Sunday, October 25, 2009
Some of the best business advice I've ever received came from a former military and very successful executive at a Fortune 50 company. When I asked him where former military personnel could most improve, he said first and foremost: Networking.
In retrospect, this is not surprising. As a junior military officer, our perceived abilities and reputation is almost entirely based on the tangible performance of our team. Our jobs are not determined by who we know, or who we don't know. Our path is largely already set, and if there is any flexibility, our merit and performance speaks for itself. That is almost certainly not the case for General Officers, and that is also not the complete picture when it comes to business.
Dee Leopold, the HBS Admissions Director, joked with our class that back in her days, she didn't have "networks," she had "friends." Call it making friends or building a network, it is an important asset to grow as one's career progresses. Having a network doesn't just mean having people that you can ask for investment money or a job. Rather, it's about finding mentors, advisers, connecting the right people together, helping friends, and building relationships that benefit everyone you are connected to. Building a successful network does not mean one is cutting corners, it means you bring value to those in your network, and just maybe, the karma will come back to you.
There is no right time to "start" active networking, and I suggest starting immediately. I avoided doing anything online until I began to leave the military. It felt awkward and unnatural. In retrospect, I wish I would have started a long time ago. Online networking has revolutionized the way business is done and connections are made. If you're planning to go into business, and certainly if you plan to go to a major business school, you might as well start as early as possible. The average student at HBS probably has over 500 Facebook friends. I'm not saying this to spur some popularity contest, or imply that having more Facebook friends means much. But it is a sign of the times of how heavily social networking is used. Some people may resist it because it isn't personal enough, but I recall that some people also resisted e-mail in the late 1990s for the same reason, and you see where that got them.
There are many books and articles one can read about the benefits of networking, but one doesn't have to do any academic research to see the evidence. Many of my fellow students who express the greatest amount of job satisfaction received their internship and job offers through "independent job searching" - which is another way of leveraging your network. The benefits really speak for themselves.
If you're looking for a quick first step example of what to do, I recommend using LinkedIn to its full advantage. It is a professional networking site (it's not like Facebook), with extremely powerful tools and 50 million rapidly growing business members. If you are not in the military, chances are many in your company already uses it. Perhaps you do as well but not actively. Make sure to "connect" with those you wish to keep contact with before you transition. Maximize your network. Reach out to college friends you trust, connect with people you respect. Your value to a corporation is not only you as an individual, but the network you bring.
I've received many emails from both military and non-military readers of this blog, and I've offered help where I could. If you would like to connect, please don't hesitate to email me and introduce yourself. I will do my best to reply to everyone. MilitaryToBusiness@gmail.com
Tuesday, October 20, 2009
The official start of summer internship recruiting is in about a week. Summer internship can be quite important for long term employment, and particularly so for the non-traditional candidate because it may be the only business experience he will have on his resume.
Historically, many MBA students get a full time offer after their summer internship and choose to return, so it is also a great vehicle to get a highly desirable job after business school. On the other hand, some MBA students take an internship and figure out that it's not at all the function or industry they want to be in, and thereby avoid seeking a full time position in a field they wouldn't enjoy. Both of those experiences, positive and negative, are therefore extremely valuable in helping one determine his next step in life. The only bad summer internship, is therefore one that neither confirms nor denies a career interest (and perhaps also doesn't add any skill).
Conventional wisdom for non-traditional applicants is to take a summer internship that is not within their core competency... something that will add a new skill set to their took kit. While possibly obvious to those in the business world, it took me a long time to just figure out what were the types of jobs out there, and what their corresponding internship positions are. While I am certainly not an expert on the matter yet, for simplicity I have them broken down into four broad categories. Again, I warn that this may be very obvious to many, but for some non-traditional candidates, it may be the first time they've heard of these "options," as was the case for me.
Broadly speaking, I lump most post-MBA jobs so far into 4 categories:
So what is "finance?" I think different people will define it differently, but to me finance simply means: the business of making money with money. In other words, moving money around to create value and money. Examples are investment bankers, private equity firms, wall street traders, venture capitalists, etc. They all use their financial expertise to identify investment opportunities, whether short or long term, and leverage that expertise to make a profit. They don't actually make a tangible product. They don't sell widgets. Rather, they make a return on an investment.
This is generally a very intense and competitive field. Almost no former investment banker at HBS desires to return to investment banking, though many do so anyway for reasons of practicality. Several friends who did an "i-banking" internship last summer told me that their hours were generally from 9am to 2am each weekday (that's not a typo), while working maybe 7 hours on Saturday and again on Sunday. So why do people do it? You probably could have guessed... Finance tends to be the highest paying... though there may be people out there who also enjoy the challenge, the thrill, etc. There are also exceptions, as venture capital is not always as time intensive, but as a whole, it's a very dedicated lifestyle. There's not a lot of leadership involved (at least early in one's career), and it's a very focused, analytical profession. Many aim to do this for just a year or two to gain hard finance skills, before moving on to a totally new field. If one wants really to learn "finance," there is probably no better path.
The other major group of jobs is consulting. I never heard of consulting until after I got into HBS, but it's actually the largest single demographic here. They are companies that get hired by other companies to come in and evaluate a situation, analyze a problem or a limitation, and propose a solution. For a military analogy, they basically serve as outsourced staff that come in and pitch an idea to the commander after studying your unit. The positive side of consulting is that you get exposed to a wide variety of businesses and industries. Most projects last only a few months, and you are immediately exposed to senior management despite having virtually no business background. The downside is that you are usually traveling Monday-Thursday (this I imagine gets rather difficult after long enough... a year? two years?), and from a leader's point of view, it must be incredibly frustrating to come into a company, make connections, build rapport, and then abruptly leave without real closure. You suggest a course of action which may or may not be adopted by the customer company. For many military leader's, this is not an ideal environment; you are not a decision maker, and you can never execute your own plans.
On the other hand, many people actually enjoy consulting for the same reasons some don't. They don't get bogged down with one position for too long, they have a lot of variety, and it's a relatively safe route (you never have to actually execute any of the plans).
Consulting is generally the default route for most military HBS MBA candidates possibly because it's the main field that doesn't require work experience, consulting firms love military applicants, and it's generally a great bridge to working in an industry of choice down the road. However, for the reasons listed above, it's often just considered the lesser of two evils.
For a spoof on Bankers versus Consultants, check out this YouTube video
3. General Management
General Management is not traditionally sought after as much as finance or consulting, possibly because it doesn't pay quite as much at the immediate post-MBA level. General Management however has a great deal of appeal to military people because it's the closest thing to what they were doing before business school, and has many of the traits that military people tend to appreciate: leadership, leading people/organization, project management, making things happen, building things, etc. In very broad terms, it's sort of what most people think of when they think of "business," running a project, or a team.
I would note here that entering category #1 or #2 doesn't mean you don't eventually end up in #3. For example, working at a top consulting firm may be a fast path to enter general management at a higher level down the road; higher possibly than compared to somebody who entered general management directly. I haven't figured out some these nuances yet.
4. Independent job searching (start-ups, unique opportunities)
The first three types of jobs listed above all recruit heavily on campus. The fourth major category, or bucket, is simply everything else. This can include entrepreneurship (start a business), start-ups (join a new business), or some other position that doesn't fall into the first three main categories. This is by far the riskiest of the categories, and is therefore probably least followed. However, for those who know what they want to do, and have the skills and disposition to follow it, this may end up the most personally fulfilling of all jobs. I would guess that most HBS grads eventually end up blazing towards this eventually (perhaps after 5 or 10 years). Based on school stats, about 50% of HBS grads start their own business or join a start-up within 10 years. However, it's very difficult for many to do so right after school. Some don't believe they have the experience, the confidence, or simply can't afford the risk given all the loans (and expectations) that accumulate.
So that is my perspective on recruiting as I enter it. I will certainly keep an open mind as I go through recruiting season, and perhaps I will have a new perspective when I come out the other end. There are of course many other job functions out there, but broadly speaking, the above 4 are largely inclusive.
The sooner one knows which way he wants to go, the better off he will be. It is just too time intensive to keep all those options open for too long, else you just spread your efforts too thin.
Let the recruiting season begin...
Wednesday, October 14, 2009
HBS round 1 application has already come and gone... it was two weeks earlier this year than last year. For those of you who already submitted, best of luck! To those of you still finishing up applications for round 2 or for other schools, also best of luck!
I don' t have any new huge application insight for you, but rather a small administrative note that might save you hours down the road: Apply to b-school with the resume format of the b-school you wish to attend most.
Why I do bring this up now? Resumes are being collected for the HBS resume book this week, and many students are working to not only update and polish their resume, but also to convert it to the HBS format. Luckily I already used the HBS format when I applied, which saved me a few extra hours of time here working on my resume, and a few hours of extra time here are almost priceless.
If HBS is your first choice, I think it would be of a minor advantage to use their template. First, if you get in, you don't have to reformat your resume to their format come resume book time. Second, school officials might be a little more familiar with that format, which might buy you an extra few seconds of resume review time. I'm not trying to start a rumor implying that using an HBS resume format increases your chance of admission! I know that applicants will jump on any piece of information they think will give them an advantage... so please don't take it that way. It's just a small tip.
A collection of b-school resume templates can be found here. If your top school of choice appears on that list, consider using their resume template for your application.