Monday, November 13, 2006

Being in the Hot Seat

This weekend I was thinking about some of the mistakes I've made during the job interview process and wanted to share them with you from the point of view of a Duke student. I have received a ton of feedback and have heard plenty of stories over the last couple of months, so here are some things to think about...

Don't be a smart ass: Once I was asked if I had any questions and replied "If I have an unlimited supply of water, a three gallon jug, and a five gallon jug, how do I get exactly four gallons of water into the five gallon jug?" The answer I received was that they probably have a four-gallon jug at some other company.

Don't dress like you own a plane: If you usually rock out an expensive suit with a Rolex and a smirk, you might want to consider something more moderate. Even though you may be able to buy the bank and burn it to the ground and your uncle's names end in Goldman and Sachs, it is absolutely necessary to curb flagrancy.

While people usually say you should dress for the job you want to have, in industries such as investment banking this is strictly forbiden. You only tie a double windsor knot in your tie if your name was in the Wall Street Journal 5 minutes ago and your about to go on CNN to talk about your stock picks. If that isn't the case, stick with a white shirt and blue tie, kills em every time.

Try to relax: It shows when you are nervous during an interview. In general, the first round is just to make sure you would fit in at a given company and employers are looking for pulled together adults that they would want to be around for an extended period of time. If you appear to be very serious or not much fun, you can expect to receive an unpleasant phone call.

I heard a story about a fellow Duke student who received several "brain teasers" in a row and got frustrated. Eventually he blew a gasket and asked his interviewers the following. "If 5% of the world is a jerk, what are the chances that the two people interviewing me would both be jerks?" The interview ended promptly and without a chuckle.

Be your self: I can't tell you how many interviewers I have talked to after getting a rejection that have told me my answers sounded rehearsed. What I learned, albeit a little too late in the process, is that you need to have good responses that are loosely defined. If you have practiced your interview in the mirror, you may be thinking about the process in the wrong way and will most likely be caught off guard by a question that you did not account for no matter how prepared you may be. Speak from the heart as most people don't want to work with a robot are attempting to asses your ability to think on the spot rather than memorize great sounding BS.

As a student who also enjoys having a bit of fun and the occasional beer, it is probably unnecessary to say that I lack a 4.0 GPA and am unable to play a violin with my armpit. Therefore employers usually select my resume out of the pile they receive because of its well-rounded nature rather than its excellence in a given area. These principles reflect what I said above, as they would be looking to hire someone having these characteristics because they are personable.

If they wanted the same answers rehearsed and repeated to them, as is often the case when they interview at business schools, it would be very easy for most potential candidates, especially at Duke, to memorize a textbook response. Be creative and have fun with it.

Get Interested: The other thing I've heard, even though in reality it could not be further from the truth, is that I have lacked enthusiasm. Have something interesting prepared. Read a company’s financial reports if they are public, which most of them are, and try to have a great question or list of things you can talk about with your interviewer. Chances are they will like talking about themselves and about how great their company is. Who doesn’t?

You don’t need to understand the numbers, although looking at earnings would not be bad, but try to focus on the text and the direction of the employer and their future plans. Also, be up to date with what is happening in the news. If they just merged with someone else, and it happens to be the biggest merger in history, you better know about it.

And, as always, be persistent...

"I do not think that there is any other quality so essential to success of any kind as the quality of perseverance. It overcomes almost everything, even nature." - John D. Rockefeller

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Connecting the Dots

Steve Jobs, being the CEO of Apple Computer, has been somewhat of a mentor to me in more ways than one even though we have never met. I thought I might talk about his graduation speech and advice that he provides the students of Stanford as they head out into the real world as I ended my last post with his closing statement. He splits this advice into three parts that I think are applicable to any person who feels lost and looking to find answers. The first story he tells is about connecting the dots.

Everything you do has a purpose. Within Steve's life story it involves him realizing that the courses he took as a college dropout, the lowest point in his life, were in some ways the most significant as they are what made the Macintosh, the manifestation of his persona in machine form, unique.

He is not claiming to be a visionary, although by my standards he certainly is, but merely suggesting that all the dots, or seemingly meaningless moments and nuances of life, come together and eventually make sense. This is something extremely important for college graduates to remember as we sometimes fail to see a meaning behind the madness in a shortsighted world.

If you have been left behind in the rat race for sexy and appealing highly lucrative jobs it makes no difference. In fact, even if you graduate with no job, or fail to graduate at all, it simply builds character and adds to the moments in your life when you will have been transformed and able to apply what you have learned in the future. It will work out for the best in the end and I am a firm believer that this may show you an alternate path to success that is perhaps shorter or more scenic than you might have imagined.

Whether or not you believe in fate or destiny, you should never think that a door has closed when in reality a thousand may have opened. Take these times that involve difficult decisions to relax, think about what makes you happy, and go with it. A lot of the time, you’ll be happy you did. When you connect the dots looking back, it will all make sense. Even though it may seem that you took the road less traveled, eventually it will make all the difference.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Exhibit A: You Tube

Surprise! YouTube was named invention of the year by Time Magazine today and before you make any conclusions about how this might be a lame choice I urge you to read this post.

At first glance this may seem like a fairly obvious choice as it involved an astronomical billion-dollar transaction and everyone's favorite company Google. However, there is more to this selection than initially meets the eye. As I see it, this is a slap in the face to those who believe the Internet revolution is over. Within the currently rebounding yet still subdued economy, now extremely weary of the technology industry, it appears that there is still the possibility for innovation to continue to break the mold of the traditional career patterns.

The story of YouTube is an instant classic, the adventure of three twenty-year-olds who refused to accept the status quo and make a gamble of their own on the ever-evolving information superhighway through coming up with a new idea. In doing so, they not only harnessed both the web 2.0 movement and the recent highly accessible nature of video cameras, but changed the way people think about entertainment and are entertained. This has huge implications for the job market.

Most people believe that career patterns have changed because of the information revolution. Individuals are no longer able to be effective at what they do without continuously learning throughout their lifetime. This does not mean that everyone has to go to night school or even an online university, but it does mean that information disseminates quicker than ever before and if you are not up to date, you are slowly left behind. It is impossible to be a car mechanic and work on newer vehicles or even a good doctor these days without being current on the newest methods of repair and procedures. In many ways, not having knowledge of widely available information can be considered a form of negligence.

As a result, most people have either become complacent about eventually being obsolete or have harnessed new job models where they must remain dynamic to stay in the game. However, this group of young entrepreneurs took their ideas one step further than casual conversation and acceptance of their jobs at PayPal in upholding the idea that not only has the nature of our careers changed permanently, but that the entrepreneurship that has been associated with the rise of the Internet is alive, well, and here to stay.

This is a perfect example of how our lives have fundamentally changed for the better and how we must evolve to continue to harness the opportunities it provides. There are many more out there.

"Stay hungry, stay foolish." - Steve Jobs

Sunday, November 05, 2006

The beginning...

Hey everyone my name is Tyler and I am a senior at Duke University. I just got word that I would be able to write about technology for the next couple of weeks in order to get the opportunity to fly to Cali and spend some time with the group at digg.com. I can't think of a better opportunity than getting to go see where all the start-up action is and obtaining some experience that I might need in order to start my own company.

So why would I do this?

I'm a Computer Science and Economics Major who was planning on taking a trip to California post graduation with the clothes on my back and a charged laptop in the hopes of finding some inspiration. I always have a ton of ideas that I think would be great, but I've been having a hard time finding the right way to fit all of the pieces together. Cali, especially the Silicon Valley area, is the perfect place to be inundated by a ton of smart, tech-minded people and the right resources to get the job done. I think that if I'm creative enough to come up with something that people would enjoy, I might be able to carve a slice of the Web 2.0 cake that I can call my own.

As for most people who similarly interested in computer science and economics, there are many job options available upon graduation as technological innovation has creeped into every corner of our lives. However as we have seen, the economy is not quite as wild-eyed and optimistic it was during the "bubble" where most students overlooked the comfort and security of a more traditional career minded job for the sexiness and glory of the tech startup IPO. Times have changed and now most graduating seniors think it is increasingly important to pay your dues as a banker in order to learn about the nature of profitability and get the background needed to succeed in the second wave of the Internet revolution. They couldn't be more wrong.

Within the next series of posts I'm going to show you why I believe it is important to follow your dreams and be creative, let nothing get in your way, and continue to see the Internet as the wild wild web, where anything can happen and everyone has the power to change to world.