New Blog Site

June 16, 2010

All – I have a new site you can find here: http://www.phils-career-blog.com/

This will remain until I can figure out the mechanics of redirects. 🙂

All my prior content has been transferred and all new posts will be at the new site.

Thanks. Phil

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Congratulations to the Class of 2010!

May 15, 2010

As another school year wraps up, current students head off to summer and you are graduating. I wanted to share my sincere congratulations and a few hopes for you.

First – the congratulations. You have worked hard for several years to complete a difficult course of work. You and your loved ones should heartily celebrate a job well done and degree earned with a lot of hard work and long days/nights.

Second – Thank you! I always feel privileged to get to work with smart, energetic young professionals early in their career. Your energy and enthusiasm continues to inspire me. I also want to thank you for your sustained efforts over the last year and a half. Your work has helped your clients be more successful, build the school’s reputation and build your skill set. It means a lot to them, but in particular to me.

Now, my hopes & wishes for you

Be curious – Don’t stop exploring. You won’t find your passion sitting on the couch.

Be courageous – Refuse to “settle”. Stretch yourself with challenges beyond what you think you can do. Regrets are terrible and some of the biggest start with “I always wished I had…”

Take the long view – Things play out over time. Don’t get too hung up on keeping score on short intervals.

Keep learning – When you stop learning, you stop growing.

Be flexible – Change is constant. Don’t fight it, be it.

Be true to yourself – Do what you think is right and live with the consequences. Don’t let others dictate the terms of your existence.

Work hard, but have fun – Life is too short to be miserable, so have fun. By the same token, few things worth doing are easy, so don’t be afraid to roll your sleeves up and work hard.

Build strong relationships – As one of my favorite country music songs says “it’s a long trip alone”.  You’ll live longer and be happier if you do.

Be useful – I think you’ll be surprised at how many things work out for you when you focus on helping others first.

I wish all of you the best as you move on to bright futures. Please stay in touch and let me know what I can do for you. It’s been a pleasure working with you.

Regards. Phil


Case Interviewing Feedback

September 26, 2009

I asked several friends and former colleagues in consulting firms to offer feedback on my recent case interviewing post. I’ve attached (edited) comments that built on or differed slightly from my input.

Comments:

Structure

  • It sets the tone for the rest of the interview, and can really get an interviewee off to a great start. It’s critical to nail.
  • Issue trees are really helpful in making sure you’re asking the right question, have it disaggregated into MECE (mutually-exclusive, collectively exhaustive) chunks, and can communicate what you think is most important to the interviewer in a very easy-to-follow-manner. Plus, if you’re structure is thoughtful at the beginning, it can serve as “true north” during the interview to make sure you’ve hit all the points you outlined in the beginning / capture relevant data in a easy-to-find place.

Communication

  • Your comment about the importance of communication under Analytical Abilities point 1 is absolutely true, almost to the point of making it a separate category alongside analytical abilities.  If one can’t communicate their insights or approach, the thought and work doesn’t do much good 
  • Thinking about what you say is also important, students can trap themselves if they speak to quickly, but it’s important for them to explain their thought process – why are they asking certain questions?  What assumptions are they making?  Etc.  The interviewer wants to know these things, but make sure they show an insightful thought process

Public Math – Multiple people cited the importance of confidence here.

  • This isn’t a critical portion of the interview in and of itself, but seems to be where students are most nervous. We’ve all been working with calculators since 4th grade, but what we’re interested in seeing is a natural intuition with numbers – practice, practice, practice.
  • It’s a huge confidence booster and helps with the flow of the interview if candidates know they can rock it, go in, and get the job done. Market-sizing mini-cases are a great way to test both the believability of assumptions and math skills.

Analytics & Synthesis

  • There’s a big difference between summary and implications – pushing to action is a huge differentiator, and closes the interview gracefully. Not to sound corny, but really practicing the “30 second CEO elevator speech” can be tremendously helpful.
  • I also like your point, “more business students than you might think have great grades, but aren’t “savvy”…
  • I’m glad you mentioned that announcing you are using a canned framework is not important to interviewers – not all cases can use a canned framework, and if they are relevant, understanding why a framework addresses what it does is the important factor, not that framework “ABC” is being used
  • The one caveat I’d have is on the closing thoughts/wrap up portion. Obviously most interviews allow you to gather your thoughts, but I had one where the interviewer wanted me to spit out the conclusion immediately. It definitely threw me off guard. I think it’s a good idea for students to practice a couple times without taking a pause to formulate their conclusion. This time pressure will help them think on their feet and synthesize thoughts on the go.
  • “You begin to touch on my point when you mention that firms are looking for ‘driven problem solvers’. I can’t stress this enough to students: it is extremely important that the individual push forward without me first telling them to. If I give someone a slide with data about how labor costs are increasing, 99% of the time the student will say, “It looks like labor costs are increasing”, and then look up at me for some sort of approval. I nod my head and say, “Great, now what”, or “so what”. This is fine, but the optimal answer – the answer that shows me you are driven to figure out the the problem – is “It looks like labor costs are increasing. I think this is likely a large part of why our profits have been shrinking. If it’s alright with you, I’d like to dig a little deeper on reasons this might be, such as labor hours or wage rates”. This response A) shows me they have figured out the answer, B) shows me they are eager to push further, and C) gives me a chance to point them in another direction in case they happen to be going down the wrong path.
     
    In short, while the case is certainly a collaborative process between interviewer and interviewee – the individuals who take the lead in this relationship are much more impressive.”

Practice

  • I agree with your comment about how to use Case in Point – it is a good introduction to case prep, but can’t replace live practice.
  • Hopefully students will heed your advice, it can only help and it’s for their benefit. 

So there! 🙂


Career Choices

June 6, 2009

I’m often faced with an advice seeker who is very clearly either stuck in an infinite loop trying to figure out how to not make a personal choice in order to extend their period to make that choice (the deferrer) or is in a hurry to make a rash choice to move to something “better” than what they have now (the jumper). Both tendencies are destructive. I’ll comment on both and offer some advice on how to be Goldilocks (& get it just right).

Jumpers. Early career and aspirational people are often trying to get someone to define the path to “certain” success for them. They will network aggressively, seek influential mentors and generally invest a lot of time in trying to get the right answer. In addition, they tend to get very invested in what progress (both in position and pay) their peers are making. There is nothing wrong with this, in fact I strongly encourage networking and mentoring.

The problem comes when people mistake the path for the journey. Each person’s path was based on their specific skills, opportunities and choices. Everyone will offer you advice with good intentions. What you can’t always understand or see in their advice are the subtle, implicit assumptions and deeper experiences underlying them. You have to actually go do things to really learn them. So don’t underestimate the value of genuine learning and development.

For pay and status jumpers, make sure you understand what you are getting into and what you are giving up. Don’t leave a position you are really growing in with support from management for a “bag of beans”. I see a lot of people jump for 10%. Your future is worth more than 10%! If it’s truly “better” then it ought to clearly align with your career and development goals.

Deferrers. Many of us always want the “perfect” position. We also tend to want to be able to wait for enough information to come in to make a better, more data driven decision. Unfortunately this is often more of a crutch to avoid taking a decision than it is a responsible strategy for improving decisions.

The problem comes when it’s used to delay decision making in the belief that there is only one path or a “perfect” job and neglects doing hard and good work to earn the success sought. There is no one path and you can massively over-think the planning.

My buddy’s “fallacy of infinite possibilities” rule is essentially that time wasted or deferred is making choices passively. Some doors close simply because you waited too long. A corollary is that the waiting is often in vain as you haven’t pro-actively engaged in choosing your own path. Essentially, you’re letting things happen to you. In this case, you are missing paths you aren’t even aware of because you aren’t moving or progressing.

So what to do? My personal observation is that most people are both more passive and too active in their career management than I would advise. Here’s my advice:

First – Be thoughtful about what you want. I’ve written about this in prior posts. Do you seek life balance, interesting work, high compensation etc.? What are your goals and how do you prioritize them?

Second – Work on implementing your dreams. Do all the things active professionals should do: networking, seeking mentors and advice, building your skills…A dream that you aren’t working on is a pipe dream.

Third – Recognize that there is no “perfect.” Too many people focus on “one step” moves when their desired position is logically a multi-step jump. Ask yourself when some new opportunity comes up “is this moving me in the right direction?” If yes, consider it even if it’s not perfect.

In my experience, many of the non-obvious opportunities turned out to be the best ones. I see many early career professionals agonizing over decisions that in the long run aren’t as momentous as they seem. This is not to say don’t think about it, just don’t lose perspective or get paralyzed.

Fourth – Be patient (but not too patient). You need to actually develop expertise in things. If you always jump around, you are not doing this. Weigh how much you are developing in a current role (skills, leadership and specific subject matter knowledge) before jumping to a new one for a few more dollars or a job grade bump. Make moves for the right personal reasons.

Many exciting career opportunities are “emergent”. They weren’t predictable or knowable to you before they came about. For example, my job didn’t exist until it was created. I don’t mean the position, I mean the job. The combination teaching, consulting, mentoring responsibilities I have as Professional Director for the Consulting Enterprise is relatively rare. However, I knew I liked teaching and consulting, stayed engaged in the school, pursued positions at my prior employers that related to these interests and so was well positioned when the opportunity came up.

My final advice: be true to yourself and make purposeful moves that build in your chosen direction.

As always – I’d love to chat or write about specific cases, so please feel free to follow up with me.


What should I read?

April 19, 2009

I get asked for a lot of reading advice from students and friends, so I’ve decided to add a permanent page to the site. It  lists what I think are classics that stand the test of time and that I have found influential in my thinking or development. The list will continue to grow over time.

This list will remain short, however there’s a longer list of ideas you need to understand. You just don’t have to read the whole book to get the idea. There are sooo many business books that are essentially articles with a lot of anecdotes added that I tend to avoid business books. Read the HBR article or the Fortune Magazine exerpt and you’ll get the idea.  

Stay current to stay relevant, just avoid wasting your time. You can subscribe to podcasts like Harvard Ideacast (on their site or through iTunes) that often summarize recent articles or get brief synopses of books from getAbstract.


Leadership Podcast

March 18, 2009

For those of you who listen to podcasts while puttering (for me it’s on the elliptical machine at the club), I thought this recent Harvard Ideacast (Ideacast 133  – What business leaders can learn from today’s military) on leadership was interesting. It focuses on how the military currently works to develop a leadership culture. It is by one of the authors of the Frontline Leadership blog at Harvard Business Publishing online.

The observation I found most interesting was Colonel Tom Kolditz’s observation that leadership is not a skill or a role, rather it’s an “identity”. It has more to do with how you see yourself and the implications for how others then perceive you. There’s some nice discussion about leadership and followership, the idea of leaders needing to focus on followers needs to build trust and cohesion etc. Worth a quick listen.


Edward Tufte and the Visual Display of Information

February 19, 2009

For those of you interested in deeper exploration of how to more effectively display ideas, particularly relating to data, I highly recommend the work of Edward Tufte. Tufte is an award winning author and emeritus professor at Yale where he taught courses on data analysis and display. His books and teaching are challenging and force you to move beyond powerpoint and overly simplified forms of information display.

I often teach principles of simplicity in message and communication. Tufte is very effective at pointing out and teaching how to make “simple” powerful without being “simplistic”. There are very data rich and complex ways to show information that are also intuitive and easy to understand. His writings are rich with examples and are beautifully built. The books themselves are works of art.

His site has multiple commentary threads that are worth reading. In addition, I recommend checking out his essay on the tyranny of powerpoint.