Emily Chan is a Talent Sourcer for Engineering and Operations at Microsoft. In Emily’s role, she pipelines top engineering talent through various online sourcing methods (her favorite one being LinkedIn) and find these candidates a home at Microsoft.
During her free time, you can find Emily drinking coffee, buying (too many) plants, and working on a passion project called Sparkline! Sparkline (formerly CEO Mindsets) is an initiative that focuses on empowering students to secure their dream jobs and internships through practical resume, interview, and networking tips. Recently, they have been hosting different workshops on personal branding, LinkedIn, etc. at different colleges and it’s really great to have the opportunity to interact with their audience.
Sparkline is looking forward to expanding their reach to more colleges in the new year! If you’re interested in collaborating with them, feel free to reach out at email@example.com and they’ll work together to bring your idea to life!
Now, we will delve deeper into the Q&A below where I have asked Emily to provide her input for those who are looking to pursue a career in tech or those who are interested in heading into tech. Emily is excited to share a bit about the tech industry and offer some insight for those who are interested in breaking into this dynamic industry!
※ What are the kinds of careers that Microsoft offers for those who are interested in applying for a tech role there? What are the specific digital skills needed?
Microsoft offers a lot of different kinds of careers in tech – some examples are software engineering, mechanical engineering, hardware engineering, etc. You name it, Microsoft probably has a role. I specifically focus on recruiting for software engineers. In terms of skills needed for it, most of my roles require working knowledge of an object-oriented language like Java, C++, or C# and experience working with highly available and scalable distributed systems. There aren’t too many hard requirements because we recognize everyone has a different story and we want to focus on hiring engineers with a growth mindset and good potential!
※ Last month, Microsoft announced that they want to help create millions of tech jobs in the UK. How do you think this will help shape the industry?
This is an amazing initiative that will not only boost the tech industry, but help the UK’s economy as well. Technology is the future and businesses will only be able to sustain themselves if they include tech in their business strategies. This initiative will not only help expand and accelerate the path into the tech industry but will also aid in creating a more diverse talent pipeline in tech.
※ Is training offered for those who are looking to pivot their career direction or those with zero experience in tech?
Although Microsoft offers extensive training for new employees to learn our tech stack, we do expect candidates to know the fundamentals of computer science and to have some experience working in tech.
If you are a recent graduate with no experience in tech, I encourage you to apply to our amazing internship programs! That’ll help you get your foot in the door for full time opportunities.
If you’re in the middle of your career looking to switch into tech, I recommend either 1) going back to school to learn the basic fundamentals of computer science and then applying for our internships/full time roles or 2) taking a coding boot camp and gaining some industry experience at smaller tech companies before applying to Microsoft.
※ How do you get your foot in the door?
Network, network, network! LinkedIn is a great place to get in touch with people working at your dream companies. Do some research about them and reach out for a coffee chat to learn more about them, the role, and the company. Build and maintain that relationship and more often than not, they’ll be happy to give you a referral.
One disclaimer I want to make for this is that you want to make sure you meet all the basic qualifications first! If you don’t, you can network all you want, but it’ll be very hard to land the role. This is because those are the basic skills you need to succeed in that role and companies are not going to bring a candidate into situations where they won’t succeed.
※ What should a job seeker be aware of when working at a tech company?
Be comfortable with ambiguity and be able to adapt quickly. Things are always changing whether it be a customer requirement or a new technology.
※ How does the job market look currently for tech?
More now than ever, the tech space is growing at an increasingly fast rate. Especially with the pandemic, everything has shifted to virtual and people are relying more and more on tech. Companies are working on innovative products to adjust to the modern workplace and modern society so there is such a high demand for good engineers in the tech industry. It’s a really exciting time to be in this space!
※ Technology is one of the top growing industries currently. How much has it grown compared to pre-pandemic? What are the most in-demand careers and skills right now?
As I discussed earlier, tech is in demand now more than ever. Everything is virtual now and even after the world goes back to “normal,” a lot of things will remain virtual.
I can’t speak for different companies since the tech stack varies, but overall, Microsoft looks for working knowledge of an object-oriented programming language and industry experience with highly available and scalable distributed systems.
Research has shown that the Millennial and Generation Z’s who have just graduated at the end of 2019, during 2020, or in the next coming years, will be facing high unemployment rates which can affect the U.S. economy in the long-run.
For college students and recent graduates, choosing a major based on availability of jobs is a recipe for an unsatisfying life. Instead, search for something you truly enjoy, something you find exciting, and the job will come, in due time.
Some of you are thinking that graduating in this global health and economic crisis may have delayed your career growth, however it is definitely not a career death sentence. Take as much time as you need to chase your dreams! Everyone you know may be interested in finance, STEM, healthcare, etc. but follow your own roadmap because these paths are certainly not for everybody. It may take you a month, 6 months or 1 year after graduation to find a job amid the pandemic. Many companies have resumed their hiring and have pivoted new ways in doing so. In addition, a lot of companies are hiring workers to work from home as well, which can be a new way of reducing unemployment.
Advice and Tips For Recent Graduates
You should definitely continue to explore your interests, values and motivators if you did not spend as much time in the exploration process before your graduation. Through networking and pivoting, chances are you may find roles that weren’t even on your radar and; potential opportunities — that are even better than the ones that you have initially considered.
You want to actively connect on LinkedIn with everyone from your college community — students, classmates, recent graduates, professors, mentors, connections from your school internships, career advisors, and career centers! The best chance of success is typically from a referral.
Take full advantage of your college career center. Even though you have graduated, you are still part of their alumni network!
The services that your college career center and workforce providers (non-profit based) offer are completely FREE in terms of resume critique, mock interviews, career advisement, mentorship, networking help, job placement assistance and referrals, and many more.
You want to actively connect on LinkedIn with your outside connections — former colleagues, friends, family members, neighbors! Set up virtual appointments on Zoom, Cisco Webex, Google Meet, Slack, and virtual happy hour, etc. You want to inform everyone that you are currently job searching and let them know what kinds of jobs you are looking for. They may know of someone who is hiring for what you are looking for and they may end up passing along a lead.
Do something different and take free courses that will get you out of your comfort zone. Whatever it is that you are doing, traveling, eating, cooking, working with animals/pets, people, your true passion unfolds.
If you can’t discover anything you like, you should consider volunteering although nobody likes to work for zero profit. At a time like this, putting your gifts, talents and skills to help a nonprofit organization really helps many folks figure out what their purposes are.
This will lead folks to reflect on their passions and realizing how this experience ignites them, as this is a way of connecting them to their future career paths. Not many think of this, however volunteer experience actually offers you the opportunity to lead, grow and evolve as an individual — whether it is impacting the lives of young people, helping the less fortunate or patients/elderly, will allow you to continue to pave your way forward.
Also, volunteer work opens many doors for you! There are individuals that I know who have volunteered throughout their whole life, which has led them into their current leadership roles.
Keep in mind that there are many companies that have IT, finance, project management, HR, marketing, public relations, etc. Just because the sector/industry for that position isn’t what you are ideally looking for, this is a good time to still apply to that potential employer. The point is to not overlook them!
If you live in the NYC area, there are free meals where meals can be picked up at all Meal Hubs 9:00am to 12:00pm, Monday through Friday. Meal Hubs will operate for children, families and adults.
If you live in the NYC area and you, or a friend or family member has a small business that has been impacted by COVID-19, they may want to seek assistance and guidance from NYC Small Business Services. You may apply for emergency loans, like the Paycheck Protection Program as well as requesting financing assistance.
For small business owners who are located anywhere in the U.S., the U.S. Small Business Administration can assist and guide them on Coronavirus Relief Options as they offer 4 funding options:
In this rapidly changing job market today, it seems that salaries are gravitating downwards due to the flexibility of allowing employees to work from home in the corporate world and tech industry. And with COVID-19 layoffs, this global pandemic has put downward pressure on pay.
Employees from software giants such as Microsoft, Facebook, Google and Twitter — were given the option to work freely from home forever, even when their offices open back up.
With this new Work From Home/Remote standard, employers have the freedom to hire from any geographic location that they desire to. This will heavily affect areas with high costs of living because they will not account for higher salaries. Basically, compensation will change drastically depending on where you live in the country as they will do regionally-based salaries. We can see that this is already impacting the tech industry, which will generate an approach to more supply because it opens up the competition significantly. In the long run, this method of compensation will drive down employee salaries. This will also result in mass migration because people will no longer be tied down to living where they work. If you think about it, working remotely versus going into an office will not only impact the salary, but also promotions and growth.
Many tech firms are cutting labor costs for employees who move to less expensive areas. This isn’t fair for other employees who get paid less for carrying the same job title and performing the same amount of work. This is where the cost of living brings out the factors for these companies. The factors of the economic principles of supply and demand come into play.
Pro #1. The employers that are incentivizing this “WFH permanently” option, are widening their talent pool within their area – which can be great for folks who are highly talented. So therefore, the ability for an employer to hire at a lower cost due to the larger talent pool might compress the wage for that particular position, but if it allows the candidate to apply and potentially earn that position at a salary that is higher than what’s available in their current geographic labor market, then their respective salary has increased. Let’s not forget that WFH is not a mandatory thing for everyone. This is optional as there is still people who still prefers to go to back to their workplace and cubicles.
Pro #2. WFH offers more flexibility. WFH if you want, come in if you want. As long as you get the work done, your company will benefit from happier employees, wider talent net, smaller buildings and so on. For some folks, they may have a dedicated office space in their home or studio where it makes them feel much more productive as it has given them greater freedom to have a healthier lifestyle with less stress, and to be able to take care of their children.
Pro #3. WFH also improves ecology and prevents the contamination of the spread that’s still going around. Yes, it is nice to have an opportunity to work from home as this reduces carbon footprint! This reduces time in the traffic as there will be less cars on the road, and you won’t have to feel dreadful about waking up early. Not having to commute or paying for a $20 lunch meal daily, saves you a lot. Working from home is a great idea for both employees and employers who can save on their biggest expense, which is real estate and payroll.
Pro #4. This is a big step to reduce unemployment. Think about certain populations who have been out of the workforce for so long. For example, there are individuals who have disabilities or chronic health issues that limit their work options. And individuals who had to take care of their children because they do not have anyone else to look after them. But they are ready to enter the working world again and are still in search of employment. If they have the skills to do so, all they need is to set up their dedicated work space and equipment at home. With an unemployment rate of 8.4%, there are far more potential workers who are available to bring their valuable assets to the right employer.
However, it is not possible to fully live without the face-to-face interactions. As the world and labor trends continue to change and adapt, this brings us to the cons.
Con #1. If employers are extending offers to anyone in the country versus the local area, the demand for talent may decrease. This is a huge disadvantage for job seekers that lack digital skills. Fewer and fewer opportunities are available to those lacking a baseline of technology access as well. Studies also show that for many employers, working from home from time to time will likely continue as the new normal once the pandemic subsides.
Con #2. This is something that nobody has ever thought about, but employers would need to consider the time zone difference if conference calls/team meetings/client calls are needed. This can result in burnouts since there is no micromanagement. So the key variable here is engagement, where employees should feel supported and valued even behind the screen. Leaders would need to be willing to invest in software and hardware to make it work and build realistic protocols and accountability measures to ensure the work is being done. And this would require change in the design of workflow, teams and functions, as well as clear communication of expectations.
Con #3. In the long run, this can negatively affect some of the younger generations who are beginning their careers as some are visual learners. If they do not get to interact with their team or colleagues, this can limit their development since they won’t have the opportunities to learn from others on a daily basis. We need the face-to-face interactions to stimulate our communication with both internal teams and with our clients.
Con #4. Many employees (support staff, office admin staff, security staff, transport staff, etc.) who can’t work from home will lose their employment. This goes for jobs in the hardest hit sectors (hospitality/retail) — they are becoming obsolete, such as administrative assistants, receptionists, sales associates, etc. And, what will happen to the office space once that is all gone?
Con #5. Concerns have also been raised about work/life balance — where working from home only works if your environment is adapted. In other words, not all folks live in a place that is suitable for working from home. For instance, not everyone will have access to good WiFi, office supplies, ink, technology, etc. How many companies are willing to cover for that? And if they do cover that, how are they going to pay for all of their employees? Stipends?
Con #6. Mental health. An employee’s health matters too to ensuring a productive workforce! If employees do not make time for their wellness, they will be forced to make time for their illness. It’s true. This is a hot topic that has been discussed since the beginning of the lock down because many employees prefer office interactions and collaborations. We are humans. We develop the positive energy from being around people and the relationships/interactions are definitely not the same when working from home. In many cases, in-person discussions make a bigger difference and building solid relationships is more effective when done face-to-face.
Con #7. As you draw the big picture in your head about living situations when permanently working from home, some individuals will have the idea of selling their current property just to move back to be with their families because they will save more costs on rent, utilities, electricity, gas, etc. It is a nice recourse that many of these employers are offering, however things may/will always change. What if the employer reverts their decision and decides to make their employees come in to the office permanently? Or for a specific project/collaboration? This could be a logistical disorder for some individuals who are affected by their living situations. Not many folks are willing to pay an arm and a leg to live in areas that they cannot afford.
All in all, existing gaps between the haves and have not’s may be further heightened and it’s not hard to imagine folks being passed up for positions just because they simply don’t have the infrastructure to work from home and prefer working in the office instead. This pandemic is going to have far reaching impacts to many of our cities. But also, in a positive way in that here is an opportunity to close the wage gap between have and have not’s.
Many students often had this question pondering in their minds about what they should do in their life after graduating from college. Some may have studied or majored in a field that didn’t match their interests or passion, and ended up pivoting their career paths – simply because the jobs or internships that they have worked at, are depressing and unsuitable for them.
On the other hand, older individuals who have been in the same role or sector/industry for many years often want to switch careers due to the following reasons:
Lack of professional advancement or career dissatisfaction
Job isn’t suitable for you: Being bored or depressed because of the work you do
Loss of interest in that specific field/sector/industry
Re-entering the path of self discovery
You want to earn more income
You want better benefits, perks and rewards
Your life has changed because you have to take care of family or an illness so workplace flexibility is a must
During this uncertain time of the pandemic, it is difficult to imagine what the future of work will look like since anything can change over the course of the next few months. However, it is still crucial to establish personal and professional goals that pave the way to success.
So the big question is, “Where do I begin?” “How do I figure out what I want to do with my life?” As you are discovering what you want to do in life, the way to do it is by shifting your mindset from looking for a job, to achieving a purpose. Remember that sometimes not getting what you want is a wonderful stroke of luck. This is a reminder that what we want isn’t always what will be the best in the long run. You could say you have the passion to become a Mental Health Counselor because you have that kind of personality – compassion, empathy, therapeutic and you just love to talk to people. But you strongly dislike completing the caseloads and paperwork at the end of the session because administrative details aren’t really your forte.
With that being said, a good tip to consider for undergraduates or graduates who are still in school – you want to go behind the scenes in the professional world. In other words, you want to explore different career paths to see what really is your cup of tea. This will then establish your vision and clarity. Know where you want your dreams to take you.
Figure out your call to action. Prioritize what deserves your time, energy and happiness. Face the things that you have always desired to do and achieve. You want to map out a career plan/road map for yourself. What you want to do should align with your core values and strengths. Know and validate your strengths. Think about the jobs that you have worked for and think about what you do in your personal life and during your free time. List the things that you truly enjoy doing; things that bring a smile to your face and boosts your energy. Then list the things that you do not enjoy doing. Also, brainstorm and write down where you see yourself about 5-10 years from now.
You may also want to discover more things along the way. Discover what you don’t like by exploring, traveling, tasting, feeling, experiencing the things that you don’t like. Go out there and be fearless. Do the things that you’re afraid of because who knows, it may turn out to be your hobby/passion.
Once you have your road map in place, invest your time to hone those skills. Don’t compare yourself to your friends or connections who have landed a full-time role in Microsoft, Google, Facebook with good pay, perks and benefits. They are not you, and you are not them. Instead, you want to learn from them — and what I mean is learn from like-minded individuals — those who already have their life figured out and take advice from those who have what you want. In other words, surround yourself with individuals who are already at the level you want to be or those who possess similar goals who inspire you, motivate and encourage you to achieve your goals. Who you spend time with the most is who you will become. It’s important that you surround yourself with positive individuals — be it your friends, family members or colleagues. Surround yourself with friends, family members and colleagues who serve as your life mentors; they believe in you even if you don’t believe in yourself. Surround yourself with leaders who will set you up for success by helping you learn, grow and taking your life to a new level! LinkedIn is also a huge asset during your job search process. Reach out to your contacts on LinkedIn and set the tone. See below for an example.
Hello (Your Connection’s Name),
I hope this message finds you well. My name is (Your Name) and I decided to reach out to you since your background really stood out to me. I am interested in seeking for your advice regarding career transitions in (Role OR Sector/Industry) as this really piqued my attention.
If you have some time to chat, I’d love to hear more about your career trajectory and current role.
I know your time is valuable, and this is a big ask coming from a stranger. If it is too much right now, I totally understand. Either way, I hope you’re staying safe and healthy.
Rushing yourself to create success will cost you more in the long run. Speed costs accuracy. You don’t want to do that. What you should do, is lay the foundations carefully step by step. Do these things accurately and slowly, and you will get to where you want to be in life. It is never too late to rewrite your future, reignite your dreams and reinvent yourself. Keep learning and growing because your greatest achievements haven’t been accomplished yet. You matter and your value doesn’t go unnoticed. Wishing you the best of luck in your future endeavors, future leaders and topdogs! Onward and upward!
“Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don’t settle.”
— Steve Jobs(CEO of Apple Computer and of Pixar Animation Studios) via Stanford University Commencement on June 12, 2005
“I just got this job by luck, I feel like I do not belong here.”
“I feel like everyone in my team is smarter than I am.”
“I feel like I’m unable to comprehend anything. I am going to fail.”
Many suffer from impostor syndrome at some point in their lifetime related to the work that they do. Those who are constantly in doubt about their potential, work and success.
Impostor syndrome is very common for individuals who feel like they are never good enough no matter how much they have accomplished, how smart others say they are and how successful they may seem to be. It is never enough for them because they find it hard to accept praise and constantly fear failure. It usually affects their confidence and career growth in the long-term.
❀ Instead of striving for perfection, know that it is OKAY to be imperfect. Accentuate on the value that you bring and be realistic on the goals that you are setting for yourself.
❀ This is easier said than done, but push yourself to work harder to the point where you don’t feel like an imposter. You have to do all the stuff that makes you feel like an imposter in order to not feel like an imposter. Don’t wait until you develop your confidence, because by then it would be too late. Put yourself out there now. Courage comes from taking risks.
❀ If you make mistakes, don’t beat yourself up to it. Take the time to learn from it, and how you can overcome this differently and do so with care – by taking responsibility for your failures. Analyze those mistakes honestly and objectively. Ask yourself the 5 W’s and H on what you did wrong. Map out a plan and practice the skills that will prevent you from repeating the same mistakes. “Failure is only the opportunity to begin again more intelligently.” – Henry Ford
❀ Stop comparing yourself to others. Everyone has their own stories, own strengths and weaknesses.
❀ Aspire to learn from your team members to know more about your role. It is okay to ask for help when you don’t understand. Learn to appreciate constructive criticism because when you don’t ask for help, you are actually putting your team behind. When you ask a question, it will bring more ideas to the table and oftentimes – inquiring leads to better solutions.
❀ “Chances are, acting on what you’ve learned will require the discipline and motivation to change your habits, or to change the way that your team works. Doing so will help you to avoid self-sabotage in the future, and will allow you to reap the rewards and benefits of implementing better work practices.” – according to MindTools
❀ Own your success. You did not get the job by luck. You got the job because the hiring manager saw potential in you. Believe in yourself that you are capable of doing the job. This also means, be more open to saying “YES” to opportunities that come your way. Of course, those who have had impostor syndrome for a very long time, can find it hard to accept new challenges, because they feel that they are not capable or worthy of taking on that challenge. But be mindful that saying ‘yes’ can open many doors for you. Don’t let impostor syndrome shy you away from these growing opportunities. “If someone offers you an amazing opportunity and you are not sure you can do it, say yes. Then learn how to do it later.” –Richard Branson
❀ Let go of that pressure on yourself, let go of your perfectionism and break the ropes on all of that negative talk! Impostor syndrome is often like a devil that manifests as an evil spirit inside one’s mind because all the negative thoughts that are controlling you, can heavily impact your stress and anxiety levels. Be more selfish for your own good and treat yourself with more respect and positivity. Your body is like a temple.
❀ Embrace your feelings, stay kind to yourself and bring positivity to the spotlight! Take it one step at a time and don’t let self-doubt consume you. Let us be guided by facts, not fear.
Stephanie Cheng knew from a young age, that she would never become a doctor. She was not a fan of getting her blood drawn and was never comfortable walking through the halls of a hospital. However, she loves helping people and was sucked into the world of nonprofit work after watching an episode of Oprah in Africa, in addition to her exposure of the immense poverty on TV.
Stephanie is no stranger to the nonprofit world. In high school, she was heavily focused on community service and social justice. Stephanie was the President of KEY Club where she received a Bronze Community Service Award from the former U.S. President, George W. Bush for her successful volunteer work, coupled with her outstanding leadership role in the community.
During her undergraduate years at Stony Brook University, Stephanie majored in Business Management, with the thought that she would end up working in the world of finance or become an entrepreneur – but things didn’t work out that way. However, she graduated Magna Cum Laude with a Bachelors of Science in Business Management – where she was very much involved with Marketing for a while.
She definitely did put her degree to good use. She is a Partnerships Specialist for the U.S. Census Bureau under the U.S. Department of Commerce, where she specializes in connecting businesses, nonprofits, local city and state governments to many resources such as promoting social corporate responsibility as well as establishing partnership agreements.
Currently, Stephanie sits on the Board of Directors – of the Charles B. Wang Community Health Center for almost 6 years, which provides free and affordable healthcare for the underserved community. In her role as a Board Member, some of her many tasks include approving the annual budget, establishing policies and making business decisions to ensure the delivery of a positive impact in the community.
Recently, she was appointed to a national expert advisory board for the National Association of Community Health Centers and the Association of Asian Pacific Community Health Organizations (AAPCHO) under a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
If you are interested in learning about joining nonprofit work, joining a nonprofit board, Pro Bono Consulting or volunteering, feel free reach out and connect with Stephanie on LinkedIn!
In her free time, she enjoys traveling and has been to over 42 countries. In addition, she enjoys building websites and she dabbles in acting.
• You currently have been serving as a Board Member at Charles B. Wang Community Health Center since 2014. How has this professionally shaped your career and leadership?
Being a board member of a federally qualified health center gave me a high level overview of the strategic direction of the organization, but also being a patient allows me to see first hand the great work that our doctors and healthcare practitioners are doing.
Collaborating with people from different backgrounds gives me a sense of responsibility and drive. You are always representing the health center.
• What sparked your interest in connecting businesses, nonprofits, local city and state governments to establish partnership agreements?
I think I was always concerned with how I can maximize impact. Growing up in NYC, I wanted to make a change after seeing people who are homeless or students going hungry at school while trying to learn. I remember when we were recruiting, I signed up a number of people who were homeless. I love working and meeting people so I can’t think of a better way to extend my reach other than giving people an opportunity to work. I think we all want to make some type of impact at work or in our personal lives.
• How has your role as a Partnerships Specialist at U.S. Census Bureau helped the NYC community and Manhattan region in the past year?
We’re building NYC for the next 10 years. The Census determines how billions and billions of dollars are distributed across the country. This is money for the street lights in front of your favorite restaurant, public schools, universal pre-k, school lunch programs, and even how much funding hospitals get. Being a native New Yorker, I’m proud to help my community and make sure that everyone is counted.
• I am aware that during your free time, you enjoy building websites and incorporate some coding. That is an amazing skill set to have on the side! What is your purpose of this and what do you hope to achieve out of doing this?
I have a travel blog, www.backpacktraveling.com and I have a new website up, www.zombiconvalley.com for a book I’m writing called Zombicon Valley – when zombies take over Silicon Valley. I just submitted a screenplay for this to a screenwriting contest.
• You participated in a Hall Council at Stony Brook University. Could you tell me more about how this led you to your passion today? How did this help you thrive in your career?
I became a Resident Assistant because I needed a place to live. I literally camped out on my friend’s dorm in a sleeping bag for a semester because the dorms were full and I didn’t apply in time.
When you’re an RA, you get free housing at the university. And there were a number of notable people that were RAs including Hillary Clinton and celebrities like Adam Sandler, so I thought that could only be a plus on my resume.
As an RA, I worked with a diverse group of students in helping them navigate their school year. There were many issues that came up including the occasional roommate problem, but also issues surrounding mental health. I was a confidante, mentor and friend to people who might/did not have any friends.
This role taught me another layer of empathy. I remembered having to write up a student because there was a strong smell from his dorm. He was a hoarder and had collected so much garbage and plastic bags that you could not see his floor. We dealt with all types of people and I saw that most of us are going through something.
• You have a very diverse work background. You were very focused on Public Relations and Marketing. How did you make your transition into the non-profit and public sector? Is there anything unique about getting into this sector?
I thought I would go into finance but when I studied abroad in Beijing at Tsinghua University, my plan went out the window. During my winter break, I was in the Gobi Desert where I met a fellow New Yorker who gave me an internship working for a greentech conference for a month. Then, he introduced me to a music producer where I basically hung out with Jimmy Page from Led Zeppelin because they were working on a nonprofit project. When I got back to NY, I thought to myself “Do I really want to work in the corporate world or do I want to make a difference?”
I don’t know if there is anything unique about getting into the nonprofit sector but being kind and having empathy would be at the top. You never know who would get you your next job, so you want to talk to as many people as you can.
• How would you recommend someone who is interested in the same career pursue a similar path?
Anyone can go into the nonprofit or government sector. It’s probably easier to get into than in the corporate world, however the salary would not be comparable. So make sure you take care of yourself first. I was lucky that I didn’t have any student debt when I graduated. That allow me to pursue anything I want, ’cause I didn’t owe anyone anything.
• What would you have told your younger self that would have added more value into your career today?
Fail fast, learn fast. Watch everything at 1.75 times speed. Speak less, listen more.
Due to COVID-19, many individuals have been permanently/temporarily laid off and furloughed by their employers. I have seen and heard from a handful of individuals who have been raving about offering advice in enhancing their interview skills.
As many sectors and industries are starting to bustle and slowly pick back up on their hiring, many of us are all still on a stay at home order, this could be a great opportunity to practice and enhance our virtual interview skills on during our downtime.
Below, are outlined pointers and constructive suggestions on what many interviewees may be lacking on. Hopefully, these will provide actionable insights on their blind spots.
Interviewees would need to come up with an overview of experiences and look into the camera and the interviewer. Have specific examples of strengths at the workplace; don’t start talking about weaknesses. Make sure to highlight your contributions in handling difficult situations and be specific. Every answer should highlight your skills in some way and how you’ve used it in the work environment.
Think about common interview questions as starting points, and the interview might go in different directions based on the interviewee’s responses. This way, the interviewee can think about he/she wants to expand on. For instance, if you talk about your degree, you could explain how it ties in to your prospective job. If you discuss about empathizing with a customer making a complaint, the follow-up questions might be on how you handled the complaint.
Before considering submitting your application before wondering if you’d get selected to the interview, ALWAYS be sure to highlight achievements on the resume and make sure your resume have consistent formatting style.
The resume needs to explain what motivated you to apply for the X position and why you feel that you are a good fit.
The resume needs to highlight the achievements and recognition that you have received in your previous roles.
Provide more relevant examples when answering these interview questions. Emphasize motivations of the job application.
Use storytelling skills to help the interviewer better understand your experience.
When telling your story, do not repeat your resume. Talk beyond your resume! Show your background interest and indicate a turning point/motivation as to why you’re here.
It is crucial to give more context and nuances of your experiences and highlighting your skills. Some interviewees tend to answer questions by giving quick answers in a list format. This makes it hard for the interviewer to extract the interviewee’s skill sets from those kinds of responses.
Your answers should not lack details. Being more abstract in your answers could help the interviewer to better understand you by preparing a story (with numbers, how you helped benefit the company, client testimonials, etc) that can be used to convince the interviewer.
Brainstorm some good projects during school, your contribution, how/why the project was challenging and how you tackled it. It would be ideal if you can highlight these utilizing numbers.
You should tie the relevance of your studies/degrees together (those who are college graduates), answers should be focused on your experience (whether it was short or extensive), providing good specific answers and supportive examples, showing your independent work skills, freelance/self-employed work (if applicable) and teamwork skills.
If you are a bilingual/trilingual/multilingual native speaker, you should emphasize that! Especially for those who have bilingual experience. This is very important to highlight since this is an asset to have for many employers.
Here is the part that most interviewees lack on. What you should do is to be more prepared for questions related to the role that you are applying for. You should be able to prove your knowledge and passion for the field/role in general. Be ready with 2-3 examples of how your previous projects/work will be able to help with that respective job/role related to your field of interest.
Interviewees sometimes answer their weakness questions too quickly however, be sure to expand on how you will work on that in your future interviews! How will you work to improve on that weakness and what you can learn from that weakness?
For example, you may want to explain how you are developing your own skills outside of work or during your downtime (learning Microsoft suite, attending relevant webinars) in between jobs – this shows you’re taking initiative and that you care about personal growth.
Interviewees should try to be more concise with responses to really get the point across. Explain your experience in chronological order to tell a better story of all the skills that have been developed. How will these developed skills help with future roles? Practice telling stories of situations at work that will prove the skills that you have. Have 2-3 examples/stories prepared, so you can answer behavioral questions. Approach questions with confidence – don’t let them know that you’re thinking about an answer or that a question is making you nervous.
Be ready to clarify any questions that may arise about your resume. Like, what does CMS stand for? It can stand for a lot of things. Customer Management Services, for instance. It is recommended that you should spell it out so that the interviewer does not have a hard time figuring it out.
Generally speaking, you should avoid acronyms on resumes especially if you are applying through their website since chances are – you will have to go through an Applicant Tracking System because it is tailored to the job description’s needs so you want to include everything word for word.
Don’t be too insecure! You have the experience already! Now you should just practice more, and work on being more concise with your answers. Focus on the opportunity that you’re interviewing for, what you like about the company and the job description, instead of focusing on the loss.
Spend more time talking about yourself, than others in your team. Don’t give them too much credit. You are who the interviewer is more interested in learning about, not your team. They want to know what skills you can bring to the table.
While answering questions, interviewees should shorten the context that they give and focus on telling the story in a way that answers the question. You should keep in mind to always be as specific as possible when talking about what you’ve done/accomplished and touch on why it mattered or how you helped other people/the outcome of a project.
You should bring up concrete examples that can address the question and keep highlighting the impact of your actions. Interviewees should specify about how they went about doing something (such as examples of steps they took to accomplish or overcome something and what they learned from that) or their rationale for convincing others to do the same.
Interviewees may start off with an excellent way of introducing themselves, however they can work on reordering and structuring their introductions to be more cohesive.
Highlight your skills and experiences that will be applicable to the role that you are looking for (need to brag a little, don’t be shy, don’t short sell)
Call out soft skills as a bonus, highlight “hard” skills relevant for the role first. For instance, if you are applying for finance/analyst roles, highlight the analytical skills and experiences first; instead of highlighting having empathy or being well-rounded first. If looking into compliance roles, highlight your auditing related experiences first.
As we all know, a good interviewee is a clear communicator and gives thoughtful answers. Be more confident – don’t say you think you’re not qualified for role because a lot of job seekers tend to accidentally blurt that out because of their loss of hope after receiving multiple rejections.
Interviewees should show their self-motivation through various examples by emphasizing that more instead of keeping it implicit, so the interviewee can try to touch on these through the interviewer’s questions – in such a way where they can think about how their work experience in other fields carries over to their desired role.
For those who are applying for software development/engineer roles, a good interviewee expresses their interest clearly in different topics and by keeping up-to-date with new technologies.
For this particular role, expect the interviews to be more technical rather than behavioral. Talk more and sustain a back-and-forth with the interviewer. (Ask questions, share thoughts aloud, etc). You should possess good ideas related and think through the problem well.
In case you are asked to perform unit tests in the interview, it is better to be prepared because it is all about first impression. Practice verifying the code without relying on a compiler. Are you able to supply your own test cases? Can you run through your code with a test case and spot bugs without running the code?
It is recommended that interviewees should always ask follow up questions toward the end when an interviewer asks “Do you have any questions?” to show them your continued interest and your consideration for the job; this also helps the interviewee understand real intentions behind a question.
This is obvious, however to bring this up as a reminder – regardless of which spectrum you lie on, you should never bring up politics on interviews.
James G. Norman has always been passionate about financial literacy and is very well acquainted with the business world since his teenage years.
Throughout his early years at The High School of Economics and Finance, he has held prestigious internships at Ernst & Young, one of the Big Four accounting firms as well as Moody’s Corporation, which is a credit rating, research and risk analysis firm located at the World Trade Center – in the heart of the Financial District. He recently graduated from Susquehanna University on May of 2018, holding a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration and Management. Right out of graduation, he was offered a full-time role as a Financial Institutions Group Analyst from Moody’s, which comprised of insurance and asset management.
James started his new role as a Risk Management & Analytics Associate on January 2020 and was recently promoted to a Risk Mitigation Manager at TheGuarantors, a Fintech company that offers innovative insurance risk/products and financial solutions for the real estate ecosystem in residential and commercial properties. I can confidently say that anyone who has closely worked with James, is extremely grateful during a pivotal time in their career and any team would be privileged to have him as a leader. James has successfully scaled business and tackled challenging numbers during his time at TheGuarantors. While he is transitioning his responsibilities into his new role, I can assure that he is bound to build a great culture for his team from the ground up to succeed. James is the definition of a T-shaped business leader, leveraging his breadth of experience and inherent curiosity to tackle new challenges and surface actionable solutions that have long-lasting impact on the company.
He is in transition from finance to public service as he has always enjoyed working with the community and giving back. At just the age of 24, James has accomplished so many incredible things – let alone, achieving extraordinary success so early in his life.
When I think of James, this saying comes to my mind:
The idea of the young prodigy is by no means a modern phenomenon.
When it comes to James’ presence and reputation, I only have positive things to say about him, his leadership, his motivational speeches, his incredible relationship building, his keen intelligence and his business acumen in the professional world. He is a visionary, an inspiration, a role model and an original to many.
James is a very goal oriented and gifted kind of individual who’s qualities outshine in a way that truly motivates his peers, classmates and colleagues to hit their own individual goals. From the way he presents himself in front of a group of Millennials and Generation Z’s, I can see the emotion that’s written on him as he speaks. He shows humor, empathy and compassion in the work that he does. James is a quick problem solver and would swiftly turn around any obstacle into a great learning experience, despite any challenges and blockers.
Being the dedicated and well versed professional that James is, he truly believes that if you want to achieve something, that you will do it. He is eager and driven in giving back to his community and setting young students up for success by teaching them financial literacy, identifying their personal/professional goals, developing leadership skills and planning career moves and transitions. The one who always goes the extra mile and is airtight in his delivery. Many great things will come of the financial sector and the NYC community due to his excellent work ethic coupled with his go-getter attitude/mindset.
Finance is very dynamic field due to the expansion of the global economy, the proliferation of new financial instruments, and the fluctuations in laws and regulations.
Is finance a dream career that you are looking to pursue OR a career that you are looking to transition into? Are you mathematically gifted and love working with numbers? Do you possess strong analytical and quantitative skills? Then this may be the trajectory that you want to take.
Not only do companies seek for the hard skills, however soft skills are just as major. According to GoGig, many companies hire finance employees based on personality as well – such as those who hold common traits of resilience, curiosity, persistence, loyalty, integrity and professionalism, team spirit, empathy, and sense of humor.
Below, James outlines a more detailed career snapshot of his journey.
• Many folks are uncertain about their career path until they enter college and even after they graduate. How did you know that this trajectory was “the one” for you? In other words, what propelled you to go into the finance sector?
From a young age my godfather, Leslie Roberts, introduced me to the world of finance. I remember in the summertime I would visit him in New Jersey and some days we would just go to the library to learn the ins and outs of the stock market. That is what birthed my interest. No pun intended. That combined with knowing I loved business and helping individuals solidified my interest down the line. People hold their finances near and dear to them. So, if I can help improve that aspect of their life in any capacity, I am happy.
• You have an excellent proven track record as a business leader throughout high school, college and the clubs/organizations that you were a member of. Could you tell us more about how these experiences molded you personally and professionally?
I have always enjoyed using my skills to help people or improve processes. I actively take opportunities that will allow me to do this. Throughout my academic career I was afforded many. One of my favorites was being CEO of my Virtual Enterprise class during my senior year of high school. This was a class but took on the format of an actual business. We specialized in selling 401K plans to other “businesses” across other high schools. This experience allowed me to learn a great deal about myself as an emerging leader and professional. I learned how to work with many different personalities and unify them to accomplish one common goal. I also learned that when you are tasked with leading, you must take the good with the not so good. As a company we did well but we did have our bumps, however it brought out the best in us. This experience set me up for what was to come in college and my professional career. I also took on many other positions such as SGA Treasurer and my fraternity, Phi Beta Sigma’s, Treasurer in college. I was able the use my skills in financial management to create budgets and funding that would prove beneficial to all stakeholders of these respective organizations.
• You have held various roles throughout your career in the field of finance. Which one would you say is your favorite and why?
My favorite position in the field of finance to this date would have to be my internship of Summer ’16 at Moody’s in their Treasury department. I had an active hand in the cash management section of the team. Being trusted with some of those checks made me feel official because those amounts were crazy. My boss, Zeeshan, was a savant when it came to treasury. I learned so much from our 1 on 1s. Lastly, I was able to work closely with the Treasurer and CFO of the company. They knew me on a first name basis, and I sat in on many meetings with them leading. It was an overall cool experience that I will never forget.
• I know that you recently started a new role at TheGuarantors. What does your current role involve? What do you enjoy about it? Are there any challenges?
My role at The Guarantors is a Risk Mitigation Manager. I am responsible for making sure our loss ratio is as low as possible. Being that we are a real estate tech start-up that specializes in providing insurance products, we need to make sure that we limit the amount of loss we take on. I do this by making sure tenants are honoring their lease obligations as well as being in constant contact with landlords and property managers for when cases do arise. This is my main responsibility, however given the nature of start-ups, I wear many different hats around to the company. I enjoy being given free range and the trust to control my own projects and responsibilities. Knowing that my work is directly impacting the success of the company is something that makes me put my best foot forward. There a few challenges, however. The main one being that in a company structure like mine, it is learn as you go. There are sometimes where mistakes are made but it gives you the chance to remedy and learn from the situation. This just comes with the territory.
• What key skills are entailed to be successful as a Risk Management & Analytics Associate?
Some key skills that are vital in being a successful Risk Associate are great communication, attention to detail, empathy, and negotiation. You need to be able to get your point across clearly and concisely to stakeholders, no matter what the problem is. Attention to detail is important because we deal with a lot of numbers and documentation. One missed piece of information can be detrimental. When dealing with tenants, you must be empathetic of their personal financial situations. This will in turn show them that they are valued and will prove helpful in trying to accomplish a predetermined conclusion. My mother always told me “you get more bees with honey than you do with vinegar.” Lastly, you must possess great negotiation skills. I constantly am trying to negotiate lease changing options with tenants or recover losses from them. Finding out how to best glean your desired outcome has proven to be a skill.
• Some of the job seekers and recent college graduates (with minimal to no experience) that I’ve coached, don’t know where to begin when it comes to networking. Do you have any useful tips to offer and potentially share a success story on how your experience in networking with professionals got you to where you are today?
It sounds cliché, but networking will honestly take you farther than any job application ever will. This means that building relationships across the industry whether small or large always has the potential to pay off. Remember that a relationship is not only what one can do for you, but what you can also bring to the table. For example, I attribute my success at Moody’s to networking. I knew from the get-go that I needed to form strong professional relationships with the people who had the power to bring me back. Establishing that I can do the work was half the battle. Networking and setting yourself apart from the rest are the other half.
• What advice would you give to those who are looking to advance in their finance career?
It is important to remember that like many other industries, Finance has hundreds of positions you can take on. I recommend doing lots of research and snagging as many internships as you can. This will give you firsthand experience and allow you to see what you like and do not like.
•What about those who are looking to switch their careers? (Let’s say someone who comes from Investment Banking or even another field outside of the financial sector and wants to go towards Accounting or Risk Management)
Let’s be honest, being young professionals, some of us do not know exactly what we want to do career-wise. This is totally fine. Everyone’s journey is different. There comes a time where you might want to switch careers. The best advice I can give when exploring a new route is take time to evaluate your strengths, characteristics, and interest. Once you have these mapped out, try, and find a career or job that will best compliment all of your listed attributes. Landing yourself somewhere where you can be yourself and apply your skills will produce your best work and will begin to give you a sense of belonging. Remember that it is a process. Most of us do not figure it out overnight. But, laying down the right framework for making your next move your best move will prove helpful in your journey.
If you feel inspired and motivated by James’ story, please feel free to reach out! He does not bite. He is always open to speaking with like-minded individuals and loves networking – a pro at it! Once you get to know James, you won’t regret it. He will be there in every step of your way to mentor/guide you on a both professional and personal level. Connect with James on LinkedIn.