Careers

A month in at Winston & Strawn

Office2Just about a month ago, I started my new job at a large law firm in Chicago, Winston & Strawn.  The time has definitely flown by.

In general, the legal market is heating up.  Lots of my friends have gotten calls from recruiters.  More corporate roles than litigation roles but in general many people I know are being solicited.

I didn’t leave my firm due to a random call since I had a recruiter friend I’d know for a bit.  But I did go through the process and I decided to join the firm in a pretty niche role, unlike many of the other opportunities for  young lawyers.

In general, I came here to support the growth of two brand new groups (with primary support for one group initially).  A borrower’s side finance group and a technology transactions group.

For the former, I help represent companies and entrepreneurs in lending and other types of financing transactions.  More often than not these are high-growth portfolio companies of Private Equity firms, but in general the types of companies are pretty broad.  We help them negotiate agreements with the banks who make the loans as well as help explain and document the entire process of the transaction.

For the latter group, the work stream is more general but the industry is more specific.  In general, I help represent 1) technology companies in a full range of activities, including raising money, exit, IP, general matters and also 2) non-tech companies who undertake certain tech-based activities such as licensing, joint venture agreements, etc.  3) Finally we also help represent investors in those companies, which could be angel or venture investors.

I’ve been on a few projects and deals thus far, and everything has gone smoothly.  One lesson I’ve learned for a second time now, is that it does take time to get fully integrated, like it would anywhere. I’ve had a few interesting things going already but I know there is a whole lot more to come over the next year.  Once a few interesting things start popping up, I’ll do my best to share any lessons learned along the way.

One thing I like about the role (and sought out) is that I am part of a small team, since I really just work with the one person in each group.  In a big firm it can be easy to get lost, so I purposely sought out working with micro-teams.  The benefits here are very clear – a smaller heirarchy, few people you rely on, easier to have discussions, and more speed and innovation than you could have in a big team.  This means that work can happen faster, feedback can be better and communication with the client can be more seamless.  It’s also good because there’s more alignment with workstream and scheduling leading to greater happiness of the team members.

My one piece of advice to anyone reading, is to seek that out.  Ever smaller teams where each person has ever more responsibility.

Stay tuned to hear how things go!  I am excited for the new beginning.

Office

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Wednesday, September 10th, 2014 Careers No Comments

Finishing

FinishYesterday, me and my team finished a very big private equity deal that we’ve been working on intensely for the last couple of weeks. And today, I finished another small Venture Capital deal that got a lot messier than we ever expected.  It got me thinking a lot about the idea of how hard it can be to finish.

Yesterday, minutes after finishing our first deal, I couldn’t help but think how long the last few weeks have been.  A colleague of mine left the office right after the deal ended and on his way out he said, “thanks for all your help the past few weeks”.  I replied “thanks for all your help”. We both really meant it, because there was so much work for us to do.  And in the end we were both very glad it ended well.

That’s because there is also something profound to finishing something you started. Especially when you  finish strong.

I can’t help but think of people who had to work really hard to get through college. People who start in communities where many people don’t graduate but still find a way to defy the odds and finish.

One of my mentees, Jaime Limon, is the perfect example.  Jaime went to an inner city high school in Los Angeles, where about 25% of the students graduate within four years, but he worked hard and went on to graduated with honors and go on to USC.  His struggle hasn’t been easy. He had to start at another University and spend some time at a community college before getting into the school of his dreams two years later. Now he’s working in a great summer internship in Los Angeles and will be finishing up in December.

Finishing takes vision, focus, discipline and comittment.  And it often takes getting up and trying again when the going gets tough   I am a big fan of working harder when it gets tough, defying the odds and finishing something you started.  Easier said than done, but worth getting better at.

Congrats to my team for finishing strong the past few weeks. And congrats to one of my clients (and former MBA classmates), who finished up the private equity deal on his side. He’ll be getting married out west this Saturday, and I look forward to joining him.

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Thursday, July 11th, 2013 Careers, Education 1 Comment

Azella Perryman’s New (Post) MBA Blog

AzellaOn my blog, I write a lot about interesting people that come from top universities and MBA programs.  When I can, I like to write as much as I can about my fellow Stanford alum and fellow bloggers.   Well, another person I know is named Azella Perryman.  Azella is not only a friend of mine from Stanford but she also graduated from business school, and recently started a blog of her own.

According to Azella’s web-page, it’s shaping up to be a busy month. But that’s to be expected since Azella is two years out of her MBA program and has been hard at work for a while now. But it looks like Azella is also spending a lot of time reflecting, not just about the job she has now but also about her career and MBA path in general.

In my view, top MBA programs need more people just like Azella.  Who understand that business school is not only about your next career move but also about reflection on your career in general. The goods, bads and everything in between.

But don’t take it from me, take it from Azella and check out her most recent BLOG POST  (10 Things I Wish I knew About Getting an MBA).

Azella, best of luck with your new BLOG.  Keep me posted on your progress, and let us know how we can spread the word!

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Thursday, March 7th, 2013 Business School, Careers, Other Blogs No Comments

One in a million

… is a dangerous concept. It describes the one thing that we think we want more than anything else. Sometimes it’s a job. Other times it’s getting into school or meeting that special someone. But sometimes can counting on  one in a million can be a dangerous thing?

The chances of a high school student eventually playing basketball in the NBA? One in a million (probably worse).

The chances of a person becoming CEO of a Fortune 500 Company: the same odds.

On the positive side, it gives you a WIG to pursue and allows you to go after something you believe in and to give it your all.

On the other hand, many would say that  one in a million doesn’t even exist. That multiple jobs that could be your dream job and multiple soul mates are out there–not just one. Further, it’s dangerous to put all your eggs in one basket. You might get nervous when game time comes, have trouble performing, and miss out on other opportunities all because you thought there was only was that was meant for you.

In the end the consistent and extremely focused pursuit of a specific goal is dangerous. It makes sense, when the work you do will also prepare you to succeed in other outcomes. So if you’re taking steps to become a CEO and your school, practice, and skill helps you become a great entrepreneur or Managing Partner, then perfect.

On the other hand, if you ou put all your eggs in one basket and live a life in relentless pursuit of a singular outcome that leaves you no other options if you fail, then maybe you should think twice. If your happiness depends on just one NBA draft five years from now, then that’s giving a whole lot of power to a single event not in your control.

On the other hand, I believe that some things are worth going after: jobs, schools, careers and significant others. So I propose that the closer you are to having a One in a Million, the more you have to stack the deck more and make the game shorter.

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Wednesday, August 29th, 2012 Business School No Comments

Business doesn’t like law, law doesn’t like business

It’s true much of the time. Think about it. Ask a business person a legal question and here’s what you’ll hear, “that sounds like something the lawyer should deal with. I don’t have time to think about such small details. I’m a big picture person.”

The lawyer is just the opposite. She responds, “the details can make or break the whole deal. But business, that is just nonsense. It’s just guesswork and unpredictable.”

Because the business person does not like law, that person will inevitably fail to consider all the risks, or think about what’s possible with a little more time, planning and leverage. Especially with game-changing ideas that require more attention.

Because the lawyers don’t like business, that person holds back, relies on a rigid roadmap, follows the existing path and may never understand how big an idea might be if they just embrace ambiguity.

You see these personalities play out all the time in business school and in law school.

On the other hand, what if a person could do both: combine the detail orientation and ability to see risks with the ability to understanding the market, hedge on the good risks and scale their idea.

Just a thought.

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Tuesday, August 14th, 2012 Business School No Comments

The importance of timing

Sometimes, there is nothing more important than good timing. When you’re applying to graduate school. Trying to find a new job. Hoping to get a promotion at your company. Or even looking to meet that special someone. No matter what the activity is, sometimes, timing can make all the difference.

When timing is bad, there might to be far more school applications than ever before, a boss that doesn’t want to put in a good word for you, or a gatekeeper at work that won’t help you get in front of the person you need.

On the other hand, when timing is good, everything you need can work in your favor. That gatekeeper will get you in front of the senior person at work. There’s an extra seat in the class because less people might have applied. Or your boss is having a good year and wants to see you succeed as much as he wants to do well himself.

I have a personal example from just this weekend. Small but a perfect illustration.

I was in an airport in another country. I was about to make my way back to the US and was mistakenly given a middle seat even though I was assigned an isle. But by the time I noticed, there was little I could do given the organization of the airport at the time.

But we just so happened to make our way toward the gate a few hours early to make sure our flight was still on time. Nobody was at the gate and the plane before ours was a bit delayed. We were about to make our way back to the cafeteria to wait out our flight there, since there weren’t enough open seats for all of us at the gate.

All of a sudden, a gate attendant speaks over the intercom, “Everyone that needs a seat change, come by the gate so we can get your seats finalized.”

The timing could not have been any better. At that moment, I was about two steps from the gate. So I walked over and got in line, just before watching about 40 other people do the same. I told them about my mishap, and not only do they stick me in a window seat but it just so happened to be next to one of the guys I had went on the trip with.  And they told me, there were only 2 window seats left, and that I was lucky to get one of them.

It reinfored the idea, that sometimes timing can make all the difference.

 

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Tuesday, July 31st, 2012 Careers No Comments

Build things in

Have you ever thought you would do something a week or two from now, but it turned out that you didn’t have the time? Or maybe you were too tired so didn’t feel like it? But in retrospect you would have been much better off had you gone through with your original idea?

It can happens to every single person I know.

Works get busier than expected, so the dinner you had planned next week, never got finalized. Your feeling down after a few bad incidents at work, so you opt not to go to the event because – and you don’t have to since you never bought the tickets.  And in some cases, you have so many things on your mind that you just forget the outing that you hoped to remember to do the following week.

In retrospect, sometimes you be much better off if you just scheduled the trip in advance. Bought the ticket. Committed to someone else that you’d be there. Not rely on the hope that you buy them later. Because when things get busy or when you get down, not only do you start to forget about events, but sometimes you just skip them because you don’t feel up to it.

I propose the idea that sometimes (not always but sometimes) it’s better to build things in. To buy a flight in advance. Commit to someone you’ll be there. And mark it in your calendar now.

Because if you don’t build it in now, chances are you won’t do it later.

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Sunday, July 29th, 2012 Business School, Careers No Comments

Now what?

What do I do now? That’s the question people a lot of people are asking themselves.  MBAs that just finished business school. Law students that just finished the bar exam. Friends and colleagues that finished their big project that kept them captive at work.

Often times, we encounter big taks and we have to go face to face with really hard work. And the harder the work the busier we all become.  And I suspect that the trend never really ends. But  every time there comes a point where it all comes to an end. Life has to go on. And we have to figure out what to do next.

In most cases that’s easy with a little advanced planning. That’s why most people plan trips after a big exam. Family vacations after your big project at work. Places you’ve always wanted to go if you decide to finally quit the job you’ve always wanted to quit.

But what happens when the work is harder than you thought? When time slips away? Then you find yourself asking, “now what.”

Advice from someone smart that has been there: “Enjoy your freedom. It’s not going to last.”

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Thursday, July 26th, 2012 Business School, Careers No Comments

MBA Internship Success

Thousands of MBAs finished their first year of business school just last week and went off into the workforce to start their summer internships. Some of them went into consulting. Others into banking and finance. And another group went to marketing, operations, general  management and a variety of other positions. But no matter which industry people went into, most of them do have two things in common. Not only do they want to do enjoy the experience but they also all want to  get an offer at the end of the summer.

Sure, it might still be early, but there’s a lot of things you can do now to make sure you get your offers. But don’t take it from me, take it from this great article I found on BusinessWeek.com.  See the MBA advice they gave.  I did this morning and it looks pretty solid to me.

CLICK HERE for the BusinessWeek article. See below for the first few lines.

 

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Avoiding MBA Internship Blunders

By now everyone living in the world of MBAs knows that the summer internship is really a two-month interview to determine if the candidate fits in well at the company and merits a full-time job offer.

“If a student completes the internship without (a) acquiring new skills, (b) developing a list of new contacts and professional relationships and mentors, it was time wasted,” writes Vicki Lynn, senior vice president for client talent strategy and employer branding at Universum USA. “The internship is an opportunity to grow and develop professionally, add to skill sets, and acquire mentors and references—for the next opportunity.

But like any opportunity, an internship can also be a potential minefield. Mistakes that can sabotage any hope of a future with the employer are shockingly easy to make. Here are seven of the biggest blunders MBA interns make and how to avoid them:

Mistake No. 1: Partying Too Hard

CLICK HERE to read the rest of the BusinessWeek article.

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Tuesday, June 26th, 2012 Business School, Careers No Comments

Our MBAs 25 Years From Now

As recent grads from business school, we all can’t help but wonder how the next few years will be. And how they will be different than if we hadn’t chosen to come to business school, or to Kellogg. Will we be happy? Will we make enough money over the next two decades? And will it be more now that we went to business school? And will we be married, will we stay in touch, and will we be glad we went through the journey? While those questions are undeniably hard to answer, one recent survey did get some good information from one class of MBAs 25 years ago.

In short, members of the Harvard Business School class of 1968 were asked 85 questions about their professional and personal lives years after graduation. Alums were asked if their lives have been easier or harder than expected, whether they were happy and how they thought about business school and life in general.

I’ll note that I can’t speak for the survey in any capacity. Not the methodology, result, legitimacy, accuracy of the reposting online, validity or anything else about the survey.  Rather, the reposting and analysis was created and posted on a website called, Poets and Quants.  And I simply reposted here as I know a number of my readers will find it interesting.

Below is the result of the survey and an analysis. The results were originally posted here  at this link: http://poetsandquants.com/2012/06/15/25-years-later-class-portrait-of-the-lives-of-harvard-mbas/

 

Can an MBA from a top school make a big difference in your life?

Just about all the applicants to Harvard, Stanford, Wharton and other top business schools in the world believe that’s the case. Otherwise, they wouldn’t quit their jobs and attend a prestigious school in a two-year MBA program that costs hundreds of thousands of dollars. And the research largely conducted by the Graduate Management Admission Council shows that the vast majority of MBAs have no regrets. GMAC’s 2012 survey showed that 95% of MBAs and business school alumni rated the value of their degree as outstanding, excellent, or good. Nine out of 10 alumni say their graduate management education prepared them for their chosen careers.

Aside from such vague macro data, however, there’s generally little information that reveals what really happens to those who earn an MBA from a top school years after they’ve entered the workforce—until now. Poets&Quants obtained the results of a survey of Harvard Business School’s Class of 1986 that was done for its 25th reunion last year.

Members of the class were asked 85 questions that yielded revealing answers about their professional and personal lives at mid-life. Alums were asked if their lives have been easier or harder than expected, whether they believe America is a better place to live and work now, and if they ever had to hire a defense attorney. They were asked how they met their life’s partners, whether they divorced or stayed married, how much money they make, and what their personal net worth is.

A CLASS PROFILE THAT IS RICH IN DETAIL AND EXTRAORDINARY FOR ITS CANDOR 

Because the answers were only intended for the class and not the public, the results are extraordinarily candid and frank. Some 271 members of the class responded to the survey, representing 35% of the total class and 42% of the alums for which Harvard had current street or e-mail addresses.

This is a class that has endured three recessions, including the recent economic collapse that has been the most severe downturn since the Great Depression. It is also a class that has seen vast changes in the world of work, from the sizable impact of international competition to the growing use of technology in every aspect of life. The class has seen dramatic upheavals in societal and cultural norms, from marriage and divorce to the decline of Corporate Elite and the rise of the entrepreneur.

In the year the class graduated, Ronald Reagan was President and Mike Tyson became the youngest heavyweight champion in history. A gallon of gas cost 89 cents and the average income in the U.S. was $22,400. A Tandy 600 portable computer cost $1,594 (Apple had only introduced the first Macintosh computer a year earlier). Computers ”were so heavy we all needed help getting them into our dorm rooms and since we were the first class in the history of HBS to have computers, the spreadsheets were incredibly buggy,” recalls Pamela Meyer, one of the ’86 women who made up 24% of the class.

SOME 47% OF THE CLASS HAS BEEN FIRED FROM A JOB, 14% HAVE BEEN DIVORCED

The result of the reunion survey is a fascinating profile of a class, a rich mosaic with both substantive and frivolous facts. Some of the more telling tidbits:

  • Even Harvard alums are not immune from downsizings and firings. Some 47% of the class said they had been involuntarily dismissed from a job, while 13% said they have been fired twice and 4% reported having lost a job three times in their 25 years since graduation.
  • Sex isn’t a very high priority for the Class of 1986–at least not that they are 53 to 55 years of age. Just 3% of the alums say they want more sex. The highest priorities? Time (31%), health (18%), and peace of mind (13%).
  • More members of the class have hired personal trainers (43%) than therapists (41%) or cosmetic surgeons (7%).
  • Slightly more than one in four alums have gained 11 to 20 pounds since they wore their cap and gown. Some 15% put on 21 to 30 pounds, while 5% tip the scales with weight gains of 31 to 50 pounds.
  • A third of the class (33%) admitted to having slept with someone whose last name they didn’t know (37% for men, 17% for women).
  • One in four own 25 or more pairs of shoes (58% of the women and 15% of the men).
  • One in five (20%) have skydived, while one in three (32%) completed a marathon.
  • About 21% met their spouses at their undergraduate schools, while 14% found their spouses at Harvard Business School (12% in the same Class of 1986 and 4% in the same HBS section). Another 12% met at work.
  • The Class of 1986 apparently wasn’t into the bar scene. Only 3% of the class met their spouses at bars. Some 6% said they met at a party, and 4% met randomly on a plane or in a taxi.
  • Some 14% of the class is divorced, with another 1% separated. About 5% divorced and remarried.
  • Some 18% dated someone they met online, but only 3% of the class married the person they met on the Internet or by some “other commercial means.”

The survey addressed most of the obvious questions any applicant would want to know, including what contribution did a Harvard degree make toward a successful life, how much money does an HBS graduate make 25 years after graduation, and how much personal wealth can a Harvard MBA accumulate in a quarter of a century. The answers are all here as well and they are eye-opening.

MEDIAN NET INCOME: $350,000   MEDIAN NET WORTH: $6 MILLION

For a group that has lived through three recessions, including the worst since the Great Depression, the Class of 1986 is doing pretty well, thank you. The median annual income of a ‘86er last year was $350,000. Slightly more than one in four class members reported annual income of $1 million or more, while 8% of the class said they earned more than $5 million last year.

The median personal net worth for the class was a heady $6 million. But that number only tells a small part of the story. Some 19% of the class reported net worth between $20 million and $100 million. About 4% of the class said their personal net worth exceeded $100 million.

As for other material toys:

  • Nearly one in eight (77%) owned a second car.
  • Four in ten (42%) owned a vacation home.
  • One in four (25%) owned a boat.
  • One in ten (10%) owned a full or fractional share of a private airplane.

What about the hard luck cases? About 8% said their personal net worth was below $1 million, with 3% in the under $400,000 bracket. Some 5% said they were making $100,000 or less last year. Asked if the post-2008 recession caused them to “consciously economize or otherwise had a tangible impact on your lifestyle,” only 18% of the class said “yes, meaningfully.” Some 41% answered “yes, somewhat,” while the 40% said “no.”

36% FOUNDED A COMPANY THAT EMPLOYED 25 OR MORE PEOPLE

Very few members of the class are traveling on the rocky ground, to paraphrase a recent Bruce Springsteen song. About 36% of the class founded a company that eventually employed 25 or more people, and an extraordinary 14% have been climbed into the C-suite at a Fortune 1000 company with the title of chief executive, chief financial officer, or another C-position.

How did their lives, 25 years later, match up with their expectations of what would happen? When asked how similar or different has life been from what you expected, only 17% said it was pretty much what they expected. Some 24% said it was “different,” 12% said “extremely different,” and nearly one in ten (9%) checked the box with the statement “What the hell just happened the last 25 years?” The largest single group of the class, 38%, said life has been “reasonably similar with a couple of curve balls.”

PERSONAL LIFE HARDER THAN EXPECTED AT GRADUATION FOR ONE IN FOUR

When asked if life had been harder or easier than expected, only one in ten (10%) of the class said their professional lives have been easier, while 16% thought their personal lives have been easier. A surprising number of Harvard alums believe their lives have been more difficult than they ever imagined. Some 38% said their personal life was harder than expected, while 30% said their professional careers have been harder. (Some 46% said their personal life has so far turned out as expected, along with 59% for their professional life.)

As for the bottom line answer to was the Harvard MBA worth the sacrifice, the class was understandably in agreement that the degree was an important ingredient in its success. Only 1% of the class–three of 271 respondents–believed their Harvard MBA was “not a particularly productive use of my time or money.” Nearly half (48%) described it as “one of the best decisions of my life.” Another 34% said it was a “very important contributor to my career.” Only 13% admitted that going to Harvard for an MBA was “a responsible move professionally but not a big impact on my overall life.” On a less serious note, 3% of the class agreed to the statement “when I meet people who went to Stanford, I am secretly envious.”

What did the class find to be the most valuable part of getting an MBA from Harvard? Some 28% of the alums said the top answer was the “ongoing professional credential” of the degree, while 22% said it was “placement in job after school” and 21% said it was mainly the “education.” About 13% believed the degree’s primary benefit was the “personal self-confidence” it bestowed. One in ten (10%) identified “classmates for social reasons” and 6% said the “network of alumni professionally.” Some 3% said it was “something to drop into cocktail party conversations.”

How much did the degree actually change their lives? Just 8% of the class believes their lives are not at all different by having a Harvard MBA. Some 46%, however, said their lives were “somewhat different,” while 40% said their lives were “materially different” as a result of the degree. Another 5% agreed with the statement “I don’t want to think of my life without HBS.”

EIGHT OF TEN CLASS MEMBERS WOULD HAVE GONE FOR AN MBA ELSEWHERE IF HBS HAD REJECTED THEM

One of the most interesting questions asked of class members was what would they have done if Harvard had turned them down for admission. Eight of ten members of the class (82%) said they would have gotten an MBA from another school. The largest percentage of ’86ers, 27%, said they still would have gone to business school but were uncertain which school they would have attended. However, about 19% said they would have gone to Stanford, 9% to Wharton, 6% each to Chicago Booth and Dartmouth Tuck, 5% to Nothwestern’s Kellogg School, and 4% to MIT Sloan. About 4% of the class said they would have continued to apply to Harvard until accepted.

Politically, the Class of 1986 is the complete opposite of the old adage “Those who are not liberals when young have no heart.  Those who are not conservatives later in life have no head.” The class reported a strong preference for Reagan in 1984 and then Obama in 2008, even compared to popular vote totals. Some 63.5% of the class backed Reagan versus a national popular vote of 58.8%, while some 64.3% backed Obama, versus a popular vote of 52.9%.

Most of the class thinks it was lucky to graduate from Harvard when it did. More than half the class believes that America is not a better place to live or work than it was when they graduated in 1986. Some 21% of the class thought the country was “significantly worse,” while 37% said it was “slightly worse.” One of four of the class, however, had a very different view. About 18% said America was “slightly better” than it was and 7% said it was “significantly better.”

ADVICE: FOLLOW YOUR PASSION, TRUST YOUR GUT, GET DIVORCED NOW!

Five common themes emerged when class members were asked what advice they would give others. The most common was expressed in such quotes as “follow your passion, “the money will work itself out,” “pursue what is most fun to you,” “do what you love” and “enjoy the ride.”

Oddly, though, the second most common theme appeared to be in conflict with the first. “Focus on making money earlier,” advised one ’86er. “Ignore that pursue your passion stuff,” said another. “Make more money,” added one ’86er. “Get promises in writing,” advised another.

A third theme evolved over the importance of picking a spouse. “Be more careful in choosing a spouse,” warned one’ 86er. “If he seems like a jerk, he’s a jerk.” Said others: “Marry someone else…a screwed up marriage screws up everything else.” And finally one obviously burned class member put it simply: “Get divorced now!”

Many members of the class wished they had taken more risks. “Trust your gut….take some career risks…be more ambitious…think big…there is never a good time” were among the comments.

And finally, many alums emphasized the value and importance of family. “Spend time with your children,” advised one. “There is nothing more rewarding than investing in your children,” said another. “Time will fly by and your children’s lives will never be repeated.”

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Saturday, June 16th, 2012 Business School, Careers 2 Comments

Leadership Lessons from the Chairman Of My Firm

About two weeks ago, only days after beginning my new job at Vedder Price, I had the special privilege of having lunch with Bob Stucker, the Chairman of our firm. In addition to making a good contact at the firm, and eventually making my way onto a couple of his interesting projects, I also had the thrill of seeing first-hand how a top lawyer and revered leader in Chicago navigated his way to the top and what his thoughts were regarding the future.

It was about 11:10am, and only my second week at the firm. I had a lunch scheduled with a couple of associates in the office, one whose office is across the hallway from mine and another who sits right next door.  At Vedder, most people tend to head to lunch around noon, so at the time, I was rushing against the clock to get a few things printed and to draft a couple of emails before heading out.  But as I was typing up my first email, I looked up and saw Maryanne head into my office.  Maryanne is the Chairman’s Executive Assistant, and she told me that the chairman wanted to take me to lunch.

“What a remarkable opportunity I thought to myself.”  So of course I told Maryanne that I was excited to head to lunch with Bob, and she replied that he’d drop by my office to grab me at 11:50am.  So after rescheduling my lunch with my coworkers and getting started on a couple of emails, Bob dropped by at 11:50 on the dot. He had on a nice gray suit that day, despite the fact that our office recently went business casual in the summer.  Fortunately though, I haven’t followed that trend, and I’ve been wearing a shirt and tie to the office every day. So I was dressed for the occasion.

So Bob and I headed toward the elevator, walking past reception on the 26th floor.  I noticed that Bob spoke to every single person we passed on the way out, addressing each one by their first name, including our great receptionist Vickie, who sits by the elevator. And although he’s a very busy guy, not once did Bob seem like he was too much in a hurry to say hello to anyone.

On the way down the elevator, he explained that he loved being at the firm and that it was a great pleasure to get to know everyone there over the years. And it was clear that he was sincere about it. After all, he had been at the same firm for his entire legal career and took the time to know everyone by name and learn about their families.

In the elevator, Bob said we would have lunch at an Italian restaurant, Coco Pazzo, which was a few blocks down. It was lightly raining that afternoon, so instead of walking, we hopped in a cab.  Bob had an umbrella but unfortunately I didn’t bring mine, a fact that Bob noticed before I did. Bob told me to wait inside while he waived down a cab. We hopped in, and then he sent me to the restaurant while he paid, so I could avoid the rain.

When Bob walked in, all the waiters said hello to Bob and greeted him by name. As it turns out Bob if pretty well-known in Chicago and at a lot of the local restaurants. So they sat us down ahead of the line, took our orders right away, and Bob and I had a nice discussion for the next eighty or so minutes.

We kicked off the conversation with a little business, first discussing an upcoming project he wanted me to get involved in, where we were retained by a CEO to help negotiate an employment contract. But the conversation quickly diverted into more interesting things, such as his background and mine. The practices I thought I’d be interested in and his process of choosing a practice back as a younger attorney. I also talked a bit about my personal history and Bob talked a bit about himself.

It’s funny, how when you’re having good conversation, eighty minutes can feel like twenty.  And before I knew it, we had finished our meal, paid our tab, and had to head out. Fortunately the weather had cleared up, so we walked back to the office, which was the perfect way to finish off our chat less abruptly.  On the way home, I brought up a few people I’d worked with in the past, including the Practice Chair of my old consulting firm, who Bob knew directly.  That was a good way to really connect with him at the end.

Upon reflection, here are a few lessons I learned from the discussion:

1. Good leaders are also good entrepreneurs. Bob spent his entire legal career as an entrepreneur. Out of law school, he turned down a couple of white shoe firms to join Vedder Price, which at the time was still an up-and-coming law firm in Chicago.  “It gave me the opportunity to have real impact” he said.  But rather than simply playing a part in an up-and-coming firm and taking what came his way, he also decided to make his own opportunities.  And along the way, he helped build a couple of practice groups, including the financial institutions group and the executive compensation group. Today, Vedder Price does more work with financial institutions than any other Chicago firm, and Vedder’s executive pay practice is second to none in the U.S.  Most law firms, and business for that matter, are not wildly successful entering new markets, but Bob was an exception to the rule because he sought out new opportunities.

2. Good leaders focus on their people. Bob was the kind of person who inspired others in the office. As I mentioned above, he said hello to everyone we passed and remembered everyone’s name and personal story. “It’s critical to retain every single employee that comes here” Bob said at lunch.  Not only because it’s economically better for a firm to do so, but also because we want everyone here to be successful and build a career here.  And it wasn’t just rhetoric. In fact, Vedder Price has done a great job of not letting many of its attorneys go during the economic downturn, and it didn’t let a single staff person go, despite the worst of the economic downturn. Bob had a laser-like focus on everyone at the firm. He knew there names, knew where they sat in the building, and reached out to them when it made sense. After all, he was even taking me, the new and only summer associate this year, to lunch during my second week.

3. Leaders reach back and develop leaders. Just a few days before lunch, I was speaking to one of the firm receptionists, and she mentioned that Bob had been a great mentor to many of the attorneys at the firm. At the time, I was glad to hear it, but she had also never worked directly with Bob, so I solicited a few other opinions.  I went to lunch that day with two senior partners here at the firm, and one of the them was the lead for partner recruiting at the firm. He said the same thing about Bob, that “Bob has mentored me over the years at the firm and that’s why I’ve done so well today.” And for the last couple of weeks I heard similar comments from a few others. “Was it all just rhetoric?” I asked myself a few times. After all, balancing the tightrope walk of managing client development and people development has always been difficult at services firms.

But for Bob, the answer is a resounding “No.”  Bob has already gone out of his way a few times now, to bring me into meetings and teach me lessons about the world of law firms.  And after the meetings are over he’ll always imparts a few lines to me.  He has also set me up with a couple of attorneys that he works with, so I could learn more about the firm.  I was glad to see this was Bob’s style. In fact, I recently wrote about this myself a few weeks back (click here to see the post).

4. To get to the top, do something you like. People who make it all the way to the top do because they are passionate about what they are doing, something I talk constantly about here on my site (click here for one of my favorite posts on passion).   Not only do they have good ideas but they actually have a real desire to go after them.  During lunch Bob told me that he’s always loved practicing law and that he’s never thought of leaving the firm. He also mentioned how much he like the legal aspects of executive compensation, financial institutions, and securities work.  And even though it wasn’t that hot of an area legally back then, because Bob enjoyed it and thought there was opportunity, he paved the way for Vedder Price by initiating work in those areas. That passion is especially evident now given the fact that he’s stayed with the firm and practice areas many years later, despite the modern trend that many professionals have of hopping from firm to firm.

5. Leaders are humble and kind. And it goes without saying based on my story above that Bob was as humble as firm Chairmen come. As I mentioned, Bob knew everyone’s name at the firm, he made sure that I didn’t get wet in the rain, and he even made sure I got enough to eat for lunch, ordering an extra plate while we were there. I was also impressed by the fact that Bob actually showed up to take me to lunch at 11:50 that day, rather than a little earlier or later. Leaders at his level are often so busy that they prioritize their work over other people’s schedules. In fact, many lawyers and client service professionals do. I was particularly impressed that Bob didn’t do that, because he valued my time.

Conclusion. Today’s leaders are called to help tomorrow’s leaders learn all they can, especially now, as the business and legal worlds are changing, as they become filled with new technologies and expand to the ends of every continent, and as they reshape themselves to thrive in today’s changing economy.  Fortunately, there are people like Bob who are already engaged in this process.  These leaders dedicate serious time and energy to prepare the next generation to face these new challenges and to take on some of the current ones.

That’s because the best leaders know that mentorship is critical. That a leader’s job is not only to cut costs, meet with clients, and negotiate deals but also to make sure the up-and-comers in the organization are well-equipped to do the same. Leaders set the tone and inspire others on how to produce results and eventually how to become leaders themselves. And when they do, these up-and-coming leaders will be inspired and committed to take on more than they ever could have before, which is critical in the ever-changing business and legal worlds.  And in the end, these lessons, meetings, conversations, and even lunches with interns can make all the difference.

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Sunday, July 4th, 2010 Careers, Leadership 10 Comments

Good Article: Best Places To Start Your Career

Have you ever wondered where you will end up twenty years from now? Will you be the leader you always wanted to be? That maverick who went out and started your own company. That diplomatic leader who always had a way with people who eventually became CEO? Or the guy who always wanted to change the world and ended up running a non profit. On the other hand, have you ever wondered what would happen if you got stuck in middle management and missed the opportunity to do that. Or if you couldn’t navigate the waters and kept getting held back because the economy was bad. Well, for those new to the workforce, just last week, Bloomberg Businessweek came out with a list of companies that may provide the best places to launch your career.

Just last week, Bloomberg Businessweek came out with a list on where can you find the top undergraduate internship and graduation programs in the country. This is BusinessWeek‘s third annual list of the Best Internships, where the rankings are determined according to data such as pay and the percentage of interns who get full-time jobs, as well as feedback from career services directors across the U.S.

This is not to say that these are the only places to get good training. I personally didn’t work for any of these companies upon graduation and neither did a lot of very successful people I know. On the other hand though, it is a solid list of companies that will ensure that you get a solid summer program and a substantive experience over the summer. And that sounds like a good proposition to me, especially in today’s economic environment. Take a look at the article and see what you think.

The article is titled Internships – The Best Places To Start.

Click here to read the interactive rankings table.

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Saturday, June 26th, 2010 Careers 1 Comment

Careers Question: How Important Is My Upcoming Phone Screen?

Anyone who runs recruiting probably thinks about the following question all the time. How can we distinguish the firm’s future stars from those who simply have good resumes?  Well that’s a good question. What many applicants don’t know is that employers often get hundreds, sometimes thousands of resumes. That’s especially true now, where the economy is slumping and where a record number of qualified applicants (and overall applicants) are out of work.  So today, recruiters not only have the task of sorting through resumes and screening candidates, but they also have the nuanced task of of interviewing more people and looking more closely at all parts of the interview process.  And in a recent question on GottaMentor I responded to a question about just that.

“Is my phone screen more casual than a typical interview” I was asked on the website. Conventional wisdom suggests that phone screens are more of an initial hurdle before the real deal in-person meetings. The meetings where you schmooze with with HR, try to prove fit with the team, and convince the line manager that you’re the future leader the firm’s been looking for. Years ago, before the internet skyrocketed the number of applications for open positions and before the economic downturn put more people out of work, this idea probably had a bit more validity. But those days are long gone.

Today, open positions not only get hundreds and even thousands of applicants, they also get a very large number of really qualified ones. And as such, all the parts of an interview are becoming more important. And so my belief is that the phone screen is no longer a “screen”. It’s a distinct and important part of the interview process, which means that you should prepare with the same level of seriousness that you would for an in-person interview.  You should practice the same questions, evince the same confidence and politeness, demonstrate that you’re both a leader and a team player, and be sure you have the same level of preparedness and relaxation. Here are a few reasons why:

1. Phone Interviews May Give You More Time. For one, you never know an interviewer’s schedule. And unless the recruiter is scheduled back to back all day, then there may not be a hard cut off in terms of time like there might be in person, where you are in an unfamiliar environment and where the interviewer will have likely scheduled your interview around their other important meetings. But on the phone, you can often take more of a lead, ask a few extra questions, and as a result, really collect and pass along good information. As such, the more prepared you are, the better conversation you might be able to have.

2. Interviews Are Often Holistic. Second, I think many candidates tend to over-compartmentalize the interview process. While on one hand an interview might be intended to be more of a screen to the next round, and may have little bearing on how things progress afterward, on the other hand it could instead lay the groundwork going forward. And if the firm has discussions on the what the screener thought about you the conversation, it could have serious impact on how people perceive you during the next round.I think this is especially true if you do really well, because then the recruiter will share all your information with those you’ll meet next. It’s also especially true at companies like Goldman Sachs and Google, where the firms keep intricate records of the people they interview, even if that interview is done by phone.

3. Good Leaders Are Always On. Third, my general belief is that you’re always representing yourself and your organizations during every interaction. That’s especially true during interviews where the person across from you, or on the other line, has the task of assessing you as a candidate. It’s also especially true today, where information travels at the speed of light speed and so the chances that what you say will be common knowledge at the firm are higher, not to mention where the chances of running to someone again at a career-related event or during another interview down the line are high. And so you should try to think longer term about the interviews you go through, especially if you intend to stay in the same industry.

Having conducted a large number of interviews  and gone on a pretty large number of interviews myself, I speak from experience with all three.  For many it may sound unreasonable to put so many hours into prepping for a phone talk, especially older candidates who are not used to putting in so much time just to use the phone. But from experience I would suggest that it’s not. After all, interviews, whether they seem difficult or not, demand a great deal of skill and agility. And that’s especially true if the interviewer is less experienced because in those cases you’ll want to be sure you convey all of the right information. As such, I recommend that you give the same time and effort that you would an in-person meeting so you can present yourself in the best light possible. Because in the end, you never know how things will play out.

Good luck!

** PS As I’ve mentioned in a few previous posts (post on Gottamentor and post on resumes), you might considering taking a look at GottaMentor.com when you get the chance. For now, though, here’s a sneak peak at another one of my responses from the site.

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Tuesday, June 15th, 2010 Careers No Comments

My First Day As A Summer Associate At Vedder Price

Do you remember your first day on the new job?  I bet you probably went in not knowing anyone but hoping to impress everyone.  And it’s also likely you also felt like you were running around frantically trying to fill out paperwork or scrambling around on your way to meetings and training sessions, hoping you wouldn’t be late. We’ve definitely all been there before. But consider doing that now, in what’s considered one of the worst economies ever. Where the stakes are higher and the odds of getting an offer are statistically much lower? Sounds nerve wrecking right? I thought it did too. But fortunately I realized that most of that stuff does not apply here at Vedder Price, a mid-sized and full service law firm here in Chicago.

At long last, one year after first learning about the firm, more than eleven months after first reaching out, five months after submitting my official application, three months after I got the good word that they wanted to have me for the summer, and just a couple of weeks after my law school final exams ended, I finally made my way to downtown Chicago to start my first day as a summer associate, which technically was the Tuesday after Memorial Day weekend. And boy was my first day exciting!

Although my office is on the 26th floor (top floor), I spent most of my day switching between the other six floors in our downtown Chicago high rise building with views of the Chicago River.  I met with the recruiter I’d most recently been in touch with to say hello and chatted with another to get situated for the day. I talked with multiple people from HR and administration to learn about the business. I spoke various individuals from Accounting (went over the billable hours at law firms which is a whole new post for later), had discussions about professional development and learned the importance of compliance with the docket team. And I even met a former attorney now working in professional development. Turns out she is a friend and a former classmate of a really good friend of mine who works at Northwestern Law.

And after all of the back to back meetings with new people here at Vedder Price, I spent the latter half of the day in computer training, learning new things like our billing systems, firm directory (this is going to be extra useful this summer) and our email server.  And in the end, it was exactly the action-packed, training-focused first day I originally envisioned.

But despite an action-packed first day at work, mostly schmoozing and learning our new systems, I took off around 5:30pm that evening to hop on a flight to New York city for the second of my two conferences that week with MLT, which lasted the rest of the week. And six days later, after hours and hours of networking, fun, and meeting new people and employers, I headed back to Chicago for my second first day of work this past Monday.

I call it my second first day of work, because despite meeting lots of attorneys and learning some of the systems the week before, spending a week out of the office has a way of making you forget lots of things. So I spent the past Monday figuring out some of the same things I learned the week before – logging on to  my computer, tracking down passwords, reading the instructions on how to use my phone, meeting my secretary and firm mentors for the summer,  and last but not least reaching out to new people here at the firm, including a couple of Northwestern Law alum and another Kellogg JD-MBA alumni, class of 2009.

Monday definitely felt more chaotic than my original first day, in part because I felt a bit behind after being gone for the week but also because I’m making a point to meet lots of new people and take part in lunches with different attorneys at the firm in addition to everything else I’m doing.   The good news is that I tend to enjoy reaching out and meeting others, so despite being time consuming, it’s also been a lot of fun.  But even if I didn’t enjoy reaching out so much, everyone here at Vedder Price has made it pretty easy to  get to know people at the firm, so things would still be going well.  In fact,  on my first day here, I not only met a number of partners and senior partners, but I also had a good conversation with our firm’s chairman, Mr. Bob Stucker. In my case, though, I did reach out to many of them before ever stepping foot in the office, including Mr. Stucker, so it was an easy introduction when I dropped by his office.

In sum, my first day went well and my summer is definitely taking off!  Thanks to everyone at Vedder Price for ensuring my first few days have gone smoothly and for including me in pieces of their projects during my first week on the job. And I’m especially grateful for the latter considering that this summer will probably be a bit different from past ones when the economy was better and billable hours flowed like the Chicago river does during the summer.

It should be interesting to see how the summer turns out. Stay tuned !

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Thursday, June 10th, 2010 Law School 5 Comments

Careers Question: Should I Put The Word “Leadership” On My Resume?

Have you ever had the task of hiring someone? Sometimes it can feel impossible right? On your worst day, your dream hire can turn out to have just been a good marketer. Weak problem solving skills, no sense of urgency, and not the leader he or she touted being on their resume. On the other hand, sometimes you just hit the jackpot, and the person quickly engages in the role, quickly gets plugged into everything at the office, and is poised to be a good leader from day one. But the question is, how can you really know from a resume screen exactly which one you are choosing? And how can you tell if they are going to be a good leader?

The reality is that sometimes you can do everything perfectly, and things will still turn out for the worst. This happens all the time in  But assuming a little correlation between the resume and the hiring decision, there’s a typical process that recruiters tend to go through, which is usually pretty effective. And in a recent question I responded to a question on GottaMentor one of the members asked about putting the word leadership on your resume. They specifically wanted to know what the implication were of changing the bottom section of their resumes from “Extracurricular Activities” to “Leadership And Extracurricular.”

I thought it was a good question, not only because it involves putting resumes in the context of pre-MBA or post-MBA jobs but also because it involves a little bit of philosophy on leadership. In any event, I’ve provided my response below. I’ll also note that  lots of interesting questions, just like this one, are asked and responded to every single day. So as I mentioned in a recent post, you might considering taking a look at GottaMentor when you get the chance. For now, though, here’s a sneak peak at one of my responses from the site.

MY RESPONSE

Dear Anonymous,

First off, you hit the nail on the head that leadership is an important consideration in any career you pursue, and as a result any application you submit. As such, you’re right to think that a good company or firm will want to hear more about your past leadership experiences. After all, conventional wisdom suggests that past performance is indicative of future performance.

On one hand, this means that during the recruiting process, companies will want to know as much about your past leadership experiences as possible. On the other hand, though, you may want to be careful about your strategy. While showing leadership on your resume is important, putting the word leadership on your resume – calling out that you have been a leader – may also come off as pretentious, as you suggested. Why? Perhaps here are a few reasons.

1. Because leadership is not a typical section that goes on a resume. If it were, then you would have seen it multiple times on the professional experience section.

2. Also because the word “leadership” is completely overused and misused by just about everyone today. It’s often confused with titles and not sufficiently correlated to influence and results.

3. Also because conventional wisdom suggests that leadership is not about taking credit for the work you’ve done. One of my favorite sayings in the world defines a leader as “One who can motivate his colleagues and get things done without making his teammates feel that it was the leader who had actually got the work done.”

So in my view, the best approach to your resume is not to tell but to demonstrate that you’ve led – that you’ve done some important things in the past, and you have important, specific plans for the future. If you can do that in a way that’s direct and avoids generalities, then during your interview they’ll probably ask you about it. That will give you the real chance to provide them with the real details of your experience, and as such prove that you had a leadership experience.

And so in the end, I would encourage you to shift your thinking from describing what your titles were and telling what you’ve done to describing who you are and what you bring to the table, as evidenced by what you’ve done. Does this distinction make sense?

Ultimately, it’s your decision if you want to make a new title for the section. It’s quite possible that an employer wouldn’t even notice the difference. And in some circumstances, an employer might be drawn in by the word and take a more close look at what you write. But, from my experience, I suspect that most of the top employers, wouldn’t be impressed by the wording change, not only because it’s easy for anyone to put “leadership” on a resume, but also because they probably interview a lot of people with leadership experiences.

I personally, live by Robin Sharma’s motto – you don’t need a title to be a leader. Because of that and because of traditional resume protocol, I don’t use the world leadership on my resume, but chances are that it will not make a difference no matter what you decide, so long as you have substance.

Good luck!

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Thursday, May 27th, 2010 Careers, Leadership 1 Comment

Careers Question: Reach Out, Make Connectons, Find Mentors, Then Do It Again

What if I told you I had the one secret that could help you achieve a world-class level of success. What if I said that Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods became the athletes they are today because they did it.  And that without it, Barack would not be our current president. And that every single Fortune 500 CEO today did the same thing.  Well, the truth is that most highly successful people – athletes, musicians, professionals, speakers, and thinkers – are doing it.  Nowadays, skill and passion can only get you so far.  The most successful people also reach out and find mentors.

It’s no mistake that I said the word “find” in my introduction.  While some world-class performers and leaders did stumble upon their mentors, most people don’t. That’s because the good mentors can be really hard to find. After all, the most successful people in the world work long hours and have limited time, dozens of competing priorities, and goals that they can’t let go by the wayside to help someone who may not even respect their time.

But from experience, I know that great mentors definitely do exist.  And because I was lucky enough to find a SUPER-mentor in my very first job, I wanted to share a few words here on my site that I also shared with a friend – a current MLT fellow seeking out a little advice on networking.

See below for that person’s question, and below that for my response.  I’ll note that I only included selected parts of the conversation, as some of the information might have revealed too much about their identity, and as other parts were less relevant to the content of the message. I’ll also note that this post turned out to be longer than expected.

EMAIL QUESTION

Hey Jeremy,

(Skipped part of question)

1) I’m glad you enjoyed Leading Matters. (And I applaud your participation in the middle of your exams!! you are a rockstar!) It sounds like your Chicago event was really engaging … (deleted part of message)

2) You are awesome for thinking about MLT in your blog. Myself and my fellow b-school prospectives are juggling a few things that you might find relevant to write about:

(Actual list of things deleted)

The biggest thing on my agenda right now is networking. I am nervous about cold calling people in my industry (i.e. social investing). But I know that I have to get over that initial fright if I want to get anything out of this. (I actually just got back from dinner with someone … who a Kellogg alum put me in touch with!) I also wonder how do I extend those relationships beyond just a one-time informational interview? How do I stay in contact without being bothersome? Should I make myself helpful to them?

Good luck with the rest of your finals!

(Name)

MY RESPONSE TO QUESTION

Hey (Name),

Good to hear from you and thanks for your message.  This is a really good set of questions, and now is the perfect time for you to start thinking about them as you go through the MLT process and start to think about new career options, most of which are challenging to break into. But the good news is that once you get used to reaching out and become more skilled at it, it actually becomes a lot of fun, especially for outgoing and high potential professionals like yourself.  Here are a few of my initial thoughts:

As I said above, I was lucky enough to find a phenomenal professional mentor early in my professional career. I concede, though, that most people don’t have that experience.  And for reference, when I say I found a mentor, I don’t take that word lightly. In my case, mentor means someone that I valued highly enough 1. to turn down a job that paid 20%-25% more in salary right out of school and 2. to subsequently turn down a chance to work at a bulge bracket bank to work him at a mid-sized consulting firm that didn’t carry half the level of prestige as the bank, only carried a percentage of the salary, and had me move across the entire US as a result.

That’s because in my view, these types of strong relationships are critical to your career success – my general motto is “it’s better to learn in your 20s and earn in your 30s.”  But most people still don’t invest the time, and they would never consider the idea of foregoing resources to find these strong relationships. In today’s age where internet is king, Google searching tends to be most people’s first option.  And others look for answers in self-help business books on weekends, rely on opinions of friends and family, and give too much credibility to formalized mentoring programs at work.

Sure, these sources can all be useful, but they’re certainly not perfect.  At my old firms, I often saw how people were given “buddy” roles and mentor titles without an ability to perform in the role. Similarly, I’ve seen how many people rely on friends and family members because they tend to give a lot of positive reinforcement, which is not always what you need. But people still tend to default here.

That’s because but finding real connections, let alone mentors, is hard. For some people, it takes months, even years to find someone who understands you and cares for you and your goals.  And so going through the “networking” process you asked about tends to be the best way to do that.  That means continually engaging with new people, getting and giving new information, and over time connecting with others.

Unfortunately, this kind of reaching is no easy feat and there’s a lot of grunt work involved.  It takes a lot of thoughtfulness, as you write emails, make calls, and navigate your way to finding new connections. Similarly, you have to know more about your target industries and have a better sense of who you are as you go out to meet with these people, so you’re sure not to waste their time. And as a result of that, it takes time, energy, and perseverance. But so do all relationships right? Staying in close touch with friends and family during 1L was almost impossibly hard for every single person I knew. Similarly working toward any dating relationship often takes a lot of time and effort. In my opinion, there’s not much difference. Nonetheless, the grunt work involved in networking tends to keep people from really engaging in the reaching out process.

I do realize, though, that everyone is different, and that one person’s propensity to reach out people may be different than mine or than yours.  So in some respects, you have to do what you’re comfortable with, so you can be effective when you do meet new people. On the other hand, I’d also strongly recommend pushing yourself out of your comfort zone just a bit and reaching out more than you might otherwise get in touch with, especially now as you seek information on business school and careers.  After all, if you don’t get comfortable with it now, you’ll be forced to on the first day of business school a year from now, not to mention for years to come afterward.

Now I’ll respond more practically to a few of the things you mentioned. First, my opinion is that there’s absolutely no need to have any initial fright, because there’s a pretty large many people who would be willing help someone in your shoes. Most people that you’d be reaching out to tend to be proud of their institutions, school, and employers. And even if they’re not, they tend to be proud of the advice they can offer. Similarly, a lot of people are looking for ways to give back to their communities and to those who may want to follow in their footsteps.

I mean, consider the reverse. What if someone came up to you and said, hey (name), I’d love to be just like you someday, and I want to go to (name) University and work at (name) Company.  Personally, I’d be really flattered, and I think a lot of people would feel similarly. And as a result, some of them might really take the time to give the information you’re looking for.  And if you’re thankful, keep the modes of communication open, update them on your progress, and then be sure to reciprocate when you can, then you’ve got potential to make a real connection. And here’s my pitch – that in the end, the process becomes something that’s not even networking.  Instead it’s seeking out new ways of connecting forging strong relationships, and becoming mutually beneficial. And personally, I always strive to be more beneficial when I can.

Next, to directly respond to your last question about how to stay relevant.  That’s a tough one because no two people or circumstances are the same. Because of that, my first thought is to focus on the relationship, not on using fancy tactics. Because when you forge those strong relationships, you don’t have to worry about staying relevant. That’s why you always get back to your best friends and to family members when they get in touch with you. Because those relationships tend to be strong.

But from a tactical perspective, here a couple of things that may help.  None of them are rocket science. In fact you could have come up with all of them on your own. Also, none of them are they my original ideas. Instead, they tend to be things that lots of people do and also things I tend to do when I remember.

1. Try Different Methods. You might try using different methods to connect with people, such as email, phone, in person, LinkedIn, etc.  In my experience, relying on a single source can be less effective in some circumstances, especially if your new contact decided to avoid using that source for a short period of time.

2. Return the Favor. If you have managed to somehow stay on a person’s radar, then you might help return the favor by sharing information to them, on relevant topics. In these cases, I tend to default mostly to things that are HIGHLY relevant, sometimes sending news, connecting them with people in their industries, giving referrals, or passing along hello messages from mutual connections.  But you should be careful of overdoing it and be sure that you’re not forcing your way in. I tend to only do this in very authentic ways, because otherwise it’ll likely feel too forced.

3. Don’t Replace Face To Face. I also think face to face encounters tend to be more effective when you’re in the establishing stage. For example grabbing drinks, coffee, lunch, or meeting up at the office all tend to work pretty well, depending on what you’re chatting about. Not only is it a more intimate environment that allows you to discuss real issues and be more open and vulnerable but it’s also more of a mutual investment of time which naturally tends to create a bond.

4. Get Out To More Events. Sometimes the best way to bump into someone, and to actually get the face to face encounters you need, is to go to different types of events where people are out and about. Not only networking-themed events, but also cultural, academic, and volunteer events, where you’ll tend to find people who you have things in common with.

In the end, though, making real strong relationships, is the goal, not finding tactics to stay in touch. Often times for me, I just try to feel it out, since in most cases no two relationships are the same and because time is so limited. But fortunately, there are a lot of smart and successful professional seeking the same thing you are. So once you make a connection, it should be pretty easy to build those relationship.  If only dating were this easy too, right :)

Thanks for writing. And good luck!

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Tuesday, May 25th, 2010 Careers, Networking 2 Comments

Good Article: College Majors of Top CEOs

For many people, choosing a college major is one of the most feared parts of undergrad.  Some students fear the prospects of enraging their parents. Others fear sacrificing their future job prospects and salary potential upon graduation. And another group, they fear losing the one chance to do something they love.  Conventional wisdom says that students who major in finance and economics are best positioned to land top paying jobs out of school, and as a result, students have long flocked to these majors. On the other hand, one of my readers sent me an article yesterday, that suggests that if you want to become CEO – or any top position in your target industry – you may not want to rush into choosing a major. In fact, you may even want to study something different. His email was a response to my recent post about the the Path to become CEO.

As a follow-up to my post yesterday – where I wrote a post that responded to a careers question about college major – one of my readers sent along a great article about the college majors of CEOs.The premise of the article is that there are a number of top CEOs that did not study business in undergrad. Instead these business leaders and entrepreneurial tycoons took more unconventional academics paths. They studied philosophy, medicine, psychology, medieval studies, and English. The article also suggests that philosophy might just give them the exact skill set they needed in order to lead at these big companies.

The article is titled Accidental Moguls: College Majors of Top CEOs, and I put a short blurb on the article below.  You can also click here to read the article now.

Thanks everyone for continuing to read my website.  And a special thanks to those of you who send in positive and useful feedback, such as recommendations for posts. Please keep reading.  And be well !

 

 

TITLE: Accidental Moguls: College Majors of Top CEOs
AUTHOR: Business Week (Bloomberg) – Lavelle Louis

BLURB: See below for article blurb:
“Not every corporate chieftain studies business in college. Many of them major in history, psychology, or even philosophy. It may be one reason why they succeed.

In this, the graduation season, the thoughts of college students naturally turn to the four years behind them, the lifetime ahead of them, and the connections between the two. For business students, especially those with the biggest of corporate ambitions, this is a particularly introspective time. Role models seem to be everywhere—whether it’s the rags-to-riches story, the brilliant entrepreneur, or the middle manager turned MBA turned corporate leader.

It will come as absolutely no surprise to anyone that a lot of big-company chief executive officers studied business in college. After all … (click here to continue)

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Tuesday, May 18th, 2010 Careers 2 Comments

#AskJeremy – Careers Question: Undergraduate Major and Path To CEO

Becoming CEO of a top company is no easy feat. Most of them tout bachelors degrees and MBAs from world class schools, are on the board of multiple Fortune 500 and non-profit organizations, are over-networked both in and outside their industries, and have long lists of professional credentials and positions that would make just almost anyone envious. That’s because to get to the top in today’s global, hyper competitive world, it’s almost a prerequisite for executives to be on that path early — to gain significant training and exposure, experience at high performing corporations, strong mentor relationships, and also a quality business education, not only in terms of management but also in the realm of finance. And in a recent message from a reader, I received a question about just that.

I recently received a question from an undergraduate student who is currently thinking about what to study as he goes into his junior year of college. I responded with a few words, which I’ve shared below. But I’ll also note, that my answer only scratches the surface, as this question is complicated. Not only as there are an infinite number of factors that change over the course of a twenty year career but also because interests and career paths change too, not to mention ongoing changes in the economy.  To that end, it’s impossible to talk about all of them in a single post. Hopefully this response will be a good starting point.


THE ORIGINAL MESSAGE
Dear Jeremy,

First of all, I love your blog! It’s very well written. It’s informative! And it really is relevant. Please continue posting, especially responses to reader questions. So here’s my question.

I’m an undergraduate student now at a top 20 school, and I eventually want to end up as a CEO or in a position that’s similar.  But I’m having trouble figuring out exactly what to study.  When I look at everyone going into consulting, I see people with finance, accounting, and engineering, degrees, and the same is true for investment banking. But I’m also interested in other classes that are less technical, like sociology and communications, and I’m not sure which to choose as I think about going into business.

At the end of the day, I really just want to prepare myself to have the best chances now and going forward.  Do you have any insights?

Thank you in advance,
(name)

Hey (name)

Thanks so much for writing and for taking the time to ready my blog. I’m glad you’re finding the website to be a good source of information. I’m also always glad to see when I’m able to use my experiences to help others in their careers. I suspect that many other MBAs and experiences professionals might also be able to chime in on the topic. That’s especially true in this case, where you didn’t provide very thorough information in regards to your career interests, classes already taken, or professional background. So for now, I’ll keep my answer a bit more generic.

So, as you know, you’ve asked me a pretty tough question. In all fairness, the answer will never be the same for anyone, not even for two people with really similar backgrounds or similar career goals.  And frankly, there may not even be a right answer. Interestingly enough, I recently had a short phone conversation with a new friend from Chicago. Culture or strategy – which one is more important in business, we asked.  In a sense, because we had pretty different experiences, we also had different ideas on how to answer the question.

She is a rising second year MBA at a peer school outside of Chicago.  She was an accounting major at a local college in Chicago, got a CPA worked at an accounting firm after school, and really enjoyed, and thrived in, the field.  As for me, I was an anthropology major, and while I did have some finance experience before coming back to school, my role was not a traditional finance job, but instead I worked in the consulting field which balanced finance with human capital in addition to other general management issues. So as you might suspect, our perspectives began in different places, which made for an interesting conversation.

Conventional wisdom suggests that finance is king. That company performance is tied to financial metrics and that understanding those is critical to communicate with investors and eventually move the company forward. And as you might guess, her perspective was more similar to conventional wisdom than mine was. She valued her accounting training in undergrad and her post-graduate experience and gave her view on the important of that knowledge in CFO level role.  She was also happy that she didn’t get drilled too badly on technical questions in her MBA interviews.  And that’s a a really nice advantage.

Similarly, I’ve heard the same story from a few high level leaders over the past few years in my career. In an old post last year comparing HBS and Kellogg, I wrote about a Bain recruiting event where I heard this from a Senior Manager at the firm. He said “That finance is the language of business,” and if you don’t know finance and accounting, you probably won’t get to the top. And even if you did, you wouldn’t survive for too long, because you can’t speak effectively to the CFO, can’t compel shareholders to invest, and may not understand some of the typical economics cycles of the company. My professional mentor, and Partner at another large consulting firm agreed, as he studied finance, accounting and engineering in college.

On the other hand, there is a viewpoint that differs from conventional wisdom. Business gurus like Peter Drucker suggest that “culture will eat strategy for breakfast” and at the same time, Political leaders like Colin Powell say that the best leaders know that communications values are most important to maximize your impact.  I think the main idea is that cultural factors are important, because they have the potential to create divisions in a company and the potential to also create connections which form communities, and drive the actions the work in business. In a recent interview at a consulting firm, my interviewer referenced team culture and referenced the Pittsburgh airport test in choosing new hires at the firm. Similarly, in his exit interview from HBS a few years ago, Dean Kim Clark said the exact same thing. That “he wished he would have engaged in leadership in his role sooner.”  And that HBS (and other schools) look for cross-cultural leaders first, before anything else.  And that includes technical skills.

The main lesson I take away is that anthropology and accounting–culture and strategy–are both important.  1. Without culture, you won’t make people feel valued and enjoy their environment, and they’ll be naturally less productive and committed to their work. 2. On the other hand, without finance, you won’t always be able to understand the most important business issues, and won’t be able to execute a strategy that drives a company forward to operate in today’s complex finance-based business culture. And perhaps without both, companies will never be able to compete at the highest level.

But when a company does excel at both, they position themselves not only to grow, but also to beat the markets and have broader impact over time.  To that end, maybe we shouldn’t  have to decide. Maybe culture and strategy can [and should] work together to produce results. After all, isn’t this what the CEO does – focus on both? Similarly doesn’t the CEO work side by side with the CFO to understand the financial heath of the company and with HR to architect the organizational culture of the firm.  Further, isn’t HR tasked with the interest role of balancing quantitative finance and compensation studies alongside culture and change implementations?

To relate this back to your question, for you this means, there may not be a single major that makes or breaks your path to the C seat.  And in fact, for some people major may not prove to be very important at all depending on what field they go into. For some, the answer may be more dependant on context than anything else. The context of your current background, the classes you’ve already taken and will take, what your classmates decide to study, and what your target employers like and look for.  And all of that needs to be taken into account in the context of the current economy and your propensity for risk, if you’re not sure how some employers might look at your profile.

In the short-run though, sometimes the major you choose CAN be very important for recruiting, especially in a sluggish economy, and especially if you really want to go into certain industries, where majors are prerequisites, such as accounting, computer engineering, etc.  In these cases a major is not only a good way to show demonstrated interest, but also a way to show you have what it takes to do the work. On the other hand, I personally think that passion and interest are also important, because it’s likely you’ll study harder if you have a natural interest in the subject, and in the end, its also likely you’ll do better (see my recent post on passion).  One thing some people like to do is hedge their bets study both.  Majors today are more interdisciplinary than ever, and most schools allow double and even triple majors. So it might make sense to do something like that and get as much experience as possible. On the other hand, it’s likely that hedging will take away time from you to pursue your passion and interests. In the end, it’s a trade-off only you can make, and that only you should decide.

But also in the end, my view is that Culture and Strategy — Anthropology and Accounting — are both important and make a good team. I’m looking forward to my next discussion.

Good luck!

PS – By the way, the Kim Clark exit interview from HBS (former Dean of school) above is a great interview on leadership. I recommend that you make the time to watch it. Especially the final few minutes on what good leaders do.

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Monday, May 17th, 2010 AskJeremy, Careers 12 Comments

Good Friday … For Labor and Job Statistics

The US economy added 162,000 jobs in March, the biggest net gain in over three full years. That’s good news right?  Well, that depends on who you ask.  Some say that it’s clearly good news, and that we’re finally moving in the right direction. But others say that the stats are superficial, and that they don’t address the underlying economic issues. I’m not sure what the real answer is, but one thing is for sure. The job market does seem to have a little bit more life. And sometimes, momentum can be a good thing.

Former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan recently agreed in an interview with Businessweek and said “there’s a momentum building up” in the U.S. economy and the odds of it faltering have “fallen very significantly.”  The Obama administration agreed. White House economic adviser Lawrence Summers said that “job creation will accelerate.” And Christina Roemer, chair of the White House’s Council of Economic Advisers, said suggested that there’s a “gradual labor market healing.”  And so it sounds like there may be a subtle wave of optimism that seems to be lingering.

That is definitely the case at business schools, where although recruiting numbers may be slightly down [(i) I don’t know for sure and (ii) It’s not over yet], they won’t be down by much. And during recruiting season, the students seemed to be pretty confident about their chances. Some of the ones I know did well. Many will be working at banks, consulting firms, Fortune 500’s, and start-ups. Even at the law school, things seem to be trending upward. It’s harder to tell exactly how things will play out, since law schools tend to do the vast majority of recruiting in the fall. But the message I’ve heard from most firms and organizations is that things will at least be a little better. I look forward to reporting the real news this fall.

That said, I don’t think these stories are necessarily compelling.

1. First, the administration has the herculean task of managing the negative sentiment that came from the past two year and balancing that with a more optimistm to keep people motivated and working hard, all while delivering a message that’s both truthful and transparent.

2. And more importantly, it’s not necessarily compelling because (i) the world of MBAs and JDs headed to become consultants, bankers, lawyers, fund managers, and non-profit leaders doesn’t reflect the overall economy. In fact, it’s really only a small fraction of the economy.  The average person doesn’t attend a top 10 law or a premier business school nor do they hunt for six-figure jobs in their mid twenties, if ever.  So many times, that person may end up jumping through a lot more hoops to get to the “promise land” of finding employment.  (ii) And not only do these individuals represent a small percentage of the overall economy but they also have the advantage of undergoing a highly sophisticated recruiting process that starts well before interview season begins. A process where employers have coffee chats, luncheons, mixers, and receptions months before recruiting ever begins. And a process where hundreds of employers accept resumes, come to campus, and interview dozens of students on campus, all day. And sometimes multiple days.  So taking a step back and looking at everything from a 30,000-foot, big picture view, I see that it’s a privilege to have the process in place.

So with a 30,000-foot view in mind, here are the objective arguments about the labor force, from both sides.

1. One on hand, the hard numbers from BLS do suggest improvement. (i) In total, employers added 162,000 jobs in March, the biggest monthly gain in three years. That’s always a good starting point.  (ii) Manufacturing payrolls have also reportedly increased. (iii) This story is also true for heath care employers, who added ~27,000 full-time jobs and ~40,000 private-sector temp jobs. (iv) Surprising is that construction field held steady for the first time, after losing nearly ~865,000 last year.  (v) Further, sources also suggest that the investment banks are finally starting to breathe again, and that broadening their scopes of services has helped them to decrease risk and squeeze out more revenues. (vi) And finally the unemployment rate is still down to 9.7%.

2. On the other hand, context suggests that the grass may only look greener. (i) I suspect we’re all aware that the number of jobs and hence total payroll numbers continue to skydive in financial industry. Venture capital and entrepreneurship numbers also remain low. (ii) However, even the numbers that are improving, according to US News, may really be more related to a reduction in labor force than an improving economy.  (iii) But despite these more nuance calculations, even real growth number, according to some sources, are lower than expected. For example, forecasters expected ~200,000 new jobs in March, not 162,000.  And that’s in spite of the fact that BLS reported more census takers this year than usual. Not only does that potentially positively change the accuracy of the reporting of the numbers but it also increases the number of actual jobs created.  And coincidentally, these happen to be six-month temporary jobs, not full-time permanent jobs.  While adding temp jobs is a good way for businesses to pick up and a good way for folks to earn a bit of cash, it also may not be indicative of any real economic trend.

In a recent post, Former Secretary of Labor said something similar. Rob Reich said “These are six-month temp jobs, and they tell us nothing about underlying trends in the labor market. It’s hard to gauge precisely how many were hired — probably between 100,000 and 140,000, although some estimates put the hiring as low as 48,000. Almost a million census workers will need to be hired over the next few months. Subtract these, and today’s job numbers are good but nothing to write home about.”

Conventional wisdom pinpoints that demand for such temporary employees increases during recessions and during recoveries, so employers can get the help they need, while also shining a spotlight on their budgets and reigning in expenditures. This may mean that we’re still somewhere in the middle.  Either way, there’s still a lot of uncertainty and unfortunately, nobody has the million dollar crystal ball to lead us into the future.

In light of that, I think I like some of the positive signs. After all, psychology plays a big part in market movements and perhaps a bigger one in its recoveries.  There are a lot of different ideas and competing opinions out there, a few are from experts, a good number from those who have agendas, a lot with a different perspectives than you or I have, and most of them with different levels and sources of research.

And in the end, how you frame the issues will affect [and possibly even change] your viewpoint.

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Sunday, April 4th, 2010 Labor Economics No Comments

I Finally Got The Call …

Hey Everyone,  I hope you are doing well and that you had a good weekend. My weekend has been busy. That’s because here at Northwestern Law it’s the week before spring break. This means that we have a final paper due in our legal writing class in just about a week. And because the final paper is worth nearly half our grade, everyone is really spending a lot of time on it.  Everyone also has lots of other smaller assignments to work on, which vary depending on the course. For example, I have two projects due in my Business Associations class this week: a group M&A timeline project and a country presentation project.  I also have to make a personal trip out of town at the end of the week to a meeting in New York City.  However, in the midst of all of this chaos, I also found some pretty good news.  And this past Friday, I finally got the call.

This Friday I finally got a call from an organization I’ve been pretty interested in all year. And it was good news.  Although all of you must be wondering where I’m referring to exactly, I won’t spill the details just yet.  But I will at some point after I officially accept on Monday. Considering that this has been such a tough year for legal recruiting and considering first years rarely get such positions anyways, I’m especially excited and grateful that things worked out. Given the good news, I decided to take Friday off, and I went to a Kellogg mixer on Friday evening and then out for a bit with a couple of JD-MBAs afterward. But unfortunately, I don’t have a whole lot of time to celebrate tonight. So back to work it is.

But stay tuned for more details and for a few posts about recruiting at Northwestern Law. Also, best of luck to everyone still finishing up their search.

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Sunday, March 7th, 2010 Careers, Law School 4 Comments

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Jeremy C Wilson is a JD-MBA alumni using his site to share information on education, the social enterprise revolution, entrepreneurship, and doing things differently. Feel free to send along questions or comments as you read.

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