Gorick Ng is the Wall Street Journal Bestselling Author of The Unspoken Rules: Secrets to Starting Your Career Off Right. This book is a guide to help early career professionals navigate the school-to-work transition and ascend to positions of leadership, based on 500+ interviews with professionals. Gorick is a career adviser at Harvard College, specializing in coaching first-generation, low-income students. He has worked in management consulting at Boston Consulting Group (BCG) and investment banking at Credit Suisse. He has been featured in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, CNBC, and more. Gorick is also a graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Business School.
Here are some questions we will be answering:
– What are the takeaways after interviewing over 500 professionals for this book?
– What truly separates students who get accepted vs. rejected to Harvard College?
– What separates students who get the best jobs?
– What advice can you share after successfully landing top consulting and banking jobs?
– Why are you passionate about helping underdogs like first-generation and low-income students?
– How can our listeners thrive in the workplace and grow to become leaders?
Connect with Gorick: www.linkedin.com/in/gorick/
Learn more about Gorick’s book: www.gorick.com/
Connect with the host: www.linkedin.com/in/aaron-aj-eckstein/
Get 1-on-1 Career Coaching: www.careercoachingcompany.com/
*Disclaimer: The opinions and views expressed in this podcast are of the host and guest and not of their employers.
“They were building relationships behind the scenes. They were getting people to pound the table, to pluck their application out from the pile. Whereas, I had walked away from so many of these career fairs with three plastic water bottles. They walked away with internships and jobs.” – Gorick Ng
Welcome to the Final Round podcast, where our mission is to help you knock out the competition and land your dream job. My name is A.J. Eckstein, and I’m a recent college graduate, a strategy consultant, a five-time intern, and the founder of the Career Coaching Company.
Have you ever wondered why only a few people get past the final round interview and land the job offer? Join me in the ring as I speak with recruiters at top companies to learn the secrets why certain applicants get “knocked-out” and others are still standing after the final round.
The Final Round podcast is brought to you by Career Coaching Company. They offer one-on-one live tailored coaching from recent grads who work at leading companies across multiple industries like consulting, investment banking and much more. Now, let’s jump into the ring and get you past the final round.
Our guest today is the Wall Street Journal best-selling author of The Unspoken Rules: Secrets to Starting Your Career Off Right. This book is a guide to help early career professionals navigate the school to work transition and ascend to positions of leadership based on over 500 interviews with professionals. Gorick Ng is a career advisor at Harvard College specializing in coaching first generation, low-income students. He has worked in management consulting at Boston Consulting Group and investment banking at Credit Suisse. He has been featured in the New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, CNBC and more.
Gorick is also a graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Business School. Let’s bring Gorick onto the show. What is going on, everybody? We’re coming at you live from the Final Round studio with another bonus episode to start your week off right. Please help me welcome Gorick Ng. Gorick, welcome to the show. How are you doing today?
Gorick: Hey AJ, thanks so much for having me. I’m doing well. How are you?
I’m doing great. And I always like to start off where you are tuning in from?
Gorick: Yeah, I’m tuning in from Cambridge, Massachusetts. I’m in the dorms at Harvard as we speak.
I love it. And we’ll obviously dive into your career and your background, both being an undergrad at Harvard, having an MBA and a career advisor at Harvard currently. But first, congrats on publishing your new Wall Street Journal best-selling book, The Unspoken Rules: Secrets to Starting Your Career Off Right.
Gorick: Thanks so much, AJ. I’m thrilled that it brought us together. I think if I didn’t write this, I don’t know if you and I would have been in touch. So, this is a bonus on my end.
Well, I think the main reason why I reached out, obviously I saw all the amazing promotions that you have for your book and to share with our listeners as well, that if they’re asking, should I read this book? I saw that Harvard Business School is giving this book to all the MBA students and graduates. So, I think if that is not a point to know to pick up this book and I just picked it up and for the people watching our video, I have it right here as well. I’m so, so excited to dive deeper into this book, but I’m really excited for this interview because I know that you are not someone who’s just an author and with your insane resume being a Harvard grad, an investment banker, strategy consultant, startup entrepreneur, Harvard MBA and Harvard Career Advisor, I think a lot of people from afar, I mean I thought this, and that you probably started your life hitting the ground running and just started day one being very successful.
But when I started to do some more digging on your background, I saw that you came from very humble beginnings and I saw that one work experience said that you were a housekeeper and you clean bathrooms, clean floors, take out the trash. So, before we dive into the successful part of your career, I first want to talk about your humble beginnings and if you can take myself and our audience through that experience.
Gorick: Sure thing, yeah, I appreciate the question and you’re totally right when someone sees the words Harvard and investment banker and management consultant, there’s a certain association that people start having just subconsciously in their minds. What a lot of people don’t expect is for me to then come forward and say, “I’m the proud son of a working-class single mother who left school when she was 12 years old and she ended up spending all her career, much of her career at least working in a sewing machine factory. And it was when I was 14 years old, two years older than my mother was when she started working full-time that my mom was laid off from her sewing machine factory job. And I as the person in the house who knew how to get onto the internet, who knew how to speak English became the person to step up.
And so, I ended up spending recesses learning to write resumes and cover letters, afternoons at the public library looking for jobs and evenings, coaching my mom coaching in bold and underlined italicized characters here because it was just through trial and error. And I mentioned all of this, not because I was successful, but because I was unsuccessful. I/we ended up applying to hundreds of jobs and ended up getting zero callbacks. For years thereafter I found myself wondering, what was I missing? How could I, as someone who got good grades in school who saw myself as resourceful, not be able to go through something that seemed so easy, at least on the outside? And it wasn’t until I was in high school that I met someone at another school who was yelling, and it wasn’t until high school came along that I started uncovering the answer bit by bit.
The first that came when I went to a student leadership camp and I met someone who had applied to Yale University and had gotten in. I broke the ice with this person. We ended up chit chatting. I ended up following up and staying in touch and through this person who ended up becoming a friend and a mentor to me, I ended up learning that there was so much more to applying to college than what was written on these college application websites. It wasn’t just about tossing a five-paragraph essay over the fence and praying for the best. You had to write a certain style of essay. It wasn’t enough to just send the recommendation link off to your teachers, you need to hold their hands through the process and let them know what to focus on and not.
And these unspoken rules ended up working. I ended up becoming the first in my family to pursue a higher education and I was lucky enough to have gotten into Harvard, that was the first aha moment that, ‘Wow! Google is only useful if you know what to google for,’ and I just didn’t have the vocabulary for googling, for how one really gets into these spaces. The second big aha moment came when I was in college and this was the first time that I was in such a densely populated area where people could call their parents doctors, lawyers, CEOS, senators, what have you. And I noticed that they just went through life and career navigation in a totally different way, whereas I was applying the same tactics that I had applied with my mom, which was just click, submit on these applications. They were off doing something very different. They were building relationships behind the scenes; they were getting people to pound the table to pluck their application out from the pile. Whereas I had walked away from so many of these career fairs with three plastic water bottles, they walked away with internships and jobs. And so, I ended up looking left, looking right, and emulating the techniques of what I call these insiders and ended up landing jobs at Credit Suisse and Investment Banking and then Boston Consulting Group as a management consultant.
And over the course of accumulating this privilege, I started realizing, ‘Wow, what responsibility do I have to hopefully pave a smoother path for people coming after me?’ And so, what started off as a series of shower thoughts ended up becoming coaching that I’ve done here at Harvard with first-generation low-income college students, served as a career advisor at UMass Boston, University of Massachusetts Boston and then it all culminated in this book, which was just released this April with Harvard Business Review. All with the intent of just bottling up everything that I wish someone could have told me earlier and democratizing it to the world.
Well, such an incredible story, such humble beginnings and especially, it’s crazy. I remember when I was 14 playing at recess, I was not helping my parents write a resume, but I think it is so remarkable that you were helping your mom throughout this process and trying to learn as you go and now being older and looking back on your experience, you want to make sure that people don’t fall into the same traps that you did. And I know for instance, my mom is a first-generation college student.
She came from Mexico and immigrated to the United States and it wasn’t easy coming over and I totally understand where you’re coming from and again, such a remarkable story. I wanted to ask you because again, you could portray your very successful career just starting at the win, but why do you still have those humble beginnings on your LinkedIn for instance, being a housekeeper? I feel like there must be a reason that you keep having it there. Is it maybe a talking point because that’s never going to leave you, your humble beginnings?
Gorick: Yeah, I would say it’s been a real special connection point to other first-generation low-income college students where one of the most common questions I get from FEGLI, which is the acronym for first-gen low-income, whenever I talk to first-gen low-income students, often they’ll say, “Well, I don’t know anyone. I don’t have any mentors. I don’t have a network.” And they look left, look right in the same way that I did in college and they’re discouraged. And what I hope in a small way is to be able to show students who came from backgrounds like mine that one, it can be done and two, that you’re not alone. So, that’s a big piece of it.
And it ties into some of the work that I do with FGLI (First Generation, Low Income) students as well, which is that and I know you talk about this a lot in your podcast is the value of LinkedIn and finding folks that you can build relationships with. I’d love to see a world where people really embrace that FGLI identity because what I’m starting to notice is that FGLI students are no longer as embarrassed as I was to be FGLI. But they’re really leaning into it and they’re embracing it and they’re celebrating it. For someone who is currently in college or in high school who is looking for a mentor, who is looking for someone who can see them as a younger version themselves, simply having the words FGLI in your LinkedIn profile, I’d like to think is almost a virtual flair that you’re sending out to the universe saying, “Hey, you’re not alone. And if you can relate to me in this small way, please feel free to reach out.” And that’s what I’m encouraging more FGLI students to be doing.
Best Approaches to Resume Writing
I think to add on, right, not just first-gen or low-income but being an international student, being a transfer student, being from a different country. A lot of people, I remember when I was recruiting a few years ago , try to hide this from their story, but that is your unique story. I’m a transfer student. I went to community college my first year and transferred to USC and I’m proud of that. I will talk about that. I seek mentors who also transfer and are successful. I have friends who are international students and instead of trying to hide that they’re not from the US, talk about how living in a foreign country for 10 years when you were very young and were able to navigate these different cultures and learn, starting to assimilate is a strength, not a weakness. So, I think it’s such an important thing.
We’ve spoken about that a few times in the podcast but being proud of your story, owning it and looking for people who have something similar and almost latching onto them and learning from them because they can share their experiences. So, I think that’s such a good point to still have that on your LinkedIn. And you said that you spent all these years writing this resume for your mother and you applied to hundreds of jobs and received no responses. I think a lot of our listeners today are trying to figure out what’s the best way to approach their resume. How can they not just rapid fire apply and how can they start receiving responses? What advice would you have for those audience members?
Gorick: Yeah, when it comes to the job search, I would say that it’s important to focus on two things. One is your resume and then two is making sure that people know that that resume even exists. So, what’s on paper and all the stuff that you do outside of that pdf. When it comes to the resume, the first thing to keep in mind is that the job search or really switching a career even is really a big chicken and egg problem where you need relevant experience to get relevant experience, and no one is willing to give you a chance if you don’t have relevant experience or if you’re unproven. And so, the key here is to present your prior experiences as if you’ve practically done the same job before. And I think this is happening in four key areas on your resume. One is the headings that you use for your resume, two is the employers that you list, three is the job title and four are the bullet points, which I then deconstruct into verbs, nouns, and numbers.
When it comes to the headings, often people, especially coming out of college, will separate their resumes out into at least the experience section into leadership experience and professional experience. That’s great, but I feel like that’s a missed opportunity to tell a more compelling story where when I was applying to jobs in the nonprofit world, in the public sector, I ended up listing out my experiences under three headings, public sector experience, private sector experience and not for profit experience. Just a few weeks ago, I was coaching a Harvard undergrad through the job search and we were thinking of ways to tell a more compelling story than the very vanilla professional experience versus leadership experience. And we ended up coming up with the headings of engineering experience and nonprofit experience. And the story that he ended up wanting to tell was, “Hey, I’ve worked in the social sector and I have these technological chops. What I’m hoping to do now is to combine the two.” And so, without even looking at his bullet points and such, he was able to tell a story of, “Hey, I’m bringing this to the table, and this is the table,” which is not something you’d be able to do if you just simply listed out something like professional and extracurricular.
The second part is your employers, and regrettably names that people can recognize do matter. And so, if you’re looking for an internship for example, you’re deciding between two opportunities, consider picking the one that has more of that name recognition just because there is this unspoken rule of it’s a chicken and egg problem were, “Hey, if you’re good enough for this organization, you’re probably good enough for us.” So that’s something to keep in mind. The third is the job title and I feel like this is an area where we can do the most finessing while remaining authentic and true, which is often I’ll see resumes where people will say analysts or intern. I feel like that’s also a missed opportunity because why not say data science intern or operations intern or investment banking summer analyst instead of just analysts because if someone’s just glossing their eyes down your page, the words intern, and analyst really aren’t going to show as much in terms of substance as if you added some noun and adjectives ahead of that title. And then finally, when it comes to those bullet points, I think of it as really three plots of real estate verbs, nouns, and numbers.
And folks listening to this podcast will have probably heard about the idea of action verbs where you have an opportunity to convey that you have analytical skills, problem solving skills, teamwork skills, and communication skills. So, going from simply saying supported or responsible for or helped with and trying to come up with some verbs that give people a mental image the minute they hear that verb articulated. I don’t even have to finish that sentence and you already have a mental image of what it means to direct, you’re guiding people through a process or design. I don’t even have to tell you what I designed. You already know that “Oh, okay. There’s something that didn’t exist before that now exists because you designed it.” When it comes to nouns, I would encourage folks to look at the job description and look at what they’re articulating.
So, are they mentioning things like Python, C++, PHP, SQL, Salesforce, Tableau, Excel, etc.? Making sure that your nouns mirror the nouns of the job description can once again show that you’ve been able to crack that chicken and egg problem. And then finally numbers, folks listening to this podcast again have probably heard about this or are trying to quantify your contributions, whether it’s in the number of team members, the dollar signs, whether you increase or decrease something and if so by what percent. So, that’s all on the resume side. Of course, your resume is only as good as people’s awareness of your resume and this is where all the relationship building becomes so important where simply clicking submit online does nothing more than roll your resume onto a big pile that may or may not even get looked at. What I didn’t realize was that before these recruiting events would even begin, there would be students who would reach out to alums of their student groups, of their high schools, of their sports teams, family members, siblings, friends of friends and they would be building relationships behind the scenes of having conversations on the phone asking about their work, asking about how they got to where they are today and demonstrating what I call the three C’s of competence, commitment and compatibility.
So, finding that hiring manager, that person who is going to be your eventual boss or finding someone who works on the team that you’re eventually going to be working with is a great way of making sure that people know that you exist. And then once you have someone on the team who’s invested in your success, it’s just a simple matter of that person emailing the HR person and saying, “Hey, so and so, we should give them a closer look.” That’s so much more effective than simply “spraying and praying,” which is to click online. As instantly gratifying as that is, all you’re doing is just throwing it onto a big pile whereas others are playing a very different game.
Well, it’s really fascinating how from afar that you think recruiting has so many different elements that you have to do this and that and all these million other things. But I love how you broke it out into just two parts, getting your resume and your story right and then getting people to see that resume and learning more about your story. I think when you think about it with those two areas, it just simplifies everything because once you can check off your resume now it’s marketing your resume, marketing yourself, right?
So much of recruiting is selling yourself in a positive way and meeting people and networking. So, I love the way that you broke that down. I want to dive deeper into the resume side for a second, because I think a lot of our listeners who are a bit younger and maybe they’re freshmen in college, maybe they’re seniors in high school, maybe they just haven’t had a chance to get too much relevant experience. What would you say to someone who has a “blank resume,” and was struggling to get that first internship because they can’t go off their last internship and this is their first internship?
Gorick: Yeah, it’s a good question and I would say that here’s where the unlevel playing field starts to emerge because if you have the financial resources, you can pick up unpaid internships. If you’re like me, someone who needed to make some money to send back home, that was never really an option. There are three potential paths that you can go down and these aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive. Path A is to find those unpaid internships if that is a possibility for you. So, find someone that you can work under, hitch yourself as, “Hey, I’m interested in what you’re doing, I can do this for you. How about we set up an arrangement where I worked for X number of hours a week?” That’s option one.
The second option is what I think of as double dipping where for example if you’re part of a work study program, can you find an experience that both pays the bills and that can boost your resume? So, in my case as I think back to college, I ran an on-campus dry cleaning business where I oversaw opening and closing the storefront, managing what was $800,000 in revenue and managing a team of what was then a couple dozen people. And I was getting paid for it too. It was an on-campus job. And so, I was able to “double dip” by both working making money and at the same time collecting these verbs, nouns and numbers, which was very much in contrast to folks who are just focused on the money and who as a result ended up for example sitting at the circulation desk at the campus library where that checks off one box but there’s an opportunity here to check off two boxes of both the resume building experience and a money-making experience.
And then the third one is to find something that’s directly relevant to what you want to do. So, not double dipping, not doing it for free, but really trying to find a job that’s relevant to what you want to do in the future. Here, it’s all about “networking” which I just think of as relationship building. It’s all about finding someone who can see you as a younger version of themselves. And here it nicely ties back to the FEGLI question earlier of, “Can you find someone who grew up in the same hometown, went to the same high school, went to the same college, studied the same major, participate in the same extracurricular activities, maybe we’re part of the same religious community, maybe led the same career path or major switch, have the same interests?”
And find this person and cold email them, or if you can find someone who is connected to this person asking for an introduction instead. In this case, I wouldn’t rely on the job boards at all. Just because a job isn’t posted doesn’t necessarily mean that it can’t exist. And if you can build a good enough connection with an alum who is invested in your success, that person can very easily create a position and have you work for them part time over the summer, over the winter holidays or what have you. So, three different options for if you’re trying to go from nothing to something which frankly is what all of us end up having to do at some point in our lives.
And it’s ironic your point number 3 about tapping into your alumni networks and creating an opportunity. That’s exactly what I did for my first internship where I was paired with a mentor. We had a lot in common. We visited the office. It was a dream to work at this tech company Marina Del Rey near my house and I said, “I want to work here.” They’ve never had an internship program ever since the company’s history and I said, “Well, let’s make one.” Pitched myself and said where they could use my help and I was the first intern in the company’s history. Right?
So, I think that, like you said, it’s not about finding that dream role, finding that dream company and dream mentor and then creating that opportunity especially, and I think the biggest untapped market is startups. And a lot of people want the Ubers, the Airbnb’s, the Google’s of the world and those are great. But if you do want to pursue those, they take time, you almost must have previous relevant experience. And I think the startups are a way where you can wear many hats and you can tap into the CEO because oftentimes if it’s let’s say his business, it’s just Gorick@thebusiness.com and it’s very easy. It’s not like there’s a million emails. You can probably just message the CEO or just cold email that person, especially if you have a lot in common.
And they’re not going to be posting applications oftentimes because they don’t have the recruiting team to go out and post in the different school wide communities. But if you reach out to them, there’s not a lot of outreaches but it’s the flip side where if you can stand out and show that you can provide value, it’s a great way to start. So, I love those three parts about being able to start with that initial experience.
Let’s step out of the ring and talk about Career Coaching Company. With all the valuable advice that you just heard from our wonderful guest, let’s act on that advice with one-on-one, live, tailored coaching from recent grads who now work at the same companies that you’re applying to. Schedule your free strategy calls today by going to careercoachingcompany.com. Now, back to the ring.
Getting into Harvard College
Now, I kind of want to shift gears and I know you’re on Harvard’s campus right now and I want our audience to dive into Harvard’s campus for a second because not everyone can be fortunate enough whether it’s financially or academically to go to Harvard University and I know that you’re a career advisor at Harvard. And ironically, one of our past guests, Marc Cosentino, shout out Marc from episode 11, he wrote Case in Point for all the people appearing for case interviews right now in the consulting recruitment cycle. Marc was also a faculty member at Harvard University. So, in your own words, Gorick, you’ve been there for about seven and a half years at Harvard and helping students excel both academically and career wise when they graduate, what separates someone who gets accepted and then rejected to Harvard.
Gorick: Yes, it’s an important question. When I think of the college application process or even the business school or the graduate school application process, I think of it as falling under two categories: cutoffs and sliding scales. Cut offs are the areas where there’s a threshold for what counts is good enough and then once you get beyond that good enough, it’s hard to differentiate between one person and the other. And for this category, I would put your GPA as well as your standardized tests. So, is someone who has, let’s say a 3.75 guaranteed to get in versus someone who has a 3.74? It’s hard to differentiate between one candidate and another.
In fact, there’s so many people who will have similar GPAs and I’m sure Harvard could fill many classes over with people who have that GPA exactly that you just need to be good enough at a certain point where once you’re beyond that threshold, it’s then all about these sliding scales. These areas where you can be infinitely good and that’s really where we’re talking about your essays and your recommendation letters. What you have the most control over is your essay and we can talk about that next. But when people think about their standardized tests, for example, they’ll keep taking and taking and taking these tests hoping that they’ll get an incremental point when that incremental point isn’t going to be the difference between whether you get in or not. When it comes to those sliding scales of your story, here, you can also differentiate between two types of applicants. And I heard this from a former dean of admissions at the top business school where they said there are two types of people broadly speaking. There are competent but not necessarily interesting and there are interesting but not necessarily competent.
And it nicely ties back to this idea of cutoffs and sliding scales where you have people who have tiptop grades, tiptop standardized test scores, but not much to show in terms of their story. There are too many of these people. You’re probably not going to get in through this arms race of numbers alone. At a certain point, you need to show that you’re interesting. Now, you could have an interesting story, but if your grades aren’t up to par, your standardized tests aren’t up to par beyond that threshold, that’s also not going to be good enough. So, thinking about it through these two lenses could be helpful. When it comes to being interesting, I talked about this in The Unspoken Rules in the context of the hero’s journey, which is a useful framework not only for analyzing movies and pop culture, not only for mastering the tell me about yourself question in job interviews, but also for admissions processes, whether it’s for graduate school or undergrad.
This very open-ended question, which is what else should we know about you or what are you interested in or tell us about a time when blank? Well, these are all questions that are subconsciously asking for your hero’s journey. So, the key to navigating these admissions processes, whether for college or for graduate school, is to think about what’s my hero’s journey, what’s the spark that has put me down this path? What have I done as part of this path? And what am I ultimately aiming for? Your story in this past, present future can provide some much-needed structure to what can otherwise feel like a super overwhelming experience, which it is.
Best Practices for Consulting & Banking
And I think that the hero’s journey is not just for undergrad and graduate school, but it’s also for the job search, right? And a common question is, Gorick, if you were to start day one here at Google, why would Google benefit from that? What is your long-term goal? How does your story, your hopefully interesting story because you’re competent if you’re in the final round interview, how does that translate to what we’re doing today? So, I think that hero’s journey is a great way to think about applying to a school or a company and making sure that you are driven by that passion or you want to try to figure out something to help navigate what you’re trying to do because I think that a lot of people fall into the trap of focusing so much from high school to college and they end up going to a great school like a Harvard University, but they don’t realize that not everyone at Harvard is going to get a top job and you have to separate yourself not just from high school to college, but also college or wherever you’re at to where you want to go, which is that next job.
And I know that you were able to successfully articulate that hero’s journey and not only worked as an investment banker at a bulge bracket like Credit Suisse, but you were also a strategy consultant at McKinsey or an MVB at Boston Consultant Group and we’re able to do essentially two of the top companies in both industries. And I know that a lot of our listeners have a big interest in recruiting for both consulting and investment banking and given that you’ve worked in both, can you share any best practices of getting into these very difficult industries?
Gorick: Sure thing. And I’ll add some structure to this as well as if it were a case interview. I would split up the process into two stages. Stage one is getting the interview and then stage two is passing the interview. When it comes to getting the interview, that’s where we’re talking about your resume and building these relationships so that someone behind the scenes is banging the table and plucking your resume from that big pile and giving you a shot.
When it comes to getting past the interview, then we’re dividing the process up into the fit interview and the technical interview or the fit interview and under the technical portion you have in the finance industry, you have the investment banking interview where they’re asking you to walk them through a DCF of this kind of cash flow and all those other questions. In the consulting context, it would be a case interview. And I giving this up in this decision tree of sorts, almost like a case interview because as I think about how I was going through the process, I was doing all this all the time and it was just so overwhelming where I would be spending late nights practicing for the case interview, as if I were going to even get the interview in the first place. But if you don’t pass stage one, it doesn’t matter how competent you are on stage two. And similarly, if you focus so much on just getting the interview but you’re not practicing the interview itself, you’re going to get past stage one, but not stage two and as a result not going to get that job.
So, thinking about where you need to be focusing and where you’re weaker can help you better prioritize what can otherwise be a super overwhelming and time-consuming process. When it comes to convincing someone to pluck that resume from the big pile, it’s helpful to think about where you are in that general applicant pool and regrettably, for so many of these top firms, they’re going to be target schools and non-target school, a process that is frankly just unfair, but that’s how the world is, at least as it stands, where they’re going to be a certain set of schools where these firms will go on to campus, have preexisting relationships and even maybe have quotas around, “Hey, we’re going to hire this number of people from the school every year,” in which case your “competition,” for lack of a better word, are your fellow classmates from this institution. However, for a non-target school, you’re going to have to work twice, if not three times as hard to try and get noticed because there isn’t going to be a natural pipeline for talent like you, in which case the networking becomes even more important. Finding someone who is also a non-target student who may have graduated from your school and somehow broken in.
When it comes to talking to these people, we can certainly talk about that as well. But I would rely on the framework of the three C’s, which is the North star from my book of competence, commitment, and compatibility, where the idea is the minute you show up as a professional, whether it’s in your cover letter, your resume and especially in a coffee chat or interview, the person on the other side is sizing you up and they’re asking themselves three questions. Question one is can you do this job well, which is you competent? Question two is are you excited to be here, which is the question of are you committed? And finally, the last question is do we get along? Which is compatibility. So, competence, commitment, compatibility are 3 C’s. Your job as a job seeker for finance, consulting or really any company is to convince the people around you to answer yes to all three questions all the time. And so, what does that look like? Well, when it comes to competence, it comes back to presenting your prior experiences as if you’ve essentially done a similar job before and that’s where the tricky part about this chicken and egg problem comes into view.
When it comes to competence, we’re really talking about what we talked about previously, which is the question of have you done a similar job before? And here, the trick is even if you haven’t done a similar job before to try and spin what you’ve done so that it sounds as relevant as possible in terms of how you talk about it, in terms of that hero’s journey and on paper in terms of your bullet points. When it comes to commitment, here, it’s about how you behave and how you sell yourself. So, in terms of how you behave, one of the things that often gets overlooked is the importance of responding promptly to emails where if a recruiter calls or through the emails, it’s essential for you to respond right away because you don’t know how many other people this recruiter may be emailing at the same time. And they can’t read your mind, so they don’t know how committed you are to this company. All they can assume is that if you’re taking a long time to respond that this must not be an important priority for you. So, making sure that you’re treating this process urgently is critical.
And then when it comes to how you talk about yourself, this is where the hero’s journey comes in of talking about how you’ve done A and B. And as you think about what you like to do next, you like to combine A and B. And that serendipitously aligns perfectly with what the company is looking for and trying to do. And then when it comes to compatibility, this is where we get into tricky territory as well around “culture fit,” which is a problematic term that the corporate world is understandably revisiting, where there’s a question of how smoothly is this conversation going?
And that’s going to be a function of discrimination and implicit biases and all those problematic things. But there are still things that you could use to your advantage in the form of researching this individual behind the scenes, beforehand and seeing where you might be able to find that common ground of, “Oh, like you, I was a part of this club as well,” or again, thinking about this as how can I present myself as a younger version of you? So, showing these 3 C’s all the time can help you stand out in terms of getting that interview.
Passing the Technical Interview
And I know we’re almost running out of time right now for this specific amazing bonus episode, but for that last part of how to pass those interviews other than just simply preparing for it on your own, what best piece of advice you have for passing both the technical interview for investment banking and the case interview for consulting?
Gorick: Yes. So, I would split up the two where investment banking interviews tend to be very content driven. So, there are just certain things you need to learn about, how to walk someone through a DCF, how-to walk-through depreciation through the three financial statements. What are the different ways of valuing a company? If you’re looking at sales and trading and other types of jobs, you might be pitching a stock for example, or taking a quick look at where the S&P or the NASDAQ are on a particular day. So, there’s a lot of content that you can just google for when it comes to these finance interviews and it’s a matter of making sure that you are just able to answer those questions. When it comes to the consulting interview process, I talked about this a lot as well with my undergrad advisor because it’s mayhem on campus whenever the process kicks off, and my tips for the consulting interview process is to be mindful of where you need to improve.
Is it content or is it delivery? And it may be like what we talked about earlier around where you’re weaker and spending more time on it because it’s all about allocating your time wisely, even at the standard of being able to perform. The second is I would do what we all did in math class, which is to cover up the answer, read the question and try to figure out how you would approach the problem yourself and then uncover the answer and see how your answer compares the answer on the page. And once you’re getting into a pattern where you’re generally getting the right answer, that’s when you know that you’ve got your substance covered.
Now, it’s all about delivery and this is where a lot of people spend their time whether for better or for worse, which is on practicing with each other. So here on campus at Harvard a lot of people pair up with buddies or do a rotation where you’ll give me a case and I’ll give you a case and each case will last, let’s say anywhere from 30 to 45 minutes. Don’t practice with someone until you have the substance down because otherwise, you’re going to end up spending 45 minutes on a case when you could have just spent five minutes on a case doing it solo, but once you’re at a point where you’re familiar enough of the substance now, it’s all about how quick you on your feet are. Are you presenting yourself in the way that these interviewers want you to be presenting? For example, are you taking a moment to gather your thoughts? Are you writing down this framework? Is this framework MESE, mutually exclusive and collectively exhaustive? Are you able to summarize the case at the very end concisely and in a structured way?
The Unspoken Rules: The Secrets to Starting Your Career Off Right
I know those tips are going to be so helpful and they’re so relevant because I know recruiting is starting right now for both industries and I just learned a ton about breaking out the recruitment process for these two industries. So, thank you for sharing those key takeaways. And then you keep talking about this book that you wrote The Unspoken Rules: The secret to Starting Your Career Off Right. You spoke about the 3 Cs of career success. And I know that you mentioned your hero journey. It’s so important to talk about that journey when you’re applying to schools or applying to jobs, but I want to talk about your hero’s journey for this book and writing this book. And I know that you set out on a journey to demystify the unspoken rules for all. And within that process you spoke to over 500 professionals and you asked them what they wished they could have been told earlier about how to survive and thrive in the workplace. So, can you share some of those may be best responses and overall, what you learned from writing this book?
Gorick: Sure thing, is I take a big step back from the book, which covers everything from how do you prepare for your first day to how do you navigate your first day even if your manager forgot that you’re their intern this summer to how do you manage up? How do you take ownership? How do you navigate meetings to how do you leave your job gracefully to how do you set yourself up for promotion even if there isn’t a career path for you at the company? Because I take a step back from all those different situations. Certainly, one big takeaway is the importance of showing your competence, your commitment, and your compatibility where I would encourage folks the next time you go into a coffee chat, a networking event or if you’re in the workforce already thinking about your daily interactions with your coworkers, ask yourself what is what I’m doing or not doing? What does that say about my competence? What does that say about my commitment? And what does that say about my compatibility?
So, using that as a mental litmus test can be helpful for figuring out whether you’re even on track. The second big takeaway is the importance of being reliable and then being promotable where in the workplace, there is something called a 9 Box Matrix where along the side, you have low potential, medium potential, high potential and along the bottom you have low performance, medium performance, high performance. Performance is a fancy way of saying how good you are in your current role. Potential is how good you can expect to be in your next role whereas in the case with so many two by twos or in this case three by threes, you want to be at the top right-hand quadrant of being both high performance and high potential. And as an intern as a work study student, as a co-op, as an apprentice, as a new grad really for the rest of your career, it’s going to be this challenge of showing that you’re reliable, that you’re a high performer and then that you’re promotable, that you have high potential. And so, as an entry level employee, what does it look like to be reliable? Well, if you’re in jobs like finance consulting and so many of these analytical white-collar jobs, what does that look like? Well, I think reliability falls under five categories. One is that you’re responsive, two is that you’re detail oriented.
So, no typos, miscalculations, or formatting issues, three is you’re knowing what to prioritize. And I have a framework in my book on how to do that. Four is that you’re making your work easy for others to follow. So, if you’re holding on to an Excel model for example, but it’s scalable that your assumptions are separated from your formulas, for example. And then five is being on top of the latest news and research. So, being on top of industry reports, if you’re in the finance industry, being on top of investor relations publications and things like that. Now, that’s just showing the basics, that’s just showing that you can do the basics well. At a certain point, you go from what I think of as a learner mode or you’re learning the ropes to leader mode. This is where people are saying, “AJ, you held that financial model, you should know more about this than anybody or you were on that call, I wasn’t, you should know more about this than anybody.” And at this point you want to be promotable and here, it’s about five things as well.
One is having an answer from a point of view. Two is knowing why you’re doing what you’re doing. And so, if someone says why did you do that? It’s not just, “Hey, because you told me so.” You have a methodical approach and process. Three is you’re anticipating needs. So, you’re looking around corners and giving your manager what they need before they even ask you for it. Four is that you’re stepping up without overstepping. So, you’re going above and beyond and asking questions like how can I be helpful without leading your coworkers to come across as threatening. And then five, if you look up the chain of command, you’ll start seeing how higher ups senior leaders are able to communicate complex ideas simply. Do this, and you’ll go from analyzing to synthesizing and from merely following to steering, and that’s the secret to making your way up to the top even if there isn’t a set career path for you.
The Final Question
Well, honestly, before I was trying to figure out why the Harvard Business School gave this book to essentially all their students. And now, I understand why this is essentially bible not just for people at Harvard Business School, but any student and professional, honestly anyone in the world who is trying to get into the career force or maybe is at that job and is trying to rise. So, such an amazing book here. I’ll make sure to drop a link for any of our listeners trying to check out the book. I know it’s on Amazon, I’ll put the link in the show notes.
And we’re about to wrap up today, Gorick, and the transition we have in the Final Round podcast is one final question we ask every guest on the show. And the question is what is the best piece of advice that you can give to our audience to help them get past the final round interview and land their dream job?
Gorick: My biggest piece of advice is that when in doubt, show commitment where you might show up at this interview and think to yourself, I’ve never done this job before. There are so many other people who have fancier resumes than I do, who have more relevant experience than I do, who know more people behind the scenes than I do. But you got past the interview, but you got past the resume screen. So, you’re competent enough. What people want to know, especially nowadays in 2021, in the face of the great resignation, which is a phenomenon where millions of Americans and people around the world are questioning the role of their careers in their lives and calling it quits, companies more than ever are asking themselves, are you the type of person who’s going to stay at this company? Who’s going to be excited about being here? Who’s so bought into what we do that you’re going to go above and beyond? So, if you don’t think about your competence or you’re questioning your compatibility, use your commitment to kick the door down, especially nowadays, it is what employers are looking for.
And there you have it. Everyone listening to this amazing episode with Gorick Ng. Thank you so much for being on the show, for sharing your key takeaways of The Unspoken Rules, of this amazing book and your amazing career journey. It’s honestly been a pleasure and thank you again for being on the show.
Gorick: Thank you so much, AJ, really appreciated the smart questions and for spending this time with you.
The biggest thing that stuck with me from this episode was Gorick’s 3 Cs of career success, which include competence, commitment, and compatibility. To succeed in your job, of course you need to do your job well. But you also must show excitement about your work and get along with your team. If you took one thing away from this episode, be sure to support the show by subscribing and leaving a rating and review on Apple podcast. Until the next episode of the Final Round podcast, keep fighting and I will see you in the ring.