Thursday, September 28, 2006

Steering towards desaster

Business school life is very tempting. Every day, you get emails from people organising something. The mountaineering club organising trips to Wales, the surf club offering trips to Cornwall, the Latin Club announcing Salsa lessons, the Investment Management Club hosting a stock pitching contest, then every weekend there are house parties, house parties and more house parties. Right now I am very enthusiastic and am signing up for lots of interesting events
  • I signed up as a volunteer for the Women in Business conference hosted at the end of October. There will be panels about Microfinance, Success Factors and, above all, about my new favourite topic, Personal Wealth Management and Financial Planning (more on this topic to follow soon)
  • I formed a team of four to participate in the Venture Capital Investment Management competition, we are a great team and I hope we have time to do a good job, because I think we definitely have an edge
  • Yesterday we had great fun at the "girl's night out", about 70 female MBA2008s showed up and we had a great night, it was so nice to meet some more girls I hadn't met yet
  • Today is Sundowners - the first happy hour hosted by the school for staff and students including free drinks!
  • Today is also the club fair - where we can sign up to even more events
  • Tonight is also another house party in Swiss Cottage
  • Tomorrow we invited about 10 people for dinner - all the MBAs/MiF who live in our building
  • Saturday night is yet another house warming party
  • Sunday is the kickoff for the Women's Football club
  • ...
You get the idea! So far it's a lot of fun, though I suspect at some point this will all end in desaster :-). I will actually be a bit less busy than expected because I just found out they have canceled the Russian language course due to lack of demand. I am extremely upset about this, because I was determined to speak Russian by next summer. My last trip to Uzbekistan was great - but it would have been much better if I had been able to talk to people! So I am determined to learn Russian but now the issue is complicated. I might use next spring break to do an intensive course in St Petersburg.

Anyway, I'll keep myself busy. In case my frequency goes down, I am especially happy to announce a new MBA2008 blogger, Genie! Thanks, Rusgirl, for pointing me to her. As it happened, we have two Russian girls in our class and I didn't know which one Genie was, but I did find out last night at the girl's night out, so there is no blogger left "in hiding" now.

Friday, September 22, 2006

10 questions (not!) to ask at recruiting events

Knowing that I was off to business school, I volunteered to take part in a recruiting event of my consulting company in May. Actually, we call these events "sourcing events", where we "source" new candidates to apply for a job with us. This is distinct from actual recruiting events where you would conduct interviews. So there I was on a Saturday morning 9am after a very tough 80h working week, having come home from the airport the night before.

First, a principal from the Swiss office made a very interesting speech about the sports industry (basically, the big money behind FIFA, Olympics; Basketball etc.), and then there was a free brunch for all the candidates with about 5 consultants mingling with the candidates to answer their questions on consulting and our company. What struck me was that some candidates gave me very bad vibes and some gave me very good vibes. Some made me feel bad, angry or shocked at their naivity, others made me feel at ease. Obviously, based on these observations I would make recommendations for the candidates or not. After the event, I thought about why I got a negative impression of some and a very positive one of others. I think this is helpful for anyone attending recruiting or networking events.

What not to ask at a recruiting event...
  • Do I have to have studied business studies to apply?
  • Isn't it horrible to sleep in hotels 4 nights a week? I could never do that!
  • But do you really work so much? Isn't it tiring?
  • But do you recruit natural scientists? (upon my affirmation) But I studied advanced robotics, can I do advanced robotics work in consulting? or another girl but do you have molecular biologists? (upon my assertion that we have just about everyone you could imagine in my company) Well, I don't think so because my university was the first to launch a molecular biology degree 3 years ago
  • Do you like your job?
... and why not...
Regarding the last question, it is actually the most valid of the list and can give useful insight. However, since I didn't like my job very much at the time, it made me feel bad. It made me feel bad that I had a job I didn't like, and it made me feel bad because I was in a dilemma about what to say. Obviously I cannot say that I don't. So I can say yes, you learn a lot, but that it is definitely a tough job. So the problem I have with the last question (do you like your job?) is that it can put the other person in a defensive and uncomfortable situation, and you should always try to make the "recruiter" feel at ease.

The first four questions are terrible, because rather than show interest in the job or the company, the candidate is looking for reasons NOT to like the job. I found that many students who had no idea about my job only wanted to hear about the negative aspects of the job or threw around prejudices they had heard. Some questions also stem from insecurity. Instead of saying that they have a background in computer science but they would love to learn more about business, they ask "but do you hire scientists? But can I do robotics?". Some also showed a high degree of inflexibility. Some candidates had a background in biology or medicine and asked if they could apply their knowledge in consulting, and I started telling them about work for healthcare and pharmaceutical companies, but they would insist "but can I do molecular biology?". First, it shows a lack of interest in a wider range of topics, and it also shows a high degree of ignorance about the business world.

So keep your doubts about the job to yourself and ask more diplomatic and positive questions instead. These will usually give you the information you wanted, but leave a much better impression.

... and what to ask
  • What do you actually do in consulting on a daily basis?
  • What would a typical week look like?
  • What are the people like in your company?
  • I studied political science and would love to try out consulting - how would you advise me to approach consultancies?
  • I would love to have a better idea of the kind of work you do. What kind of projects have you worked on so far?
  • ...
If you are looking for commonalities in these questions, you will quickly notice that these questions show genuine interest and an open-mindedness. These people respected that I probably can tell them more about the job than any little prejudices they might have heard second hand, and asked with an open mind. They also conveyed a much more positive attitude by asking how to make it happen, rather than listing all the problems there might be. The questions were also very open, engaging me in conversation, rather than abrupt, such as "isn't it horrible to sleep in hotels every week?".

I think it is not about lying or asking only flattering questions. It is about coming in with an open mind and asking the person who probably knows best what the job is like what their job is like. This is very different from coming in thinking that consulting or investment banking is a horrible job and looking for confirmation of this opinion. If you think the job is horrible and you know all about it, why attend the event in the first place?

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Feeling inspired - and keeping myself busy

Thanks to Patxi and anonymous guy for your comment on my "eulogy". In the end, I spent almost a whole day thinking about it, and it was time well spent. The good thing is, I don't have to overthrow all career plans I had in mind so far. I have realised that which job I choose does not matter very much at all. People always agonise about which is there dream job, and I think this can be a very difficult approach. There may not even be a dream job for you (this idea is very well presented in a new book called "Working Identity" by INSEAD professor Herminia Ibarra).

The traditional approach to find your dream job, as suggested in "Which color is your parachute?", is to think of people you admire and what jobs they have. I never could think of anyone when I thought of CEOs or entrepreneurs I had heard about. It only struck me yesterday who my two role models are - and they are very close. One is my 87 year old grandmother, who used to be an interpreter at German embassies and also a translator of children's books. Some of you may know the English classic "Black Beauty" - my grandmother translated the book into German. But I admire her not because of her job, but because even at 87 she is traveling, working, learning languages, she is a very cheerful person and she is still very curious about life. I admire her for her energy.

The other person I admire (or envy?) is my stepfather, who is a doctor. He loves his job so much that even though he could easily retire, he is now doing five jobs at a time - in two hospitals, in a private practice, giving advice to courts of justice, lecturing at universities and conferences. I admire him because he has found a job that he loves and he can spend 60h working at his age and be a very happy man. At the same time, he travels around the world, plays golf, goes to jazz clubs and generally enjoys life.

What I learned from thinking about why I admire them was that it doesn't mean at all I want to become an interpreter or a doctor. Also, that maybe it doesn't matter if my next step after business school is entrepreneur, investment banker or journalist. I can switch around as much as I want to. I can do new things every 3 years if I want to. Realising this has taken considerable pressure of me. I know feel very free to enjoy life and not worry so much about career choice. Well, I still haven't found the purpose of life and I still haven't found my "dream job". But I know now what kind of life I want to live to be happy when I'm 60 or 80, and that makes me happy.

Talking of enjoying life, these are my plans for the next days:
  • tonight: dinner with our Brazilian housemates (we have 4 London Business School flats in our building and are having dinner together for the first time)
  • Thursday night: traditional English dinner with my study group near St James Park
  • Friday: dancing in a Bollywood club in Soho organised by Indian classmates
  • Saturday: brunch in Notting Hill with friends I made while studying for a masters degree in St Andrews

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Viva la independencia - but do you know where you are going?

Yesterday about 100 London Business School students celebrated Mexican independence day at the Mestizo in North London. It's funny how history passes, and lots of Spanish people came along to celebrate as well, among others fellow bloggers Karlitos and Patxi (though one of the two left suspiciously early :-) ). It was quite crowded and hot in the bar itself so I spent most of the time outside with about 40 other students talking about this and that. Right now it is quite a nice phase, you already know a lot of people and get to know them better, but at the same time I still meet a lot of new people every time I go out, so it is a nice mixture of the known and the unknown.

Other than that, I am constantly postponing my assignment for Understanding General Management that is due on Tuesday. We have been asked to write our own obituary. I assume the idea behind is that we should think about what is important in life and what we want to have achieved when we look back. I feel very offended by this assignment. Yes, one should think about the purpose of life. But unfortunately, I came to the conclusion that there is no purpose to life when I was still in high school, and have been quite successful in forgetting about it over the last ten years. Now I have been reminded of this, thanks to the MBA. I think on a superficial level, it can be inspiring to think about a purpose in life - saving the world, helping the poor, leaving a trace in the world (via achievement or offspring). But to be honest, one does not need an MBA to strive for this. It might even be counterproductive.

Pondering on the purpose of life is quite a demanding task for an MBA student. Few of us are philosophers, and those who are are particularly unlikely to know the answer. In conclusion, what I don't like about this assignment is that the only way to answer it is in a very superficial, conventional way. As soon as you try to find a sincere and more thoughtful answer, you will fail.

Most likely, my obituary will sound like this:
"By the age of 15, she realised she would not find a purpose in life. For most of the time (interrupted only by a short period of time at London Business School), she successfully managed to suppress this truth and therefore lived a happy, long and successful life".

As you can see, it is not the most motivating of all assignments. Luckily I will forget about it very soon.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Sunny weekend in London

Life is still very relaxed here. Unexpectedly, it turns out we don't have any "real classes" till October. We are spending our time during the week mainly on preparing our CVs for the CV book, getting introductions about leadership and management and other such issues. The only real course would have been Business Statistics, but I'm waiving that one, so I have 5 free days over the next two weeks. It's really not very busy yet in academic terms, so I get to go to the gym everyday, which is very nice.

Contrary to weekdays, weekends are very busy. On Friday we had our first off campus party. A classmate who owns a house in Clapham threw a big party in his house, which I think about 60 or 70 of our class attended. Moe was so kind as to share his vodka with me, so I had a splendid time :-), even though one of our classmates who apparently was a DJ in his pre-MBA life didn't show up.

On Saturday I went to Harrod's food section with my husband to get some good cheese, which is not so easy in your average British supermarket. I love Harrod's food section, if I could I would buy all my food there. Last night three Indian classmates had a little dinner party. We were in a group of about 10 or 15 people, enjoyed Indian food and lots of wine and had a very good time.

Today was the warmest day in London so far, and I went to Hyde Park Speakers' Corner. If you want to see freedom of speech in action, this is the place to go. It is all quite useless though, as the speakers seem to be mainly fanatics who are not interested in listening, and the same goes for most of the listeners. The highlights were an American Muslim preacher claiming that men and women weren't equal ("because my wife doesn't pay any bills, but I pay bills") and an English guy claiming that Christianity was the religion of peace, and Islam was the religion of war and violence, unsurprisingly he ended up surrounded by a group of 5 Arabs shouting at him.

Then there was a Jamaican who claimed he was an angel (little did he know that he had another angel listening to him :-) ), and an English woman who simply insulted her audience. Overall, an interesting experience, I am constantly astonished how much energy people spend on trying to convince others of their religious or political opinions, since in my experience it is a completely useless effort and a big waste of time.

Then I had the great pleasure to meet a Maroccan friend who is just starting her MBA at HEC. She wrote me once because of this blog and since then we had been emailing once in a while. So this was the first time we met in person and I enjoyed it very much, even though there was not enough time. When I started this blog, I was mainly focused on helping other applicants, I hadn't considered the fact that I would actually make friends this way, but now this "side effect" is highly welcome :-).

Overall, the weekend was excellent, it is simply impossible to be bored in London. The great part is that the weekend continues on Monday, since I am waiving statistics :-). But I have two cases to read, so tomorrow I actually intend to do a little bit of work as well.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Escaping the comfort zone during Away Day

Yesterday we finally had our "Away Day". We were not told what we would be doing, only that we had to be at the school at 7am sharp and take off to the countryside!

The whole day was all about challenging ourselves and about team work. We did some very challenging stuff, like rock climbing and also climbing a high pole and jumping down. We were secured by ropes obviously, but for someone like me who has never even been on a rollercoaster, this was definitely a high adrenaline activity!

What I enjoyed most, apart from the high adrenaline, was working in our team. They put two study groups together, so we got know our own study group closer but also had the chance to meet more people. Again, the diversity of our team was impressive. Put together an Israeli engineer, an Egyptian investment banker, a British ex-soldier, a Russian automotive manager and many more, and you know what a high performing and diverse team is! We speak 9 languages within our study group alone! Not a bad record for a team of seven MBA students!

Tonight it's my turn to prepare dinner for my flatmates, after enjoying a delicious Chicken Khorma prepared by our Pakistani flatmate on Sunday. I'll make stuffed bell peppers in beef and tomato sauce. It's my favourite dish, and I hope it turns out well. Sharing a flat with two classmates has turned out really well, it gave me the possibility of living very close to school for an affordable rent, and it's fun to enjoy dinner together and remind each other of all the things one can forget, such as reading cases, showing up to careers service presentations, picking up documents from the school, waking up at 6am etc..