Why I want to get an MBA

I’ve always wanted an MBA since my days in high school because I thought it distinguished yourself from others but now that an MBA degree is no longer as “sexy” as it was before my reasoning have definitely changed. One of my goals was to get accepted into a top 10 business school, MIT being my focus, but the reasoning behind it was a little naive and selfish. Part of me just wanted to go through because it was MIT!! And also a top 10 which the big Wall Street companies love, apparently. As I’ve gain more knowledge I can see that the opportunity costs are not worth it and now that I have a family, do I want to sacrifice 2 years of watching my daughter grow up to chase a goal that was built on a weak foundation? Also, the end game would most likely result in an increase in my salary but also, most likely, a substantial increase in my hours. With my certain circumstances, I’ve found a perfect solution in pursuing a part-time MBA at Portland State University. This will allow me to stay with my family and also continue working for Turner at the same time, who happens to have a tuition reimbursement program. But the question still remains as to WHY I want to get an MBA and HOW it will benefit my company and my career. It’s also good to write things down so this is my thought process and reasoning behind those prompts.

Here at Turner we don’t sell a product or tangible assets, what we sell is the knowledge, abilities, experiences, and skills of PEOPLE. Therefore if you can improve your staff then you’re only increasing your potential for profitability and ability to sell work. There are a lot of things you can learn on the job and from training but there is also a tremendous amount to learn through course work and interaction with professors and fellow peers in an academic environment. I want to take the holistic approach and add the regiment of academic study to my lessons on business behavior and how a business is ran. By learning about strategies and business theories, I believe I can apply this to my company to find ways we can innovate and improve our processes. The data has shown that construction grows a lot slower than other industries and gaining further knowledge of other sectors and businesses can only help to set my company apart. I believe the knowledge I gain through a graduate business education will give me more perspective and tools to increase the profitability and potential of my company.

Business Relationships
One of the biggest part of business is building relationships and strengthening them because it’s always more fun to do business with someone you know and like and gives you ability to brace and plan if you’re going to do business with someone you might not like so much. From my short time in the construction industry, I quickly found that eventually everybody will know everybody – it’s a small world and there are only a few big players. Being a business class will give me the opportunity to create business relationships with people outside of the construction industry and most likely we’ll be in upper management at our respective companies over the dozen years. Who would you trust building your $40 million office building? Someone who you studied with for countless hours and shared beers with or just some general contractor off the streets? When at business school I’m going to try and create as many relationships as I can because it’ll make the experience more enjoyable and memorable along with providing with a great sound board for the future.

Public Speaking
Without a doubt, if you want to be a big shot at a company then you will need to be a veteran and expert in public speaking. For example, the general manager at my business unit is an amazing public speaker. He never has unnecessary pauses, flows eloquently, uses his hand gestures perfectly with the words, and speaks crisply, cleanly, and very coherently. Every time he speaks I take mental notes to what he does and how he does. I’m sure other people can relate to when you see and hear an excellent speaker talk in front of a large audience – it’s truly a skill that one must master and practice over many hours. Pursuing an MBA will give me many opportunities to practice public speaking whether it’s in large or small groups and will be invaluable experience in my future business career.

Exploring Other Business Industries
My undergraduate degree focused on construction and civil construction and I never really had a chance to learn about other business industries. The MBA’s curriculum will give me a taste into other business industries like finance, private equity, business logistics, global business, product manufacturing, and so many more. I’m very happy being in the construction industry however I would love to delve into finance and private equity a little bit further. I’ve always loved all aspects of business and I think the education will make me more well-rounded by giving me a glimpse of how other industries handle processes/procedures and perhaps I can translate those into the construction industry. I’ve heard many people get an MBA to switch careers but that is not one of the focuses on why I’m getting an MBA – I just want to see what else is out there and if anything else sparks my interest.

These things are what I’m striving for when I go to pursue my MBA – my plan is to apply to PSU before the February deadline and then begin taking my first classes in September 2016. This will also include studying and taking the GMAT which will be difficult with my the current schedule I’m on trying to get debt free but if you want something bad enough, you’ll find a way! I also plan on discussing my goal with my supervisor and upper management this week to get their buy-in for the tuition reimbursement program. The plan actually flows quite smoothly as I’ll just be done with getting debt-free as I enter business school.

The Importance of Asking for What You Want

Throughout my short career I have been blessed with being put on big projects which would be contrary to the time I’ve been with the company. I’ve been thinking about the reason for this and it has boiled down to the fact that I ask to be given larger responsibilities and I have specifically asked to be put on certain projects. We had just been awarded a very large project that I was on the team for and I wanted to be part of the construction of the building. It was easy asking for larger responsibilities at my internships because I was temporary but as a permanent employee I had to think about longevity and company politics.

I asked a project executive at my current company about how I should state my desire to be on a new project that we had just been awarded. He gave me this piece of advice “In our company the best way to get what you want to is to tell the right people, and tell them often.” As soon as he gave me this piece of advice, I responded to the operations manager debrief email about our project award. This is what I typed “I’m very excited to hear the news and I feel extremely honored to be part of the process to win this project (I helped put together the drywall package – sorry I can’t state how much it was). I would love the opportunity to be part of the construction for (project) and hopefully my performance during the bidding process has showed what I can bring to the (project) team. I would love to discuss this opportunity with you on the deck today and look forward to speaking with you soon.”

I’m a man of my words, so at the bid party on our company’s deck/patio I came up to him and we made small talk for a few minutes. The conversation started about my current projects and then I asked about the award process for the project and afterwards introduced the subject of my email. I told him about my fear of asking him because I thought he would be bombarded by requests from everyone asking to be included. He told me I would be surprised at how uncommon it is for someone to ask that they want certain things. He then proceeded to tell me that it is a very good thing that I told him I wanted to be on this project. Then he tells me that the project executive that I asked for advice called him today and told him to put me on this project!

I made my intentions very clear that I want to be on this project and he told me that he would do his best to see that I get on but there are also a tremendous amount of variables that go into putting certain people on these big projects. I have done all I can to state my desire to be on the project and I have told the right person because the operations manager is the person who staffs all of our jobs; I will just have to wait and see if I will be given the opportunity. FINGERS CROSSED!!

The #1 Rule to Follow as a New Hire: When in Rome, Do as the Romans Do

One thing I’ve discovered about working at Turner and Intel is that if you want to fit in then you must do as the Romans do. This ranges from all aspects of your job from the way you dress, the hours you show up to work, the main form of communication, how to greet one another, the level of “closeness” among coworkers, the boundary between personal life and professional life, and everything else. As soon as you get started with your company keep your eyes open for how everyone conducts themselves because these will be pointers on how you should act. With time you will learn what is appropriate for your company and what is not. When you’re unsure then err on the side of caution until you get confirmation either from your supervisor or empirical observations that your behavior/choices are acceptable. Time is the best teacher but there are other ways that you can prepare yourself like reading the company handbook. Your human resources manager will also be a great starting block as well. For example, before my first day I asked the HR manager what time should I report to work and what the dress code is. These small questions allowed me to come prepared for the first day without looking foolish like wearing a full suit onto the job site. Here are a few tips to getting adjusted as a new hire.

Follow the Dress Code, both informal and formal. One thing I’m always worried about whenever I enter a new place is dress code because that can lead to embarrassment and make you uncomfortable in your surrounding. From my previous experiences, when you’re not comfortable in the clothes you’re wearing then you have a more difficult time opening up and relaxing. As I mentioned before, ask your HR manager what the dress code is before you get on the project site or start your first day. If you want to get some first hand experience, ask them if your able to come in real quick to introduce yourself or perhaps if she can send you some pictures of your future employees at work in their normal attire. If your working for a big company and visiting a different office, realize that their dress code can differ from yours even if you are part of the same company. For example, employees at Turner’s New York business unit is expected to wear a tie, no exceptions. That is not a requirement in the Portland business unit but it’s little things like these that can really create a strong first impression. Look around at what your coworkers are wearing and dress to that level. I’ve heard people say dress for the job you want to have, but be cautious because if your boss dresses in a suit but nobody else does and you begin to then that might make you look bad in your coworkers eyes. Just always be conscious of your surroundings.

Always ask questions if you’re unsure of the norm. When I started working at the Intel campus I started to come in at work around 7 AM, take a half hour lunch then leave around 3:30 PM to hit my 8 hour limit; as a level one, we were only allowed to work 40 hours per week as part of a new hire policy Turner incorporated. I thought this was fine until I started getting some weird looks from my supervisor when I was leaving at 3:30 and luckily one of my coworkers told me that she was asking about my hours and suggested that I talk to my supervisor about my schedule. So I spoke to her the next day and told her my reasoning behind my current schedule. She explained to me that engineers usually get in at 8 AM then leave at 5 PM with a one hour lunch but she let me know that since it was slow I could keep my current schedule. She also warned me that when things picked up, I will need to adjust my schedule. This short conversation cleared up the air between us and now she knows why I leave early and I found her expectations. Over time I’ve come to understand that it doesn’t matter what time I leave as long as I get my work done and I let her know ahead of time if I’m going to leave earlier than usual.

Don’t rock the boat until you are the captain. Coming in as a new hire I know you want to change things up and show that you can make an immediate impact to the team. But for the first months or maybe even year, it’s best to sit back and just observe how your coworkers and bosses conduct themselves. Don’t be a know-it-all when it comes to changing processes or making suggestions. You will find out that many of your coworkers have been doing things the same way for years and they have a certain way they like to proceed with tasks. Follow their instructions and if you want to deviate from their plan, make sure you have a more valid reason than just wanting to try something new. I believe this piece of advice is very important because you don’t want to upset your supervisor. Demonstrate to them that you can follow directions and when you start to fully understand the workings behind the process then you will be in a better position to make suggestions.

New hires will always be eager to impress their new employers but sometimes it’s just best to sit back and observe and put your best foot forward when you’re asked to. Be prepared before you enter the job site and always be looking around at your coworkers and surroundings. Learn how to conduct yourself in meetings, informal discussions, how to greet others, and how your office is run. When you start your career just remember that you are in Rome and you should do as the Romans do.

The Importance of Email Etiquette

The first time I was introduced to emailing professionally was on my Sears internship and I thought I was doing things correctly but I still had a lot to learn. I would think other students don’t get experience with communicating through email with a professional until they enter college when they start discussing with their professors and teaching assistants about assignments. But even at that stage, it is still very informal and student’s don’t see the importance of rereading your emails for corrections and picking precise words for brevity and to convey the right message. That’s the reason I stress the importance of internships and other similar professional experience because it gives you an opportunity to see what it entails to write emails to customers, supervisors, high-level management, and other team members. Before I had internships, I knew the basics of email etiquette but when I worked on my internships is when I was really taught about the importance of using words to be concise and portray the message you want. For example, during my internship with Clark County I was writing an email to a contractor to make sure that he got his DBE (Disadvantaged Business Enterprises, there are many different names for it but it’s basically to develop minority education) training in. There was a set date on when he had to have 100 hours of DBE training in, so I write in an email  “The Contractor should have 100 hours of training completed by 07/16/11.” My boss then tells me that it is too wishy washy and told me to change “should” to “will” that way the wording is more concrete. One piece of advice he told me was whenever I was having any correspondence with another professional I need to write like a lawyer and make sure that I’m absolutely clear because you never know when it can come back to you so you need to have your butt covered. So with that, here are a few things I’ve learned along the way regarding email correspondence and etiquette.

Before you hit SEND, remember that ANYONE can read your email. My supervisor would tell me horror stories about emails that have come back to haunt people and led to their termination.  Therefore, double check your grammar, words, punctuation, and if it makes sense or not. One thing I found that is really helpful is reading the email out loud; it really helps with finding mistakes and making sure you are using are instead of is when you’re suppose to. In our day and age, nothing is ever private so don’t send out something unless you don’t mind your mother reading it. One thing Turner tells us is that “You’re always wearing Turner Blue” so remember that when you send out an email it reflects not only you but your company as well; if you don’t represent your firm well then you soon won’t have a firm to represent.

Make sure you are CLEAR & CONCISE and get a second opinion before sending out any contract related emails. We talk to a lot of subcontractors about schedule, cost, and work and since we are their “bosses” and they take our word very seriously. This can lead to them misconstruing what we say and go against our wishes on purpose or by mistake. For example, it’s easy for miscommunication when you state that the project will be funded tomorrow and the contractor might mistake that for a green light and he starts work the same day but you must inform him that he cannot proceed until he gets a contract from you. There are a million examples of simple email exchanges that have lead to catastrophic mistakes because one person said one thing but the other interpreted it in a different way. Getting someone else’s opinion is extremely helpful because they can look at it objectively and provide a new pair of eyes to your email. For example, one of my coworkers asked me to look over his email and I saw that he used the word “scrambling” when referring to trying to make schedule so I told him to change that. He asked me why and I told him that it made us seem weak and unsure of what to do so we changed it to “working diligently.” It’s little things like that can make a huge difference in the eyes of your clients because this email was being sent to subs, the customer, and their bosses.

Create a professional looking signature. This is very important because it is usually a person’s first perception of how you conduct yourself and how professional you are. I’ve seen some horrible signatures with multiple pictures that adds clutter/attachments to the emails; you must remember that many people look at emails in more than one way so formatting that works over multiple platforms is important. I’ve found the best emails are very short and concise usually consisting of a person’s name, title, company, email, and cell. One advantage of having a signature is you don’t have to waste your recipient’s time by writing “Hi, my name is Khang with Turner Construction…” instead you can get their attention right away by stating the facts and what this email entails. If they wonder who you are, then they can look quickly at your signature and quickly figure it out. Remember, little things make a big difference.

Only cc the necessary people and contact the PROPER person. I didn’t know what email overload really was until I started working with Turner and on a typical day I can get over 100+ emails and even more when bids are due. I’m sure that the higher you are on the ladder, the higher your average daily email count will be. So if you want to get a prompt response then you need to learn to contact the right person or else it could get lost in their sea of emails. You’ll find that some people are very diligent with their inbox while others are stuck in a cluster**** and have a very difficult time responding to emails in a timely manner. So be courteous to your recipients by only sending them an email if it is pertinent to them and make sure you contact the person who is the decision maker or can get you into direct contact me that person.

These are only a few things I’ve learned throughout my internships and my short time with Turner. You will learn quickly how important email correspondence is to you being a successful employee and company representative. Practice it and make sure to be diligent, organized and also professional because people will take notice. Remember, when it comes to email, it’s the little things that make the biggest impact.

Being Receptive to Constructive Feedback

One great piece of advice I’ve heard from Randy Pausch (late professor at Carnegie Mellon) is “when you’re screwing up and nobody’s saying anything to you anymore, that means they gave up.” This was a thought that came to me when I was driving back from a foreman’s meeting with my fellow engineer and he decided to give me some constructive feedback about my behavior. He was been a great coworker/teacher because I can truly tell he’s looking out for me through his many actions and the way he goes out of his way to teach me things about building construction; I truly believe that hereally wants to see me succeed. Before he started the conversation, he told me about a training he went to called “Training Young Leaders” and he said that it was necessary to give constructive feedback to help people grow or else they will get complacent with constant positive feedback. He then proceeded to tell me that he could see I really want to work hard and that I had great potential and will go far with Turner. After he built the cushion to drop me down on, he started to tell me about a few things I did that made me look unprofessional and also things that my immediate supervisor didn’t like.

First, he told me about a habit I’ve developed in college that I wasn’t realizing I did in meetings. I learned how to do a pen flip in college and that was what I would constantly do in lecture without ever realizing it. It seems that this habit transcended into my professional career and I was doing it during meetings without a thought. He told me this excessive movement made me seem nervous and it can be annoying to some people. Further, it made me look unprofessional by making it seem like I wasn’t paying attention. I never really thought of it that way before and I felt embarrassed when he told me but was also very grateful because it’s really difficult to see sometimes when you are stuck in the middle. It’s nice that somebody from the outside can pull you aside and tell you what the problems are because they have an objective view. I really appreciated him telling me about this because now I can be more conscious about what I do at meetings. As strange as it may seem to me still, I am a professional now and everything I do will be scrutinized by coworkers, subcontractors, clients and customers, my supervisor, and everybody else who is making a judgement about my character with every action I make.

The second piece of feedback had to deal with the same issue but this time it was more directly related to my supervisor. I sometimes make a clicking noise, similar to a beat boxing when I get bored and my coworker told me that this annoyed my supervisor. She had subtly mentioned it before but I never knew how much it really bothered her until my coworker told me she said to him in passing how it makes her really tick. Once again, I became more conscious about what I do in “down times” so I don’t seem unprofessional. It gets really difficult because when your mind starts to wander then you don’t pay attention to the little nuisances that consume your everyday life.

So my advice to you is to ask a close worker to give you candid feedback on any nuisances you do that tick them off or if they heard about things you do that tick other people off. It will be difficult to hear and you might just think those people are being anal but you must realize you are a professional and you should conduct yourself in that way. Nonchalant things to you might be a pet peeve to someone else – as I found out. Take one of your trusted coworkers aside and ask them for some constructive feedback and be prepared to receive it because in the end it will make you a better professional. Also, don’t forget to tell other people if they do things that you find annoying because you are probably not the only person being annoyed. Just do it tactfully and never embarrass  your coworker in front of others; have this conversation in private and explain to them your doing this because you respect them as a coworker and want to see them succeed. I believe these little things will truly help your career in the long run, I know it has already made a tremendous impact for me.

Great Things to Learn on Your Own Before Going to Work

After doing two internships and now working as a full time professional, there are a few things that has really helped me succeed and impress my supervisors and managers. The most important is your attitude but there are little things that can make you useful to your boss and your fellow coworkers.

Learn how to type accurately fast with the keyboard and 10-key. I learned how to use the 10-key pad in high school because I figured it would be helpful someday and spent a good two weeks perfecting my speed and accuracy on various websites. The skill has helped me tremendously because in my internships I had to do a lot of data entry whether it’s reports, change orders, RFIs, excel spread sheet with information, and just various paperwork. With the ability to enter data quickly, I was able to push through the paperwork faster than others and this was noticed because when you are a new hire people will use every interaction with you to create your foundation; you definitely want it to be a strong foundation! The ability to type accurately fast will pay for itself in leaps and bounds because no matter what job you have, you will be answering emails and writing various letters or whatever. I’ve spent a lot of time practicing typing accurately, fast, and also spelling correctly; this has made my life tremendously more efficient and I can complete more work at a faster rate. Spend the time to practice these skills because they are invaluable!

Become a master at Microsoft Excel. Without a doubt, Excel is the most powerful tool you can have in your arsenal when it comes to data entry, reporting, and anything that has to do with numbers. You need to learn all the tips & tricks of Excel to truly understand its usefulness. It might take a few months/years to learn the more difficult stuff like macros and writing scripts but when you need to simplify your data and make it presentable, it will truly come in handy. One way I’ve helped my boss and coworkers is by showing them Excel tricks they never knew about and believe me, there are a million short cuts to doing things in Excel that people just don’t know about. Once again, it all comes down to building a foundation for yourself as a new hire. Everybody uses Excel so if you are that person that people go to when they need help with it, then you will be highly regarded and valuable to your fellow coworkers and bosses.

Synergize yourself with Outlook Mail. I used Outlook on my internship with Clark County and it’s the mail service we use here at Turner Construction. For personal email I use Gmail but when it comes to the professional world, you will find that Outlook is king. It’s extremely helpful if you’re familiar with Outlook before you get on the job because everything is communicated through it and it has a lot more functions than your regular email service. It might take some tinkering because your inbox can get bombarded if you don’t know how to organize your emails correctly. Learn all the ins and outs of the Outlook Calendar from setting dates, recurring dates, setting up meetings, sharing your calendar, syncing your calendar, and anything that would help people be informed about what’s going on. I’ve come to rely heavily on my Outlook to plan out my day and I can tell you that everybody has done the same. With the frantic stuff that goes on in the day, Outlook helps you to focus everything together and let you know what you have going on from hour to hour. Learning how to tactfully respond to emails quickly will definitely give you an upper hand among your peers and get recognition from your managers.

These are just a few little things that you can do to make your transition to the professional world a strong one. Remember that you can only make a first impression once. Within the first few months, your supervisors will look at how you perform the small tasks to gauge your ability and if you can swim instead of treading water then you will see yourself getting more responsibility! Practice, Practice, PRACTICE!

10 Tips on Building Great Business Relationships

I was reading through Turner’s new hire material and came across a fantastic article about building business relationships. Some of these tips are true gems and I think they can really help people advance their careers and also make their personal relationships better as well. Enjoy!

1. Know something personal about the people you do business with.

Some people don’t believe in mixing business with pleasure. But your business should be your pleasure! Think about how much time you spend on your business. It makes it so much nicer to know what’s important to your colleagues.  For anyone who has kids, pets, etc… there is nothing more important to them. Make an effort to know their names.

Or if your colleague is an avid golfer or tennis player; ask them how his game is going.  This doesn’t have to monopolize the entire conversation. But it is a great way to start off a business lunch or meeting, especially if you have not seen that person in a while.

2. Always be sincere.

Has this ever happened to you? You are at a conference, and you meet someone in your industry. You seem to hit it off well and you think this could be a good business connection. Your new business connection even initiates the card exchange and says, “Call me anytime.” You follow up right away with a phone call or email… and nothing happens. After a few weeks of trying, you realize it’s a dead end.

If you have no intention of cultivating a relationship do not give the impression otherwise.  It’s really ok not to offer cards at conferences. And if someone asks you if they can call and you know you are not interested – tell them up front. Be polite and respectful but never give the impression that you are going to do something when you know will not.

3. Respond to colleagues in a timely manner.

We are all busy. Someone else’s biggest priority is usually not our own. However, if you agree to do something for someone, do it in a timely manner.

Recently a colleague wrote a book and wanted some feedback on his first chapter. Unfortunately, his request went onto my junk email folder. When I saw the request three days later, I immediately sent him an email explaining the situation and told him I would read the chapter right away and send him my comments.

It was 11:00 p.m. when I saw the request, but I still read the chapter and sent off my comments right before midnight.  Sure, I would rather have gone to bed and done it in the morning. But I knew this was important to him. We had been colleagues for ten years. We had worked on multiple projects together, and he never missed a deadline. Having a sense of urgency is very important in the business world. You must create value at all times around the goods/services you are providing. Treat your job like it is always on the line, and do your best to create value each and everyday.

4. Always arrive on time.

Fashionably late does not exist in business. Showing up late for business meetings or lunches lets the other person know you don’t respect their time and that you think your time is more valuable. It also makes one question if the project will get done on time. The more that you can show you are an asset, the more your colleagues will standup for you in times of turmoil.

5. Never use your children as an excuse.

Many times the reason for not finishing a report or being late for a meeting very well may be because one of your children wasn’t feeling well, or they couldn’t find their homework or you forgot to pack school lunches.

Regardless of the reason, never walk into a business meeting that you are late for and announce that the dog ate Bobby’s’ homework and you spent the last hour redoing the assignment. Simply apologize for being tardy, ask what you missed and move on.

There will be times when real emergencies occur. At that point it is perfectly fine to let your colleagues know that you need to leave because your child needs you.

6. Be brand positive.

Be brand positive and always optimistic about the future of your business. No one likes to be around cranky people.  Beside the fact that cranky people take the fun out of things, it can be draining and counter-productive. A study published in The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology shows that positive people accomplish more than negative people.

7. Know something about your potential business associate’s company.

If you are off to meet with a potential business associate make sure you do your homework. Understand the company’s main function and core competencies. Know how long they have been in business. Have a basic understanding of how you can work together. With the Internet, all of this information is just a keyboard away. Go to Google, Yahoo, Bing, etc… and do a little digging, I am sure they did some digging on their end.

8. Never, ever gossip.

Being known as a gossip is the fastest way to destroy a business relationship. Regardless of your skill set, no one will want to work with you. Gossip can destroy careers and takes up valuable time that could be spent on gratifying situations. Keep to yourself and keep delivering the value that you were hired to bring to the table.

9. Give more than you get. 

Karma does exist. If you are known as the WIIFM (what’s in it for me) type, you need to work to change your image. When you are willing to help others without payback, it comes back to you ten-fold. Don’t get me wrong. We are all running businesses, working towards maintaining a balance life. However, helping a business colleague without the expectation of payback will be far more beneficial to you in the end.  

10. Just say no (It’s ok).

Being a young business professional, I try to please everyone I come in contact with. However there are times when saying no to a request in business is better than saying yes. If your plate is full and you know that you will not be able to honor the request in a satisfactory manner, then don’t do it. If you know the outcome will be substandard, you are at risk of hindering your credibility, disappointing your colleagues, and missing deadlines on projects you have already committed to.

By saying no, your colleagues will actually respect you more for your honesty and commitment to finishing what you already started. Have an ongoing goal to work on this vital business building skill. Improving your relationships with business partners, colleagues, and all those you work with will bring many benefits.


Sam Brooks’ 5 Steps to Business Success

I attended a youth conference last Thursday that focused on promoting entrepreneurship among young high school students at the OAME (Oregon Association of Minority Entrepreneurs) conference center in downtown Portland. My involvement was through Turner and they had been sponsors and  volunteers for the better part of a decade; my role at the conference was to be a business coach meaning that we helped facilitate and support the ideas of the students. The conference consisted of students splitting into groups of three with a business coach and then creating a business plan for a fictitious company that only had a start-up budget of $2,000. There was also a few speeches from local minority business leaders every hour or so with the main speaker being Sam Brooks who is a local entrepreneur and founded OAME. He made a quick first impression by asking who were the first three people to arrive to the event and proceeded to hand each one a $100 bill. Sam said that being early to any event is one of the reasons he has been so successful. Unfortunately some students didn’t listen because it was their second time attending the event but they still weren’t first; if that was me, I would be camping outside! The man is a true entrepreneur saying he started his first business when he was only 10 years old collecting old vegetables from farmers and then selling them at the local market. He gave five valuable business lessons to the students to how they can be successful in this world.

1. How to grow and manage your business
He emphasized that if you are going to see your business become successful then you need to know all the aspects about it; from the financials to the customers to what your employees are doing. You cannot manage your business if you do not know what is happening inside the spider webs.

2. Market and sell your product and services.
Marketing is an extremely important part of the business because without it, then people will not know that your business exists. There should be a strong push towards marketing both in your  company’s value and in their financial budget.

3. Access to capital
To start your business, you will need access to capital or money. He told the students that their best bet at finding capital would be through friends and family. He said that it’s very hard to get money from people that don’t love you and he still sometimes has troubles getting some capital which I find hard to believe.

4. Using technology and social media
He has been successful because he has embraced technology in a way to make his company profitable. Sam knows why technology is important and the business advantage that it can bring his companies, that is why he stresses its use.

5. Network
At the end of the day, business is all about relationships and that is the ultimate goal that every entrepreneur should strive to make. Relations and networks with your employees, customers, suppliers, manufacturers, friends, family, and any other person or entity that you come in contact with. You never know what you can do for them or what they can do for you. So build those relationships and nurture them because they will truly help make you successful.

I’m glad I was able to attend the event because it was great hearing all those speakers, especially Sam Brooks.

The Impact of Mentors

During my college career, I discovered the amazing benefits that mentors can offer you in your professional career. I met my first mentor while I was doing a project in one my classes that required filming a construction process and then analyzing it and writing a report on how we would improve the task. There was one construction company, Andersen, that was working on a major project on the Oregon State campus so I reached out to the Project Manager because their schedule was bulking with construction. Andersen has been doing projects on the OSU campus for years so their PMs are familiar with students contacting them about various class project since our curriculum remains consistent over the years. I was the main person of contact for my group so I set up a time were our team could go walk the project and that’s were we got introduced face to face and I liked him from the first time I met him. He is around 10 years older than I am and very easy going; he was also very knowledgeable about his project and everybody greeted him when they saw him, so that spoke volumes in itself. Our project was completed successfully due to his guidance and support to help get our camera setup with the best vantage point and going out of his way for our causes. A few weeks after the project I asked him if he would like to get lunch or a drink sometime and to my surprise he obliged. There is a local bar called Clodfelters on the OSU campus that is right next to the CEM building so I figured that would be a great place to meet. It was a little tentative at first because we haven’t met out of a professional setting so I initiated conversation by asking what I can expect when I start working in the construction industry (I haven’t had a construction related internship yet). He answered all my questions and assured me that I would do fine as long as I asked many questions and if I don’t understand something then say it. From that moment on, we kept in contact usually once a month and grabbed a few beers and worked on other projects together throughout my last two years and that’s how our relationship grew.

I think what has really strengthened our relationship is that I don’t base our relationship on how he can help me because I want to help him as well so that there is a mutual benefit. He has helped me in so many ways and one tangible example is when I wanted to take my LEED Green Associate test but didn’t want to pay for the class to be eligible to take the exam. Therefore I asked him if he could write me a letter and he kindly obliged. Then when I was about to graduate he asked me to write a letter about my mentoring experience with him and I put a lot of time and effort into the document to clearly explain and show how his mentorship has made my academic career and professional career more progressive. He stated that he wanted to use the letter for OSU during their project proposals so I made sure to address that point in the way I framed the letter. This is a just one among many examples I have of the mutual benefit of our mentor/mentee relationship.

I have another mentor at Intel who introduced me to a director of Intel operations and I asked him what has been the most influential thing that has lead to the advancement of his career. His answer was to have mentors and at least 2-3 of them but be sure that they are not your immediate manager. He also states that the mentors should be spread out in their positions and should be high up if possible, someone who can give you direction on where you want to go with your career. He says that he had some mentors above him and when he got past them then he found new ones but he emphasized to never burn your bridges. My mentor at Intel also stressed the importance of mentors and what it has done for her career. Just from these two contacts at Intel, it has been shown that having mentors can meteorically push your career faster than you’ve ever expected. I’m still finding my way around Turner so I haven’t found a mentor yet but I’m hoping to have one by the end of this year. I have two great ones already but I believe a mentor within my company would complete my Triforce of Teachers (trademarked lol).

Anatomy of a Job Offer: My Journey at Finding a Job Before Graduation

The main reasons I attended college was because of my parents constant pressuring and my desire to have a college education and have a well-paying job where I won’t have to do manual labor. Finding a job after graduation was the ultimate culmination of a college education, in my opinion, and I spent my five years at Oregon State University gaining the necessary experience and skills to make myself competitive and appealing to companies. During my final year at OSU was when I spent putting together my portfolio of work experience and started searching for full-time employment after graduation. It definitely came as a surprise to me how difficult it actually was; I thought that my two internship experiences would give me multiple job offers but I only had two. Two is more than plenty in the economy that I graduated into to and I’m very grateful I even got offers unlike some of my colleagues who were not as fortunate. During my job search I tried searching for an article that would give first hand experience of what it was like to actually get a job offer. I wanted to know what the person had to do, how long it took, what the interview was like, how they decided between offers if they had multiple, and many other questions but I couldn’t find one. This is the main reason for this post, I want to let others know the path I took to getting a job offer and perhaps it would give them some insight and helpful tips to get an offer from a company. So here begins my tale.

I had first contact with my future employer (Turner Construction) at a career fair in my 4th year at Oregon State University. OSU is a renowned school for Construction Engineering Management in Oregon and I would think the West Coast so many large companies come to our campus to recruit therefore I have heard of Turner before but have never pursued employment with them. I went to their booth and spoke to them about a possible internship and gave them my resume and they said they would get back to me tomorrow if I qualified for an interview the following day. Luckily I got called back and interviewed with the district manager. The interview went really well because I asked more questions about him than myself to get a feeling of how it would be like working for him. I think what made me stand out the most was I asked him “Could you tell me how you would describe yourself?” which was the exact same question he asked me earlier. This question really let me see how he managed his employees and I liked his motto of work hard and play hard. After the interview was over, I sent him a hand-written thank you note. About a week later I got a phone call from the Human Resource Manager tell me that I made it to the second (final) interview for an internship. I declined the invitation because I was placed in another internship with a program I’m involved with at OSU called the Civil Engineering Co-op Program. Fast forward to October of 2011 and I once again saw Turner at the career fair. Oddly enough, I wasn’t expecting to go work for them because I had my mind set on being a Corps Member with Teach For America. I was invited to interview with Turner again for a full-time position but I went into it with less vigor than I usually go into interviews with because I had my focus on joining TFA; I didn’t even send a handwritten thank-you note like I usually do. This made me learn a lesson that I shouldn’t take anything for granted and should interview every job with the utmost intent and vigor. Even after 5 years of continuous interviews, I still had much to learn. My interview was with the district manager again and I wasn’t quite sure if he remembered who I was. Even though it was not my best interview because I talked a lot about TFA, I was invited for a final interview with 10 other candidates for a full time position.

The final interview was on Friday December 2nd and I had been declined a position with TFA in November so my main focus now was trying to find employment with a general contractor somewhere in the Pacific Northwest if I could and preferably in Oregon so that I could be there for my daughter’s childhood. The HR manager let us know that we would be interviewed by seven different individuals for about 20 minutes each. I think I set myself apart from the beginning when I asked the HR manager if she could give me a short description of each individual so that I could tailor questions to their position. She happily responded and stated that this is the first time she ever received this request from any full-time candidate. All of the other 10 candidates were from OSU and all except for one was from the CEM program; she was majoring in civil engineering. We arrived at Turner’s Portland office at 8 AM where we were greeted by the district manager and the HR manager then we were given a schedule of what individuals we would talk to first. The entire interview process took around 3.5 hours and it was quite grueling because I’ve never done so many interviews back-to-back. Once the interviews were over, we met in the conference room to have lunch and then the HR manager told us that the district manager would be calling us by the end of next week to let us know our status. We were also given $85 dollars to cover our expenses for traveling up to Portland and sent a gift in the mail for making it to the final interview; the gift was a neon orange hoodie with the Turner logo on it. These were gestures I have never seen a company give to candidates before and it showed what kind of company they were; I really respected that from them. After the final interview, I wrote a handwritten thank-you note to every person that interviewed me along with people who I met from Turner on that same day or had some contact with.

I received my call on Friday of the following week and was informed that 2 positions were already offered and the district manager wouldn’t know how many more they would be taking on but he was hoping for 3-4 total. He let me know that I was in the 3-4 position and he would let me know by the end of next week. Next week came and I didn’t get a call from him so the next week I called him and he told me that he would let me know by the end of the week. Once again, at the end of the week he didn’t know so I became discouraged and decided to look for employment somewhere else. The worst part of the job search is during this period when you’re waiting for a call back from an employer just to give you any information. I just wanted some finality; if I got the position then that would be great but I also wanted to know if I was no longer in contention so that I could move on. But I didn’t get either so I was stuck in job offer limbo and decided I would jump back in the job search pool. I applied for a entry-level position with BNSF Railway and after a phone interview, I was invited for a final interview in Texas. Just a few weeks before I was ready to leave for Texas, I receive a phone call from the Turner district manager tell me that they are going to offer me a position! I was ecstatic and called my mom and my girlfriend to let them know the good news. After the final interview in December, I was given the offer in February which is quite an excruciating long time when you’re a soon-to-be college graduate.

My first day will be Monday July 16th 2012 and I’m extremely excited to be joining such a renowned company. So the total time from first meeting to the company to getting a job offer was one year and five months. Be sure to start you job search early because it takes a VERY long time to get a job offer.

So some tips I have for job seekers is:
1. Always send a thank-you note after an interview. Make sure it is personalized to that person and make it short and sweet.
2. Prepare yourself for the interview by getting information about both the company and the person interviewing you.
3. If it’s not too late, get as much internship experience as you can. Turner hired all 3 of the interns they had the previous summer and I don’t think I would have been in contention if I didn’t have my internship experience where I really excelled and got glowing recommendations from my supervisors.
4. Expand your job search but when you interview with a company be sure that they are your main focus and don’t sound if you are above the job. I made this mistake with a few companies including Turner when I was blinded by my obsession with joining Teach For America.
5. Practice, Practice, Practice your interviewing skills! I know I did very well in each of my own interview because I had spent the previous 5 years of my college career doing at least 10 interviews every year. Your college career services should have a mock interview session available and if not, ask a professor or someone who can give you an objective view on your interviewing skills.

I hope this post will help you in your endeavor to find a job before you graduate from college. I know it’s tough out there but if you persevere and make yourself stand apart from the competition then you should have no problem! Good luck!