Career

What They Don’t Teach You At Harvard Business School: Book Review

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Like an astute mentor, What They Don’t Teach You At Harvard Business School details vivid business situations to help us get a grip over the “real world.” In this master piece of sorts, Mark H. McCormack , the legend who birthed the sports management and marketing industries, teaches us how to use “people sense” in negotiation, time management, and reading ourselves and others.

The theme of What They Don’t Teach You At Harvard Business School is that even graduates of the most esteemed business school in the world often do not have “people sense,” which is critical to successfully navigating business situations aka “people situations.” In his book, McCormack anecdotes the lack of people sense he observed in Harvard graduates, as well as successful business executives in various industries during his career. In the light of McCormack’s experience, What They Don’t Teach You At Harvard Business School intends to fill the gap between the curriculum of prestigious business schools and street knowledge, and it does that with reason and eloquence.

I believe the strength of the book rests in its simple, clear, and straight forward writing. McCormack is not afraid to call bullshit what it is, so it may at times appear harsh, when really it is just honest. The quote below from P, 42 of the 2014 edition published by Profile Books Ltd in London gives a taste of McCormack’s honesty.

The Most Important Personal Asset in Business

Obviously, the real answer is common sense. But if you don’t have it already, you probably never will, and there’s nothing I can say here that is going to change that.

More than a few times, my husband caught me smiling like an idiot while reading this book – I would credit that to McCormack’s writing and storytelling style.

On the flip side, the book’s weakness lies in its lack of placement in the present time. As in, it was published in 1984, which means it could do with an edit of how current technology affects “people sense” and “people situations” – both positively and adversely. One example that stood out to me is the criticism of visual aids on P, 130. In today’s age, a Snapchat, YouTube, or Instagram guru could seriously challenge McCormack on his following observation.

I’ve never seen a bad idea sold because of great visual aids, and I’ve never seen a good idea good unsold because of lack of visual aids.

What They Don’t Teach You At Harvard Business School is divided into three parts: People, Sales and Negotiation and Running a Business. Personally, I found the first part to be the most relevant to my everyday job responsibilities and short term career goals. Sales and Negotiation also packs a punch, but Running a Business resonates the least with me. Nonetheless, it is an insightful read and a great resource for someone entertaining the idea of starting an entrepreneurial venture.

Some ideas presented in the book are fundamental in navigating the first five years of one’s career, that is why it could be mandatory reading in college. McCormack presents most of his ideas alongside concrete and insightful examples, which allowed me to recall and reflect on similar situations I have come across at work and in social gatherings. Through his vivid writing, McCormack compels his reader to reflect on daily business and social communications, and learn from them. Bonus: he does that without trying too hard.

Some of the concepts that stayed with me are: don’t be a “time thief,” focus on the “listen talk ratio,” observe “fringe times,” avoid “business immaturity,” get over the “love-me-for-myself-syndrome,” “find a star and make them a friend,” “negotiate backwards,” and “turn crisis into opportunity.” All these ideas were supported by examples that are truly sharp and thoughtful, but lengthy to be quoted in this post.

All in all, I would give What They Don’t Teach You At Harvard Business School a 4.6/5, and I would definitely recommend young adults to read (and understand) this book. After reading, not only will you start identifying crucial “people situations” around yourself – whether you’re working in a F100 company or sitting in an undergraduate gender studies class – you also will begin applying “people sense” to become the best version of yourself. It truly is a win-win.

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Career

8 Tips To Set You Up For Success At A New Job

Most of us have felt the adrenaline rush that is characteristic of turning a new leaf, especially if it is something that we’ve diligently worked to attain. Recently, I started a new job. Not only did I wait a long time for this perfect opportunity to come by, but I also had to go through an extensive interview procedure, which comprised of verbal, numerical, and logic assessments, as well as business cases and numerous rigorous one on one meetings.

It is no surprise that when I received the job offer, I was giddy with excitement and could not wait to start in my new role and company. As a person, I love to be prepared and organized, especially when charting into unfamiliar territory – this time around, a different business function and industry.

To prepare myself for this new endeavor, I brainstormed by reading articles regarding what practices will ensure that I have the smoothest start. As a side task in my previous job, I led training for the new starters in the company. So, I also reflected on what were some of the best practices I had observed new hires follow while working at my old company.

This exercise enabled me to compile a long list. In this post, I am sharing the most important points from my list which can help you be on top of your game from day one at a new job. Without further ado, let’s get right into it!

1. Reflect On Past Performance Reviews

You should be doing this on a regular basis, but especially now that you will be starting fresh at a new company.

Reflect on feedback that was provided to you in the past by fellow classmates, professors, mentors, colleagues, and friends on your skills and behavior. Use your reflections to devise a plan on how you will use the feedback in a constructive way at the new job. If you received feedback regarding weak data analysis skills, it is true you cannot become a data analysis expert overnight, but you could still learn the basics in an online course, such as that offered at Lynda.com. Similarly, if you have been told previously you need to become a better listener or better team player, this is the time to act on that advice.

Take note of all past feedback provided to you, including your strengths, and write action points that you should remain mindful of from day one at the job.

2. Dress A Notch Up

Do not underestimate the power of first impressions. Personally, it takes me no longer than five to ten seconds to form my first opinion on a person I have just met. Most of that opinion is of course based on appearance, so appearance is important, more so if you work in a client-facing environment.

During your interviews, notice how people in the company are dressed. Based on that observation, dress a notch up in your first few weeks.

3. Take Initiative

I cannot stress this one enough! Don’t fool yourself that just because it is your first day or week in a new setting, HR or your line management will spoon feed you. You must take control of your arrangements from day one (read hour one). For example, need to request a laptop? Find out who in IT is responsible for it. IT does not respond? Find out alternative contacts and keep on top of your request by constantly following-up.

Ask questions instead of keeping them to yourself. Nobody will help you if they do not know and understand the problem you have. My philosophy is that in your first week you have full discretion to ask as many questions as you want.

4. Source All Resources

It is possible that you require a corporate credit card, locker, laptop, phone, etcetera from your company for your role. Find out the appropriate procedures to request access and follow-up until you have the resources you need. Personally, I do not think you should let this stretch any further than a week otherwise it will begin impacting your daily performance at work.

5. Sort All HR Matters

Almost always, you have to provide copies of several documents like your ID and diploma, as well as complete forms, such as those related to pension and income tax. It is best to make a list of all your actions due toward HR on your first day and complete them all within your first week to avoid any hiccups in your work later on.

6. Take Notes And Review Them

It is critical that you take notes during your initial days. You will be inundated with information that you naturally will not absorb immediately. But if you take extensive notes then you can always return to them for answers in the future.

Allocate a few hours after work to review the notes you made during the day. This helps retain information and will help make you look sharp when a colleague says, “Remember we discussed that earlier this week?”

Instead of saying, “Oh, let me look through my notes” or “There has been so much information, I forgot,” you will say “Yes, I remember!”

Do not take notes to never look at them again. Take notes to regularly review them.

7. Create A Spreadsheet of Key Contacts

This is particularly important if you are starting in a large corporation with a complex matrix structure or have a role that requires widespread stakeholder management. During your first few days, you will meet many new people at work and some of them you will be expected to work with more closely than others. Therefore, it is crucial for you to know these people and vice versa.

I recommend sitting down with your buddy or manager for a few minutes and creating a spread sheet of key contacts/stakeholders with their full names, titles, and departments. If you know specific projects/office locations associated with these people, write that down too. For face recognition, in case all people are not in your home office, run the names on a LinkedIn search. You will find pictures for most of your contacts.

This exercise will not only help you learn the firm better, but also will show your initiative and make you look informed.

8. Understand Personal Development Objectives

Often companies will provide you with a list of probation objectives for the first month or a development plan for the first quarter – you get the idea! Whether or not you have been provided something along those lines, schedule a meeting with your manager to discuss your personal development plan and objectives of the role for short periods like first month, first three months, and first six months.

This will help you understand both short and long term goals clearly. Clarity will allow you to remain focused and prioritize better in the coming months.

From this point onward, it is really common sense…be polite, sociable, curious! And, don’t be afraid to show your funny bone – envious if you have one because mine is missing since circa ’92.

If you have additional tips that you would like to share, please leave them in the comments so we can all learn from them. And if you would like me to research any other aspects of the working life and write about them, feel free to drop me a message. Good luck!

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Career

Three Tips To Improve Your Job Search

Recently, I received a LinkedIn message from a student at my alma mater requesting to speak to me by phone about my employer in light of her interest in private equity. I was slightly thrown off because my employer, as well as my background, is far from private equity. I was not surprised, however, that she did not take the time to research my background and employer prior to messaging me.

Ever so often we find ourselves feeling desperate to learn as much about a company or industry that has long interested us and now has open positions. Consequently, we take desperate measures to learn as fast as possible; measures that sometimes result in mass emailing or messaging.

I have not had success with hasty measures like mass emailing/networking to learn about or secure a job. In fact this approach left me frustrated because it makes it hard to distinguish yourself from a hundred other candidates who, too, are writing the same generic, often off-putting, messages to prospective employers.

When I first (and the last time) tried this intensive networking method, I was a Sophomore in college looking for summer internships. Sending tons of messages made me feel like I was interacting with many people in the field and at the companies of my interest, when in reality those interactions were meaningless in terms of what I learned through them and what they offered me at the end.

That is when I realized I needed a different, more targeted approach. Instead of randomly connecting with professionals and asking them to speak with me about their industry or job when there is an open position at their firm, I first needed to have a rock solid understanding of what their job and industry is about. In order to achieve that, I recommend the following:

1. Set-Up Google Alerts

We have all heard the advice to thoroughly research a prospective employer. But honestly, how well can you research them a few days before your interview? That is why it is important to have a list of companies and industries that interest you and set up news alerts about them in Google. That way, you receive industry and company news in your email frequently, which allows you to slowly and steadily familiarize yourself with important market events that can serve as great conversation starters in future networking situations and even interviews. You also learn a ton about industry language, landscape, and key challenges through this approach.

2. Use LinkedIn Wisely

Following a company that you have applied for a position at is not enough; neither is liking one or two of their posts once in a while enough. How does that get you the job or improve your understanding of the company in a way that you can intelligently speak about it in your interview? Therefore, while I do follow companies that I am interested in, I also like to follow their top management to gauge a sense of their priorities, strengths, and weaknesses. I also regularly check the people who are/were in positions and departments that I like. That way, I can evaluate what skills they use everyday, what is their background, and what career development opprtunities they have in and outside the company.

3. Communicate with Key People

I know, I know…I just went on and on about discouraging cold-messaging and mass networking, so I am not about to suggest that you do that. This is, in fact, the exact opposite. I am not suggesting that you message prospective employers when there is a position you have applied for because most candidates will do that. You should, instead, identify key people in positions and departments that interest you prior to an opening, and after you have checked both the aforementioned points, only then approach these professionals personally. The key here is to reach out only to a couple of people; and approach them not with the generic “speak to me about your role and industry,” but with what has piqued your interest from exercising the above points, and how the person you are connecting with can enhance/contribute to your knowledge.

This type of more personal interaction helps you show off your industry knowledge and interest in a company to the right people. It also helps the company consider your interest and remember you in case of an open vacancy in the future. Speaking from recent experience, if your communication with the key people goes well, they may approach you with a vacancy before it is even posted on a job board — how amazing is that?

My intention here is not to be preachy. It is to share the techniques that have worked for me both in the US and in the Netherlands. Feel free to add your own tips that set one up for long-term job search success in the comments, and if you have any questions or concerns about the tips I have shared, do not hesitate to get in touch!

 

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