“….One interview after another, I FAILED over and over again. I cried in disappointment and hopelessness but the end, I always told myself that “This is just God’s test of hard work and discipline. When I pass this test, I will get my dream job. I must keep pushing harder and harder!…”
My name is Trang Ho, a graduate from Lake Forest College. I have recently received a job offer from Towers Watson-Atlanta, US. Many people have asked me: How did I get the job as a Vietnamese graduate? Well, to thoroughly answer this question, I would like to start with the story of how I become who I am today, which I think was extremely crucial to my success in job hunting.
I grew up in a poor agricultural village in Bac Ninh province, Vietnam. During my childhood, I observed how my parents worked so hard to get the family out of poverty and do better than most others in the village. They did so many jobs at the same time and switched from one job to another until they could run their own business. They did their best out of their situation and resources to be successful. This family story has always inspired me to work hard and exceed beyond expectations, especially when it comes to job search.
During my time at the village, in grade 7th, I decided that I wanted to go to Hanoi city for high school because I knew that this was the only way for me to excel ( No one from my village has thought of moving out of town for high school). And, I learned that attending the Foreign Language Specialized High School in Hanoi was my best shot. With this motivation, I studied English for 3 years in a row, mostly self-teaching due to the limited learning resources in the countryside. My hard work paid off. I was able to pass the very competitive entrance exam to the school and earn my ticket to the capital. Then, I left my family to go to the city for my high school. There, I clearly saw the next step for me was to study abroad in the US. So, I motivated myself again to apply to American liberal arts colleges ( I am always a huge fan of liberal arts colleges), received a scholarship and attended Lake Forest College in IL,US. So, that was a brief story of how I got to the US from a poor village and more importantly, was the story that got me the job at Towers Watson. Now, lets me step back a bit and tell you step by step on how I got this job.
HOW DID I BUILD UP MY EYE-CATCHING RESUME?
I started to build up my profile relatively early. Before going to the US for college, I set my goal of working in the US at least several years after graduation. So, I chose Lake Forest College because it is a beautiful liberal arts college with a broad alum network in the Chicago area. I started thinking about my career plan during my sophomore year and knew that I wanted to do consulting right after college. So, I used LinkedIn and the college’s career resources to get help with connecting with consultants at several top firms. I was very fortunate to find a wonderful mentor, a consultant at McKinsey who inspired me and helped draw out a strategic plan on what I needed to do in the next 2 years to land a consulting job. There were clearly four main areas I needed to improve on: thought leadership, service leadership with tangible impact, professional experience and a strong network. With this in mind, I looked for opportunities to improve myself in these four areas. I always tried to work way harder than my peers to be in the top 5% of my classes and to ask critical and insightful questions to sharpen my thinking. I exchanged ideas and conversed with my friends and professors to grow intellectually and build quality relationships. As for service leadership, I turned to SEALNet to become a service leader and get connected with incredibly smart and kind creatures on earth. In the end of my sophomore year, I applied for the SEO-V summer internship program in Ho Chi Minh city and got accepted. One of my goals during the program was to prove future employers that I am a competent and competitive applicant and to gain a strong professional network. So, my key take-away for you (especially you want to land a job in consulting) is to think of yourself in terms of 5 areas: thought leadership, service leadership, professional experience, a supportive network and how interesting you are (find out what you are really passionate about and pursue it as a hobby. My hobby of studying American Amish culture helped me win my interviewers). Please do this as soon as possible, at least 2-3 years before your job application starts.
HOW DID I NETWORK MY WAY TO GET THE JOB?
People usually say that networking is very important. To me, networking with PURPOSE is even more important. During my SEO-V internship the summer prior to my senior year, I confirmed my keen interest in consulting. Therefore, I did extensive research to identify what consulting firms in the US and Vietnam I should target (For the firms in the US, I eliminated ones that do not sponsor international students). Then, I sent out as many emails as possible to consultants at these firms and arranged coffee chats afterwards. I started with consultants that I knew, who directed me to their contacts at the firms I am interested/ have open positions. On average, I sent out approximately 10 emails and made 3 phone calls every day with a hope that my resume would get in the doors. As for Towers Watson, I attended a consulting career talk at my college and met an economics professor who said he knew several alum in consulting. To take advantage of this talk, I emailed the professor and asked him to connect me with the alum, who connected me with the college’s Board of Trustee member, who again hooked me up with one of the senior players at Towers Watson. The contact at Towers Watson was kind enough to help me as much as he could to give me interviews at the firm. So I landed the interviews!
HOW DID I PREPARE FOR JOB INTERVIEWS?
I got into the final round interviews with Towers Watson- Chicago. However, with limited interviewing experience, I failed. I also landed interviews at CitiGroup, Morningstar, EY Chicago, Mckinsey & Com Vietnam, the Boston Consulting Group Vietnam, etc. I spent countless hours preparing for phone interviews and superdays and reflecting on my failure. One interview after another, I FAILED over and over again. I cried in disappointment and hopelessness but the end, I always told myself that “This is just God’s test of hard work and discipline. When I pass this test, I will get my dream job. I must keep pushing harder and harder!” The countless interviews helped horn my interviewing skills tremendously. So, I took my almost last chance at Towers Watson-Atlanta in April, 2015. For each interview round, I spent at least 15 days learning everything about the industry, doing countless mock case interviews and thinking thoroughly about my personal stories. As a result, I was able to shine in all 7 interviews with my story of how I started off as a girl from a poor village with 0 English and worked my way to earn these interviews, my in-depth understanding of health benefits consulting, case-solving skills and my ethnography of American Amish culture as a hobby. I really put my whole heart and mind into this 3-month interview process, which finally paid off. At 9:30 PM on a Tuesday night, I burst into tears when receiving an offer letter from Towers Watson.
My job hunting process was long, tiring and painful. But again, it was a testament to my hard work, discipline and personal strength. As I reflected on this journey, first, I credited my parents, especially my mom for always inspiring me with her incredibly hard work. Whenever I failed, the thought of my parents motivated me to stand up right back with a stronger self. I believe that hard work eventually pays off and it did for me. Second, I got the job only because I was myself. I went to each interview with pride in my genuine personal stories. The moment when one of my interviewers was on the verge of tears, I knew my stories won her.
On my last note, I shall give you a key message I‘ve learned from my experience:
Be STRONG, be your AUTHENTIC SELF, be PROUD of how awesome you are and you will get your dream job! I don’t want to wish you luck because you will have to make your own luck! 😉