Heart of the Matter

Andy Chan's Blog for Parents, Mentors and Teachers


It’s tough to get an investment banking interview

Dear Andy,

I have been trying to help Steve, a college friend of my son.  He has been pleased with the support he has been given by the career services office. However, he seems frustrated as a Math Econ major because he feels excluded from i-banking and private equity interviews that the business school students are getting.  He is not negative and has gotten some good interviews and is just trying like crazy.  Is there something he should do to be able to get more of these types of interviews?

A Helpful Dad

Dear Helpful Dad,

Sam has a nice resume, but to be honest, it’s not quite at the level that the i-bankers are looking for.  Most i-banks require students to have at least 3.5 or higher; and the top tier banks want students above 3.7.  This is the primary reason why he can’t get those interviews.  The banks will look at any student with those grades (so it’s not only about being just a business school student – although it can appear that way because so many apply and get interviews relative to the number of non-business school students).

I am sorry that the i-banks are so rigid, but that’s the world he’s trying to get into.  The main strategy at this point is that he has to network – a lot.  And then, perhaps, an alum or friend will ‘sponsor’ him by saying “He’s worth your interviewing, so please give him a shot.”

He should not rely on just applying for jobs by sending his resume into a HR mailbox with thousands of other resumes in which at least a hundred of them have above a 3.5.

He is doing the directionally correct thing by talking to you, but he really should speak with alumni 2-10 years out of college.  They are the folks who will give him the most relevant information on the career path and advice on how to get in the door (as they did or as they are seeing it currently happen in their firm).  We are training students to use LinkedIn to find these alums, so he should go to one of these workshops or make an appointment with a career counselor who can teach him how to use it.

I am guessing that this isn’t exactly what he wants to hear, but hopefully it will help him decide if he wants to do the very hard work of “networking” for it or look for other types of opportunities (which the career services office can help him with).  The window to get a full-time job for next fall in i-banking is almost closed because they do their interviews between September and November – unless it’s a smaller, boutique i-bank.

Also, private equity is not an option right out of college except for a select few people… in the world.  These few students who have that option typically had private equity internships and are returning to the same firm, interned at places like Goldman or Blackstone last summer (very rare), and/or have a parent who runs a PE firm or who has personal or family connections.  They also likely have above a 3.7 from an Ivy League-type school – since many PE firms are run by Ivy League alums.

These firms are incredibly selective and hire very few people each year (sometimes none), so it’s best for every student to develop alternative options.  To help set students expectations in the job search, I frequently tell students to “hope for the best, but be prepared for the worst” given the inherent uncertainty in the process.  I say this not to be discouraging, but to motivate students to work diligently to create multiple options.

Afraid to network? Make connections instead

I interviewed Class of 2010 grad Kellyn Springer and she shared her variety of experiences that led to her developing strong skills in connecting with all types of people.  She studied abroad in Thailand, and landed two internships in the U.S. Congress.

She currently works for Wake Forest on the alumni relations team.  In her role, she meets with alumni who willingly offer their time and advice to students.  Kellyn encourages students to take advantage of the wonderful community of supporters – alumni, faculty, staff, parents and friends – who love Wake Forest and love to help students.  Kellyn_Springer_56k

Scared to network

In this job market, everyone knows that networking is the best way to get a job. But many really hate the idea of networking. In fact, they’re scared to network.

Here are a few tips to overcome your fears and have the correct expectations about networking:

1. The worst thing that can happen is to be told “Sorry I don’t have time and can’t help you.”

2. The second worst thing is to not get a response.

3. Don’t expect everyone to respond.

4. Don’t expect a speedy response. Everyone is busy. Try following up with a phone call. Offer dates and times when you are in town and/or are available. Tell them “I’ll be in town all day on [name the date]” before any meetings have been set.

5. Don’t expect a job opening.

6. Offer something of value. For example, relevant research or academic/professional work that you’ve done OR an update on any shared affinity for which you have current and/or insider information (like your b-school, college, sports team).

7. Ask for others that they’d recommend you talk to.

8. Go to conferences. Many conferences need volunteers in exchange for manning the registration table (where you can meet all the attendees).

9. Thank them. Set a follow up date and offer information based on your conversation. Then actually follow up on your commitment. (The few who actually do this are most remembered and most likely to be helped in the future).

As an unknown author said, “You don’t drown by falling in the water, you drown by staying there.” Get networking.

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!

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.

Networking by the numbers

400 – 80 – 20 -2

Do you know what these numbers represent? No, these aren’t the secret numbers in Lost (one of my favorite TV shows, by the way).

400 Contacts -> 80 Meetings -> 20 Interviews -> 2 Offers

In this weak job market, it’s going to take a lot of networking to get a job. Conventional wisdom is that over 90% of job seekers land a job via networking.

These numbers are my estimates. Yours might be different. Work through the numbers so that your expectations are set correctly and you know how much time and effort the networking process will require. It truly is a numbers game.

Contacts: A contact is anyone who you would share your marketing pitch and target job with the hope that they might know of and lead you to another contact who could help you. They might ultimately be someone who could hire you, but not necessarily. They can include your parents, parent’s friends, classmates, and former co-workers. A highly networked alumnus recommended Salesforce.com’s personal edition to track his hundreds of contacts

Meetings: Meetings can occur by phone or in-person. The ideal meetings are in-person informational interviews at your contact’s office. Some of these meetings may lead to actual interviews. Don’t be get anxious if they don’t lead to interviews immediately.

Interviews: These represent the number of companies you interview with, not the number of interviews. So if you had 5 interviews for one job at one company, that only counts as one interview (not 5). Using the numbers above, it may take 18 rejections to get to your first job offer. Gird yourself for a bumpy ride.

Offers: No explanation is necessary. Most job seekers want at least two offers. They want the opportunity to choose and compare offers. Having two offers can sometimes provide negotiating leverage.

To determine how much time the networking job search process will take, let’s assume the following for an unemployed job seeker:

  • Connect via email with 50 contacts per week (10 per day). That’s 8 weeks.
  • Meet 10 people per week. That’s 8 weeks.
  • Interviews occur throughout this period as you discover potential opportunities or make valuable connections.

Total time: 16 weeks or 4 months.

The ratios can be somewhat better for MBA and college students. The ratios are worse for big career changers (desire new role/function and industry), in particularly tough job sectors (e.g. private equity, investment banking, real estate), or if you’re employed and have little time to network intensively.

What numbers and assumptions are you using for your networking job search?

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?

We’re not hiring

If you’re looking for a job, you’re probably hearing “We’re not hiring” over and over again.

It’s painful. It’s depressing. It’s discouraging.

Enough. It’s time to stop the pity party.

As John F. Kennedy said, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” Here are a few thoughts to keep you going the next time you hear “We’re not hiring”:

1. Tell me something that I didn’t know. (Well, don’t say this one unless you really don’t want a job there :-).

2. I am really not looking for a job. I just wanted to learn about your company and get some advice from you.

3. That’s OK. I really don’t want to start a new job until later this year. I’d still like to meet with you if you have time.

4. I understand completely. Have recent staffing cuts made it difficult for you? Perhaps I could do a project to help you.

5. You’re not hiring right now. But, you might be hiring in the future. Let’s talk.

It’s no surprise that the job market is terrible. So why let it ruin your day?

Your measure of a solid networking contact should not be based on the hiring status of your contact’s organization. Instead, view your contact as someone who can help you learn about the company, identify potential roles that you’d be interested in and qualified for, give you advice on how to be well-prepared for the interview process, and be a supporter for you within this organization or with colleagues at other firms.

In sales, it can take eight contacts to close a deal. It could take a similar number to get a job, so treat this first conversation as an opportunity to break the ice and develop a relationship that could eventually lead to a great job. Don’t expect too much from a single call.

Good things take time. Take the time to work the network.

You really don’t have a choice. After all, they’re not hiring.

What keeps you motivated when you receive discouraging news during your job search?

How bad is it

I’ll admit it. I am an optimistic fella. I don’t like to deliver bad news. I always find a silver lining.

But I cannot tell a lie. It’s bad out there.

Right now, many students are speaking to companies in all sectors and getting a similar reply “We are not hiring.” It’s discouraging.

BUT – it’s not hopeless. I sincerely mean that. Here are a few reasons why:

1. Even though companies are laying off people, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they are not hiring. Managers in a wide range of companies have recently told me, “Yes, we have had a layoff. But we’ll be hiring in select positions if we meet great people.” You can be the one that they will hire.

2. In the past several years, MBA students had more options. But there were many good but less well-known employers who wished that they could hire someone like you. Today, those employers are interested in you and some are hiring. You just have to be proactive in going after them and you must communicate your sincere interest in them. Don’t dismiss them as being “below you.” They could be the hidden gem of an opportunity that no one knew of before.

3. In the job hunt, there’s a Hidden Job Market. In fact, it’s at least 3 times bigger than the jobs that you see posted on job boards, career fairs, and on-campus recruiting. Many employers do not post job opportunities because they prefer to find candidates through referrals. Others don’t want to get inundated with resumes. Others use executive recruiting firms. Some jobs never get posted because they find a great candidate before it gets posted. And many employers actually create a job when they meet a great candidate who worked their way into the company with effective networking. You can be one of those great candidates.

4. Your next job will not be your last job. When the market is tight, most people are just thankful to have a job. Almost any job. And people work very hard to perform well just to keep their job. As the market improves, opportunities arise and changes are possible. Especially for the people who performed well. One myth that I’d love to destroy is the belief that the first job after college or business school will set your trajectory for the rest of your life. Ugh! I have seen so many friends, colleagues and alumni disprove that belief. If you disagree and decide to hold onto that belief, ask yourself “How will this belief be helpful to me?” It won’t. Please burn it.

My advice: If you’re a graduating student this year and you’d like to start your post-graduation job in the early Fall, there’s a lot of time between now and then. Now I know that many of you wanted to have a job in hand before graduation, but employers’ hiring timeline may not be cooperative. Your primary goal is to secure that job starting in the fall. Depending on how things work, I’d be prepared to be job hunting during the summer.

I know it’s not what you want to hear. Nevertheless, prepare yourself by setting your expectations correctly. And stay focused on your primary goal.

What’s giving you HOPE in this tough job market?