Wednesday, February 11, 2009

[Q&A] Questions from an HR major student

By 阿杜.Steward

Hi, folks, below is an email from reader Tracy, who’s very interested in pursuing a job in consulting industry upon her graduation in 2010, but wondering whether her school major/academic background and internship experience will be a disadvantage to prevent her from reaching her goal. And at the time, it doesn’t seem like she’s got her plan worked out well either-she’s also considering to continue her study abroad as alternative to job-hunting. In other words, she has a lot more thinking to do for the incoming hiring season. In my response, I tried to answered her questions and give some unsolicited advice, which of course only represent my own opinion.

[Note. I started writing the reply a few days ago, but it turned out to be a long piece. I think her situation may apply to other readers so I decided to quote her email and make a post here. At the same time, if you’ve got some advice for her, please be kind to make a comment, it's appreciated !]

From: Tracy.C
Sent: Sun, Feb 8, 2009 at 9:09 PM
To: Steward.du[at]gmail[dot]com

Hi steward,

Actually I'm in final year of college and will graduate in 2010. I am very interested in pursuing consulting as a starting career upon graduation, but my academic background and several working and voluntary experience mainly on admin which quite relevant to my major: human resource management. And I think that is actually against my passion in analysis and somewhat limit my job-hunting for my desired job. I'm not sure whether to be an executive or a professional consultant with my double character. I've been a reader of your blog, could you please tell me is it possible to find a way which can balance my major and personal interest? If the answer is HR consultancy firm, what's your suggestion on taking the fist step into this field? I understand that barely having interest is not enough, but no one is willing to offer someone who doesn’t have targeted educational background and relevant experience to have a try and prove herself, especially in this recession year, isn't it?

I planned to further my education abroad and have already taken TOEFL test with a fare score. But the problem come the same with job hunting. Continue the HR major or not. It would be little chance to apply for another major with scholarship as far as I know.

In all, I don't want my major to be the limitation, but it seems that networking and experiences come along with the major itself. I'm afraid I'll be restrained in this field and have no chances or high opportunity cost to transfer as the time goes by. How can I think and act beyond the major at the very beginning? Do I really need to do this?

Sorry for troubling you.


From: Steward
Sent: Wed, Feb 11, 2009 at 9:33 AM

Hi, Tracy

I hope this message finds you doing well. Thanks for the readership and thinking of me as a resource for your question. I’m happy to discuss with you in fleshing it out.

As I read your email, I realized that you are driven, you don’t lack passion and you still have a brand new 2009 ahead. Therefore, I want to assure you in advance that DO NOT over-worry your “weakness”.

It looks like your biggest concern is your school major and work experiences aren’t strong enough to land you on a competitive position on the start during hiring process. And the short answer from me is that, pursuing a dream job IS NOT something that should be taken lightly for anyone. It’s harsh for all job applicants, so once you set your goal, first of all mentally prepare yourself for the rigors lie ahead. Cool?

...Good, let’s focus more on the execution part of your situation and be prepared for the harder words (I don’t mean to make it harsh, but that’s something you should really ask yourself internally, and try to face it without fear of failure). Are you certain you’re right for that industry before you decide to pursuit the job? Should you focus more attention on some other professions that better match your situation instead?

- In your email, you blamed your school major and work experience all the way through. These are disadvantages but don't take them as EXCUSES or only REASON for the setback you encountered.

- You wondered is it possible to find a way which can balance your major and personal interest in analyzing and solving problems. But I don’t see any conflict between your major and your interest. You’re studying Human Resource, and I’m pretty sure your course covered business knowledge such as accounting, corporate finance, general management, marketing etc. Those basic you picked up in text book already gave you many edges when competing with another candidate who’s major in Civil Engineering or Literal Arts. Besides, through some campus student activities, you have probably developed a set of soft skills, including problem solving, leadership, and effective communication. These skills apply in many contexts and can defiantly prepare you for lots of career opportunities! Then you have some work experience in admin, good, so that’s your chance to perform as a self-driven person. Did you leverage the chance to observe a real company’s structure with both breath and depth, identify opportunities and challenges in organizational contexts, and build personal relationships with your mentors from whom you can seek more specific advice?

- You worried you’re not from a top-tier targeted school. Many people are asking variation of this question. And as far as I know, no doubt top consulting firms have school favor during campus recruitment, but please don’t bet all your luck on these big names. There’re bunch of good companies that worth a try and they offer decent personal development as well. However, if you have strong experience in your resume that outshines other competitors (achievement in world-class firms, award of contest, start-up/student activities that show your leadership), you have higher chance of sitting in front of an interview. You admitted that you don’t have relevant work experience, and obviously you lack a clear understanding about consulting and that’s simply not good enough for your application to be taken seriously. Otherwise, what do you think you can differentiate yourself from other candidates?

- You're puzzled and found networking and experiences come along with the major itself,then your major become limiting factor again. Yet I don’t see you’re trying hard to achieve this. I understand that this maybe due to lacking channels to meet people or getting referred-in to a job. But that isn’t a valid excuse for not being able to reach out to more people. You don’t need to start as an intern in a consulting firm to know some consultants, right? Utilize your school alumni networks / extended personal network (you know from blog or through friend) and join some careers forums, company workshop, read their blogs/article and try to contact them literally etc as the first step. To be honest, I can’t offer you an exhaustive list of methods to extend your network, only by thinking long and hard can you figure out the right way for your own. That showcases your problem solving ability, agree?

- You asked for my suggestion on taking the fist step if you want to target an HR consultancy firm. I recommend you inject more time in the following area to pave your way through in the remaining year of your college:

a) Be serious with your class, GPA matters. Think further the theories you learned in text books and connect them with real world cases. Take the lead and enjoy any study group homework.

b) Practice your English. English is good weapon to impress others. Are you orally fluent, and can you write a clear email that people can catch your points easily? (Email is handy tool to stay connected with others) Well, it requires practice and persistence.

c) Network. You can’t anticipate how a contact may help you in the future, you need to find out joy of talking to people with shared interests. If this makes you feel uncomfortable, don’t force yourself to do so. At the same time, be general to offer your help to others in need if possible.

d) Stick to your interest. People love to work with fun person instead of a working machine. So do you have any hobby besides job job job ? It could be sport, music, reading, writing or even collecting crappy Chinese sneakers. Your personal interest indicates if you hold passion in a certain area and reflect your creativity as well.

e) Stay tuned on isteward. You're probably tired of the dry humor of the author, but there’re bunch of great readers around that with experience and kindness to offer their help :)

Wow, this turned into a much longer email than I expected when I started it. I hope that you find it helpful at some points. Good luck on your 2009 and eventual prosperous result upon your graduation! Don't hesitate to shoot me emails to share with me your good news from time to time :)

-Stew |

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