How I got my first job
Writing about my post-college experience has been on my mind for quite a while.
I’m a really perceptive person. Even during my first year out of college, I carefully observed and reflected on each situation around me not as an outsider, but as someone in the middle of the experience.
That’s why I think that just one year does not provide me with enough credentials to formally write up a post about my “experience”. Looking back, there definitely was still a lot to come at the end of that first year.
After college, graduates experience a ‘real life’ stage where everything’s a little harder than anticipated.
In my case, the change from college to the post-college stage came as a shock, as it happens to almost every college graduate.
Now I’m almost three years out, I’ve changed job and industry, and moved across the United States from coast to coast.
I’m grateful for the opportunity to write up this first post about “what happened next”. It will hopefully shed some light on what it’s like after college for new graduates.
To add a little context: Born and raised in Sichuan, China, I came to the United States for college in 2007. Being admitted by the University of Virginia was a huge validation since U.Va. was my top choice.
Four years of college experience felt like a wild ride filled with life-changing experiences, people, and ideas.
But in retrospect, as I think about it as a young alumna, college life resembles a protective bubble. We are surrounded mostly by our peers, our interaction with whom shapes our minds and decisions.
My senior-year job hunting experience was definitely a good example.
Majoring in Economics with a minor in Mathematics, I followed the crowd and looked into consulting companies. I wasn’t aware of the industry’s “hard sell” strategy at top universities like U.Va.
I convinced myself that consulting firms were a good fit for me, considering my analytical academic background. It never crossed my mind that all I was doing was following everyone else’s choice.
I went through several months of seemingly unending efforts interviewing for entry-level consulting positions.
Consulting firms use “case interviews” to evaluate candidates’ ability to think out loud and articulate the thought process. It means that you have to solve a business case problem on the spot within a short period of time.
Aside from the obvious stress level that doing mental math and articulating on the spot can develop, I was never able to quite grasp the essence of doing case interviews. It didn’t matter how much I practised mock cases with friends. I wasn’t as strategic minded as I had hoped to completely master the strategies of solving those business problems.
At the time, I didn’t give it a lot of thought as to why this might be the case since my track record had shown me that hard work done in smart ways would ultimately lead to success.
The reason with which I convinced myself to look into the consulting industry was too strong to be dismissed, so considering consulting not as a good fit for me was never an option or even a thought that crossed my mind.
Plus, again, many of my peers were looking for the same positions.
My competitiveness was screaming to me during the entire interview process: “If others can do it, so can you!”
I did end up accepting an offer from a big global professional service corporation, not quite for my dreamt position (strategic consulting analyst, or other similar job titles), but I quickly justified my time and effort looking for this job, as I’d be learning a ton and helping make a difference in the world nonetheless.
Going in, I set a relatively high expectation for myself and for this first job, despite knowing close to nothing about the professional service industry, its lifestyle, and the type of work I’ll be doing.