Posts Tagged ‘Education’

B-School Diaries: 5 Things I Wish I Someone Had Told Me

Tuesday, February 1st, 2011 11:16 am

[Editor's Note: The following is the first in our new series Business School Diaries, written by Alexandra Bochicchio, a first-year at a top business school (which we'll call "XBS").]

I officially have finished my first semester of business school!  After living, breathing, and talking XBS for the past three and a half months, I am looking forward to a one-month hiatus.   While school definitely has been fun, it has not exactly been the vacation my friends and colleagues told me it would be.  Specifically no one warned me about the emotional rollercoaster: I fluctuate daily among self-doubt, apathy, gratitude, and excitement.  While I by no means have it all figured out, I do want to share a few things I wish I had known in September.

You’re no different from anyone else. Because I am introverted and hoping to make a career switch out of finance, I immediately thought I was different from my seemingly networking-loving, super-social classmates.  However, over the course of the semester I have realized that we all are at turning points in our careers and slightly nervous to have made the decision to step off the professional treadmill and go back to school.  While people show insecurities in different ways, at the end of the day we all want to be accepted by and learn from one another.

Differentiate yourself. I used to stand out as the smart, former college athlete who worked in finance.  However this now describes 90% of my classmates (just swap out “consulting” for “finance”).  Therefore, I need to find other ways to distinguish myself.  One of my best decisions was applying to be the first-year writer for the XBS parody show.  Although I applied because I thought it would be fun, writing for the show has led to a disproportionate number of conversations with classmates and potential employers.  Graduate school allows me the time and resources to explore things outside of the core curriculum, and I need to make sure I take advantage of this.

Be vulnerable. One of my biggest fears is looking stupid or weak, and I used to live by the philosophy that it was better to remain silent and be thought a fool than speak out and remove all doubt.  However, I have made the best connections with classmates when I let my guard down or am not 100% politically correct.  There is so much pressure to be professional in business school that it is easy to forget how friendships actually are made: I (while not too inebriated) share something personal, you share something, and BOOM! a little trust is formed.

You were let in for a reason. Sometimes a dumb comment in class can lead to a downward spiral: Why did I say that?  That was dumb.  I am dumb.  XBS was dumb for admitting me. This is cockamamie.  More often than not no one notices my stupid comment or action (however, the same can be said for the few times I thought I made a brilliant contribution).  Because admissions are so competitive, schools take it very seriously, and no student is accepted because of a fluke (one exception – is the school currently constructing a library in your name?!).  The sooner I accept this, the sooner I can stop the downward spiral and instead concentrate on trying to say something brilliant (a work-in-progress).

Keep your eye on the prize. My classmates and I asked about twenty-five questions during our last finance class in hopes our professor would let slip a nugget of knowledge which would give us an edge on the final exam.  And XBS doesn’t even give grades.  Our professor said it best when he pointed out most of us have worked for a number of years and some even have families; being overly stressed about an exam is, well, silly.  The stakes in business school are relatively low – I would much rather mess up my net present value calculation on an exam than during an important board meeting (warning – I may be rationalizing a bit).  Although it is a constant struggle, it is essential to maintain perspective and remember everything will work itself out.  This philosophy has served me fairly well thus far; there is no reason to think it won’t in the future.

Alexandra Bochicchio

Why Chinese Women Don’t Go Broke

Wednesday, September 29th, 2010 1:09 pm

Are there really cultural differences in how we approach money and success? Giovanna Pang Garcia came to the U.S. from Hong Kong at the age of 16 with no friends, no family, and barely speaking English. She later taught herself how to build a computer, started a custom computer sales business, and became a self-made millionaire before the age of 40. She says the reason why Chinese women don’t go broke has to do with a mindset: more farming, less drive-through. I recently spoke with Giovanna about her experiences and upbringing, which led to her book, Chinese Women Are Not Broke.

After high school, you say you lost your way for a time. What turned you around?

It’s the kind of story that happens a lot. I was on my own, and started working immediately after high school to survive. I found myself in an abusive relationship, was married and divorced by the time I was 20. After my divorce, I was working at department stores, doing retail sales, and was always among the top 10 sales clerks. But I needed to do something more. Growing up in Hong Kong, I’d worked in my parents’ family business. I saw working for somebody would only get me so far, and felt I deserved my own shot at the “holy grail”, so to speak.

Why did you decide to go into the computer business?

It was still early, and IBM and Compaq had almost all the market share. I saw an opportunity in custom building computers for a cheaper price. At the time, my [second] husband and I were newlyweds. He was working at a company that sold computers and would help them build computers at night-so he knew how to put them together. We were young and poor, and had just enough money to buy one computer. I would just take the computer apart and put it back together again, and my husband taught me how to trouble shoot what was wrong if it didn’t work.

It was two months of intensive training-kind of like in the movies where you see [new soldiers in the military] training to take apart their rifles and put them back together as fast as possible! It was my day job for those 2 months. I ate, drank and slept computers-and read only computer magazines. Then, since there’s only so much you can take apart and put one computer back together again, I decided it was time to take leap and try to get some clients.

You started by making 100 cold calls a day. That seems like a lot.

I was always in sales, even when I was a kid, since age 7. I knew sales is a numbers game-unless you are a Slick Willie! You need a lot of “no’s” before you’ll get a “yes.” I treated it like a business. I was working at home, but I would get up, put on makeup, pantyhose, like show up to my living room like it was an office. I figured, if I was doing an actual sales job, that’s what I would be told to do: 100 calls a day. I also knew I didn’t have a lot going for me. I had no storefront, no advertisements, not a lot of skills even. All I had going for me was my time and elbow grease, and I had to use that to the best of my ability.

What was it like making those calls?

It was hard. The first seven calls, people were rude, cursing at me. I put down the phone and just cried! I don’t know why I was so shocked. I called my husband, and said ‘Honey they’re so mean!” He says, “Honey, you just need to get back on the phone.” I didn’t like what I heard, but I remember I just wiped my eyes and made 93 more calls. By the end, [the reaction on the other end] no longer bothered me.

Once you step into acceptance and tell yourself ‘this is what needs to be done’ and really embrace it, then it’s not as difficult anymore. I suggest people get to that moment of acceptance as quick as you can– instead of asking “why is this happening?” and those useless questions. I had my first client after two weeks of making those calls.

So, why don’t Chinese women go broke?

There’s more than one reason, but mainly, it’s our mindset. We are able to look at longterm goals and have a farmer mentality. We’re not into the quick fix. The idea of the drive-through or “on demand” this or that… those are all American things. Those values are great when it comes to consumer products, but becomes virus in day-to-day life. We were taught to think of day-to-day action, the good of the team. You don’t call in sick. You make the 100 calls for 2 weeks. You farm everyday knowing that it’s for the end of the year for harvest time.

How was this message instilled in you?

Growing up my grandmother–who was from the old country [China]– always told me, ‘You’re lucky to be alive. Don’t waste your life away.” With the single child policy, a lot of girls don’t see daylight. I always took that to mean I needed to earn my place and make myself useful, and many [Chinese businesswomen] I interviewed said same thing. Also, in Chinese culture itself, we are very big on teaching children to plan for the future. No immediate gratification.

One of my family businesses was a toy store. I helped out in the store, so as I child saw toys were for livelihood, not just for fun! Parents would bring their kids in and the child would pick up different toys and say “Can I have it?” The parents would turn to the kids and say “Do you have the money?” and kids would pull out their wad of cash and count it. Most of time the kid didn’t have enough and the parents would say, “Well, what can you do to earn more money?” but ultimately parents just walked off without buying the toy! In our culture, there is always a way for children to earn money. In some families, it is getting A’s in school, others it is for chores, always ways in household to earn money. That helped us not to have that entitlement.

You often talk about your how your English is still imperfect, yet you never let that hold you back.

I’m not a psychologist, but I think a lot of people let the idea of being “perfect” trap themselves. People sometimes use excuse of being perfectionist as a way out. For example, ‘I didn’t turn in the business plan because it’s not perfect.’ It sounds better to say you’re a perfectionist instead of saying “I’m just scared!” You can’t achieve anything if you never fail. When I interviewed the first Chinese-American congresswoman [Judy Chu], she spoke about Abraham Lincoln-how he suffered from depression, and failed bunch of campaigns before he ever got anywhere in politics. Failure is really just a setback.

What do you see as the American dream?

Ironically, the American dream is not, to me, about ‘get rich quick’. The media highlights end result. They zoon in camera take the close up and runner wins the medal, or when entrepreneur makes million! Nobody zooms in when that same entrepreneur was eating ramen for years to get business off the ground! My definition of the American dream is weathering the storm and the hardship. None of our ancestors came here for drive-through food and on demand movies. We need to remind people of that.

Are Americans today lazy in your opinion?

No, but you have to have a clear vision: what is it exactly that you want? What does it mean to have what you want? If you think, okay ‘I want to have my own business and have 3 kids and home school them’ well there’s not enough hours in the day for that. Or if you want to be an actress, you have to be able to travel. People don’t think about what it takes and the [trade-offs] of certain life decisions. Not everyone is lazy, but there’s an internal conflict or contradiction: I want business for freedom, but don’t want to work the 60 hours a week to get it off the ground. To be successful, you need to be really clear about what you want and honest with yourself. I also think you should pay your dues and keep humility. No matter how much you think you have “arrived,” you don’t know what’s around corner. You might encounter one more speed bump.

Was there a point when you thought, “Okay, now I’m successful?”

When I decided that I was going to  write the book, I thought ‘I am successful, now it’s my turn to help others.’ Ironically, the fact I said that to myself put me in position of forgetting my humility-thinking I’m almost immune to disappointment. That’s not a good place to be. No matter how well we’re doing, we should always have a package of Top Ramen now and then to remind us that day of struggle might come around the corner. Don’t ever be too comfortable.

Top Things College Doesn’t Teach You

Friday, June 4th, 2010 9:18 am

Yesterday I spoke on ABC News Now about the top things college doesn’t teach you about the work world. The story was in response to a York College survey that found recent college grads lack sorely in most areas of professionalism– yet have a huge sense of entitlement! The school is now offering professionalism classes. But can professionalism really be “taught”? Isn’t it something you only learn once you’re out IN the working world? Here’s a quick recap of the tips I shared:

  1. A nice degree is good, but not everything. Employers need resourcefulness, not book smarts. Figure out how to solve your boss’ problems, and you’ll succeed.
  2. The work world is not a meritocracy. It’s not like school where grades are the ultimate measure of success. The work world is unfair. Favoritism exists. Nepotism exits. You need to cultivate mentors and allies in order to get ahead.
  3. Looks matter at work. Flip-flop and jeans culture is misleading. Colleagues do judge you by your appearance, period. Dress for the job you want when anyone who matters is watching.
  4. Forget so-called “work life balance.” Gen X & Y have been sold a bill of goods that you can “have it all” early in your career. You can leave early everyday to go to the gym if you want, but you won’t be on the fast track.
  5. Start asking for more money now. Or you might lose out big over time. A study showed that women who consistently negotiate salaries earn at least $1 million more over their careers. By not negotiating a first salary, you can lose more than $500K by age 60.
  6. Don’t get stuck on the “dream job” now. It’s a bit unrealistic in this economy– and it’s more important to find anything that’s relatively interesting to you– and will help you build skills. You can always “spin it” later on!

Is Grad School Worth It?

Thursday, July 16th, 2009 4:34 pm

A really interesting post on Huffington Post yesterday proposed that journalism schools should close down. The writer, Richard Sine, argued that in essence, journalism school is a waste of money and a bit of a fraud: Students are paying up to $70,000 a year for what amounts to vocational training they could get on-the-job, and so-called media contacts with professors that are former journalists who are really no longer in the media mix.  Not to mention the fact that the newly minted MS’s have little shot of actually getting a job, as newsrooms and editorial staffs are cutting jobs left and right. 

The article, I think, also speaks a to a larger conversation about the cost-benefit of advanced degrees nowadays. Going to grad school has somewhat been in fashion for some time now.  Let’s face it, for as many Gen Xers and Gen Yers that pursue advanced degrees because they have “always wanted to be” X profession, there are scores more who go to grad school because 1) their parents really wanted them to; 2) they’re not sure what they want to do; and/or 3) they want to take a “break” from (or postpone) the work world.  Clearly if you want to be a doctor or lawyer or other traditional “profession”, you do need a specialized degree and training– but as many Go-Getter Girls shared for the book and in recent conversation, what happens if you decide later on that the career you got the degree for isn’t the career you really want? 

As many have discovered, grad school isn’t always the answer– especially when it comes to following your professional dreams. Sometimes the experience you gain in the field is better than any degree (one of my fave chapters in the book is “The best education is self-education”). Sometimes if you just work a little harder and get more aggressive, you can find the job you want without going back to school to get the right “contacts.” Sometimes, as one wise GGG told me, just doing a few informational interviews or spending a few days interning with people who actually work in the profession you are thinking of going to school for can teach you more than years-worth of an academic curriculum– and save you a lot of money in the process! Point is, whether its journalism school, law school, medical school, or another program, it’s always good to evaluate the potential ROI– return on investment. 

What do you think? When is grad school worth the investment?