 minutes and hope she didn’t say anything else.  

But Anne opened up.  “I just graduated from nursing school and I can’t find a job so I’m doing Uber to pay the bills in the meantime.”  As she talked about her 22 years as a phlebotomist, her passing of the state nursing boards last week, and the other humanless computer program online that overlooked her resume since she hadn’t seeded it with relevant keywords, I looked at her less as a number of stars and more as a human.

As she talked, her voice and her eyes conveyed her passion for helping children and cancer patients.  She understood intuitively that being a nurse is only partly about technical skills, but more about connecting with her patients.  These kids were scared to have their blood drawn and she let them have control on when she did it because kids in hospitals often feel like they don’t have any.

After faceless computer programs kept dinging her, Anne felt that she didn’t have control either.  John recommended an organization that he had volunteered with, Jobs for Life, that connects job seekers with volunteer mentors to help with the transition to work.  

Not only will mentors and informational interviews help unlock the hidden job market where most jobs are found, but those people you meet along the way become your cheerleaders.  They give you hope when you feel like you can’t write one more cover letter or thank you note.  

As we were getting out of the car at the airport, Anne remarked to me and John, “You have been so helpful. And I wasn’t going to talk to you today!”

I’m glad a computer program can’t get in the way of that.  

Uber Receipt

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On authenticity

I’ve conducted 26 interviews over the past two weeks and helped three of my sales colleagues on major presentations to prospects.  And one theme that emerged was an overall lack of authenticity.

Our authentic selves are so much more powerful than the packaged ones that we force ourselves to wear prior to that big job interview or sales presentation.  But why don’t more people use this powerful tool?  Fear.

When we are more focused on getting the job or six-figure deal, we will often compromise on what’s important to us, shield the audience from who we really are, or give the audience what we think they want to hear.  This is dangerous.  It’s also an entirely reasonable feeling to have. We’re afraid that if we reveal our authentic selves, they won’t like us or we’ll lose the deal.  But what is often lost in these headgames we all play with ourselves is that we wouldn’t even want that job or sale if they didn’t respect us for who we are.  

I love this quote (PDF) from Helen Keller that I originally found via Sam Parker at Just Sell:  

“Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. The fearful are caught as often as the bold.”

The candidates that stuck out to me and the presentations that resonated with me overcame that fear.  They were authentic.  They were real.  They were, at times, bold.  

One candidate commented on his beautiful wife in his cover letter.  I’m sure that the career services office at his alma mater would be horrified.  And truthfully, I might have been horrified too if it hadn’t been pertinent to him telling his story about why he ended up in Raleigh and why he was interested in working for us and also consistent with his actions and stories during the interview.  

And as a colleague of mine practiced a sales presentation last week, he conveyed the key concepts, but it didn’t resonate with the audience.  Why?  It wasn’t in his own voice.  He hadn’t made it his own yet.  He tweaked it by weaving a personal anecdote about how the blisters his cheap hiking boots gave him will ensure he buys quality boots going forward.      

Both the candidate and my colleague realized the following benefits of authenticity:

  • It forces you to clarify your thoughts.  It’s easy to just parrot back ideas that we read from other places or get from our colleagues.  It’s a lot harder to go through the mental jujitsu necessary to clarify why it matters to you.  But without that clarification, you haven’t shown us who you really are.

  • Your argument will resonate more.  When the presenter or interviewee drops the veneer of “what you’re supposed to say,” the audience automatically starts paying attention.  There’s probably complex psychological and biological reasons for this, but the result is your audience leans in and really opens up their ears.  

  • You stand out.  This is different from how your argument resonates.  How your argument resonates is infinitely more important than standing out.  But there is some value to theatre.  And whether it’s a job interview or a sales presentation, it helps to be remembered.  Think of it as a backstop.  Even if your audience doesn’t remember your whole argument, they may remember enough to re-engage with you or your materials.  

And while interviews are inherently personal affairs where one is expected to talk about oneself, I’m sure some sales manager may be saying “selling is not about me or my sales rep, it’s about the product.”  Being authentic doesn’t mean you have to talk about yourself, but only that you’ve thought enough about the product to frame it as more than just corporate marketing speak or a bland set of product features.  

How can you inject some authenticity into your day today?

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Why MBAs Suck at Networking

MBA students and alumni may have the most to gain from networking, but most of them suck at it. Why? My own business school and professional experience has shown me four reasons MBAs suck at networking.

They don’t do it: Many MBAs don’t think they need to network because they are going to a top business school and have access to on-campus recruiting.

Admittedly, it’s hard to find the incentive to network when all the top firms come to campus to wine and dine you. But that means it’s all the more important to do it. After all, how will you distinguish yourself from all the other top candidates in your program? At some point, the differences between grades and GMATs will only take you so far.

For MBAs who aren’t interested in on-campus recruiting, networking isn’t an option; it’s the only way to get a job. On-campus recruiting looks like an all-you-can-eat buffet compared to the scrounging that is off-campus recruiting.

Action item: Just do it. Any networking is better than no networking. Pick someone you want to (re)connect with and contact them (via phone, if you’re feeling bold). Pick someone else the next week.

They network with the wrong people: When MBAs network, they tend to network with only those they think can help them. It’s only natural. You want to work in a particular industry so you network with people who are already in that industry. Even if you don’t actively seek out those in the same industry, you’ll be drawn to those who think like you and have similar interests.

But as Brian Uzzi and Shannon Dunlap explain in a December 2005 Harvard Business Review article, the more diverse a network is, the more valuable it is:

Highly diverse network ties, therefore, can help you develop more complete, creative, and unbiased views of issues. And when you trade information or skills with people whose experiences differ from your own, you provide one another with unique, exceptionally valuable resources.

So, while spending three hours talking with your local barista at Starbucks may not be the best use of time, investing a little time each day building a relationship with him so he knows your name and what you do is not a bad idea. You never know when his uncle’s successful company may be hiring.

Action item: Keep an open mind when it comes to networking. You never know when or how an opportunity will present itself.

They’re not approachable: MBAs don’t smile enough. My theory is some of them think they are too good to do it or that it makes them too vulnerable.

I go the other way. Smiling can break the ice in almost any situation. Even if I’m feeling nervous, just forcing myself to smile is enough to relax me. And it’s hard to be in a sour mood if you have a smile on your face.

That’s part of Scott Ginsberg’s strategy. He’s worn a nametag for 4,026 days and counting. His theory: it makes him more approachable. He’s turned this approachability into a brand and a business.

All else being equal, I want to spend time with someone who is positive, not negative. I’m not alone. Recent research shows that optimists have an easier time landing a job.

Action item: Open yourself up to others. Start by just smiling at those you pass at the grocery store or on the street and it’ll be easier to do it in a professional environment.

They lack a system: While MBAs usually are great at putting structure around problems to help solve them, many do a poor job creating structure around their networking.

Your network is an asset. Just like any other asset, it has to be managed. You have to evaluate it, adjust it, maintain it, and, if necessary, purge it on a regular basis.

There is no right system, but you should have a good way of organizing the people in your network, a plan for how often to contact them, and how you can help them. I use a combination of Excel worksheets, contact databases, Google Calendar, and Google Alerts to manage my network.

Action item: Test out a couple different ways to keep yourself organized. One easy way to start is by creating a list of people that you want to regularly stay in contact with and keeping track of the last time you interacted with them. Set a goal for how often you should stay in touch and see if you can achieve that.

If you have an MBA, hire MBAs, or, heck, even network with MBAs, let me know what you think.

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How to bomb an interview before you’ve started

I’ve been working with several Master of Management Studies students from Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business to help them prepare for the job search process.  Most of the students in this one-year program have recently graduated from college and have little to no work experience.

Thus, these students have little experience interviewing for jobs.  That’s where alumni like me come in.  I conduct informational and mock interviews to help students prep for the job search process.

I’ve noticed one area where all these students fall short: they don’t spend enough time strategizing their responses to common questions.  I recommend that they determine the main questions that may be asked and map out the answers–on paper–ahead of time.

This strategy will:

  • give you confidence, because you’ve seen the question before.  It’s not necessary that you give the same answers word for word during your interview, but this preparation will guarantee that you have a thoughtful answer.
  • ensure your answers include tried-and-true STAR stories.  STAR (Situation, Task, Action, Result) stories give your answer structure and show the impact that you had.  These stories also provide much-needed color to the interview, helping an interviewer remember you.
  • allow you to start the interview with a strong answer to“Walk me through your resume.”  A good response to this type of question will weave a coherent story from where you’ve been to where you are to where you want to go.  Details are less important than how you are able to connect those elements together into a coherent and believable structure.

While this preparation won’t help you catch verbal tics and weak phrases like “I think,” it will make your interview answers much stronger.  What do you think?

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Why I’m an optimist

I’m happy to see this recent research in the MIT Sloan Management Review that confirms one of my long-held beliefs about the power of optimism, especially in the job search.  Interestingly, I took part in this research when I was at Fuqua from 2005-2007.

This research complements a recent blog post by Anthony Tjan in the Harvard Business Review that gives some good tips on how to make luck work in your favor.

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