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How to Make Your Best Choice at a Career Crossroads

By Danni Ondraskova

March 30, 2017

This post is primarily addressed to graduating college seniors and graduate students facing concrete career choices. The advice I give here can, however, be equally well applied to others who are interested in internships in differing fields. As always, be sure to consult professional sources and those who know you best in your decision-making process in addition to reading the general advice here.

General Peter Pace, a former Chair of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, spoke to business students at the University of Chicago Booth School Management Conference in 2007 (If you want to listen to snippets of the talk, click on the link here). When advising these bright fellows on finding the best organization to work for, he told them to first identify places whose mission and people with which the students identified. According to General Pace, once listeners chose to place their “roots” in the organization of their choice, they should “grow where they are planted.

I have created a more general breakdown of my own decision-making process that is also informed by General Pace’s approach. This step-by-step system is the process of trial and error, reading the biographies of those I admire, and advice from mentors and family.

1. Know yourself.
A daunting task, to be sure. As life can be viewed as a journey of self-discovery, it can in a sense be said that we can never truly know who we are. Keeping that in mind, ask yourself these questions: What makes you wake up in the morning with a grin, and what makes you shuffle back under the covers as your alarm goes off? What kinds of people and activities give you energy, and what kinds sap it from you? Do you have strong preferences for a certain atmosphere, city or region, or culture? Finally, what are you passionate about, or, what are you willing to suffer for? Note here that you will not always be happy doing even what you love most—the Latin word from which passion is derived means “to suffer.”

2. Identify and distinguish your internal and external motivators.
Our behavior is regulated by internal and external motivators. While it is always good to be in an environment that encourages you to develop your talents and have supportive family and friends, there is a time in many people’s lives when they decide to go against external pressures to do what they believe is right for them. That sense can be from “the gut” or have a spiritual undertone. Unless you have a sense of who you are, you may not be prepared to say “no” to others on key career decisions.

Internal motivators are a powerful part of human nature and often are the most fundamental driver of what you do. Are you working to merely put food on the table out of a desire for survival, or are you motivated by love, selflessness, ambition, or a desire for gratification? All these impulses tend to check each other and can steer you in the right direction. However, when one desire tends to predominate, it’s a good idea to slow down in your job search, visit those external motivators, and reflect on from which experiences these urges stem.

3. Harmonize your goals with the world’s constraints
A key buzzword in economics is constraints, which can be interpreted as the gap between the possible and the desirable. Our desires often exceed what is possible, whether in the temporal, financial, or other sense. Here it is good to give a level-headed assessment of the world you are in, the direction it appears to be heading in, and your own plans. Thanks to the emergence of big data and unprecedented transparency thanks to websites like GlassDoor, you can easily retrieve information about salaries, number of people in the field, reviews of employees’ experiences in specific companies, and even expected industry growth rates. If you’re not sure about where to start or go from here, a visit to a trusted career services professional is in hand.

Danni Ondraskova will graduate in 2018 from Wellesley College. Danni plans on earning a dual degree in law and business and dreams of working for JP Morgan’s Global Investment Management division.

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Behavioral Biases

By Siyu Wu

March 27, 2017

You might remember from the active versus passive investing article the efficient markets hypothesis, in which investors act rationally by incorporating all available information in determining whether to buy (or sell) a stock. But, are investors always rational? A quick look into history suggests that investors often act irrationally, making decisions grounded in emotion rather than logic and rational expectations. 

One of the explanations for irrational decision-making stems from behavioral finance: behavioral biases cause individuals to act in ways which seem illogical. In this article, we will discuss some of the behavioral biases retail and professional investors are most likely to fall prey to when making investing decisions. 

Confirmation Bias

People tend to be drawn to evidence that confirm their existing beliefs. For example, if you have bought General Motors shares with the believe that it will perform well, you are more likely to find and retain new information that confirms your existing belief that the company will do well. The dangers of this are that investors are likely to discount news arguing the opposite – in this example, the investor may miss bad news that suggests the stock should be sold. 

Herd Mentality

People tend to travel in groups – this is incredibly noticeable in the investing world. When a small group of investors begin buy (or sell) a stock, many more investors will follow suit, even if there is no rational justification why that stock should be bought (or sold). This mentality is exemplified during the creation and popping of stock bubbles. During times of uncertainty, investors will look to one another to determine how to react. As a result, the actions of one investor creates a domino effect which exacerbates the consequences of a market crash. 

Loss Aversion
Most people hate to lose – even more than they love to win. In the context of investing, an investor will react more strongly to losses than profit. Take this example of loss aversion: an investor sees a stock with strong fundamentals do poorly for some time. Even though the stock was originally selected for the right reasons, the investor may lose track of the fundamentals and make a bad sell decision, selling a strong company at the bottom and losing out on the upside. 

Mental Accounting
Mental accounting occurs when people to view money from various sources differently. For example, money from an inheritance is seen differently from money earned at a job – thus, people will choose to spend or invest money from these sources in different ways. These illogical distinctions cause investors to become overly attached to certain investments, clouding their view regarding whether the investment is a profitable decision. 

These are just four of many different behavioral biases. Each of these biases are interconnected – when one manifests, it is likely other biases are also present. How to overcome these behavioral biases? The first step is becoming aware of what biases exist. From there, investors should establish unchanging trading rules so that they don’t act rashly. In addition, learn to research a variety of sources to get diverse opinions and focus on forming your own decisions when it comes to investing. 

Siyu Wu is from Colorado and attends Princeton University, pursuing a degree in Economics and certificates in Finance and East Asian Studies. Siyu will graduate in 2018. She hopes to synthesize her interest in China and East Asia with her passion for finance to eventually work in a career related to international finance and Asian capital markets.

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How To Request a Letter of Recommendation

By Danni Ondraskova

March 23, 2017

Whether you are applying for a job, temporary internship, or graduate school, chances are you will have to submit a letter of recommendation with your application. If you have never went through the process of securing a letter of recommendation, you likely have many questions. Read on for a step-by-step process so you can put your best foot forward.

1.  Figure out where you are applying and keep the information you need handy.

Coming up with a comprehensive list of places to apply to is always a good start. Some people like creating a spreadsheet on Excel or Google Sheets. Others create a table in Microsoft Word or Google Docs. You may end up with something like this (feel free to customize according to your own needs):

                                   
Name of place you are applying to (deadline)When you’ll be doing the job/internshipPaid or unpaid?Other
A (March 1)5/15/17-8/15/17Paid. $500/week3 Letters of Recommendation
B (March 15)6/01/17-8/1/17Unpaid.2 Letters of Recommendation, Cover Letter

In most cases, you should indicate the application due date, application materials needed, whether the job or internship is paid, job or internship date range, and other pertinent information. Follow a similar process for graduate schools, fellowships, and other programs.


2.  Think of a list of possible recommenders and rank them.

Look at the set of requirements for each internship or job. Does the position requires an academic or supervisor recommendation? Make a list of all these specialized requirements. Then create a separate lists of professors, employers, and other individuals you have worked with in some professional capacity and rank the names. Higher-ranked names will include individuals who are not on vacation or leave, who have known you recently, who have known you for a long time, and who have worked with you. Align the two lists.

3.  Craft an email for your recommenders.

When crafting an email for your recommenders, keep in mind that they are not obligated to write you a recommendation and may not be able to because of schedule constraints. Start the email hoping that they are doing well. Reference some project or other important event occurring in their lives and give them your best wishes. Then add a brief update of anything interesting you have been working on. Finally, ask if they can write a letter of recommendation on your behalf and attach a resume, writing sample, transcript, and any other relevant documentation. Be sure to provide the recommender with details of how and when to write the letter. Close the email by thanking them for supporting you and taking the time to read your email. 4.  Wait and update them if anything happens. If you accept another offer before the recommender is finished writing his or her letter, please let the recommender know. If you need advice regarding an interview or some other question, your recommender will likely have some good tips depending on how well he or she knows you.

Danni Ondraskova will graduate in 2018 from Wellesley College. Danni plans on earning a dual degree in law and business and dreams of working for JP Morgan’s Global Investment Management division.

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Using Self-Knowledge to Improve Your Leadership Skills: Team Player Style

By Jordan Perras

March 20, 2017

One of the best ways to become a better leader is to gain a deeper understanding of yourself and your tendencies in various situations. You can understand your strengths and weaknesses and learn how to improve them. In the first part of this series, you’ll learn about how you interact with others on teams and how to combine different styles to make a more effective team.

Parker Team Player Styles

The Parker Team Player Styles are helpful to understand how you (and others) behave in a team setting. We are all thrown into group projects or sports teams or club executive boards, and it is important to remember that everyone brings something different to the table. Check out my summary below or take the assessment yourself to gain a deeper understanding of your style(s).

The four styles are:

Contributor

  • Strengths: You are task oriented, dependable, reliable, and organized.
  • Weaknesses: You may come across as shortsighted, perfectionistic or uncreative.

Collaborator

  • Strengths: You are goal-directed, flexible, imaginative, and forward-looking.
  • Weaknesses: You may come across as insensitive, overinvolved, or over-ambitious.

Communicator

  • Strengths: You are process-oriented, supportive, relaxed and tactful.
  • Weaknesses: You may come across as placating, impractical or manipulative.

Challenger

  • Strengths: You question the goals and methods of the team. You’re honest, principled, ethical and thorough.
  • Weaknesses: You may come across as rigid, contentious or nit-picky.

Do any of these styles (or a combination of them) sound like you? Does reading about the other styles make you rethink how you interact or come across in groups? Think about what how the strengths of one style can make up for the weaknesses of another.

Jordan Perras will graduate in 2018 from Northeastern University and she is majoring in Math and Business Administration with a concentration in Finance and a minor in Economics.  She has a wide variety of interests that include history, art and literature and plans to pursue an MBA after college. She is especially interested in the role of social entrepreneurship in sustainable business.

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Changing Course, Following Your Passion

By Katie Wooliver

March 16, 2017

At four years old, the choice was settled: I would become a professional basketball player.  A few months later, however, and I had come to my senses and rationalized a more attainable career goal - the front desk girl for the pool.  After a brief conviction to one day be Sporty Spice of the Spice girls, I decided I wanted to be a doctor (much to the relief of my parents).  This time, the vision stuck. Fueled by a love of math and science and the desire to help others, I worked toward my goal. When I entered college at Northwestern, I elected to study Biomedical Engineering, which fulfilled my math and science requirements, and hopefully would give me an edge over other medical school applicants.  Although school was often challenging, I pushed myself to stick with it and grind it out –with each passing year, I was getting closer and closer to my childhood goal. 

The beginning of my senior year, however, taught me the value of thinking outside and allowing myself to chart another course.  A last minute pivot can be difficult, but keeping your passions at the forefront of your decision making will allow you to be confident in the choices you make. 

I had organized my class schedule to complete the remaining pre-med courses and take the MCAT in the spring.  I was set.  Yet, something didn’t feel right.  I began to have serious reservations about the path I had laid out for myself.  When I spoke to my friends that were on the same course as me, they were all gung ho about applying to medical school and committing the next four years to school, a few more years to residency, and topping it off with a couple years for a specialty.  At one point in life, being a doctor was all I saw myself doing, but for the first time since grade school I was questioning my dream. 

For a few weeks I wrestled with this in my mind.  Why was I feeling this way now?  What would my parents and peers think if I changed my mind in the eleventh hour?  What would I do with my life if I did not become a doctor?  I know now that these questions are common for seniors preparing to leave college and enter the real world.  But at the time, these questions really daunted me.  For so many years I had a one-track mind about what I would do with my future.  I hadn’t explored anything else.  I think at the core, it was the fact that I didn’t really know what else was out there for me that made me nervous about throwing myself full force into medical school.  I needed to start exploring. 

It was a difficult decision to steer away from the goal to become a doctor, but ultimately the right path for me became clear when I found DaVita.  My work on integrated care with DaVita allows me to fulfill my childhood passion of providing care to others while providing me the opportunity to explore healthcare from another angle and exercise my talents in a way I hadn’t thought of before.  I learned that when I pushed myself to look beyond, my passion still lied with healthcare, but my end goal took a different shape. 

It is okay to change course, but keep your passion as your North Star. 

As you think about making the transition from college to the real world, keep your mind open to the possibilities that are out there, but stay true to what drives you.  At the end of the day, if you enter a field you are passionate about, your work will be stronger, your days will be more fulfilling, and ‘adulting’ will be better than you ever imagined. 

Katie WooliverKatie is an Analyst on the Pioneer Team at DaVita, an operations and innovation team that operates similar to an internal consultancy. Katie earned her B.S. in Biomedical Engineering from Northwestern University, Class of 2015.

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How to Make the Most of Your Non-Major Electives

By Jordan Perras

March 13, 2017

Most degree plans have space for electives, classes that have nothing to do with your declared major. It’s easy to fall into the trap of taking pointless classes to get an easy A, but that mindset won’t help you achieve your long-term goals. Instead, check out these tips to pick classes that will complement your degree plan, without stressing you out.

  • Think about what your degree plan is lacking. For example, are you a business major who hasn’t been required to learn Excel or Access? Those are necessary skills that you’ll need for internships and full-time work. I’m willing to bet your school has an intro class in that material. Use that same logic to think about what you’re going to want to know on the first day of your next new job and then sign up for an intro level course in that area. Some ideas include: statistics, economics, public speaking, computer skills, communications or writing.
  • Make yourself well-rounded. Having a specialization in your major is awesome, but it means that you’re missing out on the other subjects your school offers. Are you a business major who hasn’t taken a science or writing class since high school? Are you a biology major who doesn’t know what GAAP stands for? While you may not end up using the information in this type of elective later, it will help you practice thinking and learning in a new way.
  • Think about what excites you. If you were absolutely required to pick up a non-fiction book TOMORROW and start teaching yourself something, what would it be? It is absolutely fine to pick classes that interest you, even if there is no other reason to take it! Be honest with yourself about the difference between a class that excites you and a class you’re taking simply because it sounds easy.

What classes have you taken as electives? Are there any tips I missed? Tweet at @fortefoundation or @perras_jordan

Jordan Perras will graduate in 2018 from Northeastern University and she is majoring in Math and Business Administration with a concentration in Finance and a minor in Economics.  She has a wide variety of interests that include history, art and literature and plans to pursue an MBA after college. She is especially interested in the role of social entrepreneurship in sustainable business.

 

 

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How to Write Your Elevator Pitch to Include College and Work Life

By Danni Ondraskova

March 9, 2017

I have spent the last few days working on short essays and cover letters, which I will refer to here synonymously as elevator pitches, for my various summer applications. During that time, I learned a lot about systematic mistakes I had been making in my writing, gleaned some great tips from mentors on how to avoid these pitfalls, and applied them to my work, seeing great improvements in just a few drafts. Through the course of this blog post, I hope to be able to pass some of them to you, enable you to write better elevator pitches, and help you get closer to the career outcomes you desire.

For many who are applying for jobs and internships for the first time, the “elevator pitch” is an oft-heard dreaded phrase that elicits feelings of anxiety, fear, and general unhappiness. Many people wonder how you can possibly describe your background and particularly your academic achievements and career experience in as little as thirty spoken seconds or two written paragraphs. The task can be even more daunting if you are sure you have found that dream job or internship and know that the written portion of your applications marks the thin line between an offer and a rejection. Some reasonably point to low admissions rates in the single digits and ask how much they can actually do in their application to distinguish themselves from others in the crowd. While these blog post does not promise to be a panacea, I think you will be able to be able to better strategize how to approach the college and work life elements of your elevator pitch if you read the next few paragraphs. 

First, I encourage you to sit down somewhere quiet with a pencil and a blank sheet of paper. Spend five minutes writing down everything you know about yourself: where you come from, what fascinates you, your most formative academic and career experiences, and so on. When those five minutes are up, you will hopefully have a lot to work with.

My mentor gave me a funny metaphor for me to visualize the next step.

He asked me, “What are your favorite fruits?”

“Apples, oranges, and bananas,” I replied.

His point (and your next step!) is that you need to organize your arguments and sub arguments in threes because the human mind is best at processing items in that quantity. Try to have one paragraph dealing with your background and initial interest, another on your academic achievements, and a third on your career achievements, for example. Think about how to best categorize your different kinds of “fruit” and then think about the order of the paragraphs themselves (or, if you are like me, do these steps in the opposite order).

Finally, I encourage you to imagine yourself sitting on the other side of the table as the recruiter. Look through your internship job description. Formulate a series of criteria about the kind of applicant you want and write them down. I did something similar for a policy internship below.

Criteria for policy internship:

1. Is she likable?
2. Will she do a great job?
3. Does she have a good, clear rationale for wanting the job?
4. Will she be professional and does she demonstrate a good writing ability?
5. Is she reliable?
6. Does she demonstrate attention to detail?

Once you come up with your 5-10 questions, reread your elevator pitch and go through each question one by one. Strive to answer every question; you will have your final draft done when you have done so. Before you send an important application or make that elevator pitch in person, be sure to practice with your mentor and have him or her offer you tips.


Danni Ondraskova will graduate in 2018 from Wellesley College. Danni plans on earning a dual degree in law and business and dreams of working for JP Morgan’s Global Investment Management division.

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Managers vs. Leaders: Are They the Same?

By Jordan Perras

March 6, 2017

It is easy to use “manager” and “leader” interchangeably, especially when you’re thinking about work. However, managers and leaders fulfill different roles in organizations. Of course they share some basic characteristics, but they are separate and distinct roles that are both necessary on effective teams. 

What does a manager do?

Managers focus on the quantitative work of a team. They help plan, budget, organize and staff a team. They control what the team does and help problem solve when things go wrong.

Have you ever acted as a manager in a team project? Typical manager behavior would be assigning tasks to other group members, booking meeting rooms in the library or emailing due date reminders.

What does a leader do?

Leaders focus on the qualitative part of the team, especially the ‘people’ element. They are more likely to set a direction for the team, get people on board, and then motivate the team to follow through. They probably advocate for change and new approaches to tasks.

Have you ever acted as a leader in a team project? Typical leader behavior would be exciting the team to do well, supporting the team vision vocally, and inspiring people to do better work.

Can you be both?

The short answer is YES, you can be both! How?

  • Take smart risks.
  • Gain self-knowledge (check out my self-knowledge leadership series!). 
  • Involve others in your decision making. 
  • Think about how one part of a project impacts the others. 
  • Think about the long term impact of decisions – on people, on efficiency, on morale.

Jordan Perras will graduate in 2018 from Northeastern University and she is majoring in Math and Business Administration with a concentration in Finance and a minor in Economics.  She has a wide variety of interests that include history, art and literature and plans to pursue an MBA after college. She is especially interested in the role of social entrepreneurship in sustainable business.

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