Author Archives: sbinkevich

Interview Tips: Hot off the Press

At work, I am being given the opportunity to oversee my first full-time hire. Because the position requires a niche technical skill-set, we have been working with several recruiting firms to source resumes. I have been conducting phone screens for the past two weeks and have found several reoccurring gaps in interview etiquette among candidates. Check this out and don’t allow these to happen to you!

1. Have a story for why you want to leave your current position and more importantly, why now. If I ask you why you are looking for a full time position at my company now (and are thereby leaving your current one), especially if you have been a free-lance consultant for the past five years, please don’t tell me that you just want to make an impact. Furthermore, don’t tell me that you like everything about your current job but that it doesn’t pay you enough money and you have a son and a mortgage. The reality is that finances may be a major consideration in wanting a new role. But the interviewer just doesn’t want to know. I would argue that there are several better things to express about wanting a change of scenery. You can say that you would like room for further growth but due to management or the structure of your currently company, you are not getting that opportunity. You can also suggest that the position was described to you one way when you were joining the company but turned out to be a different ball game and you’ve been misled. Whatever you do, don’t tell the interviewer that you’re in it for money. They are simply going to conclude that money won’t keep you happy on a bad day…and probably be right.

2. Prepare for introspective behavioral questions. Or at least be honest when asked. It is very common for interviewers who are looking to ascertain cultural fit to ask a couple of questions about things that have likely happened to you at work. A common example is “tell me about a time when you had to work with a team to accomplish something” or slightly less common is something like “tell me about how you handled an instance in which you’ve disagreed with a colleague.” It is generally easier if you’ve rehearsed the main points of the answers to such questions in advance. On-the-spot nervousness can make it harder to recall simple things. Google ‘common behavioral questions’ and practice answering them. If you don’t prep in advance, however, if you have so much as 1-2 years of work experience under your belt, you should absolutely have instances in which you’ve disagreed with colleagues. If you don’t, then I really have to question the authenticity of your work experience. If you’re caught off guard by the question and don’t have the answer easily mentally available, I suggest that you stop yourself and think about an actual instance that answers the question. I had a candidate who was clearly caught off guard by the question but paused and came up with a genuine answer. The absolute wrong thing to do is talk just to fill the space and answer in hypotheticals. For example, if you say “in a time of disagreement you have to sit everyone down…”, instead of explaining your particular situation and how YOU handled it, I, as the interviewer, begin to feel like you’re not listening. Then I naturally start to wonder whether you would do the same at work. 

3. Do research on the company you’re interviewing for. I may be sounding like Captain Obvious but you’d be surprised how many folks don’t do basic research. And if you haven’t done the basic research, how can you hope to effectively make the argument that you’re the best candidate for the position at a company? Believe me, someone who works at a company will immediately know if you haven’t put in the time to figure out what the company does or, at least, come up with educated questions on the topic. Oh, and last thing. Dress up please! Wear a tie if you’re a dude, or a well-pressed suit if you’re a female…and don’t stroll in drinking a coffee, while continuing to sip on it during the interview. Distracting and unprofessional – both things you don’t want your interviewer thinking about you.  


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Work is not fun every day. At least for me it is not. Not even after I left the world of financial services for a cooler tech-company, with a better mission. The other day, however, these feelings were exacerbated as I experienced some serious professional fatigue.

What is professional fatigue?

Professional fatigue is that name I attribute to a feeling that you have hit your peak of your accomplishments at work. I require a lot to feel professionally (and personally) stimulated. I need to feel busy. I need to be solving problems. I need to be revolutionizing the way that things work. When those things are not happening, I feel professionally fatigued. When this last happened, I immediately began to plot a way out. I acted like a quintessential Gen Y’er, wanting immediate gratification…and wanting it now.

I called up someone close and basically said that I needed help, serious help, thinking through my exit strategy from the job.

Thankfully, that someone helped me internalize the few things that I want to share with you:

  1. Revert to my opening line. It is completely unrealistic that you will be as excited every day as in the first month – first year of a job in an industry that you have no background in. Having such expectations are pretty much guaranteed to make you miserable. I’ll even take it a step further. Staying challenged at work is YOUR responsibility. It is not something that will passively come to you, especially as time goes on. However, you can let your manager know that you are hungry. Bring ideas to the table. Show some initiative. And when you do come to him/her, show up with concrete ways to improve operations, cash flow, net revenue, or whatever other metrics you know are important to the organization.
  2. Start/Keep a Brag Book. You might be asking, “What is a Brag Book?” Exactly what it sounds like. A Brag Book is a self-created portfolio of your work product and positive feedback that you receive on this work. This should include any emails where folks have complimented your work, any positive feedback from outside clients or stakeholders, and any nice thoughts that your manager(s) have shared with you. If the thoughts were shared verbally, don’t be shy about drafting an email with those thoughts to yourself, or to the individual who complimented you, thanking him/her, so that the spoken words become written. A Brag Book serves a dual purpose – use in good times and use in bad times. By good times, I mean this: occasionally looking through my work accomplishments helps me feel reinvigorated about the bigger picture and my purpose in it. Knowing that something I worked on has made someone’s day to day life easier at work keeps me going. A Brag Book is a powerful remedy for professional fatigue. As for use in bad times – should someone question whether you are deserving of the next step or a big opportunity at work, you can always refer to accomplishments in the Brag Book. This brings me to my last point: where should the Brag Book live? Copying and pasting emails from work to a Google Drive, or another system outside of work, makes sense. Should something ever happen at work and you were to lose access to your work systems, you do not want to find yourself in a helpless position. Printing a physical copy of the correspondence and storing in a manila folder at home also works well.
  3. Sit still. I can’t say it any better so I will say it exactly how someone close said it to me: “Sometimes there is a lot of value in JUST SITTING STILL.” This notion is useful in both your personal and professional sphere. Instead of looking for a way out at the first sight of professional fatigue, it makes sense to slow down, assess the direction of the company, and see where the cards appear to be falling. I will give you an example from my own life. I had the aforementioned conversation about trying to leave literally one month before my company was sold for $215M. Though it is impossible to rewrite history, I may have acted on impulse and left the upside of the buyout on the table without proper guidance. It is important to know when restlessness, youth, and a thirst for something better should be acted on and when it should not. Having the self-awareness to know the difference can, at times, be challenging. As such, it is important to put forth the energy to find quality mentors that can help you discern the difference (see my post on networking). Oh and by the way, I am not implying that you NEVER leave a situation if you don’t like it. I would, however, argue that in most industries, staying for 2-3 years shows commitment, continuity, and gives you enough information to make a solid decision rather than hastily jumping ship after a year and a half. Image

Dealing with Professional Fatigue

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Grad School: To go or not to go?

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On the eve of ‘back to school’ season, that is the question. This post seeks to address the question because, lately, I’ve heard far too many bad reasons for why folks are going to grad school (especially women, which hurts!). The reality is that most grad schools are laborious to get into, expensive, lead to foregone income, and don’t guarantee jobs. As such, the decision of whether or not to go to grad school should be approached with thoughtfulness.*

In the spirit of good decision making, below are what I consider some bad and good reasons to go to grad school. I hope that they help you make the call.

Bad reasons to go to grad school

1.       You’re having a tough time finding a job or are scared of the job hunt. I’ll give it to you. The job hunt, especially in today’s economy, can be daunting. However, especially if you’re straight out of undergrad, you’re better off taking a job that is not ideal than rushing off to grad school. Most jobs help you learn what you like and don’t like to do, which is a better experience than spending $200k to go to grad school only to have to do the same soul searching (but with no prior work experience to lean on in your resume). In fact, grad schools often look for prior work experience because they understand that you get more out of the degree when you bring more to the table. If you currently have a job, don’t like it, and are hitting a wall trying to make a move, keep on grinding (and see my blog on networking). In most cases, the opportunity cost of powering through the networking is lower than that of applying to and attending grad school.

 2.       You need a slightly different skillset to make a move. I underlined ‘slightly’ because this is an important nuance. Example: If you’re on the accounting side of a business but you want to move to the deal-making side of the business, skill-wise, you are not far away enough to warrant going back to business school. In fact you, you’re likely very close and simply need exposure to the business. Again, this likely requires that you network and use your resources wisely, not run off to school. If you’re in this position, strongly consider spending time with mentor(s) and mapping out a path to your desired job that does not include grad school.

 3.       You have always wanted to live in a certain place. Getting the opportunity to live in another city can certainly be a rewarding experience but it should come as a consequence of your decision to go to grad school, not be the driving factor thereof. There are many ways of relocating. Finding a job in the new city of your choice is one, transferring through your current company is another, and exploring a ‘work from home’ option if your current position allows for it are but several ways. Using grad school as a reason for the move, however, is expensive and pretty impractical.

Good reasons to go to grad school

1.       Major career jump. There are several examples of major career jumps. The one that comes to mind first is making a leap from engineering (as in you’re the person who is going in and handling the quality assurance machine for Bounty) to a corporate consulting position. I say that this is major jump because in your work/industry as an engineer, you likely don’t interact with many corporate business folks who may help you transition into a corporate job. In this case, grad school (likely business school) is an effective way to expand one’s network and to jump careers.

 2.       Increasing your options and broadening your skillset. It is possible that gaining an additional set of skills may broaden your career opportunities enough to warrant grad school, depending on the case scenario. If, for example, grad school will give you robust skills as a project manager and that is going to amount to a substantial pay raise, then it may make sense. Grad school can also drastically broaden your network because it may expose you to new circle of motivated and passionate peers with some good ideas. If you’re looking to start a business of your own and you absolutely don’t think you have the resources/connections to do so in your current position, grad school may be a good move because it might introduce you to channels of potential funding (many business schools now have entrepreneurial contests for money), colleagues for your business, and provide a stimulating environment to sharpen your ideas.

On a final note, here is a visual representation that you can use to guide your decision-making:

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*Please note that the below blog does not include serious consideration of graduate schools for medical professions and for teaching. While I feel that the decision to go to medical school, for example, should be approached with the same high level of seriousness that I mentioned above, I omitted it in the blog because it is a necessity, not a nice-to-have, to practice the profession.

Gathering People


I will remember 2013 for many things. Learning about networking will be one of them. I spent a lot of time this year reconnecting with organizations that I care about and, as a result, ending up at events, which I contributed money to be at, with no one else I knew, at least initially.

That said, I wanted to give some feedback on what I feel has worked well, and not so well, for me in instances where I’ve found myself figuring out how to approach, and potentially forge relationships with, a bunch of people I don’t know.

1. Gather people…long in advance. I chose to title this blog post “Gathering People” because much like folks collect art, I believe that networking is about the constant process of aggregating people that bring unique skills, are from different walks of life, and, hopefully, keep you on your toes. The catch is this. Regardless of whether you know exactly what you’re seeking your network’s help with or not, it is key to understand that you need to be gathering the network WELL in advance of activating it for anything. You don’t like to feel used and neither does anyone else.

2. Be genuine…but be strategic. This brings me to my next point. Be authentic and be yourself; trying to be someone else is hard and generally doesn’t lead to honest relationships. One thing that has worked for me, especially after having attended an event where I found one of the panelists interesting, for example, is approaching the panelist and being honest with him/her. Saying “I really enjoyed what you had to say about XYZ (being specific always helps). Can I come see you and seek advice about some related things that I am thinking about?” You can do this on email (which is easier) or in person. Both help you ingratiate yourself with the individual at hand; who doesn’t like to hear that he/she is great.

I will, however, caution against coming on too strong. I once emailed a woman executive who spoke to a group that I’m a member of and asked her to mentor me because I like what she had to say. She basically said “thanks, but no thanks…I don’t really know you and you should find someone in your industry.” It is my belief that I came on too strong. I asked for a long-term commitment (mentorship) of someone whom I hadn’t even properly conversed with. A better approach would’ve been asking for one meeting in the manner I mentioned above and using that meeting to back into a longer term situation by asking the individual if she wouldn’t mind being someone ‘I use as a sounding board for career-related decisions’ (assuming the meeting goes well).

Within the boundaries of authenticity, remember to be strategic about who you form alliances with. I am not encouraging you to become besties with the nastiest person at work. However, be cognizant of the power structures. Check for those that appear to be moving on up, not just for those who are “nice.” Even if the person who seems to be advancing comes off “pushy” or “too ambitious” (common phrases I have heard women say about other women in the workplace) at first, think about why the individual(s) are where they are and seek to be closer. Again, do this well in advance of the individual ascending to a position from which he/she is able to influence your role in the company will be, because when that time comes, you don’t want to be left behind because you were too busy hating on the ambitious girl.

3. Follow up. Using the initial interaction to cultivate a longer term situation is key. Folks, especially older ones that you might be trying to get to know, are busy. A thank you note works well. A hand-written thank you card is even better and, arguably, more memorable. I once sent an ex-partner at my old company a hand-written note and he never forgot it. If you really want to get to know someone, don’t leave it alone beyond one meeting. After a month or so, ask to come by the individual’s office or to grab lunch. Don’t be the person that thinks he/she knows someone well and is positioned to ask for favors after just one substantive interaction. In follow-up conversations, consider introducing the individual you’re seeking to have a relationship with to others in your network, if appropriate. Being a thoughtful ambassador and connector for those in your network generally helps strengthen your ties to individuals on both sides of the introductions you make.

4. Make it a habit. Networking can’t be an occasion. If you care to become good at it, it can’t be something that you flip on when you need it. You should strive to be in the constant process of networking – of seeking out good folks and forging a relationship with them. You can practice this anywhere – at your local deli where you likely see the same faces over and over again, at your office building where you’re probably walking past the same colleagues every day, and on your block, when you see your neighbors (this is possible EVEN in NYC where they say no one acknowledges anyone else on the street!). Take advantage of these small opportunities because if you want to be ready for the big leagues, you better have been practicing all along.

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From Wall St. to Start Up St.


When I tell folks that I transitioned from an i-bank to a growth stage start-up, most ask a number of questions that sum up to “well, how is the start-up thing?” Such conversations have inspired me to write a post documenting my thoughts on the matter. While this is not a thorough analysis of all the considerations involved in making a move from Wall St to Start St, it is certainly meant to draw a fair comparison between the two worlds on what I believe to be several important points.

1.       Work-life balance. “Face time” really matters in finance. My roommate is a mid-level associate on Wall St. and she still never leaves the office before her boss. I am happy to say that my current company isn’t as plagued by a “how-many-hours-was-your-b*tt-in-the-seat?” culture as most on Wall St. I am not suggesting that I clocked out at 5 pm on my first day. Like in any new job, there was an initial period of proving my worth and building my boss’ confidence in my work ethic. However, once I felt that this had been achieved (she wrote me an email complimenting my work ethic after two months on the job), I have not hesitated to leave at 5 pm if I have another appointment occasionally, or for coffee with a peer at noon. Having a work laptop that I carry everywhere, something I didn’t have in finance, has been a huge help in ensuring that I don’t take advantage of this newly found flexibility at the expense of my workload. I am sure to make up whatever work time I miss during the day at home, in the evenings. As a result of this arrangement, I work a comparable number of hours at a start-up, but have a significantly better work-life balance because I feel more in control of my schedule. It certainly helps that my current company’s office is in a prime mid-town location with lots of stores, restaurants, and in close proximity to organizations that I am involved in outside of work, instead of being in the middle of nowhere on the west side of the city!

2.       Co-workers. I am going to be painfully direct on this one. Some of your co-workers at a start-up will not be of the same caliber as your finance colleagues. They will submit work to you that will, unfortunately, inspire you to ask if the assignment has been given more than 10 minutes of thought. Some of them will also not have the same level of erudition, worldly knowledge, or put in as many hours as your i-bank colleagues. But they will likely be a lot more relaxed, helpful, cordial, and appreciative of good work because the baseline standard is lower. For better or worse, my current company is sustained by a handful of A+ players who are brilliant and give their work 150%, which, in turn, allows others to put in 70%. I constantly find myself thinking that if the other folks gave it, at least, 90%, we would be so much further ahead.

This arrangement has pros and cons because while the caliber of my colleagues at the i-bank was higher, I had to quickly learn the swift art of covering my *ss. Before I could turn around, I was lying under the bus covered by tire marks at the i-bank. The blame games and finger pointing haven’t happened nearly to the same extent in my year of employment at the start-up. It was difficult not to succumb to the pressure of a super competitive environment on Wall St. On Start Up St., the professional atmosphere isn’t as intense; no deadline feels as pressing (I know this because I have missed a few, without any material repercussions). Colleagues are not at each other’s throats, fighting to be in the top quartile of an analyst class or for the small, finite number of promotions. For example, when I first got to the company, I sent an email that wasn’t in line with the company’s culture. A colleague pulled me over and quietly let me know. In finance, most colleagues would’ve let it sit there and waited for me to repeat the mistake. I say thank g-d for nicer, but less professionally intense people. Pick your own poison on this one.

3.       Impact, work content & pay. I feel that I’ve been able to have an impact on my current company and its employees in ways that would have arguably taken me years at the i-bank. In finance, especially at the analyst and junior associate levels, I felt three degrees removed from the real-life impact of almost any transaction that my team was working on. At the start-up, I built a system that the entire company has transitioned to in the past year and that is integral to each department’s strategic plans for the future. In building this system, I have also made design and tech decisions that have been, without a doubt, over my head. To do so, I’ve had to do research, ask a lot of questions, and interact with folks in positions whose counterparts at the i-bank I never had exposure to.

However, because there are less folks to work on anything at a start-up but tons of work to do, I have found myself part of “all-hands-on-deck” situations where I am executing on menial tasks. Even still, at the start-up, I feel that whether big or small, the work I am doing is part of a movement. The company I am part of is charting a path to something better and more innovative (in this case, it’s a better way for employees to buy benefits) than what exists; it is working to improve the status quo and I am at the forefront. At the i-bank, I felt part of a well-oiled machine that wasn’t innovating in any direct sense; every day I was perpetuating the behavior of the beast. We can argue that by lending and raising capital, i-banks enable other entities to innovate and improve the status quo, but again, the day-to-day work of an analyst was too far removed for my taste.

I’ll close this discussion on the topic of pay. As I mentioned in my first blog post, coming from an i-bank gives you leverage to use in a negotiation with a start-up. I certainly didn’t come over to the start-up on financial terms that were unfavorable. That said, I left the i-bank just having made associate so I am definitely making less now than I would have been. However, compensation in a start-up is often in equity. While deferred compensation, it might be a whole better to have that in three years from now, when the company sells, than to have a 10k salary increase now.

As you can see, it’s a compromise on each of the points above. You give something up to get something in return. Whether what you get in return works for you is a matter of values.


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What you may not have learned in College, Part 2: Composing a solid cover letter & acing your interview


Part 1 of my 2-part post focused on how to give your resume a much-needed face lift. I hope that Part 2 will provide you with some prescriptive tips on turning around your cover letter and acing that interview. Mastery of these three, crucial components will help you differentiate yourself from your competition in the quest for employment. As y’all know, a job search is no easy feat these days so you want to prepare thoroughly and position yourself well.

Cover letter

1. Flow & format: When I look at most folks’ cover letter drafts, I find that the flow of the letter is often misunderstood. This is important because if you don’t have the proper flow, you’re going to be all over the map. While no format is a silver bullet, I believe that the following  is a solid framework for laying out your next cover letter:

  • Paragraph 1 (this paragraph can be as short as two sentences): What position are you applying for?
  • Paragraph 2:  Why are you drawn to this particular position at this particular company? A personal vignette resonates well here. Feel free to draw a connection to the position on multiple levels – in fact, the more levels, the better. Let’s say you were a developer at your old job so you’re applying for a new development role – the connection works.  Additionally, consider that the development role you’re applying for is at a company that plays in the healthcare field. Explain why are drawn to healthcare. A personal example of the affinity may include a story of negative impact on your family when a family member who didn’t have access to healthcare was diagnosed with a chronic illness. This experience, in turn, made you want to work for a company that seeks to expand access to healthcare. Theodore Roosevelt said that “…the best prize that life has to offer is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.” Reference points that tell your story go a long way in convincing the hiring manager that the work you’re applying for is work worth doing from your perspective.
  • Paragraph 3: Why are you qualified for this position? More importantly, what unique attributes do you bring to the table?

Check out this blank cover letter. It looks professional, includes the paragraph topics I discussed, AND you did not even have to wait in line at the career center to get it.

2. It’s not the kitchen sink. A cover letter is devised to catch someone’s attention, to compel them to stop, say, “this person is interesting” and grab your resume out of the pile. It is NOT a reiteration of every experience on that resume. Think of your candidacy for a job as a thesis paper in which you’re making a case for something. A cover letter should include a succinct synopsis of the most salient arguments that advance your candidacy. Pretend that you’re applying for a client service manager position. Your resume houses three customer service-related experiences: a coffee shop, an account manager position at an advertising agency, and a job that you held at the front desk of the Student Union at school. Think through which experience has prepared you best for the job you want and don’t be quick to dismiss the student jobs just because they were “less professional” than an office experience. Once you choose the appropriate experience, push the skill-set it taught you. Consider including something like, “I believe that the associate position I held at Espresso Royale coffee shop thoroughly prepared me for dealing with disgruntled customers and being able to deliver superior client service, both of which are integral to the role I am seeking.”

3. Levels of formality: Context should drive the level of formality in your cover letter. What do I mean by that? Think about how you came across the opportunity. Were you introduced to the CEO of a start-up company through a friend via email or are you applying for a job online? Always keep it professional, but in the case of the former, feel free to use slightly more colloquial language as start-ups tend to have more relaxed cultures. Next, think about what the opportunity is. Are you applying for a job at a large investment bank or at a startup? It is possible that a start-up may not have the same appreciation for language like “return on investment” or “creating value” as would an investment bank. Keeping your audience in mind is key.

4. Tying it together. In the spirit of shelling out prescriptive advice, I have chosen to provide an actual cover letter that someone sent me (the before version) and a draft of it after my corrections (the after version). While I will leave you to do a detailed comparison on your own, I want to point out a few things: 1. The ‘after’ document closely follows the flow I spelled out in my first point. 2. The new cover letters contains a salient personal experience (South Africa) that connects the reader to why the candidate is interested in the work. 3. The edited version is terse, simpler to follow, and easier on the eyes.

Interview prep

1. Find others who have done it. Search your contacts. Who functions in a similar capacity on your LinkedIn page? Consulting those who have been through the experience is an effective way to prepare. Firsthand advice is super helpful. Ask your contacts what the interview was like AND for those that got the job and took it, what it is like day-to-day. Understand what surprised someone about the job/company you’re applying for and what they would have done differently in preparing for the interview. What are challenges on the job and what is enjoyable? It goes without saying that you should read the company’s website and understand the business model to the best of your ability. Hell, in today’s world, you can find out what your interviewer looks like and where they live; don’t be afraid to capitalize on this! The more insight you have, the more informed your answers will be. Informed answers will allow you to interview from a position of strength, which will, among other things, calm your anxiety.

2. Think of a theme. Someone once gave me this advice. She suggested that when you go into an interview, you should have a personal theme – four things (visualize the four corners of a square) that you would want your interviewer to retain about you if they remembered nothing else. Study these four items. Should you feel stuck in an interview, tie the answer back to one of the four items, walk back to one of the corners of the square. Consider that someone asked you how you would deal with a certain situation and you either have no idea or are too nervous to think about it on the spot. Responding with something like “I am not sure what I would do in that situation but I did have [insert situation explanation] this situation with a former client and I did this [insert your actions]. Through my actions, I believe that I demonstrated my ability to be a reliable, team player (provided that team player was one of your four items).

3. Role play. This may be a throwback to my first blog entry. Choose a friend who will be honest and constructively critical. Do a dry-run. The dry-run should entail a healthy mix of question types. Some should be behavioral (e.g. How do you deal with stress?; Talk me through a challenging situation in your last job?; Give me 3 weaknesses/3 strengths, etc.) and some should be technical, if such questions are applicable to the job. For example, if you’re gunning for a consulting position, it would help for a friend to give you a case to practice. If you simulate a real interview environment well enough, I promise that you will quickly realize which of your answers are half-baked. Write the challenging questions down and write answers to those questions out. With repetition, you will likely begin to remember those answers. This helps to battle nervousness and tighten up your answers. Before I move on to my next point, I’d like to offer a word of advice on answering questions that require you to reveal your professional weaknesses. Be honest. Everyone has weaknesses. Don’t try to spin a strength into a weakness because you will look like a tool. However, do your best to couch the weakness. Here’s an example: “I can stand to get better at time management. One thing that I have done to improve this is make a habit of creating a “to-do” list at the start of each work day but I am open to more techniques that will help me more work on this.”

4. Looking sharp makes you sharp. Looking the part is an integral piece to getting the part. Please invest time and energy into your physical appearance. While caring about how you are dressed should be an ongoing habit, it is never as important as it is on interview day. You could have prepared stellar answers that someone will dismiss at the onset as he/she struggles to avoid looking at your blouse, bursting at the chest (ladies, I know you know what I am talking about) because it is a size too small. On the topic of interview fashion, I will say this:

  • Being overdressed is better than being under-dressed.  You may not be sure about an establishment’s dress code. Especially at start-ups, folks air on the more casual side. It does not matter! You should still walk in wearing a freshly ironed suit (preferably black or dark blue) and a shirt underneath that suits your body. Be conservative with your jewelry and your hair-do. I have curly hair that I usually wear up in interviews because I feel that wearing it down makes me appear younger and more playful, when I want to look like I am serious and up for the challenge. I find that looking more professional is empowering.
  • Wear body appropriate clothing. I feel strongly about this, even in non-interview environments. Fashion comes and goes and keeping up with the latest trends is important. However, this should NEVER come at the expense of wearing what looks nice on YOUR body. For example, if you’re a female who is well endowed in the breast area, you should either stay away from a button down blouse that will be bursting open OR you should buy one of a size and fit that does not appear that way. If you’re someone with a curvier bottom, you likely want to stay away from skinny, boot-cut dress pants that accentuate every curve you have. Instead, purchase pants on the looser side around the thighs. I am not suggesting that you should not look feminine but in the words of Andrea Pomerantz, a beauty blogger, “think Paris, France, not Paris Hilton.”   

Check out this cool link my friend sent me. It is a good visual of some topics I discussed and others I did not touch on. Internalize it. Now get after that job you want!

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What you may not have learned in college, Part 1: Doctoring up your resume


The challenge

Through numerous conversations with mentees who hail from my alma mater, U of M, it has become abundantly clear that many college-taught skills, albeit important, do not seamlessly transfer to the real world. You might be asking why. Let’s face it. Colleges rarely teach “professionalism.” You can cruise through 4 years of undergrad at a highly reputable school and still not know how to approach the job application process. At most schools, unless you intentionally seek out the career center or older classmates that have applied for jobs, the relevant information does not reach you as easily as it should. Most of us have spent countless hours writing 20-page research papers with citations, but very little, if any, time producing a succinct cover letter.

The job application process

In most cases, the job application process boils down to mastering three fundamental things: putting together a quality resume, drafting a catchy, easy-to-read cover letter, and prepping for an interview.

Because there is a lot to be said for all three, I chose to focus the post below solely on the resume. The next two posts will feature my thoughts on cover letters and interview prep respectively. Stay tuned!

Before I get to the meat of the post, I want to remind you guys that the same water that softens a carrot hardens an egg. No one resume format or technique is a silver bullet. I recognize that resume standards vary by industry – lawyers lean in the direction of verbose resumes with paragraphs, while the finance sector prefers brief result-oriented bullet points (hope you can tell which one I come from!). Despite your industry, however, I will argue that, at the margin, the below techniques, when incorporated correctly, will give your resume an interview-landing face lift.

Preparing to write

  1. Think it sucks. I don’t know about you but whenever I read anything I’ve written, I tend to think it’s great. I am a victim of all kinds of self-bias; you can read more about it here. When it comes to your resume, you need to work hard NOT to think it’s fantastic. Remember, a resume is short – mine contains 661 words, to be exact. With such little room, questioning every sentence is not enough; you must get in the zone to question every word. Ask yourself if the word defends itself (does it advance your case as the best candidate for the job?). In the process of doing so, make sure you change your physical environment. Questioning every word AND sitting within the same four walls may give you a terrible case of writer’s block.
  2. Line your readers up strategically. I suggest that your close friends review your resume first. Doing so will ensure that most generic resume advice is covered. Not that your close friends are not brilliant, but you have more access to their time and they are likely to know what you know, provided that most are in your peer group. Line up 2-3 close friends. Your weaker relationships are probably more seasoned folks whose time is more “expensive.” When your resume gets in front of them, it should be a good product. The hope is that weaker relationships with more experience will lend you the incremental advice that drives your resume from good to great. Lastly, include what you’re working towards in the email with your resume. Someone may lend you a hand beyond the resume. Line up 2-3 weaker relationships. Feedback from more than 6-8 people may become difficult to incorporate and drive you insane.
  3. Time horizon. Putting together a quality resume is a time intensive process; it is not a one day process. In fact, I will argue that as a resume writer, you benefit by working on chunks of it, leaving it, and picking up where you left off. “Re-setting” mentally allows you to avoid the biases I mentioned above more efficiently. You also want to give your readers adequate time to review.


1. Don’t vomit on it! You resume is NOT a place to include a laundry list of job responsibilities. I can Google what a legislative correspondent (LC) on the Hill does, for example, and quickly find out. Your resume IS a place for you to highlight YOUR impact. When you draft your resume, you should constantly ask yourself what wouldn’t have taken place had you not been in your position. The answer(s) should land on your résumé. If you feel overly compelled to clarify your role, include a one liner that sums it up right underneath the listing. I work at a start-up in a project management capacity. To describe this, I used the following sentence: “Manage cross-departmental projects aimed at streamlining company’s internal operations.”

One nifty way to ensure that your value added to include quantifiable results where possible. You don’t want to leave the question of “you’ve done this but SO WHAT?” unanswered. Consider this: If you’ve improved the process for cataloguing incoming inquiries at your job, say something like this: “Streamlined the process for tracking incoming inquiries resulting in weekly time savings of five man hours.” Remember, you have very limited space to convey why you’re awesome. Choose how you use that space wisely.

2. Action verbs. Action verbs give your resume power and direction. They are also often discussed in workshops. Yet, I see resume after resume where folks sell themselves short because they choose a passive way to frame what they’ve done. I am not a proponent of falsifying information on your resume. But if you have to tactfully embellish to get the point across, do it! Studies show that women do not take credit for their achievements. Don’t let that be you. If you led a project that improved something at your company, say it! Use words such as “managed,” “spearheaded,” or “led.” If you were on some kind of task force that required your time and energy, don’t say “Served on a task force that…” Instead say “Key member of task force that…” The two sentences convey similar information but the second sounds significantly stronger.

Folks frequently advise that in life, it is not about what you say but how you say it. I believe that action verbs are the key to bringing this advice to bear on your resume.

Feel free to reference this for a comprehensive list of action verbs when you craft your next resume.

3. Looks matter! The world is competitive. A hiring manager has hundreds of resumes to sift through. The best looking ones usually catch the eye. I believe that resume “looks” entail three factors (you can tell I think in three’s, can’t you?): length, formatting, and space allocation.

Length: Your resume should be no longer than two pages. In fact, if you are, on average, three to six years out of school, and you haven’t found the cure to cancer, your resume should actually be one page long. If it is not, you’re probably not being choosy about what you include and you’re not doing yourself any favors! Just because I worked at a coffee shop in college doesn’t mean that this needs to be on a resume that I submit for a position at a tech start-up. When I am asking myself what to eliminate, I like to consider two things: what experiences convey skills that are least relevant to the job I am seeking; and what experiences highlight skills that I’ve already covered elsewhere in the resume. Working at a coffee shop may show that you can deliver great customer service but so does working at a call center for your university’s undergraduate admissions office. Pick one.

Formatting: Formatting is telling of your attention to detail. Before someone has had the opportunity to meet you, they are assessing whether you have taken the time to cross the T’s and dot the I’s on your resume. Are your fonts uniform? Are your bullet points indented evenly? Have you spelled correctly? Are your dates in the same place throughout the resume? Whatever aesthetic decision you make in your resume needs to be consistent throughout the document.

To make your lives easier, I have shared a resume format that I’ve sent to many friends here, so use away! In order to use it, you will have to download it to your computer (using the Download button on the upper right). Notice that the document has a grid in it; the grid is helpful in keeping your sections and margins clean. When you’re done, you can hide the grid lines by doing the following: Right click on the document ->Borders and Shading-> Borders->Select None->Hit Ok. This is a formatting trick that my brother learned in business school. I’ve just given it to you and you’re not $100K in the black. Make good use of it!

Space allocation:  Space allocation on your resume should be driven by the job you’re seeking and where you are in your career. I provided you a link to my first resume after college. As such, the resume has a long section dedicated to my extracurricular activities in college, my only examples of leadership and initiative at the time, outside of one serious summer internship. My current resume, however, starts with an employment section. Within that section, there are sections for different skills sets. For example, there is a section called “Operational Efficiency and Analysis” instead of “Extracurricular Leadership.” This makes sense because I last applied to work for a company’s Chief Operating Officer (COO). The number of bullet points under each section should also be determined by a combination of the job you’re seeking and how committed you were to the experience at hand. If you spent 5 years working at a company and you were promoted, you should probably allocate 3-4 bullet points for that experience. If, on the other hand, you volunteered with an organization outside of work and spent five hours a month doing so, one bullet point will suffice. At the end of the day, the past and current experiences on your resume help build a case to your potential employer that you are the best one for the job. The amount of resume space allocated should be directly proportional to how much a given endeavor advances that case.

Tying it all together

This is an excerpt from a friend’s resume that could use some work. Check out how I would incorporate the techniques I discussed to doctor it up.

“Constituent Services Intern

District office of NY Senator Adriano Espaillat, New York, NY: May 2012- present

  • Coordinated intergovernmental services pertaining to healthcare, housing, immigration, public safety and environmental health for community members of New York State District 31
  • Navigate through government bills and policies to assist constituents with urban bureaucracy
  • Design health awareness initiatives to maintain sufficient environmental and community health”

Don’t vomit on it!

To be frank, none of these bullet points properly convey impact. All refer to somewhat basic job responsibilities. I would condense the first bullet point into the following sentence: “Coordinated and implemented government services for community members of NY State Senate District 31”. I would make this the descriptive one liner under the job title. Next, I would change the second bullet point to say something like this: “Navigated policies for constituents, resulting in a 5% increase in usage of governmental services.” I would change the third bullet point to read “Designed health awareness initiatives that improved overall communal health by 3% in six months.”

Action verbs

The action verbs used in this example are not bad. One could consider replacing “navigated” with “educated constituents on policies” and “designed” with “constructed,” though both would work.

Looks matter!

I would lay this experience out in the following manner:

District Office of NY State Senator Adrian Espaillat                                 May 2012 – present

Constituent Services Intern                                                                                    New York, NY

Coordinated and implemented services for community members of NY State Senate District 31

  • Educated constituents on policies, resulting in a 5% increase in usage of governmental services
  • Designed health awareness initiatives that improved overall communal health by 3% in six months
Tagged ,

Ok, you got the job you want but not the salary you deserve. Now what?

Since the dots are way easier to connect looking backwards, let me give you my post-game analysis first. I urge you to keep these five things in mind as you’re making your next move.

  1. Write it down. As someone who is used to keeping track of multiple things in my head, writing my thoughts down before an important conversation is not something that I do intuitively. Doing this, however, will be of immediate benefit. Remember that this is not your potential employer’s first rodeo. He/she is easily able to discern someone who isn’t serious enough about the conversation to be prepared. Don’t let that be you. Writing the points you want to make down will allow you to deliver them in a calmer, more organized fashion. For women, the bar is arguably higher. Let’s make sure we rise to the occasion.
  2. Role-play until you’re sick of it! There is paramount value in role-playing the negotiation with a highly trusted mentor. The last thing you want is to be thrown off by an answer you didn’t expect. And chances are that after role-playing potential answers six times, you won’t be! Make sure that you do this with someone who has the experience to anticipate the different turns that negotiations can take and who will be honest enough to tell you when you suck. You can’t act on feedback you don’t have.
  3. Unless you’re making a DRASTIC industry jump, you should always aim for higher compensation when moving jobs. Don’t sell yourself short. Remember that there is inherent risk in simply leaving one place and going to a new one. You have spent years building a reputation and relationships in your old position, all of which you will need to work hard to rebuild in your new one. No one works just for fun.
  4. In the actual negotiation, don’t fall into the trap of tossing out a concrete number. In most negotiations, you will likely be asked a variation of “what salary will you agree to?” Resist the urge to toss out a number. You should definitely ball-park the number that will make you pull the trigger in your head. Sharing it, however, can only result in one of two things: you ending up with a salary that is lower than what you could’ve had (because if the number is lower than what the employer intended, they will be happy to go with it) or a turned off employer who says no to your number. Instead, you can give the employer a baseline grounded in your current salary or in projected earnings. Remember that compensation is also not all about salary. Think of it holistically and express this perspective to the employer. The company may be more comfortable with a scenario in which you forego a bit of salary but have more time off or have your cell phone bill paid for. This may also work better for you in the long run.
  5. Don’t “over-negotiate.” Play your cards right and know when to stop. Continuing to badger with questions and requests may send the message that you’re not adequately in line with the mission of the company. Put yourself on the other side of that conversation. If the deal-breaker for you is an extra 3K a year, then how convinced would you be that you’ve recruited the best fit for your company? This is a fine line. One suggestion if you do decide to push the envelope may be the use of honesty. Saying something like, “I haven’t had to negotiate my salary before but am wondering if you could increase the base salary XYZ amount. Out of respect for you and the company, I want to be fully transparent.”

This, my friends, is the story behind it.

Finding the opportunity

I started looking for different opportunities three years into my work at the i-bank. A good friend was working at the start-up that I now call home and forwarded my resume. I interviewed for the start-up at the beginning of October, a series of phone and in-person conversations that went really well. But I didn’t hear anything back from them.

Scoping the opportunity

Fast forward to the last week of December, also the week that I got promoted to Associate at the i-bank. I get an email from the start-up conveying that they really like me and apologizing for the hold up. They wanted to hold another set of interviews ASAP. The second interview felt flawless again. The CEO and I hit it off. I sensed that we were made of the same nerdy cloth and that he appreciated my intellectual curiosity. He had his MBA and was a partner at McKinsey before he and the two other co-founders scribbled the beginnings of the start-up on a napkin. The interview with the woman who is now my boss was also smooth sailing. The two of us spoke quickly and used our hands a lot. We understood each other on a visceral level because we were both “superwomen” (for lack of a better word) who weren’t afraid to roll up our sleeves and do whatever it took to get the job done. That her husband, like me, was born in the former Soviet Union also made for great small talk.

Getting the offer

I received an offer in two days, a dramatically faster turnaround from my first set of interviews. I felt that the offer low-balled my skill set and earning power in the context of my recent promotion. The role also felt too customer service centric and inadequately strategic for my taste. I knew that I had to take both up with the head honcho. My mentor advised that I tackle my job description before talking cash. The CEO was a thoughtful guy that needed his thoughtfulness matched.

Preparing for the talks

I had NO idea how I was going to get on the phone with the CEO of a company and tell him that while I really liked company’s business, I didn’t like the offer.  In an effort to prepare for this conversation, my mentor advised that I do two things: 1. write it down; 2. role-play.

Having the job responsibilities talk

The next day, I shared my well-practiced hesitations regarding the role, colored by my hesitation to leave an i-bank with a well-established brand. He assured me that the company was small enough for me to gain exposure to areas I was interested in – particularly, developing performance metrics for our investors, raising capital, and developing company strategy. He said his biggest regret was not leaving corporate America sooner. He also put me in touch with one of the company’s investors, who explained the importance of operating experience in evaluating opportunities as a venture capitalist.

Blowing the money conversation

Again, I committed my thoughts to paper. I listed the different components of my compensation: salary, benefits, equity, vacation time, any equipment for work, compensation for phone time, travel rewards, etc. I had a level of expected compensation but didn’t voice it to the CEO even though he blatantly asked. I role-played this technique with my mentor. I conveyed my projected earnings at the i-bank in order to anchor the discussion but felt that I should be earning more as compensation for the risk of leaving a stable company and because I believed that my work product warranted it.

The CEO came back with an offer that included equity, a sign-on bonus, and a salary that I knew I would take no matter what. High on my newly found ability to negotiate compensation, I wrongfully perceived that I could move the needle further; in hindsight, this was a mistake that almost cost me a great opportunity. I asked for a higher base salary, in response to which the company’s HR rep rescinded my offer.

Rectifying the situation

I set up a call with the CEO to rectify the situation. I expressed how intent I was on coming to work for his company and sought to understand what compelled the company to rescind the offer. I believe he appreciated my chutzpah and provided some feedback. In the company’s eyes, I “over-negotiated.” By continuing to press for a higher salary, I gave off the impression that I was more interested in the money than in the company’s vision and impact. He ended the call by telling me to call him if I still wanted the job the next morning. I called him and the rest is history.

In conclusion, pushing for an offer that matched my value and exceeded my earning power had I stayed at the i bank was a good move. Not knowing when to stop was something that I had to learn the hard way.

Additional resources:

Doug’s Guide: