Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Job Search

It seems the reality of Darden is that just when you feel like you've got a handle on something, another new challenge rears it's ugly, opportunistic head.

For the first couple weeks of classes, I struggled with class participation. I didn't know how to raise my hand, didn't know how best to contribute value, didn't always know how to communicate my thoughts. While I don't consider myself an expert in any of those things, I've been feeling much better about class participation. There's even an objective measure of how I'm doing - the weekly peer-to-peer assessments in which we see how many times our peers have recognized us for contributing to their learning experience. So, all in all, I've been feeling more confident in that area of my academic life. (In fact, one of the highlights of my day yesterday was giving a definition for R-Squared in DA and hearing a flurry of typing as people wrote my definition into OneNote. Yes, it's the small things in life...)

Enter the job search.

Yesterday, I attended a briefing for one of the consulting companies that is right at the top of my desired company list. Basically how briefings work is that you sit in a room for 45 minutes while the representatives of the company tell you all about the company. All of that is really just a prelude to what has become not-so-affectionately known as "pit diving," in which dozens of keener students eagerly swarm the company representatives in hopes of making a positive impression.

During said "pit dive," you are expected to make small talk with the company representatives. Now, I have spoken in front of over 1,000 people before. I've given presentations to classmates, managers, boards and children, all with the greatest of ease and confidence. But put me in a small talk situation with someone and I suddenly feel awkward and unsure. In order to combat this fear, I wrote a paper in an undergrad communications class on small talk, and while that helped, it is still something I dread. (It doesn't even help to know that everyone else feels the exact same way about small talk or that people are surprised I fear small talk because they think I'm social.)

And if all that isn't enough to fear, there is the resume to deal with. Before Darden, resumes were a simple list of job titles and responsibilities. Not anymore. Now each bullet point has to be tied to a situation, task, action and result. And, wherever possible, said result must be quantifiable. All of that makes me wish that I hadn't only just been starting the development of metrics before I left the Company.

Anyway, if I've learned anything over the last two months, it is that sometimes you just need to put yourself out there and do what you need to do, regardless of your level of confidence. I have learned that the greatest blessing can be recognizing your weaknesses and then figuring out what to do with them. If I managed to get a better handle on the class participation puzzle, I can do it with the job search as well. (And then I'll be finished with challenges until my fabulous internship starts, right?)

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Breaks are Imperative

For the past two and a half days, I've had a friend visiting. From the time I left to pick her up from the Richmond airport on Thursday afternoon until this morning (Sunday) when I pulled out my laptop to work on the cases for tomorrow, I have not done any work for school. I've had conversations that did not revolve around debits, credits, cannibalization ratios and Crystal Ball*. On top of all these perks, it's been great to catch up with someone that I've known for years and get outside of the MBA bubble a little. I have also appreciated sharing my new town and took Mary to TNDC, Arch's, Bodo's Bagels, the Downtown Mall and Shenandoah National Park.

This morning when I sat down to start work on cases again, I felt refreshed. I didn't come to them with the same drudgery which had been building up over the previous weeks. I was actually kind of excited about tackling the new DA (Decision Analysis) case.

So the moral of the story is that breaks are really necessary for survival. I know there are a lot of people who don't think Christmas is all that far away, so they can just slug it out until then. But I think that when we lose our drive and our focus, we miss out on the whole MBA experience. Sometimes the most beneficial thing we can do, in terms of studying and the job search, is to just not do it and go do something else.

Anyway, all that said, I do still have three cases to prep for tomorrow, a resume to finish and an application to fill out... So I will end it here.

*Crystal Ball is a program that works with Excel to predict an expected result for a formula based on providing a range of assumptions for the values of the inputs to that formula. For an overly simplistic example, assume I assign cell A1 to be equal to A2 + A3. While I may think A2 will equal 1 and A3 will equal 3, A2 could be anything from 0 to 4, and A3 will most likely be 3 with a minimum of 2 and maximum of 8. Crystal Ball will then do a series of trials (I usually have it set a 250,000!) to tell you what the average of all the results will be. It also spits out some pretty graphs and gives you some useful reports.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Canadians Like Ketchup

One of the biggest advantages of being at Darden is that we get to occasionally debrief our cases with the people who were involved in the actual outcome of the case. Today in marketing was one of those days, where we were joined by the brand manager for Heinz ketchup (who happens to be a Darden alum!).

While she said a lot of interesting things, the phrase that struck me most was this: "Canada is a fascinating case study." I previously thought that it was common to eat ketchup not just on french fries, hot dogs and hamburgers, but also on scrambled eggs, grilled cheese sandwiches and with chicken nuggets. Apparently, however, this is not the case in the US. Canadians consume a lot more ketchup than Americans. According to the brand manager, it's because we put it on a lot more things, but also because we use it in recipes. And when you use ketchup half a cup at a time, consumption is much higher than putting a little plot of it on your plate to dip your french fries in.

When she mentioned that they consume a lot more ketchup in Canada, the whole class turned to look at me, and I admitted quietly to the guy sitting beside me that I don't actually eat ketchup at all. I guess I'm not a true Canadian, eh?

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Assume Positive Intent

It makes life simpler when we categorize everything and everyone and put them in boxes, right? If someone cuts you off in traffic, you can assume they are a bad driver, probably an inconsiderate person and, oh yeah, because of all those things they probably hate puppies, too. The guy in front of you in line at the self check-out station at the grocery store who is taking forever must obviously be stupid.

It was a while back that I heard someone say that "we judge the intentions of others by their actions, but we judge our own actions by our intent." When I am the one taking longer at the self check-out, it's because the machine won't scan fast enough - I'm trying to go quickly. If I ever accidentally cut someone off in traffic it's because I was trying to get around another inconsiderate driver.

This tendency can cause huge problems in community. It's one thing to be frustrated with a random person at a grocery store and an even bigger problem when we start to put labels on people with whom we need to be in community. A line from the Associate Dean during our orientation stuck with me and has been festering over the last few weeks: "Assume positive intent."

We all come to situations with our own experiences and often baggage. If I'm having a bad day, and someone says something, and I take it in the wrong way, it's very easy to fall into the trap of assuming they meant it in a negative way. Once you take it that way, you assume that person is generally mean or does not like you very much. (You become "in the box" toward them.) And once you view them that way, every action that you observe of them only reinforces your opinion.

This is a very dangerous line of thinking. For starters, while I may have a bad day and snap at someone, this does not mean that I am ALWAYS snappy. We need to be careful about the labels we apply to others (and to ourselves, for that matter!). We like to think in terms of absolutes, but people never fall into absolute categories. More importantly, doing this can destroy community. It can lead to gossip and slander and can also destroy the opportunities that we could have from being open to everyone and their input into our lives.

So the challenge I am giving myself for the rest of this week (and beyond) is to give everyone a blank slate every time I meet them, and to assume positive intent.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Darden Cup

This morning I pulled myself out of bed earlier than I would have preferred, all in the name of Section B spirit. After getting out of bed, I put on a shirt that is such a hideous colour I would never otherwise wear it, save the fact that both Section B and the University of Virginia share the colour ORANGE.

Today was the first sporting event in the Darden Cup - a year-long contest that pits section against section. On the agenda for today: softball, a game that I have sucked at no matter how hard I've tried. (A fact that my grade 10 softball team was always relatively quick to remind me.) There were two ways to get points today: by winning the tournament and by having the most people out.

Section B was awesome. I was not the only one who dragged themself out of bed and put on an orange t-shirt. I'm pretty sure at some point in time over the morning, I saw nearly everyone from Section B, plus partners, kids, puppies, parents (it's parents' weekend at Darden - my parents were not there because they love my sister living in Munich more than they love me... JUST KIDDING!), second years and PROFS and their partners, kids and puppies. In fact, our Q2 Finance prof pitched our first game.

What Section B was slightly less awesome at was winning games. We were down one run going into the bottom of the last inning of our first game, and with bases loaded and our star batter up to the plate, the ball popped up into the outfield and right down into the glove of one of the members of the opposing team. Our hearts were broken and we went on to play our next game.

The second game had an equally epic ending, and we were 0-2 heading into the double elimination playoffs. You may wonder how a team that is 0-2 makes the playoffs, but it turns out there was another team that ended up doing worse than us on point spread. We played the first-seated team in the first round of playoffs and lost by a margin that I don't care to remember.

And then it happened - Section B learned to play softball. For the glory that is third place, we faced off against Section A. I must add, at this point, that Section A had only a few people left that weren't playing, whereas Section B still had a mighty strong orange-wearing cheering section. Anyway, we were up 8 - 3 going into the bottom of the 4th inning. As we watched the bottom of the fourth unfold with huge grins on our faces, the bases slowly filled up with a girl on 3rd, a guy on 2nd and a girl on 1st. (Did I mention runs scored by girls are worth two points each?)

No one needed Excel to calculate that if they all came home, they would win.

And it happened. As we struggled to get three outs, they came in one or two at a time. We finished the fourth inning in a tie: 8 - 8.

So we went into a tie-breaking fifth inning. Section B pulled it together, got a few people around the bases, and went into the bottom of the fifth up 11 - 8.

The rest of the inning was somewhat of a blur, but with bases loaded (with girls, again, I might add) and two outs, another girl stepped up to the plate. Our pitcher pitched the ball, her bat connected with the ball, the ball popped up in the air, and our catcher got under it and caught it, securing Section B victory.

And that, my friends, is how Section B won third place despite winning only one game. I'm not sure how the total points will come out once participation marks are all considered, but all in all, I had a GREAT day and am very proud of Section B.

Friday, September 18, 2009

UVA Honour Code and the Section B Bird

Don't lie, cheat or steal.

That is the crux of the UVA Honour Code, a highly respected, student-run system at UVA that means we get to take our finals at home. Another big advantage is that I can set up my laptop in my classroom in the morning and leave it there until I pack it up again at 1:10. The Honour Code assumes the best of people and provides a very secure environment.

I could probably tell you more about it, but there is a lot more information at the UVA Honour Code site that I would encourage you to check out instead.

There have been two distinct events this week that have provoked me to think about what it means to be a part of the UVA honour tradition.

First, I was summoned for jury duty. Basically, if someone is accused of an honour offense, they have the opportunity to be tried before a jury of their peers. This was a much more pleasant concept before I was summoned. At the same time that I want to uphold and support the honour system, I also treasure my weekends greatly and am hoping that the whole trial will at least be an interesting experience. (Fortunately, I only have one day of the proposed 12 or so that I could actually attend trial. When I joked with one of my friends about making plans for that day, he pointed out it would likely be an honour violation to do so.)

The second event this week that provoked me to think about the honour code will require some background information. The Darden first year class is divided into sections. While sections are technically only together for one semester, section loyalty runs long and deep. Sections are also very rich in tradition.

One of the sacred traditions of Section B is the bird. The bird is given at the end of the week to a student who made the wackiest or most ridiculous comment of the week. The bird is also a member of Section B who comes out to parties and is carefully guarded.

WAS carefully guarded.

Yesterday (or, early this morning), the bird was stolen. Somehow, in this honour-entrenched institution, it is part of the tradition for Sections A, C, D and E to steal the bird and make Section B do something to get him back. I haven't quite figured out how this all reconciles to the command not to "lie, cheat or steal," but last year Section B had to perform the Lion King during First Coffee in order to get the bird back. I have already volunteered to coordinate the music should something similar be required.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Running and Rest are Good for the Soul (and the Droopy Eyelids)

After spending yesterday barely able to keep my eyes open, I realized that it had been over a week since I'd gone for a run. So, I decided that there was nothing more important than getting in a run after learning team, catching up with my best friend over Skype, and getting to sleep.

It's amazing what a difference a small, healthy decision can make! I woke up this morning feeling completely refreshed and energized. It's funny, because I remember after I had started running for a few weeks, and one of my co-workers told me that I seemed to have much more energy. I should have remembered that and made it more of a priority over these last few weeks.

Life at Darden is starting to get intense. This week marked the start of company briefings, and to give you a glimpse of my day, I attended two briefings, a session on brand management, and a networking event after the brand management session. Fortunately, as there were no cases for today, my learning team knocked out our cases for tomorrow last night and I didn't need to worry about case prep on top of all that.

It will only get busier, so keeping my priorities straight will be imperative.

And just to add yet another thing on the pile, I was summoned for jury duty for a UVA honour code violation trial... (but more on that later.)

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Priorities (And Why an Hour Never Seems to Consist of 60 Minutes, Nor a Day 24 Hours)

It's just after midnight and I am not nestled in my bed. This is probably the last thing I should be doing, but sometimes when your head is filled with thoughts, it's hard to concentrate on anything else. Currently, I am in the process of reviewing company briefings for next week as I try to wrap my head around what else I need to do for tomorrow and debate whether to iron my dress for the Consulting Firm Briefing or just go with a simple skirt and cardigan.

After crashing for a nap on the couch in our office while attempting to read a Technical Note for marketing, I made a really important observation. Eating healthy and going for runs are not optional activities for when I have time, they are vital activities to keep me moving. I haven't felt as tired as I did today since I started maintaining a more healthy lifestyle. Taking a quick inventory of my week made me realize that I haven't been for a run since last Monday, and I'm discovering that cutting the runs because I feel too swamped is not an option.

Priorities are something I've mentioned before, but I can't stress how important every minute is. I am still trying to figure out how I can get out of class at 1:10, but not have a chance to settle down to work on cases until 2:30. I am learning that 5 minute conversations here and there add up to a lot of time spent not working on the things we should be working on.

But what are my priorities? Tonight I took the opportunity to go out with a group of girls from my section and celebrate one girl's birthday. (If you are ever in Charlottesville, I definitely recommend Arch's for frozen yogurt!) Though I could have spent that hour and a half doing all the things I am scrambling to do now, I don't regret it. These two years are an incredible opportunity to get to know some amazing people, and sometimes the best thing you can do when life gets busy is take a step back and laugh together.

So, I guess you refocus, regroup, get some sleep, pick yourself up out of bed the next morning and do it all over again. Sometimes not being perfectly prepared for DA is not as important as getting a decent sleep or doing something that contributes to the lifelong connections built in B-school.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Community and Life in the Ivy Commune

When I originally turned on my computer to blog, the plan was to talk about prioritization and my insanely busy schedule. As I sat down to write, however, there was a knock on my door. It was one of the guys who lives downstairs returning a dish from our BBQ yesterday. Him and I discussed one of the cases for tomorrow, he left to go back to his suite, and I returned to my computer.

Not five minutes later, there was another knock on the door. One of my friends had gotten my text about having her jacket at my place and was swinging by to pick it up on her way home from learning team. Her and I chatted for what was probably way too long before parting ways to go back to finishing prep for tomorrow's cases and the upcoming briefings.

The closest I've come to community before living here was when I shared a house with a friend living in the basement suite. We would watch movies together, cook Easter dinner together, and borrow food as necessary. I have to admit that living in Ivy Gardens and experiencing community here is actually a great experience. For a long time, the notion of borrowing a cup of sugar was old and outdated to me. But in the last few weeks, I've gone downstairs to borrow wine glasses and corkscrews. And, although reciprocity is never a condition of being neighbourly, I've picked up the slack as well, throwing a shirt in with my laundry, giving someone without a car a ride to the grocery store or the mall and contributing food to a Sunday BBQ.

If I'm having a lousy day, I know there are people close by who will give me a hug if I need it. If I need to borrow a textbook, a set of wine glasses, or anything, I know that someone in Ivy will have it. When I'm walking home from class, there's usually someone to walk with me.

Anyway, I will talk about prioritization later, as I attempt to define exactly what makes Darden the most rigourous first year MBA program.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Observations on the South of the 49th Parallel and South of the Mason-Dixon Line

After living in the South for just over a month, there are a collection of observations which I have been gleaning about cultural differences between life back home in Canada and life here in Virginia.

  1. Service staff are incredibly friendly down here. I don't know if it was the intense labour shortages in Alberta due to the oil industry, or if it's a cultural thing, but I have consistently had great conversations with the grocery check-out clerk, the lady ringing me through for my oil change, the women running the tills at Cafe 67 and generally everyone I encounter.
  2. The accent gets less noticeable. I have become accustomed to the usage of "y'all" in everyday language, though I have not adopted it myself.

And now, some observations on the differences between Americans and Canadians.

  1. Americans don't know what a "toque" is. I don't know if it's because it's not cold enough that they need a special word to denote the distinction between a hat worn in the cold from one worn to the Kentucky Derby, but when I've used the word "toque" I get blank expressions. (Note to Americans: a "toque" is a woolen hat worn in the winter used to keep the head and ears warm.)
  2. Equally blank looks come my way when I pronounce the last letter of the alphabet as "zed" instead of "zee."
  3. Even though I said "eh?" when I lived in Canada, it is either more noticeable here because of the Canadian stereotype or I actually say it more, for the same reason.
  4. I am having a hard time getting out of the habit of using Canadian spelling, even though my spell-checker gets mad every time I type "labour."
  5. Health care is a big topic of discussion here. I get asked a lot about the Canadian system, and am never entirely sure what to say. On the one hand, I can't fathom living in a place where if you get sick, you're SOL. On the other hand, with the population differences, and certain strengths in the US health care system, there is no way the Canadian system can be applied in the US. Americans find it hard to believe that the thought of two-tier health care evokes such strong negative reactions for Canadians.
  6. Speaking of politics, I explained to someone last night that the Canadian political system is generally more left-wing than the American system.

And that is all for now...

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Purpose-Centered and Bridezilla

Although it is the class in which I will most likely get the worst grades, I have been appreciating some of the readings we have been doing for LO (Leading Organizations). As my roommate and I watched "Bridezilla" over lunch today, I could envision all sorts of practical applications for the class, so I will present the concept of "purpose-centered" through the use of a case vignette and analysis.

When Christina showed up to her wedding reception venue, she was completely shocked to find that instead of going all the way to the ground, the table linens were a good half-inch above the ground. This may not have triggered such an emotional reaction if it had not been such an awful week. Her bridesmaids, specifically chosen for their size, had not only lost weight, but insisted on wearing control garments in order to make their bridesmaid dresses more flattering. Later, forgetting that it was a winter wedding, her bridesmaids were unprepared to stand out in the cold of winter in their strapless dresses for the rehearsal, and insisted on wearing pajamas over their shoulders. The worst part of the week had been the big fight with her fiance, who claimed it would be okay to have the ceremony in the gazebo! How could he not understand this was the most important day of her life, and that the aesthetics of the gazebo simply would not do?

Although there are many frameworks that can be applied to this situation (in particular, the model on self-awareness), I would like to analyze it from a problem- vs. purpose-centered approach. Right now, Christina is very focused on the small things, and what she sees as the immediate solution to her problem. Her thinking is focused on the details of her wedding day and how she will appear to everyone. If Christina were to take a step back, and look at the big picture, she would realize that what really matters is getting married to John. It doesn't matter whether her bridesmaids are more or less attractive than her, or that she has to wait an additional 30 seconds for the horse and carriage to get to her. None of the guests will notice the length of the tablecloths. All that matters is that she say "I do" and sign the papers that will result in her marriage to John.

What Christina needs to do is take a step back and figure out why she is concerned over tablecloth length and bridesmaid size. Perhaps there are insecurities that need to be dealt with on a deeper level. It is unlikely that having heavy bridesmaids or the right linens will ultimately solve these issues.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

A Weeknight With No Learning Team?

After two and a half weeks of classes, case prep, learning team, more case prep, go to bed, repeat, there came a reprieve today. Tomorrow, while we have classes, there are no cases to prepare! For OPS (Operations, in case you couldn't figure out that acronym...), we are doing a simulation which promises to be quite fun. (But only because I'm a total nerd. Any non-nerds may not find the same kind of joy from playing games about making things more efficient.) In Marketing, we have execs coming from Google and Progressive to present to us. And then we do Honor Orientation. (Third time for me... wonder if I could get out of it by telling them I already know not to lie, cheat or steal?)

With no cases to prepare for tomorrow, there comes a very rare Wednesday evening treat: no learning team. Don't get me wrong, it's not that I don't LIKE my learning team. I just don't consider the most exciting use of my evening to be sitting around discussing cost allocation methods.

So after weighing several social options for the evening (because at Darden, a free evening is instantly filled), I am headed over for a relaxing evening of movie watching at a friend's place. I guess the pile of banking, resume building, target company list making and cleaning can wait until tomorrow.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Section B Blogger Shout-Out

Since I have enjoyed reading the blogs of some of my fellow Section B mates, I figured I would just give a shout out to some of the blogs I have been reading. Two of the bloggers were actually journalists in their past lives, and they all take a very creative approach to chronicalling life at Darden and in Charlottesville, so I hope you enjoy.

Miss MBA blogs about what she is learning each week in class, as well as random Charlottesville incidents like the aggressive fox and the panty thief.

Forks in the Road talks a little more about life in Charlottesville.

Sierra Does Darden has a very creative approach and talks about what happens to your brain on Darden...

Friday, September 04, 2009

Second Week in the Bag!

My second week at Darden has officially come to a close. I just finished the last module of my marketing assignment and am not looking at another case or assignment until Sunday afternoon rolls around!

Some thoughts...

1) Class participation is significantly more difficult than I was anticipating. In undergrad, I could generally contribute really well. The prof generally knew that she could count on me when the conversation lagged, and my understanding of the material was generally better than the rest of the class. Here, however, everyone's type-A and a freaking genius. I struggle finding the balance of when to go back to a point and when to just let it go. I feel as though I made some major blunders this week, but I guess it's just a learning and growing experience, right?

2) It's interesting navigating the social scene. As I wrote out an email yesterday to invite people to my place for board games, I realized that I didn't know who all to include! I didn't want to forget anyone, nor did I want to invite the whole class. So I just sent it to the people who came to mind and told them to pass it on. I'll probably invite more people tonight at the Cold Call, but with keg races to compete with, I'm optimistic that I won't find more people than I can fit in my apartment.

Anyway, one thing that I have learned in my short time at Darden is that if you get there even 10 minutes late, there is no food left. As someone with a newfound appreciation for free food, I had better head off to tonight's Cold Call lest I have to come home and make supper for myself...

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Limited Time and the Importance of Value-Add

The concept of "value-added" is, to me, one of the single most important concepts in business and business strategy. While I spent a significant amount of time analyzing our "value proposition" when I worked for the Company, and have spent time analyzing the same for case studies, I have been finding a new application to the concept here in B-school.

For those not familiar with the terms "value-added" or "value proposition," they are basically the notion that a business has to do something that adds value to its customers. For simple manufacturing companies, the value is straight-forward: they provide a part necessary for the business. Companies can also provide support services that add value, such as just-in-time delivery. Companies should be wary of investing activities that do not add value to their clients. This is probably over-simplistic, but the explanation will serve for the purposes of the rest of this blog.

One thing that I am learning now that life is crazy-busy is the importance of value-added activities. I made the mistake of downloading this addictive little game to my iPhone that I frequently find myself playing. It's a terrible habit since I rarely feel refreshed after playing this game. I am learning that I need to incorporate value-added breaks into my study afternoons: going for a run, reading positive/encouraging emails, writing in my blog, having a good conversation with a friend from home. All of these things refresh me and help me to focus.

With more to do than time to do it, I find the same concept applies to my studies. Often there is more reading/analysis than I can fit in my limited time. I need to be sure to maximize my time by avoiding the "fluff" reading and focusing in on what is really important.