September 2017 - Smart Money Seed

9/28/17

Proper Preparation is Paramount to Prosperity

9/28/2017
We've all had some variation of the same recurring nightmare when stress starts to creep into our lives. You wake up late for class, frantically throw on your clothes, and sprint to your classroom. You manage to be just a few minutes late, but what is the first thing you see on the projector when you walk in?

Immediately you realize that you completely forgot about the exam and didn't study for a second. As the professor lays your copy on your desk, you start sweating profusely as you try to rack your brain for anything you might have paid attention to during class.

If you're lucky, you wake up at that point. If you're unlucky, you woke up 10 minutes ago and this isn't just a dream. In either case, you begin to worry about what you could possibly have done to prevent that treacherous situation.

Prepare, Prepare, Prepare!

The answer, of course, is relatively simple. Once you have goals set for yourself, whether they are getting a decent grade on your next exam or becoming the next CEO of Apple, preparation is the most important key to giving you the best shot at success. And the amount of preparation you do will determine the degree to which you are able to achieve that success.

To understand the importance of preparation, take a look at any athlete, especially professional and college athletes. A college football team that spends no time practicing whatsoever and shows up to their first game on Saturday totally unprepared. Even if that team had an incredibly talented coach and group of players, they would get demolished. That's why college football teams spend 20 hours per week practicing for a game that will last less than 4 hours.

Although the team that practices for 20 hours a week would most likely be able to look like a real football team during the game, how successful do you think that team would be? Have you ever heard of a coach who is content with his players putting in the minimum required effort? Of course not! Preparation is not a standard check box or Yes/No answer. More preparation generally equals more success, and the team with players that prepare in the weight room, in their conditioning, and with their diets in the off-season will be giving itself the best chance at success the following season.

Hey Alex, We're Not College Football Players

Okay fine, I'll stop with my sports infatuation and try to make this a little more relatable. Most of my time especially since high school has been focused on achieving success in the classroom and in my career. I've learned the hard way time and time again that preparation is incredibly important to my success in both areas.

When I started at Ohio State in 2011, I thought I was working incredibly hard. I was getting all my assignments done and even doing some voluntary homework from time to time. I would even go to office hours occasionally when I was stuck on an assignment. Everyone tried to drill it into me and my classmates that we would have to work much harder in college than we did in high school, and I thought that was exactly what I was doing.

After riding high and feeling confident for a few weeks, midterm week rolled around. I studied maybe a couple hours each for my biology and calculus midterms which I thought was more than enough considering I would study for maybe 30 minutes for tests in high school. Holy shit was I wrong. 

That D on my first biology midterm hit me like a cold splash of water in a deep sleep. Then once I woke up, the knockout punch from the miserable failure (we're talking like 20% or less) on the calculus exam left me feeling completely defeated. How could this happen? The answer was simple: lack of preparation.

I recovered quickly from the biology grade to pull off an A- in the class, but the calculus failure was a little more difficult to recover from. I thought I made the proper adjustments but still only got a 40% on the next exam. Eventually, most of my days were spent practicing math problems either by myself or with my tutor courtesy of Air Force ROTC (for which I will forever be grateful) and completing homework and extra credit assignments. 

I ended up pulling off a D+ in the class which seemed miraculous considering where I had started, but the most important lesson from the class was that I now knew exactly how hard I had to work in preparation to ensure success in college. Even though I knew what I had to do, it was hard to do it on a consistent basis. I eventually got better and better at preparation, found what worked for me, and turned that 2.69 GPA after my first quarter into consistently making the dean's list and graduating cum laude with a 3.519 GPA. 

Never Stop Preparing

One benefit I was most looking forward to after graduating (besides the income) was not having to study for any more exams! Once got that desk job, I thought the importance of preparation would be wiped away by this amazing little tool called Google, right? WRONG. Now, instead of a professor asking me if I knew 100 pieces of information once every 5 weeks, I have suppliers, bosses, coworkers, and business partners asking me if I know 100 pieces of information every day.

What happens when I go to a meeting where someone is expecting to gather some information from me that I haven't yet prepared? Believe it or not, that person is not very happy with me. In the first few months of my career, I would struggle with preparing the information my boss would want to know in our meetings because I didn't know exactly what type of information he was actually going to ask. I could have saved a lot of breath by wearing around a t shirt or holding up a sign that read "Let me get back to you on that." 

Although most of the exams at work are open note, preparation is now more important than ever. I quickly learned to apply the same concepts I learned in college to my every day job. Applying concepts learned in college to my job? Weird, right? I guess that $40,000 education wasn't a complete waste of time after all.

At the end of each week, I look at my calendar for the following week and highlight my most important meetings and topics. I then make sure I have time at least a day in advance to adequately prepare my notes, documents, and thoughts to ensure I'm able to provide value and not waste anybody's time. I still don't know everything I'm asked in every situation, but my batting average is a hell of a lot better than it was 2 years ago when I first started.

Proper Preparation is Paramount to Prosperity

What are you currently working towards? If you're trying to save money, have you thought about how you're going to schedule your next couple of weeks so that you can spend less or try and make a little more? If you prepare by going to the grocery store and packing your lunches, you won't spend as much money eating out. Are you working towards success in your career or school?

Whatever your goal, be sure to take the time to prepare and give yourself the best chance at success. Wasting all your brainpower, time, and effort working towards a goal only to allow yourself to fail from lack of preparation is a just plain lazy move. Sometimes preparation is as simple as taking 10 minutes to think, focus, and get your mind right, and sometimes preparation requires hours and hours of reading textbooks, reading slides, and doing practice problems.

Analyze your goals, determine what level of preparation you'll need to put in to achieve your desired level of success, and put in the work! You'll surprise yourself with how successful and satisfied you'll become.

9/20/17

The College Quick Reference Guide

9/20/2017


College can be hard, and no one really tells you how to do it. Well, your parents might try to, but who wants to listen to them? (Now at 25 years old, I highly recommend listening to your parents. It doesn't sound cool in theory, but trust me, it's worth it). At Smart Money Seed we are both recent graduates, and were both blessed with successful college experiences. While we may have had some luck on a test or two, our secret for success ultimately came down to four major keys.

First things first, why do you even need to be successful in college? Isn't a degree, a degree? Technically yes, but college is your first big step into the adult world. If you don't make that first step firm and solid, you're going to fall flat on your ass.

Why else does college matter?

  • It is a monumental time of your life - you'll take these memories with you forever. Don't screw it up.
  • We all go to college to give ourselves more opportunities, right? A successful college experience is the first step toward landing that internship or job.
  • You're forming habits that will last a lifetime.
But just because college can be hard, doesn't mean it has to be hard. Yes, it is a critical time for personal growth and development, but it should also be one of the most fun times of your life. The key is to strike a balance between fun and work, which is much easier said than done. Based on my own personal experience, I think most of us are naturals when it comes to having fun. I don't remember ever needing to try too hard to play video games or drink beer with my friends. For whatever reason, the work side of college just doesn't seem to come as easily.

To help make college a little easier, here are four guiding pillars that will help support a successful college experience. If you feel lost or not sure how to tackle your semester, give these guidelines a try!

1. Don't lose focus on your grades.

It's the elephant in the room. Everyone knows that good grades are better than bad grades, but for some reason it becomes so easy for us to ignore them. Maybe it's because mom and dad finally don't have to see our report card, or maybe we think we can pull ourselves out of a hole at the last minute. Either way, there isn't a good excuse to lose sight of your grades. This doesn't mean that you need a 4.0 GPA, but you need to consistently work hard to get the best GPA you can.

Achieving your best GPA will improve your chances of landing a nice internship, and more importantly, it will give you a better feeling of self-worth. Don't under-estimate the pride and confidence that comes with accomplishments and achievements.

Here are my top four keys to keeping those grades up:
  • Go to class everyday. Once you miss a class, it turns into a habit that is nearly impossible to break. Missing class is the gateway drug to a very unsuccessful college experience.
  • Don't forget to study. Unless you're unbelievably brilliant, all of us need to study to get good grades. I'm not saying that you have to study every single day, twice the amount of class hours, or any of those other cliche statements, but just figure out what works for you, and just make sure you review class material from time to time.
  • Complete your assignments. Homework assignments are basically free points. If you're lucky enough to have homework (yes, I really mean lucky - some classes don't give away such easy points), take advantage of these open note assignments and be sure to at least complete them. Good grades on homework gives you extra cushion on quizzes and exams.
  • Connect with your professor or TA. The more a professor sees you engaged in the class, the more likely he or she will be willing to help you out. Be engaged during class and don't be afraid to talk to the professor after class or during office hours.
If you're not familiar with college these keys might sound like no-brainers, but when you have a PS4 staring directly at you, they become very easy to forget.

2. Keep an eye on your spare time.

If there is something all college grads can probably agree on, it's that spare time is time for fun. Being over two years removed from college, I couldn't agree more. The flexibility and free time that comes with a college schedule is amazing, and it's something you probably won't get back until retirement. Most of my spare time included hanging with my friends, playing countless hours of video games, and practicing trick shots on a Nerf basketball hoop. If you know my good friend Derek, ask him about his awesome dunk during our sophomore year. If you don't know Derek, let's just say that jumping into a wall didn't end very well. Thank goodness for the Chis Weber poster that hid the damage.

There's an old saying that says too much of anything can be a bad thing; unfortunately this holds true for spare time. Although there were times that I wished all I had to do was go to class and play video games, I knew that lifestyle wasn't going to help me achieve my goals. While employers may care about your grades for an internship or entry level job, they also want to know what you did with your spare time. Did you booze it up all day long, or did you take initiative and get involved? I think you can probably guess what most companies want to hear.

Here are some examples of ways to get involved while you're in school:
  • Join a club
  • Play a sport
  • Sing in the choir
  • Join a volunteer organization
  • Get a part-time job
  • Play in a band
Getting involved shows that you have other passions, it teaches you time-management skills, and it strengthens your network. I've seen friends that never branched out, and their opportunities have been significantly less than those of my friends who joined clubs, worked a job, or played sports. 

3. Choose your friends wisely

"If you hang out with chickens, you're going to cluck; and if you hang out with eagles, you're going to fly." - Steve Maraboli
I think Steve has a pretty good point; sometimes when Alex hangs out with Mya too much he ends up barking and tries to eat off of my plate. I really wish that was a joke...

Choosing the right friends is absolutely critical to a positive college experience. Whether you like it or not, you become who you spend your time with. The good thing is that you get to choose who you spend your time with. This doesn't mean that you have to completely break off friendships, but make an effort to find people with priorities that align with yours (hint: if you follow Pillar #2 and get involved, you'll find plenty of great candidates). I hate to give my friends too much credit, but I'm certain I wouldn't be where I am today without the group of people I have surrounded myself with. In my opinion, this is far and away the most important pillar of college success.

4. Always stay grindin'

The final pillar of college success is a mindset, and its application spans much broader than just college.

"A dream doesn't become reality through magic; it takes sweat, determination, and hard work." - Colin Powell

There's a reason you don't have to look very hard to find quotes about hard work; it's because they are all true. Hard work and dedication are the common denominators to nearly any success story, and the same is true for college. If you want to be a hustler or grinder, you have to find out what makes you tick; you need to know what motivates you to take action. Do you have a desire to be the best? Do you want power and popularity? Do you want recognition? Do you have a passion? If you don't really care about the degree or if your heart isn't in it, forget it; you don't stand a chance. Be a grinder and work your ass off.

At times college can become overwhelming. Exams never stop coming, assignments pile up, and quizzes keep popping up. You might even think college isn't for you or that you need to change majors. This is normal, don't panic. College is supposed to challenge you, and if you don't ever feel stress, you're probably doing something wrong (that or you've uncovered the ultimate college secret that you need to share with the Smart Money Squad!).

If you ever feel doubt creeping in, take a deep breath, unwind, and relax. You've got this. Believe in yourself, remember the four pillars, and go kick college's ass!


9/11/17

Relevant Experience Required: How To Overcome That Dreaded Barrier To Getting Your First Job Or Internship

9/11/2017


You've probably heard and said this a hundred times in the last few days, but I'm going to throw it out there one more time just for good measure. I cannot believe it's already September! That thought was growing stronger and stronger in my mind with every passing minute as Amanda and I spent last weekend in Chicago wearing jackets on Saturday night and scouring The Magnificent Mile for upgrades to our fall wardrobes.

Fall brings with it a mixed bag of emotion, and thrown right into the middle of that bag are college students. The beginning of the school year for college students is jam packed with both good (reuniting with friends, Saturday morning tailgating) and bad (class, exams, colder weather). If any of you can hop off that beginning of the school year roller coaster of emotions, we'd love to have just a few minutes of your attention.

We hope that your ultimate goal at the end of your educational path is to get a job. If it's not, then you may want to reevaluate your priorities and start working now on your apology letter to your parents for wasting their time and money. In order to convince a company to take a chance on you, you'll need to flat out impress the shit out of them. According to Small Business Trends, the cost of hiring a new employee can be upwards of $150k depending on the type of degree. Good employees will pay the organization back in a big way through their output, but recruiters cannot assume that you're going to be a good employee. You have to convince them that passing on you would be a terrible mistake.

What Will You Do To Stand Out?

We've already talked to you about career fairs and interviews, but knowing how to succeed in those situations won't do you any good if your resume doesn't blow the recruiter away. When I'm looking at a resume, I look for two things: GPA (because Marathon requires a minimum 3.0) and relevant experience. Our conversation is going to be so much more meaningful to both of us if we can talk about your supply chain experience than it would if all I have to ask you is where you're from and why you want to work at Marathon.

I know what you're thinking. You've been in this situation a hundred times before where you want an entry level job or internship but one of the requirements on the job application is relevant experience. The easy excuse you can use with yourself and your friends and family is that you can't possibly have relevant experience before getting your first job in your field. And when you look at it on the surface, that excuse checks out pretty well. You'll have to just keep applying and keep banging your head against the wall until you can convince a recruiter to blindly take a chance on you because your haircut looked nicer than everyone else's or your GPA was a couple points higher.

How Can I Have Relevant Experience Before My First Job?

Let's examine that term relevant experience at its core. If you're studying chemical engineering, you probably won't be able to work as a chemical engineer before your first internship. But what can you do to get relevant experience before applying to that internship? Relevant experience isn't about putting round pegs in round holes. It's about cramming square and triangular pegs in round holes and pretending like you know what you're doing. My brother, Max, is an outstanding example of this concept.

Max worked tirelessly to get an internship over the past year or so. He applied to and was rejected by over 100 companies! As a chemical engineering student at Ohio State with a pretty solid GPA, something just didn't seem to add up. Max was a cheerleader which brought with it not only the campus involvement but many volunteer opportunities as well. He was also involved in Sport & Wellness Scholars which was my biggest campus involvement during my time at OSU.

Finally, after a few summers at Home City Ice and a summer filled with odd jobs, Max was able to, through the help of one of Dad's friends, secure an office job working as a project manager for a small business. The work had absolutely nothing to do with chemical engineering. But it gave him office experience and an invaluable opportunity to prove himself in that environment. The job wasn't necessarily directly considered to be relevant experience, but it did have more in common with an office job as a chemical engineer than delivering ice had. That job seemed to be the final piece on his resume that helped get him hired as an chemical engineering intern this fall with Hexion.

During my freshman year, I had an internship with Barbara Sears of the Ohio House of Representatives in downtown Columbus. My duties included mostly sorting mail, writing letters, and answering emails-- not exactly value added work. I always included that internship on my resume but never valued it much. Looking back with now having an employer's point of view, I realize that almost every recruiter I talked to had asked about that internship. I never considered it to be relevant experience and probably downplayed the internship in my conversations with recruiters more than I should have. I will never know for sure, but now I think that experience may have had something to do with my ability to get an internship with Marathon.

Find A Relevant Student Organization

Another great practice to gain relevant experience is taking on a leadership role with a student organization related to your major. When recruiting for Marathon, we focus our outreach efforts on the students involved in The Logistics Association and Buckeye Operations Management Society which are, believe it or not, mostly filled with logistics and operations majors. Not only are the executive officers of those organizations getting some extra face time with the other recruiters and me, but they are getting a great amount of exposure to topics directly related to their field which I know as a recruiter based on their position.

Any involvement with student organizations is beneficial for your resume, but those leadership positions in organizations related to your field will truly set you apart from your competition. Whenever I see a student organization that stands out to me on someone's resume, I ask them questions about their involvement to make sure they're not just bullshitting with a resume filler.

When I was in college, I joined The Logistics Association although I was never very serious about going to meetings. I would mostly go when my fridge was getting empty and I needed the free pizza. I could tell even at that time that the officers were much more knowledgeable about logistics and supply chain. I ended up getting an internship with Marathon in procurement although I had never heard that term before which I'm sure wasn't the case with the officers of The Logistics Association.

Taking on a leadership role and adding responsibility with all the uncertainty that goes along with the beginning of a school year is a difficult mental hurdle to overcome. I hope this serves as a good reminder that your ultimate goal is to get a job, and even if your time available to dedicate to studying suffers a bit, serving in a leadership position of a relevant student organization is way more impressive to prospective employers than that extra bit of studying to get your B+ up to an A-. Plus, we all know the lie you're telling yourself that it might take away study time is bull shit and you'll actually just miss out on valuable video game playing, Twitter scrolling, or beer crushing time.

 
What Ideas Do You Have?

We know a lot of you have either gone to college or are currently college students. What extra efforts did you make or are you making to add that important but elusive relevant experience to your resume before nailing down that first job in your field? We'd love to hear from you, and we know the rest of the Smart Money Squad would benefit from your advice as well!