August 2017 - Smart Money Seed

8/22/17

How To Overcome The Transition Away From Pure Visibility of Your Impact On Your Organization

8/22/2017
Most high school graduates heading off to college in the fall follow similar paths. You get a job and work as much as you can all summer so you can afford all the beer you’ll need to get yourself through that first year of college.

Many of my friends who followed this path worked at restaurants, the local ice cream shop, factories, landscaping companies, or as ice packagers and delivery drivers (ß only the coolest). Although the day to day work of those jobs varies drastically, they all accomplish the same basic goal. We all worked hard, made money, and drank our beer in harmony.

But if we look a little deeper at the organizations where we were working, all those jobs held another similarity that would not translate over to most of our post-college jobs. A waiter, landscaper, and delivery driver are all direct labor employees. They are intimately involved in the output of the organization and physically see every day how the organization makes money and how they earn their salaries.

Some people who do, and many people who don’t, go to college have a plan that includes working as a direct labor employee for a longer period of time or sometimes for their entire working careers. That is a perfectly fine career path that can lead to the same successes that someone with a college degree can have. We are certainly not of the belief that everyone should go to college, and we’ll talk about that more in-depth at a later time.

The focus of this post, however, is on the experiences of people who are working as direct labor employees during their early college years before moving into roles that I would classify as overhead. As business majors working in finance and procurement, Christian and I, and many of our business major friends, definitely fall into that category at this point in our careers.

Let me throw out a disclaimer before we move on that this post is going to come across as very privileged and whiny if you do not share a similar work experience to mine. I am fully aware of that impression, and that in and of itself is a big contributing factor to why this is such an issue for many of us starting our careers.

Overhead is a Dirty Word

The transition from being a direct labor employee to an overhead employee is tough. For the 40+ hours per week you’re working, you want to make a difference. You care about your work and how it affects your organization. When you’re bringing the food to the customer, it’s pretty clear to see how your work helps the organization achieve its goals. When you’re negotiating a contract with a third-party company to mow the lawn for an oil company, the true impact is a little fuzzier.

This mental challenge is not easy to overcome. “I just want to work on projects that directly impact the business,” is a phrase I hear all too often at work. It’s a phrase I’ve even said myself a time or two. When you don’t see a clear causation between the work you’re doing and the success of the organization, it’s hard to stay motivated to keep doing what you’re doing. Your attitude may suffer, your output may suffer, and you will not realize your full potential or help the organization realize its full potential.

In order to be a successful employee contributing to a successful organization, you must find a way to overcome this challenge. This is something that I still struggle with from time to time, but I strive to bring my mentality back to two simple but pieces of advice that I’ve picked up from practice, observation, and prayer: have a heart to serve and be grateful.

Have a Heart to Serve

Having a heart to serve is an attribute that we can all benefit from in all aspects of our life. If we are serving others and fulfilling a need, then we are most likely not only helping them achieve their goals but working toward achieving our own goals as well. On top of that, serving others just makes you feel good. If you know at the end of each day that you have served and helped others and learn to appreciate that, then you will find satisfaction in your work and in your life.

I’m not saying you must absolutely say “yes” to everything everyone asks you to do. You must prioritize your service opportunities and figure out when to draw the line and push back on or decline a request. But at the end of the day, your goal in performing your work should be servicing the goals of your organization and the people in it to the best of your ability.

This goes for all types of employees. If you’re a door man with an opportunity to brighten people’s day every morning, take that opportunity to give them the most positive interactions they’ll have all day. Understand that you are making a difference in starting their day off in a positive manner. If you’re a procurement representative negotiating contracts with landscaping companies, give that contract your 100% focus and dedication during the time you allocate to working on it. Understand that you’re helping boost the morale of everyone who enters that facility and can take pride in working at a place which is now well kept and visually appealing outside.

If you are able to truly focus your mind and your heart on serving others through your work, you will be a top performer in your organization. Not only will that bring you some intrinsic satisfaction, but your management will probably notice. This will lead to additional opportunities down the road where you are able to work on projects and make decisions that ultimately allow you to have better visibility into their impact on the organization.

Be Grateful

Be grateful for the opportunities you have. Again, this is a concept that we can and should apply to many aspects of life beyond this very specific issue. I recently heard a Ted Talk from a Benedictine monk, Brother David Steindl-Rast, who explains gratefulness much better than I could ever hope to.

If you are able to put life into perspective and be grateful for the opportunity to make the impact that you’re making, you’ll probably be more motivated to continue to make that impact and to make an even bigger impact. If you’re grateful for the opportunity to create that spreadsheet or track down that invoice, then you will be fully dedicated to it and will provide the most value you can to your organization given the opportunity in front of you. Again, this is something that will be noticed by management and will eventually lead to opportunities to work on projects with direct and visible impacts on the organization.

This is not something I’m perfect at, but I do try to think every day about everything I have to be grateful for. God has blessed me with so many gifts and opportunities that have allowed me to live a life that I love, receive an education that only 6.7% of the world has been lucky enough to receive, and experience all the amazing experiences that I have. I’m so grateful every day to continue to live this life with an able mind, body, and spirit although sometimes I do lose perspective of this more often than I should.

When I feel myself slipping into a negative mindset, I have to force myself to stop and think about all these reasons I have to be grateful. I look outside the window at my cubicle and think about how grateful I am to work in a nice office building when it’s raining or snowing outside (not that there’s anything wrong with working outside—it’s just not what I wanted to do). I think about how hard my grandparents and parents worked to help provide the opportunities they’ve provided for me and to get me where I am today.

Make Your Mark!

Although we sometimes romanticize or long for the days of being direct labor employees or at least of having that level of visibility into our impact on our organizations, we need to keep our jobs and the impact we make in perspective. If you are able to focus on the impact you are making and be the best at what you’re tasked to be, then you will get opportunities that become more and more impactful.


Do everything you can do to make your impact, and the value you provide will become more and more visible as you earn opportunities and gain trust from your organization to make decisions and work on initiatives to make larger impacts as you progress in your career.

8/9/17

The Ultimate Interview Playbook

8/09/2017
We all want to land that dream job at an awesome company, but with anything good in life, you have to put in some work beforehand. Once you've followed our tips for a successful career fair experience, the next step is nailing the interview. In a many ways, the preparation for an interview is very similar to that of a career fair, but it is slightly different. A career fair is like going on a first date with a group of friends around, but an interview is a more formal date with you and the other person.

Pre-Game Prep

Research Time

First things first, you need to research the company. While you may be able to get away with just a little research for a career fair, you're dead in the water if you don't research the company before an interview. Google the company, search their website, and scour the news for current events; the more you know about the employer, the more it looks like you care about getting a job. You can use this information to not only ask better questions (see "During the Interview" below), but you'll be better equipped to answer their questions like, "Why do you want to work for us?". Act like you're getting ready to write a research paper on this company and seek out any details you can find. Some websites such as Glassdoor even have reviews from current and former employees. Sites like these can be a wealth of knowledge, but be cautious - many people that post reviews on these sites have just recently left the company and may have slanted viewpoints.

Practice Makes Perfect

Practice makes perfect, and the only way you're going to get good at interviewing is through repetition. But if you've never interviewed before, how do you get repetition? Luckily there are a ton of websites that offer examples of the most common interview questions (just Google "common interview questions"). Take advantage of this and practice answering these questions beforehand.

Don't just stop with practicing by yourself. Give a list of questions to a friend and have them conduct a mock interview for you. Even though a mock interview might not give you the nerves or anxiety that comes with a real interview, practicing your responses out-loud can help you further refine your answers, and your friend may be able to give you some helpful feedback.

While you're practicing these questions, be mindful of any bad habits you may have in an interview setting. Do you talk too fast? Are you fidgety? Do you come off too stern or serious? Once you're aware of your weaknesses, you'll be able to better mitigate the bad habit and be on your way to a better interview.

Outside of preparing for common questions, you should also develop your elevator pitch for the inevitable "tell me about yourself" question. While you will use the entire interview to them about yourself, you should develop a short (no more than about minute) pitch that gives the interviewer a quick background about who you are.

The Big Game

Dress The Part

The big day is here and you're about to interview for a job that could change your life. The practice and preparation is behind you; now it's time for the real test. Before you leave the house, don't under-estimate the importance of appearance and first impressions. I'm not advocating that you need to go out and buy a brand new outfit, but take some time to make sure your shirt is ironed and tucked in.

It's always better to be over-dressed rather than under-dressed. To be safe, you should always dress one notch above the company's protocol. When in doubt, a matching business suit is almost always a safe bet for an interview, regardless of the industry. 

Arrival

Never, ever... ever be late to an interview. I can't say for certain, but I think being late automatically puts your resume at the bottom of the pile. With that said, you also shouldn't be too early for an interview. A good rule of thumb is to enter the building or location about 10-15 minutes prior to the scheduled interview time. If you panic about time like I do, you can still get to the interview earlier, but just sit in your car until it's time to go in. Otherwise you're in for a long, potentially awkward, wait in a lobby.

If you've never been to the location of the interview, try driving there a day ahead of time. This will give you a chance to get a feel for the area, and will help ensure you don't miss an exit or can't find the building. 

During the Interview

Relax. Breathe. If you've prepared for the interview, you've got nothing to worry about. In addition to answering questions, make sure you show your personality. Don't be afraid to make a few light jokes or laugh (unless you're Alex - in this case your jokes are terrible and you should absolutely avoid them). Although you want to be professional, most interviewers are looking for your personality. Once you've made it to the interview stage, they already know you can do the job, but they want to know how well you get along with others and if you'd be fun to work with.
Don't forget to ask questions. Almost every interview ends with the opportunity for the interviewee to ask questions, and if you don't take advantage of this opportunity it will look like you don't really want the job. Bring more questions with you than you think you will need, and you can even jot some down during the interview. In some cases, you will even be able to ask them throughout the interview. Thoughtful questions show that you care.

Before you leave the interview, make sure to get the interviewers contact information, and ask them about the next steps in the process. These two pieces of information will help with your post game plan.

Post Game Steps

Once the interview is over, your job is not done. There are a few more steps you still need to take if you want to land that job.

Thank-You Card

Your first trip after the interview should be to the store to buy a thank-you card. Take a few minutes and create a handwritten thank-you note to all of the interviewers you met with. You don't need to write a novel, but thank them for their time, mention something specific about the interview, and express your continued interest in the position. There are a lot of great example thank-you letters online to use as a reference.

DO NOT underestimate the importance of this step. Handwritten notes may seem out-of-date and old-fashioned, but it separates you from the pack, and shows how much you care.

Follow-Up

If you haven't heard back from the company by the time they mentioned, send a follow-up card or email to the interviewers. Just like you and I, companies can often get behind in their work, and just because they haven't contacted you doesn't mean all hope is lost. Sending a follow-up note is just another way to show your continued interest in the opportunity.

Don't Get Discouraged

During my junior year of college I attended a small career fair at a local college. I probably wasn't as prepared as I should have been, but I had researched a few of the companies in attendance and had a general idea of what to do. A few minutes after I handed my resume to a recruiter for a certain, nameless company, he informed me that I was a potential fit for their internship program, and that they were conducting on-the-spot interviews that day. Once he said that, I think my heart rate about doubled. I was excited to be considered for an interview, but I was certainly well under-prepared. I had about 30 minutes to cram in a lobby, but I don't think that was much help. The interview was gruesome. I hadn't practiced any interview questions, so my answers were scrambled and choppy, and I didn't really click with the interviewer.

Once the interview concluded, the interviewer mentioned that she would be in touch in the next few weeks. Even though the interview didn't go well, I still sent a thank-you note and followed-up once I hadn't heard back after a few weeks. I never received notice that they turned me down, or that they ever even received my message. To this day I've never heard back from that employer.

Long story short, whatever you do, don't get discouraged with the results of your interview. Regardless of how hard you try, some companies may just not be the right fit. Keep grinding, be confident, and know that the right job is still out there for you. Trust me, I know from experience.

8/3/17

3 Rules & 10 Tips to Make You Irresistible at a Career Fair

8/03/2017
To succeed at a career fair, you need to stand out in students who are all receiving the same education and being taught the same things to say and do at a career fair. Easy enough, right? Wrong. You need to rig the game in your favor.


Career fairs suck. I've participated in them both as a student/prospective employee and as a recruiter/prospective employer. I never particularly enjoyed them as a student, and they don't get a whole lot easier as a recruiter.

This career speed dating process, although unfortunately archaic, seems to be here to stay. And since your career may depend on your ability to make a good impression at career fairs, you might as well put in the effort to get good at them. Just a little bit of effort can go a long way to separate yourself from the other hundreds or thousands of people battling for a second of that recruiter's time and a chance to shine in the spotlight.

Before I get into the specific tips and strategies, let's set a few fundamental ground rules. These may seem obvious, but in my role as a recruiter for the past 2 years, I've seen more people break these rules than follow them. Those who don't follow these rules have a tough time holding my attention for more than just a few seconds.

Rule #1: Be Confident

You've worked hard to get to this point where you're ready to go out and get a job. Be proud of your successes and act like you deserve to be here. Stand up straight, give a firm handshake, look the recruiter in the eye, and speak clearly. It's important to not go over the top into cockiness, but frankly I'd rather talk to some conceited, cocky asshole than someone who doesn't even initiate the conversation with me and looks like they're going to piss their pants the second I ask an unscripted question.

Remember that the companies want you just as badly as you want them! Recruiters take a lot of pride in hiring a successful intern or employee, so the nerves tend to kick in at times on their side of the table too. This was something that I didn't completely realize prior to my time as a recruiter. The playing field is more level than you think. So act like you're a competent individual who deserves to be there and not Oliver Twist asking for more soup.

Rule #2: Stay Positive

Believe it or not, sometimes recruiters are not good at their jobs. A lot of times, the recruiters at career fairs are not trained HR professionals and have no idea what they're doing. They might try intimidation tactics or act disinterested in your conversation just to throw you off your game.

Those people are not worth your time. Stay confident, try to make the conversation as pleasant as possible, end it amicably, and move on. There are most likely a hundred or so other companies waiting to talk to you, and those other companies are clearly a better fit than the last one who gave you a bad experience. If you have a bad or awkward experience, step out of the room for a second, get a glass of water, and get back to it. So much of the career fair and recruiting process is random dumb luck on both sides, so just understand it's not always going to work out. You just need to keep working on making it work out once.

Rule #3: Be Persistent

Cast a wide net. Go to as many career fairs as you can and talk to as many recruiters as you can. Practice makes perfect, so the more often you put yourself in these unavoidably awkward situations, the better you will perform. The more exposure you force yourself into, the more comfortable you will become, and the higher your chances of success will be.

Tips for a Successful Career Fair

Without further adieu, I present  to you my tips for standing out and giving yourself the best chance at a successful career fair. Following these tips is not a fool-proof method that guarantees success. But if you are confident, positive, and persistent while following these tips, I guarantee your chances of success will much higher than your average Suzie Student running around blindly hoping to fall ass backwards into a job.

Phase 1: Pre-Career Far

1. Polish that resume

Chances are you haven't taken a look at that resume since the last career fair, and you hopefully have some wonderful accomplishments, experience, or involvement to add. Your resume needs to be as impressive as possible and mistake free. A mistake on a resume is a good way to send a message to recruiters that you don't really give a shit.

2. Research companies

Take a look at the list of companies who will be in attendance. Identify no less than 3 companies (preferably more like 5-10) who are looking for someone with your qualifications and who you would like to work for. Do your research on them to figure out what exactly they do, what someone in the position you're trying to secure an interview for might do, and any recent news or hot topics about their company and/or industry. You don't need to be an expert, but a few company-specific talking points or questions for your conversation can impress recruiters.

This seems to be overlooked by many students. One of the first questions I tend to ask students is "Why do you want to work for Marathon?" Students who are prepared to talk about our ranking as Forbes' best employer or the latest acquisition we announced tend to impress me and give themselves a chance to move on to an interview. Believe it or not, the student who once told me "I think Marathon has really good quality gas that helps cars run better" did not make it to my next question.

Phase 2: At Career Fair

1. Get there early

Chances are the recruiters are going to give you more of their time at the beginning of the career fair before they get a line of people waiting to talk to them and before they've heard the same things from a hundred students. Be one of the first people your target companies talk to. 

2. Seek out top targets first

Talk to your preferred companies right when you get there. If you want to get warmed up a little, start with your third or so option, but make sure it's a company you've researched. Get to those top option companies as quickly as you can.

3. The first impression: introduce yourself, give a firm handshake, and make eye contact

Nothing starts a conversation off worse than a sloppy handshake or having to initiate the conversation myself as the recruiter. One time I was talking to a student who kept looking behind him which made our conversation really awkward (and short).

4. Have plenty of resumes!

If the recruiter doesn't have your resume, they will not remember you. This should go without saying, but I've been in more than one situation where a student did not have a resume to give me.

5. Cast a wide net

You don't know everything about every company, so don't skip out on a company just because you haven't heard of them before. Stepping out for a minute to do a quick search on the company would probably help you have a more productive conversation, but don't be afraid to walk up cold. As long as you've researched and talked to your top targets, give it a shot. You never know what kind of opportunities might come up.

6. Don't be afraid to ask for contact information

If your conversation goes well, ask for a business card or contact information. Following up with that person the next day with a follow-up thank you for the conversation and information they provided to you could go a long way. Based on our recruiting practices, I've never actually followed up with a student who emails me, but it certainly doesn't hurt them. I do generally at least forward the emails on to HR.

7. Start strong but be brief

A short elevator pitch is great. But don't go on and on for a minute straight about all of your skills and strengths and how you'll be a great fit for that company. Introduce yourself, tell the recruiter your year and major, talk briefly about some relevant experience working and/or in student organizations, and tell them what made you want to talk to them or why you think that working for their company would be a great opportunity for you. Just don't ramble or go through your entire resume before the recruiter has a chance to open his or her mouth. Trust me, they're not listening after the first 10 seconds anyway. . . or maybe that's just me.

8. Display your emotion and personality

Almost everyone at the career fair meets the criteria to work for most of the companies there. You need to set yourself out by being you! You were excited to talk to a particular company for some particular reason. Tell them that and actually act excited! Don't jump up and down and scream-- that scares people. Just genuinely be yourself and let your personality shine through. If you're not comfortable enough to do that, then you need to practice. You're going to be nervous, so just being yourself is not going to come naturally. Talk to as many companies as it takes for you to finally become comfortable enough to be yourself.

Start Kicking Ass!

You are an outstanding individual, and any company would be lucky to have you working for them. Believe in yourself, follow our rules and tips, and get out there and blow those recruiters away! Tell 'em Smart Money Seed sent ya!

What Can You Share?

For those of you who have experience at career fairs, what tips or tricks have you learned or used that would be helpful to share with the rest of the Smart Money Squad? Let us know in the comments!