Thursday, October 11, 2012

How to get a job at your favourite company

With MBA recruitment in full swing, having been on both sides of the table now, I thought I’d share some thoughts. This would be most helpful for those seeking Industry employment because this is where I come from.

On campus recruitment is brutal. All the companies come at the same time and you have to attend 5 presentations in one afternoon and then submit 10 applications in one night. Career services gives you helpful, but often conflicting advice (“Focus on what you want”, “Don’t put all the eggs in one basket”). But their goals are slightly different from yours: they need as many of you employed as possible while you want to get your dream job, whatever “dream” means for you.
Why is it that some of your classmates collecting multiple offers while others are left with nothing? Because on campus recruitment is aimed at picking superstars (superstar CV, superstar story-telling/analytical/case-cracking skills). This is bad from the candidate’s perspective, and this is bad from the company perspective as well (we are going after the same small group of people ignoring the larger pool of brilliant folks who don’t know how to sell themselves).
So – how do you stand out?
First, think, in 20 years time, who do you want to be? An automotive executive? A clean-tech energy expert? A brand strategist? An entrepreneur (in which field)? A partner at consulting firm? A retired banker? Pick a few if you cannot decide and work backwards on what steps you need to take you there. I know, this is not a quick fix. But you will have to prioritise. If energy is not on your short list, don’t apply to Shell. Even if they have a great rotational program and pay above market rate.
Second, research the sector. Who are the main players, where the market is going, what the challenges and opportunities are, who the disruptors are. People who work in the industry live and breathe it  every day, and your research (or lack of it) will be very apparent in the interview. But we are not at the interview stage yet.
Third, identify the companies. Find the contacts you may have in these companies (friends, current students, alumni contacts, LinkedIn 2nd degree acquaintances). What roles they have? What background are they coming from? Is there someone there who has a similar background to you? Where do employees in the company come from (which companies or sectors – is there anything you can do in the interim to strengthen your CV)? Reach out to these people. Ask for a coffee or phone conversation. Suggest you come to their office (you can get an office tour and it shows your dedication). Don’t wait to reach out until you have an interview invite. The earlier you do it the better. Alums often participate in CV screening.

  • Don’t send the same email to all the alums in the same company. Personalise. Guess what? We talk to each other.
  • Don’t write a long email with a long list of questions. You can outline 2-3 questions, but suggest a personal meeting (or a phone call if they have no time). Give them a couple of options, if you have a deadline – share it.

Fourth, when you get to the meeting, have good questions. This is where your sector research comes in handy. You are there to learn about the company and culture, the application and the interview process, not to become their best buddies. Get the best use of the time you have.
Fifth, let your career services know of your interest in specific companies. They talk to the company recruiters. Sometimes they can help get you on the shortlist if you don’t make the initial cut.
Finally, you don’t need to attend the company presentation if you have done the steps above. By this stage you will know enough about the company and culture to be able to write a good cover letter. And half of your classmates will quote the presentation anyway. 
Oh yes, good cover letterIf the company asks for cover letter – write a cover letter. If you don’t, it will come and bite you. Even if you get the first round interview, there is always competition for the second round, and I bet the person who gets through have written the cover letter.
There are brilliant cover letters, OK cover letters and bad cover letters. 
Brilliant cover letters usually have the names of people you’re spoken to, share your personal connection and passion for the company, and (bonus points) are written in the company style (i.e., using the language employees use). These are the letters that get me excited. 
OK cover letters are usually the ones from the common template: I am interested in position X. Here are three paragraphs about my skills that you mentioned in your company presentation (you see – I’ve been there!). I am interested in working at your company because you are X. These ones are respectable. If you have a strong CV these will not shoot you down. If your CV is not relevant to the company, you've missed your chance to get an interview.
Bad cover letters are bad in different ways. Check for the do's and don’ts below.

  • Spellcheck. Not just MS Word, but actually read it (and your CV too). Every third Spanish speaker is “costumer focused” (rather than “customer focused”).

  • Don’t write too long or too short cover letter. Good size is between 1/5 - 2/3 of a page.
  • Don’t focus your letter on one specific topic. Even if you are passionate about one specific product or recent news about the company, mention it once and then use the space for something else. After all, you are telling your story, not reciting our press release.
  • Don’t extract a fact about the company from 1999 case from HBS and tell us that this is what makes us real innovators. In fact, don’t play back the marketing message the company gave you – find out what the company employees are actually focusing on and play that back.

Interview. Probably worth a separate post, but to round it up. Things that make you stand out: energy, passion and knowledge of the sector and company. And good stories from your past experiences: where you succeeded and where you screwed up (and what you learnt from it). Also, know yourself. If you are generally loud, tone it down a bit (your interviewer has probably seen 5 other candidates before you). If you are quiet, tone it up: have some Coke, and don’t conceal your interest and passion.
If you don’t get the job – seek feedback. Reach out to the recruiter, ask what you can improve. Reach out to the contacts you spoke to. Some of them may be able to get you an unofficial feedback. There will be other roles later – 6 or 12 months down the line (or even years – good research and contacts pay off, if this is indeed the sector you want to be in long-term). Figure out what was missing and try to bridge the gap by getting the experience in other companies. After all, your career is a long-term game. And this is just one step on the long and successful roadtrip.
Happy job hunting!

Friday, June 13, 2008

1st year is over

Had my last lecture of the term today. Three final exams are still due. And after them, on Sunday morning I'm off to Switzerland for my summer internship.
I hope I will have time there to share my first year experiences: about LBS life, recruitment, study groups... if anyone is still reading, stay tuned! :)

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Peacocks, BP and Kevin Bacon

"Peacocks, BP and Kevin Bacon" read one of the slides we used today in group debate on Corporate Social Responsibility.
Confused? Let me then start afresh.

Each Monday morning our stream has Business Ethics and Corporate Social Responsibility. The best thing about the course this year is a group debate that is held each lecture on a separate topic.
For instance, last Monday two groups presented pros and cons of bribery (should a company use bribery when it operates in a country where bribery is common practice). And though the "pro" group brought chocolates for the whole audience, they lost. Sorry, guys, I voted for you :)
It looked like touchy-feely side won all the time. So when we gathered last week to prepare our presentation on the pro side of "The only social responsibility of a law-abiding business is to maximize shareholders' value" the general mood was: "There's no way we can win this, so why not have some fun?"
In order to prepare we had four group meetings, each time with a new central idea, including:
1) Milton Friedman (he is the father of "profit as the only social responsibility"),
2) The Godfather ("It's nothing personal, Sonny, it's strictly business"),
3) video with Warren Buffett giving his money to Gates foundation not as a businessman but as a person,
4) wheel of fortune ...
...and somehow ended up with peacocks (all the credit goes to the President of the Poker Club who presented it to us late on Sunday evening between two deals).

So what do peacocks, BP and Kevin Bacon have in common?
Basically peacocks use bright feathers to attract peahens. And modern companies use social responsibility to attract customers. And everything you can think of, even social responsibility, can be linked in less than 6 steps to Kevin Bacon- ahem, to Profit Maximization.
The "good" team that prepared slides independently was arguing that businesses should be socially responsible. Why? Well, because it's profitable to the companies... gotcha!
For the first time this term in our stream, "bad" guys has won the debate :)

Monday, October 01, 2007

Isle of Wight

Term start on Monday with Ethics and Finance. This means that Pre-Term is over and we will get much busier.
Meanwhile I wanted to post a couple of photos from my weekend trip to the Isle of Wight:
Beaches of Ryde during low-tide

A man and a gull

One of the famous white cliffs (near Sandown)

One evening I saw a lots of people on the esplanade: everyone was looking in their binoculars and making photos and videos. I asked a lady why were their doing that and she said, "That's the cruise ship, can't you see. It means that people are going on holiday. Come on, where's your camera? That's important!"
So I made a photo too :)

Cruise ship


Isle of Wight penguin :)

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Set your aspirations high

London Business School offers a challenging assignment for the first years: it is called the Shadow project. The student has to observe an executive for up to 5 days and write a report about the experience. And since now it is optional (luckily, for many) people come with all sort of creative ideas. One of my classmates wants to shadow Steve Jobs! All I can say is "Wow! Good luck, man!" and will follow his route to the destination with great interest :)

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Textbooks and most recommended books

Long-long time ago when I was applying to business school I wanted to find out which textbooks are used in the study process and what other reading professors recommend. If there's someone out there who is as curious for books as me, the following lists are for you.

First-term textbooks:
  • Business Statistics: Quantitative Methods for Decision Makers (4th ed) by Mik Wisniewski
  • Strategy: Contemporary Strategy Analysis: Concepts, techniques, applications (6th ed) by Robert M. Grant
  • Corporate Finance: Principles of Corporate Finance (8th ed) by Brealey, Myers & Allen
  • Financial Accounting: Financial Accounting (6th ed) by Harrison and Horngrenn
  • Managerial Economics: Principles of Microeconomics (Version 4) by N. G. Mankiw
Most recommended books (students' survey, top-15)
  1. The Goal by Eliyahu Goldratt
  2. Good to Great by Jim Collins
  3. How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie
  4. The World Is Flat by Thomas Friedman
  5. Liar's Poker by Michael Lewis
  6. Competitive Strategy by Michael Porter
  7. The Innovator's Dilemma/Solution by Clay Christensen
  8. The New Business Road Test by John Mullins
  9. Are You Ready to Succeed? by Srikumar Rao
  10. Barbarians at the gate by Bruan Burrough
  11. Blink by Malcolm Gladwell
  12. Freakonomics by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner
  13. The Pyramid Principle by Barbara Minto
  14. The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell
  15. When Genius Failed by Roger Lowenstein
I have only read 6 out of the Top-15 list before, so long way to go! (keeping in mind that the whole survey mentions more than 250 titles)

Away Day

We had our Away Day today: Streams A&B (~160 people) enjoyed the whole day of outdoor activities. I've been told that it's gonna be great, but I could never imagine how great!

The first task we did was to climb a 30 feet high pole in a group of four, stand on top of it and lean backwards, holding each other (to form so called "flower"). I passed every single stage from "Never-ever" to "OK, if everyone's gonna try I want to try it too". It turned out that the hardest part for me was actually climbing to the top: my left arm ached, I had doubts about my security rope and couldn't help thinking "How am I going to stand on top?". Did I mention that the pole was very shaky? But once I clambered there (I decided to go second and it was a good idea because there's nothing better than a friend's helping hand) the rest became easy: wait for other people to climb, hold tight, lean and then let go. I loved it!

The second task was similar: we had to climb the pole in pairs and jump from it together to a trapeze. If I haven't done the "flower" exercise I would never thought of trying this one. We did a spectacular leap, but barely touched trapeze with the tips. And some of my groupmates undertook two or three attempts! Could you imagine? Perfectionists! :)
The third task was to walk on ropes around a specially prepared area without touching the ground. In this case we needed to think of an algorithm since the necessary support ropes were in short supply.

After that we had to assemble a puzzle on time. The task was split: we had to figure out how to assemble the puzzle in the first place, then to make up a way of dismantling it and assembling back together and (last but not least!) do this as fast as possible. In the end we did it in 17 seconds, but I've heard there was another team who did it in 10!
And the last exercise was getting a "solution" for a blindfolded "client". The solution was in the middle of the "acid lake" which noone could go in. The only way to get there was build a rope system, and guide the blindfolded client towards the answer. A very hard exercise indeed and I was amazed how well out team did it!

We had very good briefings after each task and came up with insightful analysis. It was also very interesting to observe how people tend to react in challenging situations: some listen, some begin to express themselves (all at once), some take lead, some drop out, some propose the ideas, some just go and do it. Great way to find out more about your classmates (and yourself)!
This fantastic day ended with a training in juggling and a barbeque :)

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Final number of students

Following my posts on admission figures and since this was a "hot" topic for some of you, here are some interesting figures from today's presentation by David Simpson.
Last year London Business School received about two thousand applications. They interviewed about half of that number. I haven't got a clue of how many people were admitted, but now we have 315 students in our class.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Orientation: day one

We were at school for the first day today and the most exiting part of it was finding out which stream and which study group you ended up in. Nobody would have been concerned about that if it was not for the second very question in the F.A.Q. section of Welcome Pack:
Q: Can I change my study group?
A: NO, man! You are stuck with those people for the whole Year One!
And it went on and on for three more pages about how you should resolve conflicts in your group, how you should manage it and how you should survive it... No wonder some people were keeping their fingers crossed and prayed for nice groupmates. I was not among those since
a) no point in worring about things I have no impact on, and
b) I believe that all people can get on well together as long as they are ready to compromise (the latter can be a problem, yes).
Funny thing: three LBS bloggers turned to be in one Stream! I hope there will be more bloggers joining the club because we will need the diversified views on the LBS life ;)
After the Sorting we had a class photo taken then a barbeque and after that most people headed off to a nearby pub. Do we really need to start classes? I will enjoy some more parties, definitely!

Friday, August 24, 2007

Settling in London

It’s been a week and a half since I am in London. And what a time it has been!

I arrived at Heathrow late on Monday evening and headed off to Russell Square for a weekly stay at the International Hall (I’ll write a comparison of that one to the International Student House in some later post, but shortly, if you can choose, pick International Hall). On Saturday I’ve signed the contract and moved to Angie’s place. Thanks to her, I’ve been saved from viewing a dozen of flats a day, like some of my classmates are doing right now. Talking of flat hunting: London Business School students organize pre-term fortnight of FlatHunters’ Pub Crawl.

What it’s like? It is two weeks of partying, meeting your future classmates (some 50-70 people show up every night), discovering new types of drinks (for instance, I tried Fruli and Pimm's, the latter is on the left), and practicing English. Yes, of course, people look for flatmates (we have nametags and those who are looking for flatmates draw a triangle on it) and share flat hunting experiences (like what agents are the best, how high the rent is this year). The strongest ones even go to a club afterwards: I know people who were doing that several nights in a row! Everyone seems to find flatmates really fast: last Tuesday there were lots of people looking for someone to share with – and most of them had flatmate when I talked to them on Wednesday.

The weather in London is rather cool and rainy (I haven’t used my umbrella during any of the previous visits – now I need it a lot and cannot help wondering if last ts I’ve only seen the “marketing” side of London, you know). But due to that I decided to go and visit some museums. So far I’ve been to the British museum (enjoyed the Asian collection there ad briefly visited others), National gallery (added Claude and Turner to the artists whose works I like) and Science museum (it’s awesome and also a paradise for kids).

What else?
  • Bought a computer – Lenovo T60 with WinXP. I’ve relied on IBM laptops all my working life and never had any problems (so far so good).
  • Opened an HSBC bank account: my appointment was scheduled a week after than my call to the bank and the whole process was nice and smooth and took about an hour.
  • Had an assessment at LBS Fitness Centre and swam my usual 3km per week.
  • Registered with the police.
  • Found out how to make free calls to Moscow.
  • Took an accounting textbook from the library and will make myself read three introductory chapters before the course start (but there are so many things happening here that I simply don’t have much time to sit and read).
  • Tried Indian food for the first time and liked it!
Despite the fact that there are still some things to do (like registering with a GP), I’m feeling "all settled".
Orientation starts next week on Monday!

Saturday, August 11, 2007

LBS reference verification checks process

London Business School performs reference verification checks for all of the admitted students. This year they sent e-mails to recommenders in the end of July.

To my mind this is strange because of two things:
1) July-August are holiday months, so most people are away and unable to reply promptly.
2) It's too late to perform any actual checks. Suppose they find something about someone - and the person has already paid a big amount of fees, resigned from job, got visa, moved to London...

This process is not advertised and I only discoverd that because one of my recommenders had changed a job, so his e-mail was no longer valid and I got a request of his current address from admission officer. I submitted the new e-mail and of course wrote\called all of my four recommenders.

You may wonder why am I talking about four recommenders while the school requires just two recommendations? And no, my recommenders don't do extreme programming ;) (for eXtreme Programmers a common practice is to work in pairs). I got two recommenders last year and two more the year before that. That's probably why some schools do not like reapplicants - they have to perform double amount of checks on them :)

Two recommenders replied to the school, before they got my e-mails.
Two others returned from holidays, made a heroic attempt to scan their "in" and "spam" folders (you may imagine how many letters a high-level manager would have after two or three weeks away) and... haven't found anything LBS-confirmation-related there. Both of them were the recent recommenders... you see the pattern too, don't you?
So I wrote to admission officer asking [for trouble] her whether the remaining confirmations were needed, and she sent the long-awaited e-mails. Hopefully the replies will fly back next Monday - the same day when I head to London myself.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Exemption exam in Business Statistics

Small number of posts lately doesn't mean nothing interesting is happening with me. Just the opposite! That's why I'm finally posting this after midnight on Sunday :)

This time I wanted to write about exemption exams at London Business School.
The School gives us 4 options:
  • Managerial Economics (by Masters degree in Economics)
  • Financial Accounting (by an appropriate professional qualification in Accounting)
  • Business Statistics (by eligibility test)
  • IT for Business Value (by exam in Autumn Semester)
All current students recommend to exempt as much as you can.
I cannot get away from Economics and Accounting, so I applied for the Statistic test in the beginning of July, was one of the first to get it and started solving right away (only two weeks time for the test).
I didn't have a text book (Mik Wisniewski Quantitative Methods for Decision Makers), but I was armed with *rusty-dusty* prior knowledge of statistics and internet connection.

If you are (or will be) in the same shoes, have a look at the following links:
To my *mathematical* mind the test was rather hard. Results will be out in the end of August and I'll let you know how I did.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

London Business School HSBC loan

The second most important thing in pre-MBA is finding money to finance the course. When I first met a number of admits couple of years ago they were all saying: “Don’t worry about money, get in first, and finances will be sorted automatically”. Yes, upon acceptance to Stanford you fill a questionnaire and the bank says: “You will need the following amount of money. Here you are”. But things are not like that in Europe. Loans are harder to get and scholarships are scarce (in LBS this year ~25% of the class got a scholarship – “only” or “whole” depends on what side of the fence you are). Thus you should start thinking about money before you secure the place in the next class.

Disclaimer: I will write everything I know about the HSBC loan scheme so it is no use asking me for additional guidance. This information is true to the best of my knowledge and up-to-date in June 2007. If you have any other questions, you’d better contact the program officials.

  • Maximum amount is £50,000;
  • No co-signer or guaranties required;
  • Repayment starts 6 months after the course completion;
  • No penalties for early repayment.

Myth: Insert-your-country-here nationals have particular difficulties in getting the loan and are often refused.
Truth: Only the nationals of Myanmar cannot benefit from this scheme (this has something to do with the list of money-laundering countries). People from all other countries will have no difficulties in receiving the loan once they apply wisely and provide all the necessary documents.

Drawback #1: How much can you apply for?
Take two thirds of your net income (take the past 12 months figures without bonuses* and divide by 12). This is what HSBC will consider the maximum amount you’ll be able to repay after getting a job post-MBA.
*you’d better clarify if bonuses should be included or not, because I am not sure

Based on current interest rate of 7.75% and repayment period of 84 months (7 years) for two-year MBA program HSBC gives the following figures:
Amount £20,000 - monthly repayments: £371
Amount £30,000 - monthly repayments: £557
Amount £40,000 - monthly repayments: £743
Amount £50,000 - monthly repayments: £928
Don’t ask me how they got those figures. I tried to check, but the method I was taught at university is not working here, so I will probably have to get an MBA to understand this.

Drawback #2: You cannot apply for the maximum amount
I know people whose salary allowed applying for £50,000, who applied for it and were rejected.
Actually in borderline cases the bank takes into account multiple things apart from your current salary: likelihood of getting employment in the UK once graduated and other financial commitments.
If you know a safe maximum amount to apply for – you’re welcome to write it in comments.

Drawback #3: You need to show the bank how you will pay for the rest of your course
For example, you apply for £40,000 and after estimating all costs you need another £40,000 for living. You will have to show the bank that you have secured those £40,000.

What documents you’ll need to apply for the loan:
  • A copy of passport main page (this is for identification purposes. I applied for the loan with one passport and exchanged it after that because it expired – this is fine)
  • Copies of all bank statements for the previous 3 months (take care and do not have any overdraft on your accounts)
  • Evidence of earnings for the previous 12 months (salary slips or tax documents or a letter on original letterhead from your employer)
  • Proof of current residential address
  • Proof of permanent residential address for non-UK residents if different from above
  • Other evidence for any funds you have to put towards the cost of the course
  • Filled application
  • The photocopy of everything above (to use by LBS)

Other useful things:
  • All the documents should be issued in English or officially translated.
  • There is a question in the application whether you own a property or assets and the estimated value of those. Your words will be taken for granted if you won’t use this property\assets towards the cost of the course. Otherwise you will have to provide a recent valuation.
  • It is assumed that you will provide the bank statement from which your salary incomings will be clear or explain why you cannot provide this statement.
  • By the way, I found that explanatory letters work very well. Read your complete application out loud and if there are some questions remaining spend one more piece of paper to address them.
  • If the bank decides you asked for too much – they will reject your application.
  • If you secure the loan for tuition fees you will not be able to use it towards any other purposes (e.g. living expenses).
  • LBS takes the administration fee of 1% of the loan. This fee is only charged if you agree to take the loan (because you may apply, secure the loan and then find other sources and decide not to take the loan – in this case administration fee is not charged).

Success story: I initially gathered the documents for about three months – the time was spent on budget calculation, providing evidence of other funds and official translation of the documents.
I sent the pack to school by courier in the end of April. In two days I got an e-mail with confirmation of delivery and additional question from financial aid officer. After we clarified the question she sent my application to the bank – and in less than a week there was a positive answer.
I suppose that if you apply later, say in August, it may take longer to get the answer, but all in all the decision process is rather fast.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

15 advices for public speakers

Check out this Doug Lawrence post on Guy's blog.
  1. Circulate with your audience.
  2. Command attention.
  3. Snarl.
  4. Bite your tongue.
  5. Always perform a sound check before you speak.
  6. Use your eyes all the time.
  7. Move away from center to make your point.
  8. Get quiet.
  9. “Underline” certain words with a pause or repetition.
  10. Take a risk and be vulnerable.
  11. Tee it higher.
  12. Know when it’s time to go.
  13. Use Q and A as an “encore.”
  14. Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse.
  15. Perform for a hero.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Getting Things Done

After Al Martine’s post I’ve decided to finally read Getting Things Done by David Allen. And... thank you, Al, that’s a very useful reading for future MBAs!

What I took from the book:
  • Free you mind for creative thinking by organizing your commitments: write them down and don’t rewind them over in over in your head
  • Create lists of what you should do, whom are you waiting for reply, what you may want to do someday
  • Write actions, e.g. “call to book the table” instead of “birthday dinner”. Always ask “what’s the next action?”
  • Instantly do things that you can accomplish in less than two minutes. If it will take more time, add them to your lists
  • Review the lists regularly
  • And a lot more…
I’ve reorganized my lists in Backpack (see earlier post) and the methodology is now working for me! Two lists are my favorite: what I am waiting from someone and Projects - to get a higher perspective on what’s going on.
If interested then check out this Wikipedia entry for more details and tools to implement this methodology (I’d like to try the Lotus Notes tool next).

UPD: Patxi's impressions of the book.