Heart of the Matter

Andy Chan's Blog for Parents, Mentors and Teachers

Job/Internship Search

Background check

Job Seeker: My employer requires me to send quite a bit of personal information in order to work there. One of the requests is an interim transcript from my school. Our student body has a grade non-disclosure policy and I am not sure if that applies in this instance. Is this something that you have seen in the past? What should I do?

Andy: We are asked this question every year – for summer and full-time positions. Several firms require that candidates provide their transcripts for backgrounds checks in order to secure employment at the firm. And each year, all of our students comply with this request.

Since it is a background check, I have been told that they use the information to verify that you did not mislead or lie to them in the recruiting process (e.g. You say you did well in finance and you actually failed it OR you said that you’re an outstanding student and your grades are poor). I have not heard of any of our students’ employment status ever being affected by this process.

I have been informed, and do believe, that no one at the employer’s firm sees the transcript. The background check is typically handled by a third party firm.

In the few cases when students have fought to withhold their transcripts in this situation (citing the grade non-disclosure policy), it has created a ‘mark’ on their reputation before they have even started working at the firm. I would not recommend that course of action.

What matters most

Job Seeker: Andy, I am evaluating two job offers. One is my former employer (a good consulting firm in my home country), which feels safe but boring. The other is a high-growth entrepreneurial venture capital fund here in the U.S. It seems like my choice should be obvious, but I am struggling with it.

I just don’t feel myself having much energy or excitement around the venture capital opportunity – like my heart is not really in it. Perhaps this is silly, but I know that there are lots of good reasons why this vc job will probably provide a useful set of functional, career growth experiences for me. Perhaps I am just fundamentally risk averse, and that is clouding my judgment.

I guess I just imagined myself landing my “dream job” at the end of these two years in b-school and feeling so excited about going to work each day… but perhaps this was a very unrealistic expectation.

Anyway, I am rambling. If you have any thoughts on how I might be able to clear things up in my own mind, I’d certainly be interested to hear them.

Andy: Here are some thoughts and questions to help you continue to process this information and help you decide:
1. Don’t discount your internal feelings as ‘silly’. Listen to your internal compass and trust it.

2. Hoping for a ‘dream’ job isn’t unreasonable. The difficult reality is that sometimes that job is not available given the market conditions or your competitive position in the marketplace. The good news is that the market is always changing (and at this point, most envision it getting better in a couple years) which means that opportunities will be coming down the road. Given your experience and capabilities, you will have good access to good opportunities.

3. Each person has a unique set of criteria to evaluate job opportunities. Given our prior conversations and your current thoughts, here are a few questions for you to ponder:
a) How much do you respect and trust your manager and the management team? How much does that matter to you? If they do things that you disagree with, can you accept it and move on or will it eventually drive you crazy and force you to seek another place to work?
b) How much coaching, mentoring and training do you want and need? How well do you operate in an environment where you are expected to sink-or-swim on your own?
c) Your vision is to run a medium to large company someday. The vc firm seems to focus on smaller companies. This ‘upward’ transition (from small to big) is more difficult and less common than the reverse. How comfortable are you in setting your career foundation on a job that is not in great alignment with your vision? It would appear that the consulting job is actually in better alignment with your vision.

4. If you take the vc job now, you cut off other options to explore today and for the next several months (since the consulting firm is willing to give you more time). If you do not take it, you have the consulting job as your back up and time to explore other options. How does it feel when envisioning these two scenarios?

Every person’s situation and criteria is different. I recommend that you seek out an objective advisor or coach who can ask you questions that get to the heart of the matter – to the things that matter most to you.

10 good minutes

There are lots of resources for job seekers. In fact, too many.

If you’re a podcast person, check out www.10goodminutes.com. They interview a variety of executives and managers who provide career strategies and advice for young professionals (we’re all “young” or at least we desire to be!).

Recent interviews include nailing case interviews, answering the question “what should I do with my life?”, learning the difference between a sponsor and a mentor, and understanding that compensation is more than just salary.

While you are thinking about valuable resources, take the time to comb through the career resources that are specifically designed for you: your career center’s website, your college’s or graduate school’s alumni career services website, your school’s library (get to know your librarian who knows all about databases and finding interesting companies for you to target), and any alumni services that your former employers may provide. After all, these resources were made for you. Why not use them?

What other resources have you found particulary helpful for job search and/or career management?

Why look now

Job Seeker: The market seems really bad. Everyone I talk to says that companies are not hiring. I was wondering if I should even be trying to look for a job. I mean, why should I look now if no one is hiring?

Andy: Although it may seem like no one is hiring, some actually are (see my post: We’re Not Hiring). Take a look at some online job boards and you’ll see many job openings. (BTW, don’t be intimidated by the job description. Many companies write up descriptions for the “perfect” candidate and often never get any “perfect” candidates to apply. You could be the best of the rest. But you have to apply.)

Also, the terms “job search” (or “job hunt” which is even more appropo today) means that you’re searching, or hunting, for a job. This means that you’ are proactively looking for, or aggressively pursuing, opportunities, not just going on job interviews with companies who are hiring.

Job Seeker: OK. I get it. But won’t I just be spinning my wheels?

Andy: No. Far from it. There are several reasons to be networking now, even if it seems like no one is hiring:

1) You can get significantly more information meeting someone in person than by reading a website.

2) By asking the right questions, you can find out if you’d like to work there, if you’d be qualified, what you’d need to do to be one of the top candidates, what the hiring process is, and any tips to be informed about and be considered for future openings.

3) Every person you meet should lead you to a few other valuable people to network with. But you have to ask.

4) The more connections you make now, the more potential offers in the future. Once you get an offer, you can re-connect with the top networking contacts you met previously and try to get an offer from them. You can’t do this with anyone who you have not met before.

5) You could find out about a job that isn’t posted anywhere. And may never get posted if you’re the right candidate.

6) They like you so much that they create a job for you.

7) As you learn about their goals and needs, you could offer a consulting project to get your foot in the door (and get paid while doing it).

8) And if you haven’t yet defined your job target and are exploring a variety of options, meeting with people to understand their job, company and industry will provide you with important information to help you get focused.

The sooner you start networking and the more contacts you meet wtih, you are more likely to find a job sooner – even if it seems like no one is hiring. With every contact you make, it will get easier and easier to do.

I like the quote from Bill Keane, the cartoonist for The Family Circus, “Yesterday’s the past and tomorrow’s the future. Today is a gift – which is why they call it the present.”

Get going. Make networking your top priority and use the gift you’ve been given – today!

Accelerate the hiring process

Job Seeker: I need some advice. A couple weeks back, I met with the head of a company (A) who told me that he liked my resume and background, but that it was premature to be interviewing with them as they did not yet know their staffing needs for the year. He suggested that I get back in touch in a couple months to set up an interview at that time.

Subsequently, I have interviewed with another company (B) and received an offer with a decision deadline of two weeks. But the role is not exactly the same and to be honest, I would prefer the other job if I could land it. Company B has given me a few weeks to think things over, so I’m wondering if there’s any way I can encourage company A to bring their process forward.

Andy: First, congrats on the offer with company B! That’s no easy feat in this tough job market. Now, call your contact at company A. Tell him that you have received an offer from another company and they want your decision within two weeks. Explain that you’re very interested in his job opportunity and would like to discuss if accelerating the hiring process is at all possible.

Job Seeker: There doesn’t seem to be any downside risk in this approach. Should I call or email? I don’t want to appear invasive. I honestly have no idea what the protocol is in situations like this.

Andy: No worries. Email is a safe way to set up a short phone call or meeting. I would recommend an in-person meeting (even if it’s short) because you can make your case more persuasively, it’s more difficult for him to say “No”, and he might be willing to turn your conversation into an interview process right there (you should be prepared).

If he doesn’t reply to you within 2 days, call him and speak live, or leave a voicemail with your request and the urgency level. If necessary, ask his assistant to help get your request in front of him.

Job seeker: What if he’s not willing to accelerate the process?

Andy: Find out if their hiring plans are solid and if you are really the top candidate. Ask, “I may be willing to pass up on the offer I have, but I need your candid feedback. Are you definitely hiring for this job and when does this person need to be on board? Where do I rank relative to the other candidates you’ve seen?”

If he’s uncertain about the hiring plan and timetable, it may not happen – especially in this economy. If he isn’t clear or enthusiastic about you as one of the top candidates, that’s a sign (and not a good one). No matter how big your last bonus was, or your title, or what school you go/went to, be careful to not overestimate your odds at securing an attractive job. There are lots of qualified (and over-qualified) people out there – who are all honing in on these attractive jobs. In this buyer’s market, the employers have the power and lots of candidates banging on their doors.

Then let go of it and have no regrets. This opportunity just wasn’t meant to be.

If you decide to accept the less-desirable job, know that this next job does not have to be, and will likely not be, your last job. The market will someday turn and new opportunities will come.

What things have you done to accelerate a hiring process?

I’ll do anything

When asked by networking contacts, “What are you looking for in your next job?”, many job seekers reply, “I’ll do anything.” Since this answer seems to communicate that you are open and flexible, it’s a tempting response.

However, it’s a terrible response. Why?

1. Most people won’t do “just anything”. When questioned further, the job seeker typically admits “I won’t move to Toledo (no offense to Toledo residents)” or “I really hate sales” or “I have no interest in technology”. It’s pretty uncomfortable to be caught in a lie while in the middle of an informational interview. And it sounds like you have no idea what you’re looking for.

2. It sounds desperate. Employers prefer to hire people who are confident, positive and have opinons (but not over-confident, arrogant and stubborn). Networking contacts retreat from people who are desperate and not clear about what they are looking for. They will not refer job seekers to other people when the job seeker is not clear regarding what they are looking for and why.

Here’s a better response.

“I have experience in consumer marketing and am an avid gamer. I would like to perform a marketing role in a video game software company like Electronic Arts or Sony or Valve, which made Half Life and Steam. I’d prefer to stay in the San Francisco Bay Area and I am open to other U.S. cities in the west coast like Seattle or Los Angeles.”

A. The role/function is general. This demonstrates that you are not title- or role-constrained. A VP in one company could be a director in another. If you’re too specific, you may never get in the door to find out.

B. The industry sector is specific. It’s not just any old software company. Sector-specificity enables greater chance of finding relevant contacts by breaking down large industries into manageable chunks for the networking contacts. It’s easier to remember, too.

C. Company names and products provide another memorable anchor. If you haven’t done enough homework to have a list of at least 10 companies that are interesting to you, you’re probably not ready to be having networking meetings.

D. You may have very rigid location constraints. If you do, say so. If you’re open, be specific about where you are willing to move.

If you’re not sure about what you want, then take the time to figure that out before you start networking. Meet with a career advisor or career coach. Use some self-assessment tools, like the 100 Jobs Exercise or CareerLeader. If you’re in the early stages of the networking process, you can answer instead, ” I am interested in marketing and consumer products like video games. I am hoping to learn more about the field and possible opportunities through meeting with people like you.”

But never say “I’ll do anything.” It’s a killer answer – for you.

What are YOU looking for in your next job? Share your pitch.

Not even halftime

I recently met with our first year MBAs to discuss their job searches. I explained that they could think of the process as a four-quarter game.

The first quarter ended when on-campus recruiting interviews finished in early February. For those fortunate students who received offers that they will accept, the game has finished.

The second quarter is taking place right now through Spring break. Students should be networking and meeting in person or by phone with helpful people, like friends and former co-workers or young alumni. As long as you have a clear marketing pitch (see examples in your Student Career Guide), these folks are your best starting contacts to refer you to others who work in the organizations that interest you. They may also give you additional contacts at other interesting organizations.

Although Spring break is halftime, it’s no time to rest. With no classes, it’s actually the best time to intensify your networking. If you want to work in a location far from school, it’s prudent to network there over Spring break and get a letter from your career office to visit the local b-school. They will have lots of jobs in the the local region.

The third quarter begins after Spring Break during the month of April and into May. Interviews will take place at this time. In some cases, you may have to propose projects and suggest the appropriate compensation. The fruits of previous networking will come to bear as long as you have determined what your target employers are looking for and how to best position yourself to win the interview process.

The fourth quarter occurs in May through mid-June as the offers begin to flow. Once you get one offer, go to your other top firms of interest and let them know that you are soon to be off-the-market. I am always amazed at the number of students who have no offers going into May and end up with two or three offers at the end of May.

In the last recession, every first-year MBA got a job. I think that will be the case again this year.

So keep playing hard. Don’t give up. The game’s just begun.

Positive mantras

I am in NY this week teaching a workshop for business school alumni called “Strategic Job Search”. I shared the teaching responsibilities with Michael Melcher, an outstanding career coach with NextStep Partners.

25 alums invested an entire day to understanding how to conduct a productive, efficient and strategic job search in this difficult market. In the morning sessions, the participants clarified their Career and Life Vision and defined their job search targets and priorities. In the afternoon, they received resume tips, developed powerful positioning statements, learned how to write effective networking emails, prioritized networking contacts, and answered key interview questions. At day’s end, there was a networking social where the participants and other alumni connected and identified potential new leads to jump-start their job search.

We shared a crucial insight on how to stay positive in this challenging job market: Do not let the everyday news get you down. Think about some of the following ideas to keep you positive and motivated. Post some of these positive mantras in your workspace or on a mirror.

1. There are thousands of companies out there. I only need one job.
2. The world is changing. Change equals opportunities.
3. Firms laid people off. Now they need to upgrade their talent. With someone like me.
4. In this market, there are lots of people looking for jobs. There’s no reason to be embarrassed about it.
5. It’s actually easier to network in this market. People with jobs are more sympathetic and open. Many of them want to grow their own network, too.
6. It’s the beginning of a new era in business. It’s time to find and ride the next wave.
7. The old way of doing business is out. Firms want innovation, creativity and new ways of thinking. And that’s what I can bring to them.
8. Just take it one day, and one person, at a time.

Repeat these positive mantras throughout the process. Carry them with you all the way to the finish line.

What are you doing or telling yourself to stay positive and motivated in your job search?

Class stats

Everyone’s wondering how our second year students are faring in this terrible job market. We don’t have exact data on every student, but we estimate the following:

40-50% have accepted a job

10-20% have an offer

5-10% plan to start a company

20-45% are seeking

My sense is that this year’s numbers are actually similar to last year. The main difference is that the majority of seekers this year are considerably more anxious about their job prospects (which is completely understandable given the state of the market). Although the economy began to crash last March with Bear Stearns’ demise, last year’s class was not affected as 94% had offers at graduation and 98% had offers by 3 months after graduation.

Given the state of the market, I’m not expecting us to hit those numbers this year. Back in 2003, about 80% had offers at graduation. It could be pretty comparable this year. For those who graduate without a job, we continue to support them throughout the summer and even beyond, as necessary.

By the way, it’s completely different for first year students. Each year, almost every first year gets a summer job (even back in the last recession). And many of those job offers close in May. So if you’re a first year, don’t fret.

Do the above class stats surprise you?

Take it or leave it

So you have a job offer. And your potential employer has asked for your decision by the end of the month. Should you take it or leave it?

Conventional (and conservative) wisdom in this market says, “Take it. Are you crazy? You’ll really regret it if you pass on this offer and don’t get another one later.”

Romantic (and optimistic) wisdom says, “How can you settle? You deserve so much better. ”

The answer is just not that simple. Consider the following thoughts and questions to help you make the best decision:

  1. How well does this job offer meet your top job criteria – the values and benefits that you want in your next job? Common mistakes made by job seekers: they don’t define these criterion clearly; they have too many criterion; they value each criterion equally when they’re not of equal value; or they don’t assess the values and benefits of the job offer accurately (people seriously underestimate their ability to change jobs and careers in the future).
  2. What is your other option and how likely will you spend the effort and time to pursue it and obtain it? Common mistakes made by job seekers: they haven’t defined another option; they don’t understand what’s required to pursue and obtain the other option (pretty risky thinking [or lack of it] in this ugly job market); they don’t consider a worst case scenario (like “Can I survive without a job until 2010?” or “Will I be OK with dozens upon dozens of employers repeating, ‘We’re not hiring right now.'”?

Given the above, you’re probably thinking “Andy is recommending that I take this job.” Wrong!

About 20% of the students who I have discussed this issue with have chosen to reject their job offers. And I wholeheartedly agreed with their decision. In these cases, the specific reasons included sincerely disliking the work and the career path (clearly visible in her voice, eyes and body language); an undesirable location that would make it difficult to return to the United States; an poor fit between the job and the future career direction (which was clear to him only after I verified that his logic was correct).

With each person, they would rather go without a job for the next 9-12 months and perhaps longer, than take a job that was not right for them. Each person’s situation is very unique and requires time to consider and evaluate.

Talking to your future employer isn’t enough. They have a vested interest in your decision.

Talking to your peers or parents isn’t enough. They don’t have the breadth of knowledge or perspective to provide an objective view (as your friends and family, they are not objective). Also, as hard as people try to give objective advice, most actually give advice that is biased from their own personal experience or values.

Whether you are a student or not, I recommend that you discuss your logic with a career advisor. S/he is an objective party with extensive experience and perspective working with many others who have wrestled with decisions just like yours. S/he won’t give you the answer. After all, it’s your decision.

But you will benefit greatly by receiving important information, being asked critical questions (that you possibly have not thought of), and developing clarity on your logic and decision.

It’s a big decision. Why take a chance with it?

Who is your best source for advice and perspective on your job offers?