Hi Reddit! I'm Gorick Ng, the author of "The Unspoken Rules: Secrets to Starting Your Career Off Right," a new book with Harvard Business Review Press. Order it now!
It's a guide for early career professionals on what managers expect from you but won't ever tell you, based on 500+ interviews I personally conducted with professionals across geographies, industries, and job types.
I'm currently a career adviser at Harvard College and a researcher on the future of work at Harvard Business School. I previously worked in management consulting at BCG and investment banking at Credit Suisse.
It's a weird feeling writing all of this because I don't come from the background you're probably expecting me to come from. I was raised by an immigrant single mother who spent her life working in a sewing machine factory. I wrote my first resume when I was 14 years old—and it was for my mom when she was laid off. I was a first-generation, low-income college student and am, frankly, still trying to decipher how I went from such a background to where I am today. What I do know is that I've had a lot of people pay it forward to me. So, I decided to spend my career paving a smoother path for others who are also coming from humble beginnings.
Anyway, I'm excited for my first AMA, so... go ahead and AMA! I’ll answer as many questions as I am able.
And if you like my way of thinking, please do pick up my book (I recommend the hardcover because there are a lot of diagrams) and hop onto http://gorick.com to sign up for my email newsletter (which I have yet to start, but I will!).
UPDATE: 7:00pm ET: Wow! Didn't expect so much interest! I was worried I'd have crickets and tumbleweeds. I'm still answering and will answer until I crash tonight (11PM-ish?). Bear with me. I want to be as thoughtful as I can be with each of your questions!
UPDATE: 11:45pm ET: Wow x2! Thanks for your interest, y'all! I'm starting to run out of steam, but I'm having such a good time getting to know you all that I want to continue. Chances are, I'll answer a few more. Then, I'm afraid I'll have to sign off. But if you like my ideas, seriously: sign up for my email list at http://gorick.com/ so we can stay in touch!
Why aren't you also an astronaut, lieutenant, and doctor?
Did you stalk me? Haha, I say this because I actually did want to become an astronaut. Actually, if I could go into space, I'd do it in a heartbeat (though going into space is more appealing if I know I'm helping push the frontiers of human exploration; going into space just so I can humblebrag on Instagram is less cool imo). I also wanted to be a doctor (my goal was actually to be a doctor, then shoot my shot at becoming an astronaut).
A few factors ended up steering me off this path. First, I realized after going to a math and science high school that I wasn't good or passionate enough about either subject to endure 4 years of undergrad + however many years of grad school. I was excited by the ends, but not the means. Second, I wanted to become a doctor and astronaut because I wanted to help people. But I soon realized that there are many ways to help people—and it doesn't just have to be as a doctor by a patient's bedside. There are so many ways to contribute at a systems level that can improve healthcare outcomes. And so much of space exploration is still a function of government policy. We all may celebrate the individuals who are suited up and blasting off, but there's an entire relay race of people who make that space mission possible. I wanted to find the portion of the relay race of helping people where I'd be best positioned to contribute. I guess in the case of my book, I'd love to help more people who have the heart, talent, and drive to ascend to positions of leadership. Hopefully that can grow the pie.
For non-native / fluent English speakers in the work place, what's the top 1-3 tips they should take away?
This one's tough because bias and discrimination are real. There are plenty of studies that have shown that there is serious bias against people with non-native English accents. It doesn't help that American professional work culture has a certain indirect communication style with tons of jargon (e.g., "let's tough base," "wanted to check in on X,").
A few quick tips:
1) See if you are a better reader or a better speaker—and try to be a bit more engaged in that medium so you don't become invisible (though you will need both over time to get ahead)
2) Closely observe the writing and speaking styles of the most respected people around you and see if you can emulate them (another option is to watch business TV like CNBC or Bloomberg, or listen to business podcasts to see how professionals speak); pay attention to their grammar, vocabulary, intonation, and pace.
3) Keep a personal Google Doc of workplace vocabulary words that you keep coming across (it's still a work in progress, but I've started building a workplace jargon dictionary if you go on https://gorick.com/, click "free stuff," and scroll to the bottom)
4) Try writing out what you want to say before meetings, rehearse a little, and bring your notes to meetings (with remote work, it's easier than ever to keep your notes up during meetings and refer back to them)
5) Find a buddy at work who can record you and/or give you feedback
Gave you more than 3 :) happy to keep brainstorming!
What are your tips for finding some sense of discipline as a young person from a relatively privileged background?
Oh wow: this is some serious introspection on your end! I'd say you're already on your way because you acknowledge the obstacle—and acknowledging the obstacle is the first step to address the obstacle.
I'm a big compartmentalizer. There are a few things I really care about (where I'm a maximizer)—and a whole lot of things I don't really care about (where I'm a satisficer). When I feel a lack of discipline, I often find that it stems from me not having enough things (or anything) in the "care about" category. So, what do you care about?
To answer this question, I've personally found it helpful to ask myself 4 questions:
1) What problems piss me off?
2) Whose life do I want to improve?
3) What do I want written in my memoir / eulogy?
4) Who do I look up to and want to become?
You can answer these questions by paying attention to your daily habits. What gets you fired up? What can you not shut up about? Who do you look up to?
Reflections aside, I've noticed that a lot of my more privileged peers feel a great deal of pressure to outgrow their parents' shadows. I.e., "My mom and dad are so successful... how can I prove that I'm capable of being my own person—and aren't just mooching off what's been handed down to me?" To what extent have you had this feeling cross your mind?
As someone who spent their 20s working various odd jobs to stay afloat, what advice would you offer to someone trying to enter into a career field, especially when compared to younger candidates fresh from university?
It's hard to be helpful without knowing the full context, but here's my quick reaction:
Picture a Venn diagram with two circles: One circle is "what you want." The other circle is "where you have the best shot." Your goal is to get to the intersection of the two circles. What's in that intersection?
Let’s start with the left-hand-side circle:
Firstly, you will have the best chance at getting a job that resembles some job you’ve held in the past, whether in terms of industry (retail, outdoor education, construction, etc.) or function (your department, e.g., sales, teaching, marketing, etc.). It’s generally harder to move both industry and function at the same time; it’s often easier to move just one of the two (and it’s easiest to stay within the same industry and function).
Secondly, it’s going to be easier to get a job where you already know someone—or can get introduced to someone.
Lastly, it’s easier to get a job at an organizing that’s growing (and therefore hiring like crazy)—and harder (if not impossible) to get a job at a company that’s laying people off or that has a hiring freeze.
Next, let’s look at the right-hand-side:
Where do you ideally want to be? You may not be able to get there immediately, but you can pick up a job that can serve as a stepping stone to where you want to be.
So, ideally, we’d want to find a role that satisfies as many of the following five criteria as possible:
Is in an industry and/or function you’ve worked in before
Is at an organization where you know someone or can get introduced to someone
Is growing and hiring
Is in an organization or in a field that you're interested in
I know you probably wanted tangible stuff like "apply to this job" and "say these things," but I really do think a bit of self reflection can make the rest of the process easier.
Let me know your thoughts!
If you had to say what caused your success how much of it was effort and how much of it was your talent?
I'm still trying to diagnose this nature vs. nurture thing myself! Hard to put a % down, but I'd order it by (1) effort/drive, (2) circumstances (luck?), and (3) talent.
I say effort is #1 and talent is #3 because I was not good at writing. It was always one of my least favorite subjects. I hated reading as a kid. I also found reading difficult. But I've gotten a lot better at writing—and I could see the improvement even as I look back at my early book drafts. I'm thoroughly embarrassed by my earlier writing.
Circumstances are #2 because I had teachers who always looked out for me and brought opportunities my way. But I'd say #2 is after #1 because my teachers wouldn't have liked me if I didn't have hustle. And I do believe that you create a lot of your own luck by hustling and showing up prepared.
Effort isn't always #1 for every field, though. Like I could try my best at dribbling a basketball. But will I make it into the NBA? Not as a short dude. Not with my lack of mind-body coordination.
I like the idea of us each being born with a certain set of gifts—and life is all about uncovering those gifts. Maybe I have a gift of being observant and deconstructing ideas down to frameworks. I stumbled upon this gift, put a ton of effort into it, and popped out a book.
Does Harvard really need a career advisor? I get that it's probably a sweet gig, but these kids went to Harvard they going to be fine.
Not to be rude Couldn't the real unspoken just rules be: 1. Have wealthy parents. 2. Go to ivy league school or become a lawyer or doctor. 3. It doesn't matter what you can do, it's who you know.
Excellent point! So no, you're not being rude. I appreciate you raising this because I've thought about this a lot myself—about how much of an impact I'm really making serving students who've had more resources than I ever had. But I will say that Harvard's student body is more diverse than ever, so there are more students that come from backgrounds like mine than ever. I have a particular soft spot for those students, which is why I spend a lot of my time advising first-generation, low-income students. Could I do more? Absolutely—and that's where I hope my book can play a role. If you have ideas for a next act, by the way, I'm all ears. I hope this book can be the start of something, not the end of something.
I've worked as a freelancer -- albeit in the same general field, communications -- for over 15 years now.
Every single workplace I've been in, and we're talking dozens and dozens, has been irrational, dysfunctional, wasteful and on and on and on. Every single one. And I don't think it's just my take. Everyone I know seems to realize work is just broken these days.
How do you prepare students for this? That they're not going to be judged on their actual output or skills, but ability to navigate the insanity and not be the one who gets blamed for the inevitable?
Sorry-not-sorry, but you set me up perfectly to plug my book (https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1647820448/) which is exactly on this topic of how to navigate workplace politics, manage expectations, and manage up :)
You're right: it seems like the larger an organization is and the larger an organization has been around, the more bloat there will be, and the more of these navigational skills one will need to get ahead. I'd say the first step is to make this reality transparent to people.
Here's how I put it in my book (p.12):
"True competence can be difficult to measure. It’s easy if you’re a baker or coder; one simply has to taste your cake or test your code. But for many jobs—where much of your day is spent interacting with people—measuring competence isn’t easy at all. In the absence of clearly measurable outputs, managers often rely on inputs—like how much progress it looks like you are making on a project, how confidently you speak in meetings, and how well you promote yourself. It’s no surprise, then, that the people who get promoted or who get the highest-profile assignments aren’t always the most competent—even within organizations that claim to be meritocracies. Your actual competence still matters, but, as we’ll discuss later in this guide, your perceived competence can be just as important."
Some people like to play this game (and there are big rewards to be had if one wins in this game). Other people would rather avoid these politics and work for themselves. I suspect this is why you became a freelancer? (Though freelancing has its own stresses—of loneliness, not getting to see the big picture because you're only seeing/touching one piece of a much larger puzzle).
Does every Harvard graduate have to release a book about the "secrets" they learn there?
LOL. Actually, my book is as unrelated to Harvard as it gets.
My book is about what school doesn't teach about how to navigate the workplace. Click on "look inside": https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1647820448/. My History of Art and Architecture class in college (yes, that was a thing) taught me nothing about how to manage my manager.
Do you think it's possible to make (workplace) leaders more compassionate? Is there a compelling, capitalism-driven argument that gives managers an incentive to be this way?
I'd like to think so and (shameless book plug alert) I'd like to think that my book can help with this empathy building by deconstructing what managers might see as common sense but that really isn't common sense.
I like to assume positive intent here. No manager wakes up in the morning and says "how can I make my team's life as difficult as possible?" My view is that managers can lose compassion when they're stressed and when they lose an appreciation for how hard things are to implement.
But this is compassion in terms of day-to-day compassion. If you're talking about compassion as it relates to compensation and fair pay, that's a bit of a different story because capitalism does seem to have race-to-the-bottom tendencies.
What advice do you give or what questions do you ask when someone says "Should I get my MBA?" or "Is an MBA worth it?" - Obviously there are countless factors - but what is your go-to response?
I completed an MBA and am asked this by lots of people at various stages of their career. I struggle with a good response because there are a lot of qualifiers.
I often answer with "It was worth it FOR ME. I knew I wanted to work in Finance. I was okay with initially working 60+ hours per week. I did very well on the GMAT and ended up in the top quartile of my class and so I was fortunate enough to land a good job opportunity after graduating. That is not everyone's experience."
I have many classmates who would've answered "I don't think it was worth it." because they went into an industry where an MBA wasn't valued or they ranked in the middle of the class and didn't get any great job offers.
I think you half answered the question for me! It seems like people's sentiments toward the MBA are a function of whether they got whatever they wanted out of the experience. This makes sense, especially given that the MBA can be so many things to so many people (in contrast to, say, medical school or law school). You've got a number of personas:
- The vacationers: The people who were sponsored by their companies and who are sure about returning post-MBA.
- The job switchers: The people who want to, say, go from industry to consulting or from the military to corporate.
- The run-awayers: The people who know what they want to run away from, but not necessarily what they want to run towards.
- The learners: The people (e.g., people in technical roles) who want to develop their business acumen.
I'm probably missing a persona or two, but I'd say this is about 80-90% complete.
Which persona you fall under will determine how you define success—and, in turn, whether you believe the MBA was worth the time and money.
A vacationer will think the MBA was worthwhile if they had a good time. If they don't, they won't.
A job switcher will think the MBA was worthwhile if they got into the job/company they wanted (and if they feel like they couldn't have done this without the MBA). If they don't, they won't.
A run-awayer will think the MBA was worthwhile if they figured out what they wanted to do. If they ended up back at the same job or a job they feel like they could have gotten without an MBA, they won't.
A learner will think the MBA was worthwhile if they learned something they couldn't have otherwise learned. If they don't, they won't.
So, when I talk about the MBA, I often start by asking for the individual's motivations. Then, I'll tell them the circumstances under which they'll think it's worthwhile vs. not.
Hi I'm 31 and I graduated from a pretty reputable university in architecture. I worked in the field for a few years after graduation. But for the past few years I've had to put my career on hold because my elderly parents (early 70s) aren't able to sell their business in the small town they live in. I'm pretty much running their business now and spending my spare time dealing with their issues such as filing out tax forms, applying for covid benefits, etc. My plan is to help them out until they're able to sell their business. However, I feel like they might be forced to retire soon due to their age and gradual cognitive and physical decline. It might take around 3-5 years for the business to recover from covid shut down. It could even be likely that I'd be stuck with their business until I am able to save enough money to sell the business for cheap and move on with my life. Anyways, I don't plan on doing this forever, and I would like to resume my architecture/construction career when I get the opportunity.
Any tips for older people who want to change careers or are starting a career later in life? I've kind of resigned myself to the idea that from now on, based on the choices I've made, that I would have to be an entrepreneur in order to make any decent amount of income. It seems like I'd be in a huge disadvantage if I started at a big professional company in my mid thirties.
Woah, looks like you've got a lot on your plate! I appreciate your vulnerability and commend you for putting family first (though definitely don't envy you for all that you've had to give up along the way).
You didn't ask for my comment about your business situation, but I did feel compelled to ask: why not try to sell sooner rather than later? I realize the economy is in the dumps, so maybe now is not the right time (and you said this yourself), but it sounds like you're waiting for them to retire vs. aggressively pursuing a sale as soon as possible?
Anyway, didn't want to be nosey here. On your point about switching careers later in life, yeah, ageism is absolutely a problem.
I'd say the first question I'd ask is whether you even want to return to architecture. If you do, then it sounds like your options are to go with...
A) a firm that hires out of architecture school (which I could imagine are reputable firms that rigidly hire from reputable schools?)
B) a firm that is less reputable but might take people from a broader range of backgrounds (perhaps smaller, local firms?), or
C) your own architecture firm
My sense is that B or C are your best bets. Do either of these paths appeal to you?
If not, then the question becomes where you'd like to pivot to next. Here, I'd check out an answer I gave someone else (CTRL+F for "left-hand-side circle"). You may also want to make use of your alumni network to see who else you can identify who can see you as a younger version of themselves. CTRL+F for "juris doctor" for my answer to this one).
Hope this helps! Good luck!!
Don't you think this cult of success is toxic? Shouldn't we be rather working towards creating a system where people can sustainably follow their passions rather than teaching them to succeed in the current rigged one?
I do think it's toxic. And it's this very issue that made my book title and intro so difficult to write (and, in turn, why "success" is so ill-defined in my book).
Every book, as I'm sure you can appreciate, needs a catchy title. This is why you have all these get-rich-quick schemes and fad diets. Outcomes sell.
But what's the outcome of building a successful career? What does "success" even mean?
This is a deeply personal question. Some people want to make it to the top. Others want to make an impact. Others want financial stability. Others want work-life balance. Others want to build meaningful relationships. Many people want more than one of these things.
How do you capture all of this in a single title? How do you be everything to everyone without becoming nothing to anyone?
The best I could do on the cover was leave the subtitle as "Secrets to Starting Your Career Off Right." And in the book, I leave it at the following:
"In this book we will walk through the unspoken rules that underpin successful careers, step by step. These rules aren’t relevant only for your first job, internship, or apprenticeship; they’re relevant for any role in any industry, whether you’re a longtime employee or just stepping back into the workforce. This guide is about more than how to start your career; it’s about how to navigate your career— and succeed in it." (p.xii)
In the end, I'd like to think that most of us can identify with at least one of these seven aspirations:
1) Make more of an impact
2) Build better relationships
3) Receive more recognition
4) Get better at your job
5) Be less stressed
6) Get promoted
7) Figure out what you want to do with your life
And I'd like to think that my book is a toolkit that can help you achieve all seven of these goals, no matter where you are. But to cram all seven aspirations into a book title or an AMA title? If you have ideas, I'm down to listen!
Do you own any gamestop shares?
Roflmao! No I don't.
I also just screenshotted your message to a friend (who's a Reddit lurker) and he responded with, "There is a correct answer and it starts with a Y"
Are you trying to give me FOMO? =)
This might be bit off question but how is life going on for your mother
And imp question:-what kind of questions do you get most from people who ask you advise on career?
And also well done man!!
Thanks so much!! My mother's doing well, though I honestly don't know because I haven't been home in over a year and a half because of covid, so my only interactions have been through video chat and text. (Actually, this was a bit of a feat in itself—helping my mom get onto the internet.)
I'd say I get a lot of surface level questions at first, like "Hey, can you help me with my resume?" or "I have this interview tomorrow. How do I prepare?" But, within 10 minutes of chatting, 9/10 conversations end up revolving around "I have no idea what I want to do with my life" type questions). This is at least at Harvard where there's obviously a lot of privilege—where students often have the luxury to choose.
I am a freshman in high school. What do you think I should do now that will help me be successful later in life? My interests right now are making money in such ways as selling shoes and I am researching investing. Do you think I should continue pursing my interests right now, or should I do something else that can be beneficial?
You're already well on your way if you're thinking about these questions as a high school freshman! My advice is to try as many different things as early and quickly as possible. In the end, you're aiming for the intersection of (A) what you're good at, (B) what you're passionate about, (C) what the world needs, and (D) what the world will pay for (this is called "Ikigai" if you want to Google Image it).
As you're selling stuff and learning about investing, ask yourself (1) "What am I finding really easy?" (this could be something you're good at ), (2) "What gives me energy?" (this could be something you're passionate about), (3) "where do I think the world will be in 5, 10, 20, 50 years... and what opportunities might emerge?" (this could be what the world needs and will pay for).
The longer you wait, the harder it will be to explore, once you're locked into a major, profession, career, etc.
I'd also encourage you to think about what about investing and selling shoes excites you—and whose life you could improve with your skills. Sure, there are people who are purely motivated by money, but as a bit of a do-gooder, I want to encourage you to use your talents to make the world a better place. You're clearly a talented person. Use it for good!
Hmmm there's a lot to unpack here! I see your point that people might look at your JD and think that you're overqualified, but there are countless potential reasons for someone passing you on for a job.
I know this isn't directly answering your question upfront, but humor me for a sec while I take a step back and introduce a framework from my book, which I call the Three Cs (which stand for Competence, Commitment, and Compatibility).
When people are assessing your resume, cover letter, and interview performance, they are asking themselves three questions:
1) “Can you do the job well?” (Are you competent?)
2) “Are you excited to be here?” (Are you committed?)
3) “Do you get along with us?” (Are you compatible?)
So, when I think about your JD, sure, having this graduate degree might make you qualified for your job, but beyond the JD (or the absence of a JD) is your perceived competence and commitment towards a role.
On competence: Are you pitching yourself as someone who's essentially done a similar job before? Or, does everything you talk about and write about relate to law (with an inadequate amount of spin to show how your prior experiences translate)?
One way to get around this translation problem is to talk about your prior experiences using the framework, "X is just like Y; the only difference is Z."
Example: Being a corporate lawyer is just like being a marketer; the only difference is that I'm selling a product or service (your product or service) rather than my client." How much are you doing this?
On commitment: When people ask you what you're interested in and looking to do in the future, do you talk about how you're excited to help this particular team's mission? Or, does it sound like you're unsure of what you want to do (in which case others might think, Hmm... are you really interested in this role?
Compatibility is a massive topic that tilts us into bias and discrimination territory. That's a whole different topic, so let me pause here.
Frameworks and analysis aside, try this: Go on LinkedIn on your desktop, type anything into the search bar, click enter, click "All Filters," and, under "School," select your law school. Under "Locations," enter your city. Click "Show results." Look at the people who show up and identify the alums who are no longer practicing law and see if you're interested in joining their company. If so, InMail them, use your alumni directory to contact them, or guess their email and email them. See if they'd like to hire you or if they can introduce you to someone who is interested in your skills and passions.
How do you determine the type of questions and how you can frame them that you can ask during interviews to determine whether or not your company is a fit for you without decreasing or killing your chances for the job?
Call me a cynic, but I'm skeptical about any question giving you the quality data you need. The people on the other side have every incentive to tell you what you want to hear rather than what you need to hear. I'd rather do my own sleuthing by...
1) Googling for the company followed by "reviews" / "employee reviews" / "experiences" (or other similar terms to find any blogs, tweets, or rants)
2) Going on Glassdoor (but being careful that some companies might inflate their own stats)
3) Contacting former employees of the company
4) Searching here on Reddit :)
But to answer your question more directly, you could try asking questions that are more specific to your role and that are concrete, things like...
a) "I noticed in the job description that _________. What do you expect me to be able to do (or have done / contributed) the first month, six months, year?" (which can tell you a lot about whether they're over-expecting and underpaying)
b) "I noticed that you recently did / announced _________. How might I expect to be involved given my role as _________?" (which can tell you about how decisions get made and how central of a role you might play)
c) "How do decisions get made as it relates to _________?" (which can tell you a lot about how hierarchical the place is and whether employees have a say in what gets done)
In short, think about the issues you're trying to run away from (e.g., Micromanagement? Getting overworked? Being in an overly hierarchical place?) and find a way to ask about the *process* rather than the *culture* because even insiders probably won't know how to define the culture.
Is secret #1 to starting the career off right getting into Harvard? How much more is there to tell from there? Is the book short?
Hahah, no: my book is strictly about how to navigate the workplace once you show up:
- How do you prepare for your first day?
- What questions should you ask your manager on your first day/week?
- How do you manage expectations so you don't get overwhelmed?
- How do you position yourself for higher profile assignments?
- How do you renegotiate your salary?
...and loads more (click on the cover to look at the table of contents: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1647820448/)
In short, it's a comprehensive guide from before your first day in a new role through to your promotion.
Harvard might help you get in the door, but once you show up, it's not about book smarts, but street smarts. And let's be real: flaunting that you go to Harvard probably isn't going to make you any friends. At a certain point, it's all about your hustle. My book is a guide on the hustle.
Why should we take advice from you?
I will never "should" you. You decide for yourself based on whether you believe my answers have substance.
Do you have any advice for doing hedge fund recruiting as a woman when your target funds are small all male teams?
Do you think pursing an MBA at Harvard helps with the above?
Where are you in the recruiting cycle? If you aren't applying immediately (i.e., you're a freshman or sophomore), I'd try to pack my resume with as many finance/investing-related experiences as possible to really show your commitment to this career path. As you know, HFs are hard to break into because demand for jobs >>>>> supply of jobs.
If you're recruiting immediately, I'd try to look for specific individuals who seem invested in empowering women because you at least know that they're trying to be allies. Google for "women investing conferences" or something and see if there are any men who've sponsored, spoken at, or supported these causes. Skim the team pages and LinkedIn bios of people at your target firms to see if they show any community service work. Okay, this might be a bit out there, but you could even find someone who seems to have a daughter (https://www.economist.com/the-economist-explains/2017/10/06/how-daughters-change-the-behaviour-of-influential-men).
Also, Google for the terms "diversity" + "program" + "finance" + "recruiting" + "women" and make a list of all the programs that show up.
An MBA at Harvard might get you through the door, but it doesn't open the door. It's often not the first job, but the second or third job:
- Path 1: College --> IB --> PE --> MBA --> HF
- Path 2: College --> IB --> PE --> HF
- Path 3: College --> IB --> HF
- Path 4: College --> HF
Path 4 might work for startup hedge funds, but I'd be wary of joining an upstart because HFs have not performed well (and if you're straight out of college, you're unlikely to do any actual investing; you're probably pulling data from FactSet).
How much do you think checking all the diversity boxes helped propel your career?
Do you think that there should be some pushback in large software companies where Caucasian people are already a minority, often with even CEO being non-Caucasian, but there are still "positive discrimination" practices put in place?
Interesting question because I actually feel like I've checked zero diversity boxes as an Asian male. Socioeconomic status may have played a role in my college admission (i.e., maybe the admissions officer thought, Wow, good job taking the cards you've been dealt!). But, from the perspective of the workplace, I'm not sure I've felt much of a wind at my back at all. (For the record, I'd to see socioeconomic status be a factor, though I know that's not easy to assess; it'd be a weird system to ask for tax returns as part of the hiring process.)
I didn't qualify for any diversity programs. Maybe you had something else in mind?
What are your tips for anxiety though? I've luckily found a job but anxiety does not help or my feelings of low self worth. Unfortunately i wasn't smart enough to go to an ivy League university. I am jealous of your brains. 😩 Gimme them. I also come from a working class background. Not as worse off as most people thankfully. However, it annoys me that my friends get their cars bought for them, they have to pay no rent, get ordinary jobs easily through connections. Whereas I have to pay all that myself, and have difficulty finding work. And I honestly feel I'm getting no where in life. It's taking forever compared to my friends.
Hi there! I appreciate you being so vulnerable. It's tough being born without the advantages that others are born with. Some people are starting on third base on the baseball diamond while you're still learning how to swing the baseball bat (I don't follow baseball, so forgive this poorly-executed comparison).
I've personally found it helpful to remind myself that where I start off does not have to dictate where I end up. The important thing is to keep pushing forward.
This is unrelated, but I thought I'd share an anecdote from a recent conversation with a friend. My friend shut down his startup and told me about how he had a "failed" startup. I asked, "Did you fail? Or did you give up?"
We then went on a long talk about what the difference is between failing and giving up. I won't bore you with the details, but our conclusion was that for many things in life (except for tests in school maybe where there's this pass/fail binary), failure is really in the eye of the beholder. In my friend's case, he felt like he had failed. Maybe he really did fail. And maybe he made the right decision by shutting down ("giving up" on) his startup. Or, maybe he could have kept going and strike it big eventually. We'll never know because the story stopped mid-way.
This might just be a me thing, but when I find myself getting anxious or discouraged, I try to remind myself of all the wins I've made to get to where I am today. You have them too! You came from a working class background and graduated from college. That's a big deal. You found a job after school. That's a big deal too, and especially so if you found this job during the pandemic. You've been supporting yourself. As a member of a generation that people love to poo poo on for being entitled and dependent, you sound like the very opposite. You sound resilient and independent. That counts for something!
So, I strongly disagree with your assessment about you not going anywhere in life. You've already gone places! It may be taking longer compared to your friends, but you're still making progress. And progress means you're going places :)
PS: A CEO told me just yesterday: "Funny: 'legacy' is now a pejorative; 'first-gen' is cool." I believe it! I think society is waking up the fact that someone like you is far more impressive than someone who was born with a silver spoon in their mouth.
As someone who grew up in the same neighbourhood as you and am also a first generation post graduate student, how can I find mentorship that can help me not make the mistakes the first time around without a network? What is a small thing people overlook about you that is actual quite fundamental to your success? A detailed agenda?
Oh wow, do we have a fellow Torontonian here? Welcome!
My advice here is to start by identifying two people in your field / domain:
1) Someone who is just a few steps ahead of you (say, ~2-5 years)
2) Someone who is many more steps ahead of you (say, 20+ years)
Person #1 might be someone you already know (e.g., a friend, a coworker, a TA from school, etc.). This person has probably made a lot of the mistakes so you don't have to. Ask them how they navigated whatever you're about to navigate.
This wasn't a conscious decision at the time, but, looking back, the most professionally valuable relationships I've made were juniors (3rd year) and seniors (4th year) that I had met when I was, say, a freshman (1st year). I didn't see these people as mentors. To me, they were simply friends. But they gave me so much good guidance around what next step to take. And often, these people may even be be more useful to you than person #2 because they're closer to the current realities.
Given your question, I'll assume that you don't have someone who resembles person #2. These relationships take time to find and time to cultivate. For these people, I'd start on Google and LinkedIn. Make a list of the people that you'd like to become one day. Then, ask for an introduction to them (if you have a mutual connection) or cold email them and ask for a call because you'd like to follow in their footsteps. 9/10 people will ignore you, but you only need one "yes." If the call falls flat, whatever. Send a thank you email and move on. If you really hit it off, stay in touch.
And sorry for the book plug, but I have an entire chapter on this in my book. It's chapter 11: Spark Relationships. https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1647820448/. The book also includes an email templates you can use for asking for an introduction or cold emailing.
Hi Gorick, as an Asian male working in finance, I have some issues with defining my own identity. Often in front office or business school interviews, interviewers will ask about your personal story and what makes you uniquely qualified for a position. Obviously Asians are not under-represented in high finance, even though there are distinct biases and stereotypes for Asians that another candidate profile will not suffer from.
So my question is, how do I craft my story and sell myself without coming across as a privileged kid trying to cash in on his minority representation ticket?
Sorry for the book plug here, but you set it up so well that I feel compelled to say that I have an entire chapter called "Know How to Tell Your Story" (Chapter 5, p.53-67) in https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1647820448/ that covers this exact topic. Consider checking it out!
To be more immediately useful to you, what I think I'm hearing is the question, "How do I answer the inevitable interview question, 'Tell me about yourself." Did I get that right? Or, once you're in a job, how do you reintroduce yourself in a way that makes you sound competent, committed, and compatible (also the main framework from my book)?
If so (and let me know if I'm misinterpreting), my approach is to deliver my answer using a past, present, future framework:
PAST: What sparked your interest? What have you done to pursue this interest?
PRESENT: What brings you here today? Why are you interested in this role at this company?
FUTURE: Where do you see yourself next?
Here's a totally made-up example (assuming you're early in your career and wanting to pursue, say, sales and trading): "I grew monitoring the price fluctuations of apples when I followed my mom to the grocery store. As I grew up, I started nerding out over the price of playing cards, followed by stocks on the stock market. This led to me studying economics in college, where I also joined the finance club. My school isn't doesn't send many kids into finance, and my town isn't exactly known for being a finance hub, so I spent my summers working at a financial inclusion non-profit for kids. It's not quite trading, but it did help me gain a better appreciation for the people side of finance. Now, as I think about next steps, I'd love to merry my love for markets with my love for interacting with people, which is what brings me to this trading desk, where I'd love to learn and grow."
Notice what I did: I started off with the spark. I then dropped a few examples of how you've put yourself on the path to where you are today. All of this builds up to why you're here today. You don't need to be all that detailed about your future plans upfront. Chances are, that will be the next question ("Where do you see yourself in five years?").
Is this helpful?
Is college worth it? Who do you think it's for? I know you're from Harvard and clearly take pride in that, but personally, I can't justify college to anyone except for a few.
This is a a tricky question because it depends on how you interpret the data:
Data point 1: "Nearly 4 million adult workers without college degrees have not found work again after losing their jobs in the pandemic. Only 199,000 adult workers with a bachelor’s degree or higher are in the same situation." (Washington Post, April 22, 2021)
Data point 2: "At the median, career earnings for a bachelor’s degree graduate are more than twice as high as for someone with only a high school diploma or GED, roughly 70 percent higher than for someone with some college but no degree, and more than 45 percent higher than for someone with an associate degree." (Brookings, October 8, 2020)
Data point 3: "A 2018 study of over 800 million job postings and 80 million resumes from many years found 4 in 10 college grads worked in jobs not requiring a college degree—for example, as a barista. Three in four stayed underemployed after 10 years. (The 74 Million, April 12, 2021)
Look at data point 1 and 2 alone and you might conclude that college is essential.
Look at data point 3 alone and you might conclude that college is a waste of time and money.
So, which is it?
The data doesn't tell the full story:
Dilemma 1: Do college goers have some special set of characteristics that non-college goers may not have? (i.e., college doesn't make you successful; all it does is select for the people who are hard working / smart / wealthy / privileged enough—people who would have succeeded even without that piece of paper)
Dilemma 2: Do you meet people in college who can refer you to jobs—and you'd otherwise not be able to build this network if you went straight into the workforce without the experience of spending four years building your network at sweaty dorm parties?
This is just a long-winded way of saying "it depends" :)
What I'd say is this:
A) Is having a college degree better than not having a college degree? Yes.
B) Is having no debt better than having debt / Is having little debt better than having lots of debt? Yes.
C) Is a stable, safe, upwardly-mobile job better than an unstable, unsafe, non-upwardly mobile job? Yes.
Is it possible to achieve #3 without #1? Yes, if...
i) You became a surgical technologist, electrician, plumber, carpenter, construction, etc., which are called "middle skill jobs" (jobs that require more than a high school diploma but less than a college degree) (Source: US News)
ii) You attended a program / bootcamp that offered an Income Share Agreement (ISA), where you don't pay anything upfront, but instead pay a certain % of your future salary for X number of years if you make above a certain amount each year
iii) You got a ton of scholarships and financial aid that can lower your cost of college
iv) You started off at a two-year community college, then made the decision to transfer to a four-year college later if you want to
Here's what I'd do in your shoes:
It's all a matter of trade-offs:
Going the non-four-year college route puts you on the path to making stable money sooner (and probably more money than the average college grad makes straight out of school), but the path you'll take will be rigid and narrow (i.e., it's not going to be easy to go from plumbing to marketing) and, unless you start your own plumbing business, you'll probably end up early the same stable income for the rest of your career vs. working in a corporate job where the sky is the limit... assuming you are successful at navigating to the top, though that's a small minority of people.
Going the four-year-year college route might give you a more generally marketable piece of paper that's also more flexible (and with a higher ceiling for what you might earn long-term), but, unless you pursue a program that's concrete like engineering or business administration, just because you have a college degree doesn't mean a job is just going to fall out of the sky and land on your lap.
One important consideration is your major. It's helpful to get into the best school possible, yes, but what's even more important is your field of study. You're going to be a lot more immediately employable if you enroll a program that has a strong history of sending people into good jobs and companies (say, computer science, engineering, business administration, nursing, etc.). The more wishy-washy the program, the less of a return you will get. There's a frustrating inequality here: you can study art history at Harvard and still get a job at Goldman Sachs, but you really can't do that if you went elsewhere. Is this how the world should be? No. Is this how it is today? Yes. When in doubt, be practical.
Hope this helps!
How do you manage not becoming burnt out on work and/or academics? I feel that I want to pursue something greater but some days I lack the passion to do so because I am mentally drained.
I hear you! I've felt burnout before and it isn't fun.
This could just be me, but each of those moments of burnout actually happened when I didn't care at all about what I was doing. I was either taking classes I wasn't interested in (or that I didn't see the value in) or working jobs I couldn't see myself doing long-term or whose mission I really didn't care about.
So, this might just be me, but I now see burnout as a symptom with a deeper root cause, where the root cause is a lack of passion towards whatever I'm doing (which I know you mentioned).
So, I guess my question to you is: Imagine yourself writing your memoir at the end of your career. What do you want that memoir to be about?
Now, think about the things you're doing day-to-day: Are they putting you on the path you want to go down? Or, are they detours / side streets to the main road?
Of course, burnout could also be the symptom behind overwork and many other stressors, so I definitely don't want to discount that side of things. If you feel like that might be the issue, have you taken any days off recently? Have you unplugged and gone outside? Burnout is a complex issue, so I definitely don't want to downplay your situation by saying "go take a hike."
What advice do you give to women looking to go into business? Also what are ways you can get your foot in the door? Your story is so inspiring!
Thanks for your question! I assume you're a job seeker (maybe a college student)? If so, here are a few tips:
1) Join any women in business groups / professional sororities / pre-professional groups that exist on campus and try to take on a leadership role (especially one that allows you to interface with employers, like conference organizers)
2) Build relationships with current members and alums (and especially those who are a few years ahead of you because they'll be in a position to hire when you're about to graduate)
3) Google for the terms "women" + "diversity" + "program" + "hiring" + [your industry, e.g., "finance," "computer science"], make a list of the programs, note down all of the deadlines, and apply to all of the ones that interest you
4) Whenever a speaker comes to campus, read their bio and see if they're someone you could see yourself becoming. If so, go to the event, ask a question, reach out to them after the event (whether on LinkedIn or via email if you can guess their email), thank them and, if you'd like, see if they'd be open to having a phone call with you. In this email, talk about how you'd love to follow in their footsteps and would like their advice on X, Y, Z (where X, Y, and Z are decisions they made that you'd like to better understand because you'd like to do what they did) and would like 20 minutes of their time. Shameless plug #1: I was in the Wall Street Journal today with some more tips: https://www.wsj.com/articles/networking-makes-a-comeback-for-the-class-of-2021-11619794797
5) Shameless plug #2: read my book ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1647820448/
If there's a theme to the above, it's that who you know matters, so the sooner you get to know people behind the scenes (or who will soon be behind the scenes), the easier time you will have when the time comes.
What's your favorite dessert?
Chunky ice cream or cheesecake! What's yours?
*Double checks to make sure this isn't a bank account security reset answer*
I’ve found throughout my life that business owners tend to want employees who are highly experienced, but not pay the price that comes with that experience.
I have a resume that is about five pages long, everybody who looks at my resume says it it extremely impressive. I have a Masters degree. Yet I’ve never had a wage that was commensurate with my experience. When I apply to jobs that are higher paying, I never hear back. When I apply to jobs that are a similar job description but entry level wages, I almost always hear back.
I have received phone calls from gas stations, fast food places etc. for minimum wage. They admit in interviews that I am highly overqualified but those are some of the only people who will hire me.
What’s the career secret to getting a job at a place that is at my skill level and earns a decent salary?
You're right: when given a choice, employers will absolutely pay the lowest wages they can. At the end of the day, every company wants the same two things: to increase revenues and to decrease costs. If a company doesn't have to pay you more, they won't.
I think the problem in your case is that you're underemployed (are in a job that is not commensurate with your education and training) and have been anchored to certain (low) wage—and have been for a long enough period of time that you're in a cycle of underemployment. So, no matter your number of years of work experience, when employers see that you've been working in [insert low-paying job] for [insert low wage], they think oh, we don't need to pay you more; this is how much you're "worth" in the labor market. It's totally unfair, but it's unfortunately backed up by research. In fact, there's a term for it: "The Permanent Detour."
tl;dr from the above article:
"4 in 10 college graduates are underemployed in their first job. Two-thirds of these graduates will still be underemployed five years later. Of those workers underemployed at five years, three-quarters will still be without college-level work at the 10-year mark."
Researchers call this the "permanent detour" because though your first job won't be your last job, how high paying your first job is becomes the floor of how much you can expect to earn in your next job. So, if you start off making $40K, you'd have negotiating leverage to land a $45K salary next time; if you start off making $90K, your next job probably won't pay $45K unless you deliberately switched to a lower-paying profession or industry; you'll probably negotiate your way to $95K. For the $40K crowd, they're on this "detour" from $95K—and the longer you proceed down this detour, the harder it becomes to get out.
I'm sorry for the ramble here, but I do think this context is important. I won't kid you: I think you're in a bit of a labor market whirlpool here.
I'm not convinced that applying for jobs online will help. All you're doing by applying for jobs online is picking up the leftover positions that companies couldn't fill through their internal networks. Waiting for a company that will hire you and pay you fairly is like waiting to get lucky. You need to hunt for (or create) your next job (and career), not just apply for your next job.
Let's think about (A) what you have to offer and (B) what you can get:
What you have to offer: Put aside your current and former position title for a moment. What value can you bring to a company? Can you sell? Can you design stuff? Are you any good at marketing? Writing? Project managing? Videography?
What you can get: Who do you know? Where do they work? Could they hire you themselves or bang the table for a hiring manager to pick you up? Could they introduce you to someone else at another organization who is in a position to hire?
Aside: Forgive me for tooting my own horn, but I was in the Wall Street Journal today for an article about networking that might speak to you: "Networking Makes a Comeback for the Class of 2021 As hiring rebounds, trawling job-listing sites is out; making personal connections is in"
Then ask yourself: Are any of the companies you can get interested in what you have to offer?
Next, ask yourself: Are you communicating what you have to offer convincingly? If you've been pumping gas and waiting tables, you may not have the resume people are looking for, even if you have the skills. If this is the case, could you build a portfolio?
One option is to go on some freelancing websites and start doing some gigs in the area you're interested in. Build a Squarespace, Wix, Duda, or whatever website. Each time you do a gig, add it to your online portfolio. That way, you're building up your "resume" while also making some money. And the more you do and the better a job you do, the higher a price point you can command.
Once you have enough to show (enough to effectively wipe out the other jobs you've done), go to the companies you're interested in and show your portfolio. Or, if you're doing so well alone that you'd rather not have to deal with corporate politics, continue working for yourself.
For those who have a criminal record, I would Google for "fair chance hiring" and find employers that have committed to the cause.
(Fair chance hiring is a commitment some employers are making to not ask about whether a job applicant has a criminal record.)
Here's a database of jobs / employers that are "fair chance": https://www.70millionjobs.com/search
why did you choose the most degenerate and useless professions to work in, besides money?
If money was what I wanted, I would have stayed in finance.
Does your book address the problem of "cultural fit" that discriminates anyone who isn't a man or the majority ethnicity of the company or department?
Yes, 100%! Download the first 25 pages of my book on http://gorick.com/. My entire book is based on a framework that I call the Three Cs, which stand for Competence, Commitment, and Compatibility.
The idea is this: The instant you step into the workplace (or present yourself in a cover letter or interview) is the instant your coworkers, managers, and clients start sizing you up and asking themselves 3 questions:
1) “Can you do the job well?” (Are you competent?)
2) “Are you excited to be here?” (Are you committed?)
3) “Do you get along with us?” (Are you compatible?)
Your challenge is to convince others to answer "yes!" to all three questions. Compatibility = "culture fit"
This was the most difficult area to write about but also the most important for exactly the reason you shared. I spend lots of time discussing how this plays out in small talk, meetings, promotions, and more.
I'm sure it's far from perfect, so if you read the book, please post an honest review!