Sunday, December 25, 2011

Interview like a Yoga Instructor

If life is a cycle of breath, we currently find ourselves mid-exhale at Darden.  Exams are over.  Winter Break is here.

And yet, the next inhale is just upon the horizon—interviews.  We’re still dropping resumes, and the invite lists are starting to trickle in from companies.  That means there’s no real rest during the holidays.  Students must find time to practice and prepare for interviews in between shopping for (and opening) presents, job treks and family time.

I’m dialed in, back in Charlottesville after an awesome job trek to the Bay Area.  The goal? Concentrate on landing a great internship.  It won’t be the first time I’ll be working instead of playing this time of year—reporters have to work most holidays, and I’ve spent many a Christmas Day hunting down stories instead of drinking eggnog.  This time, though, it’s different.

The truth is interviews are intimidating, even though I’ve been a broadcaster for my entire career.  And so I’m reading every possible marketing website, scouring the Darden company Wiki, and building elaborate interview spreadsheets.  I’ll also be doing a number of mock interviews with second year students, CDC faculty, and prospective companies. 

That being said, I’m taking this time to regain my balance.  It’s no secret that hobbies go on hiatus during first year at Darden.  I used to rock climb three or four times a week: I’ve probably climbed that many times the entire semester.

One of my other favorite forms of fitness is yoga.  Climbing is my favorite activity, but yoga is my most necessary one.  It helps me breathe.  It improves my flexibility.  It brings me peace and balance.

In Nashville, I did Vinyasa Flow Yoga weekly.  I’ve yet to do it a single time in Charlottesville.  However, break has given me time to Bikram Yoga four days in a row, and I’m loving it.

So there I am, in 105 degree heat, locked into triangle pose, drenched in sweat.  In the background I hear the instructor’s calm, steady voice.

“Bend until your right knee is at a 90 degree angle… eyes gazing over your thumb… good… gently push your elbow against your knee… breathe through your nose… hold… and hold… and hold.”

I listened, I followed, I acted.  That’s when I realized something: I want to interview like a yoga instructor.  Allow me to explain:

1. Practice, practice practice- You didn’t become a yoga instructor without being good at yoga.  Similarly, you don’t become an interview expert overnight.   Practice case questions, learn more about your field, and research the companies. 

2. Cool, calm and collected- If you pull someone off the street, put them in a room that’s hotter than the Sahara, bend them up like a pretzel and tell them not to move they’ll probably freak out.  And yet, the key to yoga is calm.  Students pick the calm vibes up from the instructor.  Likewise, calmness equals confidence in that interview room, and companies need to know that you’ll be calm in high pressure situations.

3. Rehearsed, but genuine- Instructors often repeat the same lines.  Go back, way back, fall back… etc.  But to some extent, that’s okay.  Students need to know which foot to pick up, or how their weight should be distributed.  That stuff needs to be right every time.  Your “tell me about yourself” pitch needs to be the same way.  However, you still have to be passionate and care about your story, much like an instructor must genuinely care about his or her class.

4. Be flexible- This one is a double meaning.  Ha!  Sorry.  The skill level of yoga students varies with each session, and invariably a student will need specific help from an instructor.  And so, mid-class, mid-pose, mid-sentence, an instructor must be able to call out guidance on the fly to that student.  The same goes in interviewing.  You’re gonna get hit with a question you didn’t prepare for.  How well can you adapt what you’ve practiced to this unexpected challenge?

5. Have fun- Let’s be honest: not too many folks would practice yoga unless it was a.) good for them and b.) enjoyable.  The best instructors aren’t afraid to laugh, flash a smile, and engage their students.  Great interviewees must do the same.  Why would a company want to bring you in to their family if you don’t have a personality?  There are a million other candidates out there with great resumes gunning for the same job, and I bet a bunch of them are pretty cool people.  They’ll win the tiebreaker every time.

So there you have it.  Interview like a yoga instructor.

Darden, finish that exhale and then take a deep breath—we’re not done yet.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

From the Foxhole

High pressure events have a way of knocking us out of rhythm, and I'd classify exams and resume drops as high pressure events.

Darden first years are squarely in the middle of exams and the job hunt.  As a result, my faithful bi-weekly blog entry rhythm went out the window two weeks ago.  It's not that I didn't have any spare time, it's just that I had WAY less of it.

So, here's the update: we've begun submitting our resumes and cover letters to the companies we'd like to intern with.  The networking is over, but the interview preparation process is just around the corner.  That means hours of industry research, hours of structuring responses to likely questions, hours practicing in front of the mirror, and hours of mock interviews.

This is where we lean on our incredible second years, like my SY Coach Devin.  Devin is an absolute rockstar.  In the midst of her own constantly changing, busy life, Devin found time to leave massive amounts of ink on my resume and cover letter, helped connect me with folks who can help with my internship search, and offered honest criticism of my two minute pitch.  Most importantly, my coach is a master of motivation.  She's positive, encouraging, understanding.  Her confidence in me gives me confidence in me.

Devin doing an all important task: Darden tailgate setup.

Devin's not alone.  SYs are always willing to sit down during First Coffee to talk about their internship experience.  They share their insight on how they made it through interview season.  It is this kind of selflessness that separates Darden: we are truly here to help one another succeed, and I treasure that spirit.

Lastly, I'm in the middle of exams.  Like right now.  My left side brain is yelling, "the finance exam won't take itself!"  My right side brain, though, needs a moment to write something fun (although I'm enjoying finance way more than I thought I would).

This is by far the most daunting exam period we've had- five tests in six days.  And, they're not fluff exams either: strategy, operations, accounting, finance, econ.  Fortunately, I feel prepared for most of them, thanks to an awesome group of professors and the patience of my learning team.

LT 54, Hillary you should have eaten pizza with us that night!

OK, time's up. Right brain wins.  It's back to my foxhole (aka my desk) and my new rhythm- the exam rhythm- one driven by the cadence of laptop keys and page flipping.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Letter to Last Year’s Me (and to this Year’s Applicants)

Dear Jeff (Insert your name here if you hope to be part of Darden’s class of 2014),

It’s Thursday evening and you’ve just finished another tough day of running and gunning at work.  You’re tired and frustrated.  I know the feeling, because I am you.

(Okay, applicants, I’m not you, but you get the point.)

Anyways, I’m writing to remind you that not long ago, you realized it was time for a change.  Remember the day the light switch flipped on?

You knew it was time for the next stage of your journey.  Sure, you’ve been successful at your current career.  You might even have some trophies on your shelf, some fancy documents in frames on the wall, and some accolades on your resume (which will be SERIOUSLY reformatted one year from now, by the way).

But deep in your heart, you know you’re capable of even more.  You can have a bigger impact.  You can take on more responsibility.  You can be a leader.

Obviously, that stuff doesn’t happen overnight.  There is so much to learn, from people who’ve done it and from people who can teach it.  You’ve got to give it a try in a safe environment, where you can afford to make mistakes.  This has to be a place that welcomes new ideas, doesn’t push you down, and doesn’t restrict what you’re capable of.   It helps if this place surrounds you with smart, successful people who have the same goals.  These folks want to get to the top, but they want you to get there too.  As such, they’ll take their own spare time to help you, and they won’t grab opportunities at the cost of your success.  They’ll be your friends and your teammates.

These people are your classmates, and this place is the Darden Graduate School of Business Administration.

I know it’s the right place because I’m here right now, and believe me, life is awesome.  Granted, class is HARD.  Case method involves continuous class participation, constant thinking, lots of reading and lots of learning team time.  In fact, you’ll work harder at school than you currently work at work.  But trust me, it’ll be interesting stuff and you’ll learn a ton (WACC isn’t just a football conference (sic), Five Forces isn’t a Star Wars reference, and Crystal Ball really can help you understand the future).

On top of class and homework, there is something going on every night.  There are sporting events, social events and charity events (FYI you’ll end up taking the Darden Cup entirely too seriously).  And, there’s a networking event every day.  There are on grounds companies to talk to and off grounds companies to reach out to.  There are brand challenges and consulting competitions.  You’ll still want to rock climb and write songs on the piano (good luck scheduling that stuff in!).  Also, your mom, your college buddies, and the guy who currently occupies the adjacent cubicle will want to call and chat (always call your mom back first).

There won’t be time for everything, but that’s the point.  Great leaders strike the right balance, and Darden is here to help you become a great leader.

So, keep up the good work at the office, but be sure to crush the GMAT and get that application in on time. 

Darden won’t be easy.  You will be exhausted.  You will be tested.  You will be shaken.  It will be worth every minute.

You’re getting better, getting stronger.

And, you have a future- one both of us should be excited about.



P.S. In all seriousness, drop me an e-mail if you're interested in finding out more about Darden.

                                       Me, in another lifetime, during the Nashville Flood in 2010

Monday, October 24, 2011

Superstitions and Traditions

What do you do when you see a coin on the ground?  Do you pick it up?

As I kid, I would have told you it depends: if it’s heads up, it’s yours.  If it’s tails up, leave it- unless you’re asking for trouble and bad luck.

What a silly superstition!  And yet, I believed it as a boy.  Fortunately, it didn’t take me long to figure out a loophole.  If I ever ran across a fallen coin that was showing tails, I simply kicked it against a curb or a wall until it flipped right side up.  Squealing with delight, I’d bend down and pocket the change, filling up my good luck reservoir in the process.

I thought back on that funny little superstition this weekend, and realized it is a metaphor for how we should live our lives.  Sometimes you’re dealt a good hand, sometimes you’re dealt a bad hand, but you make the most of it either way.

In other words, you can make your own luck.  It’s something that became so apparent during exam season.  Term 1 at Darden was hard, but Term 2 was substantially harder.  Need proof of that?  Ask any first year how much sleep they’re got.  Ask them how confident they felt going into the Decision Analysis, Marketing and Accounting exams.

Class was difficult, and the work load exhausting.  This was the hand we were dealt.  And yet, so many of my classmates chose to make their own luck.  We attended DA workshops.  We met with professors.  We went to Q&A sessions.  We spent hours at marathon learning team meetings.  We even stayed in on Friday night to spend extra time on cases instead of heading to the bars on The Corner.

I can only hope the hard work paid off this past weekend, which was as challenging as advertised.  The tests took three hours for Accounting, four for Marketing, and five for DA, with tons of studying in between.  For someone with a non-quantitative background who hasn’t been in school for seven years, this was a pretty crazy four days.

And while I didn’t rely on superstitions to aid my cause, I did employ a final exam tradition that dates back to my junior year at Northwestern.

Burdened by finals, deprived of sleep, and with no one to impress, I let it all go for a full week.  I didn’t shower.  I didn’t shave.  And, I never changed out of my pajamas.

Thus was born my finals tradition.

Eight years later, I stand firmly by my finals pajamas ritual, as the picture below proves (you’ll be glad to know I’ve made some tweaks, however- I’ve showered twice this weekend, thankyouverymuch).

Anyways, I bring up the coin on the ground and the pjs examples to make a larger observation: the line between superstition and tradition is a seemingly fine one.  But to me, there’s a big difference: superstitions leave too much to chance.  They suggest that luck has more to do with success than hard work.  Traditions, on the other hand, feel more like a comfort thing, something you do because it feels right- not because you expect it to solve all of your problems.  And boy, does walking around in pajama pants and hoodies for four days feel right!

I might be inclined to challenge superstition and embrace tradition, but I’ll make the occasional exception.

During exams, I found myself looking for any kind of good fortune, any kind of hopeful sign.  On Friday night in between tests, I saw a coin on the ground while walking back from dinner at Liz and Aaron’s house.

It was heads up.

Superstition or not, I picked it up and put it in my pocket, where it’s been all weekend.

Hey, during exam week, I’ll take all the help I can get.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Family

So I realized there wasn't a picture with all of us together anywhere on the blog.  Here's us at Aaron and Liz's wedding, all making the letters for "Cville."  Abstract I know.  Nevertheless, you get the sentiment!

(P.S.: this is an addendum to the original post, "My Darden Family," hope you get a chance to read my prior blog entries!)

Monday, October 10, 2011

29 and Holding... On

Growing up, my brother and I called Marge Tennant “Grama.”  Marge took amazing care of us through our childhood.  She taught us to be respectful and courteous.  She watched “Price is Right” with us each afternoon.  She made sure we dutifully practiced the piano.  With the exception of a blood relation and a couple of missing letters, she really was like a grandma to us.

Marge battled arthritis her whole life- she still fights it to this day.  It often turned the most routine of activities into impossibilities for her.  And yet, Grama maintained a happy disposition and a young spirit.  She often jokingly described her age as “29 and holding…”

Grama’s funny phrase was the last thing on my mind during Darden Cup softball earlier this year as I rounded second base.  Running at this point was supposed to be academic- I’d crushed the ball over the right fielder’s head, and it was a certain home run.

Unfortunately, no one mentioned this to my left hamstring, which exploded somewhere between second and third.

I limped home, knowing this was a serious injury- I’d injured the same hamstring running indoor track in my senior year of high school and missed several months of action.

I iced the hamstring, I wore a compression sleeve.  I elevated it, I stretched it.  I thought things were getting better, so I jumped back into the thick of it. 

Bad choice.  Last week, I re-injured the hamstring practicing for Darden Cup flag football.

That’s when I realized the truth: I am 29 and holding… on.

And just barely holding on, it turns out.  I get hurt more than I used to.  It takes longer to recover.  I think I’m a step slower than my high school days.  My flexibility has gone down the toilet, and my back is always sore.

But physical deterioration is not the only thing I’m battling.  The work load at Darden, famous for being robust, is kicking into high gear.  We have three cases a night, and each often requires several hours of reading, calculations, and analysis.  I feel my once firm grasp on the concepts slipping slowly away from me as the pace quickens.

So, you do your best.  You study your butt off while taping a bag of frozen peas to your hammy (efficiency!).  You sleep a little less and drink a little more coffee.

Most importantly, you do something you love.   I was reminded of this by Amanda Mills, who works in the financial aid office at Darden.  She was one of the first people I communicated with during the application process, and I see her now and again on the grounds.

The other day, Amanda stopped me and asked how I was doing.  Then she asked a question that stopped me in my tracks: are you doing anything for yourself?

I thought for a second, smiled, and said “yes.”

It was the right answer to this cold call.  Amanda told me she’d seen too many students collapse under the workload.  Among the networking, the briefings, the cases, the classes, they’d forgotten about themselves.

I’ve taken Amanda’s words to heart over the last ten days.  I blocked off some time to play NCAA Football 2012 on the XBOX 360 with Aaron, Jeff and Liz.  The family makes sure to have family together at least once a week (Beth is an awesome cook!).  I also traveled to Nashville to see my old friends and watch my favorite band Wilco.  Sadie, Fender and I took an awesome Sunday morning hike to Humpback Rock with my friends Jesse and Taku.  The leaves are changing in Virginia, and it is breathtaking. 

Sure, we hold on to our youth, and we hold on for dear life as the course load intensifies.  But at Darden, you also have hold on to who you are.  At the ripe young age of 29, I can at least say I’m doing a pretty good job on that last part.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

And So It Begins...

Term two smacked me in the face with the drone of my alarm at 6:35 AM Monday morning.  After a week of no classes, I was just starting to get used to waking up on my own terms.

6:45 AM: Took the girls (Sadie and Fender) on a potty walk.  Mission accomplished… I’ll spare you the details.

7:00 AM: Shower, change into business casual clothing for networking events.  Clip on my trusty nametag.

7:30 AM: Jeff, Liz and I carpool to Darden, picking up our friend Bridget along the way.

8:00 AM: Financial Accounting class.  I get cold called to present my balance sheet, saying a silent thank you to my awesome learning team for prepping me on the case the night before.

9:25 AM: First Coffee.  This is a misnomer, though.  It’s really Second Coffee (almost every one of us fills up before our 8 AM class).  It could also be called First Bathroom Break (the men's rooms are usually packed during this time- that coffee runs through you!).  As Section E athletics rep, I use this window to plan a flag football practice for the Darden Cup.  As three time defending champs, we take this stuff seriously.

10:00 AM: Our first Global Economies and Markets (GEM) class.  First words out of our professor’s mouth: “This will be one of the hardest classes, if not the hardest, you’ll take at Darden.”  Oy.  Sure enough, the class involves lots of complicated models and arrows and abbreviations.  Fortunately, Professor Li is interesting, engaging and intelligent (like every other professor I’ve had so far at Darden).

11:45 AM: Our first Operations Class.  I get cold called AGAIN.  This time, I’m on the ball and provide some game-changing analysis on why Shouldice Hospital performs the best hernia surgeries in the biz.  I’m beginning to realize, however, that my new seat is right at professor eyelevel.  This is both a good and bad thing.  Not surprisingly, Professor Weiss is outstanding.  He keeps us laughing and learning nonstop for 85 minutes.

1:30 PM: Company briefing with Johnson & Johnson.  We had briefings all last week, but J&J’s is today immediately after class.  Fortunately, they provide some yummy vegetarian wraps.  In the briefing, my initial impression is confirmed: J&J is an awesome company to work for.  It is massively successful, environmentally responsible, and incredibly supportive of its employees. 

3:45 PM: Sneak into a learning team room to finish my Personal Career Plan (PCP) for our Career Development Center.  It was due at 3:00… oops.

4:30 PM: Head back to the house to walk/feed the pups and study some more.

5:00 PM: My learning teammate Vikram calls.  He, like me, is up to his ears in Darden stuff.  He has two critical company briefings and asks me to take the lead on our finance case.  I say absolutely, because Vikram is a rockstar who has already helped me on more occasions than I can count.

6:45 PM: I drive back to Darden.  I’ve rocked finance, but the other two cases (GEM and Accounting) not so much.

7:00 PM: Our LT looks at each other, sighs, and laughs.  We’re all aware that things are about to get intense this term.

7:15 PM: We knock out the cases as a team.  I’ve already said it, and this won’t be the last time, but our learning team ROCKS.

8:45 PM: I hurry to a J&J networking event at Bang, a downtown restaurant.  When J&J says it prides itself in its people, they mean it.  The company’s reps (also Darden alums) are easy to talk to and full of passion.  And, they are so sincere in their efforts to help us rookie first years learn the ropes.  I’m still in awe of the fact that companies like J&J COME HERE to see US.  So humbling.

10:15 PM: I head home, take the pups out one last time, and sit down to read my Decision Analysis case to prepare for a presentation team meeting tomorrow.  I end up writing this blog entry first.

P.S. I’m exhausted.

Darden is no joke.  There wasn't a free minute to be had today.  And yet despite all of the work and the chaos, I’m loving every second of it.  I’ve never felt so empowered, so excited, so satisfied.  They throw the kitchen sink at us because that’s what the real world is like.  Here's the thing: we can’t just cope when pots, pans, dishes and silverware are coming at us- we have to thrive and lead in these times.  I love the challenge of it.

First term is done.  The training wheels are off… and so it begins.

I say bring it on.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

My Darden Family

Five weeks ago, I stepped onto Darden’s perfectly manicured campus, walked through the double doors of Saunders Hall, filed into a signup line, and clipped on my name tag: Jeff Tang, MBA Class of 2013.

It was the beginning of my new life journey, and an introduction to a new community.

The concept of the “Darden Family” is a well-constructed one.  And, it is very real.  The school and its faculty are incredibly supportive and wise, just like your parents.  Classmates really are like siblings.  You spend hours at a time together in close confines.  You laugh together, learn together, disagree with each other, and learn to love each other. 

But for me, the words “Darden Family” have a different meaning because my real family is also part of my Darden family.  Ten years ago, I met my best friend Jeff Campbell on the campus of Northwestern University.  To this day, Jeff and I have almost identical interests- we were both television journalists, we play lots of sports, dance like goofballs to country music, have a desire to make everything a competition, and possess a nose for good coffee and red wine.  I’m proud to say that on that fateful day in August 2011, Jeff also clipped on his Darden MBA Class of 2013 name tag.  Jeff’s wife Beth, also a dear friend from my Northwestern days, made the move to Charlottesville too.

It doesn’t end there.  It turns out, Jeff has a younger sister and I have a younger brother.  Liz Campbell met Aaron Tang at me and Jeff’s graduation in 2004.

(Can you guess where this is going?)

On August 6th, 2011, the two younger siblings married in Keystone, Colorado.  One week later, Liz Campbell Tang clipped on her nametag and joined the class of 2013 at Darden as well.

I know.  It’s kind of crazy and more than a little confusing.  That’s why I’ve included a diagram in this blog entry- Liz created it in an effort to explain the family situation to our new classmates.

The point is we’re all together, and happy as can be.  After getting our acceptance calls from Darden, Jeff Campbell noted that the next two years might be the best ones of our lives.

So far, it hasn’t disappointed.

I’m excited to share my thoughts and experiences at Darden with you over the next two years.  And, Liz and Jeff will be posting special guest entries on this blog as well.  On behalf of them, and all of us, welcome to our lives- and welcome to our Darden Family!

Meet Everyone:

Jeff Campbell- Colorado boy…  Former TV news anchorman at the NBC station in Charlotte, NC… all-star intramural sports athlete…  avid Denver Broncos fan...  elected Section C Representative at Darden…

Beth Campbell- Jeff Campbell’s wife… the glue of the family… resident sparkplug and expert chef… political junkie… former TV news reporter for the NBC station in Charlotte… Richmond native…

Liz Campbell Tang- Jeff Campbell’s younger sister… former environmental engineer who always thinks green… graduated from Washington University in St. Louis… softball catcher who shares athletics representative duties for Section D at Darden…
Aaron Tang- Jeff Tang’s younger brother and Liz’s husband… recently graduated from Stanford Law School and is now working for a DC law firm remotely from Charlottesville… Yale graduate… expert at 1990s role playing video games…

Ashlee- Aaron and Liz’s cat… adopted from a shelter in St. Louis… knows how to sit and shake hands/paws (Aaron and Liz wanted a dog but are now enamored with their kitty)

Fender- One of Jeff Tang’s dogs… would try to eat Ashlee if the two ever met… rescued off the streets of Nashville during an Oktoberfest event… Part Samoyed, part collie, part chow, part Shiba-Inu, all mutt…

Sadie- Jeff Tang’s other dog… adopted from the humane society in Louisville, KY… shameless foodie and belly rub mooch… part Australian Shepherd, part American Eskimo Dog, part Akita, all mutt…

Me- former TV news reporter at the CBS station in Nashville, TN… rock climber… singer/songwriter that was part of a rock band in Nashville for four years… shameless promoter of healthy eating habits and environmentally responsible behavior…