While networking can have varying definitions, I tend to think of it simple interaction with people regardless of the time or setting. Some people might classify it as a specific interaction and view networking as the process of engaging with one or more parties for the primary purpose of obtaining something tangible. That tangible attainment can come in various forms, whether it be a simple connection, a job, a reference, a potential customer, or any other imaginable purpose. The setting for such interaction is frequently thought of as a gathering organized by a particular group, where the majority of time is spent mingling among myriad strangers. This is not typically the ideal environment for genuine trust, attention, or other building blocks of solid relationships to be built because of the inherent cynicism present amongst attendees. Thoughts such as “are these people only talking to me because they think I’m the connection to something they covet?” or “am I only talking to this person because they’re sporting a CEO title?” are not uncommon in this setting. I typically avoid these type of “networking” events altogether because I generally find them to be inorganic. However, I still recognize that networking in some form is paramount for future success and have seen three forms of it work for myself.
1. Call or Text Everyone in Your Address Book
Think about the amount of time it took to build your address book to the volume it’s currently at. Chances are that most of the numbers and names in it are in need of serious dusting outside of regular family and friends. It’s important to recognize that every number is in your phone for a reason, and it doesn’t hurt to periodically be reminded of what that reason is (or to make sure you haven’t been deleted). Staying in periodic touch (every 6 months, for example) with your entire address book will allow you to maintain a pulse on what those people are up to. You never know if those past connections have evolved in a way that could aid your current pursuits, or if you are now in a position to aid someone else with their own pursuits.
2. Message at Least Three People Per Day on LinkedIn
An overlooked, yet powerful aspect of LinkedIn is its ability to allow people to cold message virtually anybody with a created profile. Because the platform has increasingly become standard amongst employers and employees, it serves as an incredibly profound communication tool. That allows for unprecedented access to individuals at all levels, with the ability to find anyone who’s currently doing whatever you desire to do. Let’s say you play the odds game and reach out to three people per day for a year. That amounts to over 1,000 people that you would have contacted. If only 1% of those people end up giving you the time of day and it leads to anything substantive, that amounts to about 10 new connections you will have made with people who are aligned with your pursuits. The addition of 10 new resources over the course of a year is a win in anyone’s book.
3. Go to Events Catered to Your Interests
Nothing beats getting out of the house and actually interacting with people. A simple search regarding events happening nearby that are catered to your interests will unearth a world of people who you know already share commonalities with you. Attending these events and meeting with other attendees who have a predetermined shared interest allows for a higher chance of organic conversations to be had. These will probably lead to more worthwhile and enjoyable interactions. For example, websites such as Eventbrite, Meetup, and ZogSports have served as reliable resources for interest-specific events in New York.
Cool Story. Now What?
If there’s time to like a photo or video on [insert social media platform here], time to check your timeline, or even time to walk from Point A to Point B, then there’s time to send a message of any length to someone or attend an event of interest. As long as you have a smartphone with an internet connection, then you will continue to have the power to control your own destiny. It’s not wise to waste that power away by consistently engaging in the omnipresent traps of mindless behavior (social media, gossip, memes, etc.) in lieu of activity that can push you to the next level. If there was any confusion as to how to move closer to that next level, these 3 tips can serve as a baseline.
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Before getting into what I’ve been up to since filing $100 on my tax return in January, I’d like to briefly explain why I’m such a big fan of the United States despite its conspicuous flaws at every level. At the risk of sounding overly patriotic and/or naive to some, being born in the United States is like hitting the lottery. Sure, the country perpetuates xenophobic and racist founding principles, continues to have an abhorrent obsession with guns and violence, experiences grossly disproportionate wealth inequality, and has a severely flawed political system, among a countless list of other issues. However, more optimistically, the country has an inordinate amount of excess, contains every livable climate to choose from within its borders, funds government-backed programs that at least attempt to uplift some of the poorest sections of its society, allows relative freedom of speech, and I’m hard-pressed to think of many other countries that provide a tangible chance (however slim) for its citizens to go from poor to an elite global wealth status through their sweat equity. The fortune of being able to travel and live in different parts of the world over the past decade has given me great insight into how drastically different many other countries operate, for better or for worse. Consequently, my appreciation for the opportunities allotted within the United States couldn’t be higher. This actualization ignores the everyday stresses, struggles, and angst that come with being a dark-complexioned individual within the country, but that’s another conversation for another day.
These opportunities appear to show themselves within the data. Credit Suisse publishes a comprehensive annual report available for download that seeks to put global wealth into a proper perspective. From a macro view, it’s seemingly clear that opportunities to build wealth within North America are plentiful relative to the rest of the world (Table1), especially considering North America’s relatively low population compared to many of the other highlighted regions.
Drilling down even further, it’s clearer to see that a large portion of North America’s wealth is driven by the United States. Roughly 41% of the world’s total millionaires come from the United States and about 40% of the world’s year-over-year increase in total millionaires has also been credited to the United States (Table 2).
Of course, this only paints a picture of potential. The more realistic and tangible measure of median wealth is a better indicator of the common person’s wealth, and that sits at about $61,000 per person in the United States (ranking 18th in the world). This is slightly below the world’s average wealth per adult of about $63,000 (Table 2) and serves as one glaring indicator of the country’s troubling wealth disparity. However, it still provides hope that the average person with talent has as good of a chance in the United States as any other place to earn their way among the world’s elite wealth status. This is one of the major reasons why returning to the United States after completing my graduate studies in the Netherlands last year was a no-brainer.
Why I Filed $100 on 2018 My Tax Return
Being in or around a classroom from 9AM to 4:30PM every weekday throughout most of 2018 didn’t lend itself to much time for wage earning, and I didn’t realize how little time I would truly have until it happened in real time. Despite my wishing for the contrary, the bills of the real world didn’t stop coming due, nor did the desire to eat, go out, travel, or partake in any other activity that a person would normally partake in. As a result, my bank account became the thing I only checked when I wanted to make sure the account was still active.
As my class schedule began to lighten up in November, I initially set my sights on freelancing within accounting to get my feet wet. I quickly realized that my anonymity within that space would significantly depress what I thought I deserved as compensation. Without a proven track record for completing particular tasks or professional designations to my name (such as a CPA), I found myself at the mercy of whatever the individuals on the other side felt like paying me rather than being paid what I deserved. Some of that could be chalked up to the need to enhance my negotiating skills, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that no deal is oftentimes better than taking a bad deal. I consistently saw bad deals during my brief search, so I decided to shift my freelance focus to writing in hopes of gaining some positive momentum going into December. It’s during that time where I made my first (and only) $100 of 2018 off of 3 different writing-based projects and dropped the mic.
The Immediate Aftermath
I had long decided that I would do something different and spend all of 2019 enhancing specific hard skills that I deemed to be the most critical to my foreseeable future. After much deliberation and some trial and error with a couple of money-making ventures for the first couple of months of this year, I decided to use the rest of the year to focus on:
Foreign language (French)
Investment / personal finance knowledge
My feeling is that I would be doing myself a disservice by immediately going back into a job market that, while presently very healthy with record low unemployment numbers, is trending towards a path full of outsourcing and automation. To get ahead of this inevitability and compete in what I see as an imminent world full of hybrid finance professionals who are both tech and business savvy, taking a step back in this manner seemed to be the best move in my opinion. My thinking was that it’s best to trade time for dollars in the short-term for a shot at a more lucrative payoff in the long-term. However, all of this skill development still costs money and that’s where my newfound aid eligibility will most prominently come into play.
With the federal poverty line being listed at about $12,000 annual gross income for individuals, I knew I’d qualify for numerous services that would aid in meeting my basic needs and potentially aid in my 2019 focus areas. I filed my taxes in late January and immediately sought after and attained aid that would cover my food, medical, and dental needs. Within a couple of weeks, I was able to get the ball rolling on food aid covers nearly $200 per month, full-coverage dental insurance that allowed me to immediately go in for a dental cleaning, and full-coverage health insurance that allowed me to immediately go in for a full health checkup.
Beyond those basic services, I proactively looked into what else I could take advantage of while I was in this newfound socioeconomic situation. I initially landed on a YouTube channel by Matthew Lesko dedicated to information regarding aid from government offices, non-profit organizations, internet crowdfunding, and the Sharing Economy. This was the beginning of a rabbit hole that opened my eyes to many services that our taxpaying dollars go towards, yet are frequently overlooked by individuals from all socioeconomic classes.
Going Forward in 2019
Among the many directions Lesko’s channel pointed me towards was 211.org, which is a nation-wide resource whose aim is to connect people with life’s many questions regarding assistance to the answers that they’re seeking. From there I drilled down to my state level, which led me to NYC 311. It was here where I started becoming familiar with the types of educational aid available for someone like myself who wanted to take their skills to the next level. From there, I found a relevant phone number that would most likely answer any questions I had regarding assistance for developing a skillset based in technology. Although my calls didn’t directly lead me towards the information I was looking for, it did lead me towards setting up a meeting with the Department of Labor. It was at that meeting that I asked the right questions that led to my exposure to a unique software development opportunity offered by Per Scholas.
Per Scholas is a nonprofit that serves as a workforce development program to help bridge the gap between unemployed or underemployed individuals and the litany of technology-based jobs available. Their partners include a who’s who of major companies (Google, Goldman Sachs, AT&T, etc.) and they currently offer eligible individuals a chance to learn one of four disciplines (CodeBridge, Cyber Security, IT Support, or Systems Administration) during an intensive, multi-month bootcamp style curriculum. Furthermore, the eligible participant obtains the high-quality education at no financial cost and finishes the program equipped to competently commence a tech career. Not anyone can just enter their program, however, as there are multiple interviews and aptitude tests that must be completed in order to determine a candidate’s viability for the program. I’ve chosen to apply to the 18-week CodeBridge curriculum, which focuses on web development and would begin this fall every weekday from 9:00AM to 5:00PM. The Per Scholas partnership with General Assembly for this curriculum makes the program extremely attractive, as successful completion of the 6 weeks taught by Per Scholas combined with the subsequent 12 weeks taught by General Assembly clears the eligible individual of the $14,500 sticker price. Assuming that I get through the final interview stage set to take place in August, I look forward to the exciting opportunities that this program will provide.
To this point, I haven’t found any additional help with financing my CPA but I’m still looking. As of now, it looks like that one is coming directly out of pocket. I’ll know soon enough, as my educational background and eligibility to sit for the tests are currently at the tail-end of the accounting board’s review. For my other focus areas, I’ve found the local library to be a tremendous free resource. While there’s obviously have a wide selection of books to choose from, the pleasant surprise lies with the high-quality classes and seminars that they also offer. They routinely offer multi-week courses geared towards business, foreign language, and many other disciplines taught by professionals. The beauty of it all is that anyone can sign up for them. While I haven’t made the library my primary stop for these things, it has served as a great supplement to the curriculum I’ve already put in place for myself.
Regarding the aforementioned curriculum, since January I’ve primarily centered my days around studying a combination of French, a business-related hard skill, and a tech-related hard skill. For example, a random March day would’ve seen me spending an hour and a half taking a French course at ABC Languages, two to three hours learning Python, two to three more hours learning investment strategies from a booklist I created at the beginning of the year, and an hour reviewing the French I learned from that day’s class. If it was a day where class wasn’t in session, I would simply put more time into the French self-study and keep everything else the same. By staying fairly consistent with this approach on a daily basis, I’ve seen tangible improvement in all of intended areas and have been pleased with the progress thus far. As time has gone on, I’ve slowly started to shave off focus time in each area in favor of more time towards networking. Once I get the eligibility sign-off from the accounting board, I plan on putting the majority of my concentration on studying for the CPA test and continuing to build my tech skills in anticipation of acceptance into Per Scholas. If everything continues to go according to plan this year, I will have added French-speaking, CPA, and software development to my list of major skillsets. The end-game for all of this is to soon become a catalyst and creator of tech-based solutions for the common process inefficiencies plaguing the financial services world. As those solutions become more vast and complex, I plan on growing in line with them. Not a bad outlook for a guy who went from $100k to $100.
Throughout the year, the Living Management Project (or “LMP”) had been billed as a “pressure cooker”, “the real test of the MBA”, “stressful”, and many other descriptions that surely created anxiety amongst a fair number of my classmates before it ever began. The Living Management Program is one of the landmark periods of the RSM MBA experience. It puts pre-selected teams of five to seven students in a situation where they are acting as 3-week consultants for participating companies. The turnaround times are tight, the problems to be solved are complex, and the directions toward an answer are ambiguous at best. The thought process behind all of this is that the student-led teams will utilize all of their acquired knowledge, both from the MBA and from their previous experiences, to solve a typically convoluted problem that is presented to them by their assigned company. At the conclusion of the 3-week project, a thorough presentation from each team is expected and a grade is assessed based on a combination of the delivery of the presentation, the hard copy and support to the presentation, and daily reflection journals that are meant to detail the teamwork aspect from each team member’s perspective. Due to the combination of grading criteria, there’s an incentive to not only deliver a solid product to the client, but also to work well within the team while doing it.
While this project should create an enriching experience in theory, I found it to be very flawed from the start. The process of matching teams with companies was very underwhelming, as it simply leveraged off of the Term 2 teams and paired them with companies based on a random selection process. It’s the only time during the year that teams from prior terms are repeated, so if the team was bad in Term 2 there’s a good chance that it will get downright ugly during LMP. Aside from that, the main reason why this process wasn’t desirable to me is because LMP comes right after our Advanced Course, which is clearly a choice selected by the students based on their preferred career paths (as mentioned in one of my previous posts). The natural order of things would assume that once students have made a choice regarding the direction they most likely want to embark on within their respective careers, their subsequent classes would be chosen to support that direction. However, LMP causes some students to take a step backwards due to the project’s inability to allow a student to continue along their previously chosen path.
What are the odds that someone who chooses “Advanced Sustainability” as their advanced course selection prior to LMP would then want to turn around and spend 3 weeks consulting a drone company on how to enter the oil and gas industry’s inspection market? Based on my experience, I can say that there’s a 0% chance that any interest would come from someone in that situation. In fact, aiding the oil and gas industry in any way is the furthest thing from my mind. Not surprisingly, it made for a poor pairing from the start. I had a very hard time initially getting motivated to even participate, regardless of the fact that I had a grade riding on it. Additionally, I’ve never felt comfortable doing free labor, especially when I know that the labor warrants a substantive billing rate. LMP will have students outright doing work that should be paid for handsomely but is instead replaced with the prospect of a grade in the name of “experience”. I’ve never done any intensive work for someone else that wasn’t in exchange for money or some type of goods exchange, so I failed to see the justification in doing so in this situation. I understood the narrative, but just refused to see it as anything more than student exploitation.
While there was no formal consulting training that took place prior to LMP’s start, there was a primer given to all students over some problem-solving techniques that are said to be commonly used across industries within the consulting world. Beyond that, we were expected to primarily leverage off of the professional experience of our group members. Secondary aid came in the form of a handful of hour-long help sessions that were provided by our designated consulting expert, a designated faculty member, the client themselves, and of course whatever could be found over the internet. Outside of any appointments that are made with the secondary help, each team is free to schedule their days whichever way they deem to be fit throughout the 3-week period. With that being said, it’s not unrealistic to still spend multiple 6-hour days with the Term 2 team during the week in an effort to get to the bottom of what the client wants. Those days don’t even include the work that will still need to be done individually after the team has split for the day. From a time-consumption standpoint, the project can easily be viewed as grueling.
From the beginning, our designated consulting expert encouraged us to focus less on the grades and more on skill-building. I feel that this wasn’t said to dissuade people from working hard, but for people to feel comfortable stepping outside of their comfort zones and using the project as an opportunity to test out newly acquired or seldom-used skills. While I couldn’t have cared less about the project itself, I did find a small bit of solace through a litany of situations that presented themselves and allowed me to work on important managerial skills that I never had the prior opportunity to develop. Beyond that, I found very little use for the project due to my lack of interest in the oil and gas industry and in consulting as a whole. I barely knew what consulting entailed prior to my arrival to RSM, and upon learning about it I didn’t feel compelled by it. We were advised to work in a very structured and predetermined problem-solving manner that’s common in consulting, which we did. I understood its importance and agreed that it aided in organizing our thoughts in an efficient manner, and the fact that it’s the complete opposite of how I usually operate made for an enriching learning experience.
Even though the day-to-day experiences may differ within each group depending on the group dynamics, I feel that the 3-week project’s overarching issues remain omnipresent regardless of the team. While the decision to pursue an MBA centered around my desire to learn about various aspects of business, it was never with the intention of doing a deep dive into an undesirable industry such as oil and gas. I feel as if the selection process needs a complete overhaul that’s more tailored towards the career concentration choices selected by the students at the beginning of Term 3. I’m not sure how that looks in practice, but I do know that placing students to work with companies that are more in line with the students’ career concentrations have much greater potential for a high-quality end-product. The students benefit because they are put in the best positions to display their talents. The clients benefit because they, in effect, receive a higher-quality product from a group of individuals who are equally engaged and determined to turn every stone in the name of solving the assigned problem. Naturally, the RSM brand benefits as a result of the reputation boost that comes from the heightened level of quality delivered by the students. Even though I still don’t like the idea of working for free in the name of “grades” or “experience”, I can guarantee that I would’ve been infinitely more engaged and liable to look for more hard-to-find answers had the company placement been closer in line with my career concentration selection. The fact that it wasn’t closer, especially since LMP directly follows the advanced courses, soured the entire experience.