Recruiting, Ravens, and Exams

February 25, 2008

Please note that this is a historical post moved over from my old site. This was originally posted December 8th, 2007.

The first semester classes have drawn to a close at Darden, and now we’re only left with the spector of exams next week. Classes ended really ended with a whimper, not so much of a bang. This makes sense… at some point in November, most students minds are so saturated with so many new concepts that our ability to process more is severely compromised.

And then there is the recruiting push. Unfortunately, business school is not a place to go to find yourself. It’s pretty much assumed that you’ve done that already when you arrive. If not, it’s not a big deal, you have a least… 2 weeks to figure it out after the beginning of classes. Fortunately, Darden does a good job of helping students with resources such as Career Next Step , Bristol Meyers Brigg scores, and multiple other personality and aspiration tools. In the end, for most of us, the process doesn’t break tremendous new ground, but actually acts to, in a very deliberate manner, validate what we already thought. So, now I know I want to start out in strategy consulting. That’s what I thought. But the process is valuable insomuch as it is deliberate, and it requires a measure of self-awareness that is healthy. So it’s good to know why strategy consulting makes sense for me.

So, I attended every consulting firm’s briefing at Darden. Most of the major firms recruit here, and they offer office hours frequently so that students can try to obtain answers to their more in-depth questions about the firms in a low-risk setting. Additionally, it’s generally a good idea to learn more about the firm by reaching out to Darden alumns that are working in these firms. I personally liked to find Darden alumni at the firms that have a military background, since I knew that they had a unique insight into the transition that I’m undergoing now… and it’s always better to leverage someone else’s experience, and not reinvent the wheel every time.

But it came to a head last week. All the major firms and most companies had a deadline of December 7th for submission and consideration of resumes and cover letters for summer 2008 internships. Now, I completed a very solid resume after much hacking, revising, and pasting way back in October. But now it was necessary to write individual cover letters for each firm, validating my interest and effectively proving that I had completed my due diligence… that I did my research, knew what the firms’ individual aspects were, and that I gave it some thought before I decided to apply. The temptation early was to generate a “boiler plate” cover letter and do a “find and replace”, adjusting only the administrative information on the cover letter to match that of the target firm. But this is a mistake… contrary to popular belief, I think firms actually read cover letters. Thus, you’re missing an opportunity to market yourself if you don’t take the cover letter seriously… it’s an opportunity to address the “fit” with that company or firm, and that “fit” isn’t something that is usually explicit in the resume. So I sucked it up and wrote the letters on an individual basis. The resulting letters were just better that way… more personal. In one case, I sat down to write the letter and realized I knew little about the firm. I think I made the healthy conclusion not to apply… it wouldn’t be fair to the firm in question, and it would only make my life more difficult if I were offered an interview.

So, trying to finish cover letters, fill out online applications, finish up our final cases, and prepare for final exams… yeah, it was a busy week.

Not busy enough for me, apparently, though, since I decided to take my first absences of the semester and head to Baltimore on Monday night to catch the Ravens/Patriots game. As the miles between me and Charlottesville increased, I felt some of the associated stress slip away. My friend Jim and I went to the game and sat in the south endzone, only a few rows back from the action. The Ravens were coming in at 4-7… clearly not a playoff season. However, this was Monday Night Football… national television audience, and this was the New England Patriots. They were undefeated, and 20 point favorites over the Ravens.

The game was phenomenal. The Ravens gave the Patriots fits, and led in the final minute. A series of outlandish plays and penalties, including one on the fans for hitting Randy Moss with a plastic bottle and another on Samari Roule for tossing a flag into the raucous group of fans sitting in front of me, resulted in the Patriots sustaining their final drive through two fourth down conversions and finally into the endzone. A last second heave by Kyle Boller landed in the Ravens’ hands three yards from the endzone… but no further. The Ravens lost in a tight, exciting game. They played well enough to cast a pleasant light on this week’s Sunday Night Game against the Colts… maybe we can beat them.

I returned to Charlottesville on Tuesday morning, aware that my voice had left me sometime in the third quarter the night before. I reflected in the reduced stress level associated with the distance I put between myself and Darden the night before. The next day I bought my plane ticket for Spring Break 2008. Costa Rica, here I come.

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Darden and the DB Factor

February 25, 2008

Please note that this is a historical post moved from my original site. The date was November 28th, 2007. 

Hey everyone, I’m pleased to announce that my blog is now going live via RSS feed to Darden’s page. The Darden PR people will never forgive themselves… (j/k, Sue, thanks for the help!).

About a month ago, a good friend, former Army buddy, and all-around good guy name Will Bardenwerper wrote an op-ed piece for the NY Times reflecting on what he perceived to be a general disconnect between the home front and the battlefield in the war on terror.

Will is a guy who had a successfull, albeit nascent, Wall Street career before getting a little upset after 9/11 and joined the Army to set things right. He led a successful Army career, first as an Infantry platoon leader, and later as our Brigade’s Public Affairs Officer. He writes in his op-ed about the apparent apathy among the high-rolling ranks of Wall Street investment bankers and other movers and shakers when it comes to the issues of our nation’s security, and the increasing burden upon those who have volunteered to provide it.

Recently I had the opportunity to view the Robert Redford film “Lions for Lambs”, which calls out this very same apathy among undergraduate college students. The film, panned universally by critics, rang true with me in the end. As clumsy as the combat scenes tended to be (this is the normal reaction veterans have to the film industry’s apparently fruitless efforts to recreate the real thing), the message was borne out. Too many young Americans are maybe just a little too caught up in Chris Crocker and his rants about Brittany. We are on the verge of a historical presidential election during one of our nation’s most divisive times… we are facing unprecedented challenges in the realm of international relations… and, now, thanks to Global Economies and Markets, I know we’re also probably on the edge of a recession or at least a correction (knowledge may be power but it’s also a reason to worry, and I’m learning again now that I’m back at school). Yet Madden tournaments and three-year-old carribean murder cases are at the center of attention for the average young American.

And in Will Bardenwerper’s world, managers are complaining about paying more than a 15% tax on their “interest income” generated by shrewdly managing someone else’s money. Sigh.

There is what I call the DB factor. I won’t get too elaborate on this point, but the “DB” stands for a middle-school insult that somehow still seems relevant to me even to this day.

At Darden, I look around at my classmates and I notice that the DB factor is pretty damn low. Even when I look past the diversity of the students, and past the classmates who came from a military background, and even past the students who have pulled themselves to this point from a white collar background, I see it in everyone else: a very, almost unexpectedly, low DB factor. The Darden community is putting together a great auction to benefit “Building Goodness in April”, a wonderful charity in which groups of students head out and spend their time and the newly raised funds to refurbish the homes of those less fortunate. We are sponsoring a great “Toys for Tots” drive (I’ve already given one of my favorite toys: Kinex), and I can’t even begin to say how grateful I personally am to the Darden Military Association (DMA) and its associated sponsors for their support of military candidates and students at Darden. Probably the most important thing to me, however, is the in-depth description of pro-bono work I’ve heard from almost every company or firm that has come to brief on-grounds. It’s nice to know that giving a damn doesn’t stop when you get an MBA. In fact, it’s nice to know that you have the potential to do a lot more good as a result of getting one.

Will’s point remains solid. My stepbrother, Alex, is still in Mosul, and so my thoughts never stray far from Iraq. The fireworks at the Tech game last Saturday had the predictable result of having me duck and search involuntarily for the safest piece of earth to get under. A bag of garbage on the side of the road is still somehow a bit more ominous… I subconsciously swing my little car around it, avoiding it at all costs. And sometimes, even now, when leaving my apartment for the cold walk to grounds in the morning, I find myself feeling not just for my keys, wallet, and phone… but also my weapon, which, of course, was turned in for the final time last February.

But as long as we can remember the big picture while focusing on improving our little one, I think we can all collectively keep the DB factor down. And that’s pretty cool.

I’m not dead…

February 25, 2008

Please note this is a historical post moved from my old site. This is from November 8th, 2007. 

Hey all,

Thought I’d finally update. The first year at Darden has lived up to its reputation, and the time affectionately named “Black November” by preceding classes has begun. The first quarter exams finished almost a month ago, and we started right into our new classes. Now I’m taking marketing, accounting, finance, global markets, and operations. I’m pretty happy with my exams grades… I could have done better on a few, but all of them were good enough for me to be happy.

The real reason that I’ve been busier recently though is the recruiting process. My spare time is often spent practicing case interviews, although spare time is certainly a rare commodity at this point. Add to that the company briefings, cocktail receptions, networking dinners, open office hours, and even sponsored tailgates on weekends, and it’s a real rat race. It’s worth it, though… one of the reasons you come to a good b-school is to land an exciting job at a good firm. You want to study and learn the material, and get good grades, but at the end of this experience you want to walk into a new career that is rewarding and that fits you. And the firm that eventually hires you wants to know that you are a good fit for them. So, they do a lot of tire-kicking first… multiple interview rounds. I’m interested in strategy consulting, which means that I am mostly looking at case interviews, which are unique among interviews. Case interviews are basically a situation in which the interviewer gives you a business situation and you conduct an analysis and make a recommendation… usually in about 20-30 minutes. It’s not a written test, it’s given to you verbally, and you’re expected to communicate your thought process as you work through it. There is some basic math, of course. Ever try figuring out 8% of 63 million in your head while someone is looking at you? Yeah… takes practice.

I am trying to find time to do more fun things, as well. Tonight I’m headed out to the Thursday Night Drinking Club (or TNDC), which is every bit as scandalous as it sounds (and twice as much fun!). I’m still managing to make it to the gym several days a week, although it’s definitely getting tougher to find the time. I have taken up watching The Office and Curb Your Enthusiasm when I can make it home in time. And UVA’s football team is really pretty good this year (8-2). Basketball season should be a blast here, too, and it’s just getting started. I loved going back to Penn State in September to see the Notre Dame game, see my little brother’s place (typical undergrad apartment), and just see how SC has changed.

A lot has happened since my last update. Keith is engaged to Kelleigh in NH, my friend Jim was married (I got to be the best man!), and my friend Troy has become an uncle. It’s all good news, for sure.

Looking ahead… it looks like I will get a few days to get away over Thanksgiving, which will be great. I’m heading to San Francisco in December to see some companies that don’t recruit on grounds here at Darden. That will bite into my Christmas break, but I’ll still have a few weeks to see family and friends. For spring break, I’m heading to Costa Rica for a week of beach and surfing. If anyone thinks they might have some time off in the spring, let me know if you’re interested, I’m openly recruiting a small crew for this great trip.

This is a historical post moved over from my old site. The date of the original post was August 19th, 2007. 

Do you still have dreams that you’ve overslept and missed a final? Or that you forgot that you had a class all semester and never went, and suddenly it shows up on your grades? These nightmares have followed me ever since undergrad at Penn State… probably exactly the price I had to pay for having such a damn good time while there. And now, I’m back, and it’s really kinda weird. I mean, I haven’t been in a classroom in five years. A lifetime of events and memories have occurred since then. And now, it’s like deja vu. My first Darden class wasn’t actually a class… it was a refresher in Economics. It was actually optional, and I even paid for the privilege. But nonetheless, suddenly I’m back in a classroom, and I’m surrounded by a bunch of other young adults, and we’re discussing business and economics and the teacher is lecturing and (whimper). Well, to be honest, the econ was a waste of time. The course didn’t go very far and the concepts were covered entirely too broadly, so I felt as if we were missing out on some important details. The good news was that I was learning to function in a classroom environment again. The course lasted until last Wednesday, when I started the Accounting module. This, too, was optional. However, as I’ve never had an accounting class a day in my life, it was very useful. I learned an awful lot. The prof used a lot of old Accounting tests and cases for us to get used to the Darden method of instruction. It’s important to note that Darden is 100% case-based. Many b-schools are case-based, but they only cover a few cases per class per semester, or they only cover them in more abstract courses. Darden and Harvard are kinda unique in that they teach everything through cases. Harvard is obviously the standard-bearer in case studies and their cases are used all over the country, including at Darden.

A case is essentially a short story about a business, with lots of supporting documentation, and then a bunch of discussion and questions. The typical Darden day is 3 classes, over by 2 PM, and then 5 hours to study the cases on your own and try to determine answers, and then meeting with your assigned “Learning Team” from 7-11 PM to argue/defend your case with your colleagues. Then you go to class the next day, where the prof questions you on the case and the class discusses it. There is no lecture, not even in a class like accounting. It’s all taught through example and hands on application. I’ve heard we’ll have 3 cases per day, 5 days a week. What a pain in the ass… however, it’s also clear that it works. Every second-year I’ve talked to swears by this workload as the best way to prepare for internships and business in general.
I have been impressed by the diversity of our class… we have more then the average number of women (30%) and international students (35%).

Social events are also picking up. Monday and Tuesday nights were drinking engagements at local bars, in which I mingled and met people and forgot names and generally had a good time. Thursday we played soccer (I suck at soccer but it was still fun). Saturday I went to a barbecue at a student’s house and then we were off to a social engagement at a professor’s home.

I continued this trend of meeting and shaking, and last night we took the fun to “The Corner”. “The Corner” is UVA’s undergrad bar destination, and it was fun. I finally got that “I’m older than everyone here” feeling. Unlike at Penn State, the bars here have a rep for letting a lot of fake IDs through, so there are a lot of underage kids joining in the party. But all those college drinking nights came back in a hurry and we had a good time. Beer was cheap (very cheap!) and good times were had by all. Apparently the required after-bar food here is something called a “Gusburger”, which is essentially a burger topped with a fried egg. It tasted a lot better then it sounds. My apartment is only a five minute walk from Darden, but it’s too far to walk to any of these nightlife establishments. So, no worries, apparently a cab can take you there for about 7 bucks, which is even cheaper if you split it. Half of my class lives in the same apartment complex.

Some other good news this week pertaining to school. Darden was ranked number four b-school in the nation by Forbes, who relies entirely on return-on-investment on your MBA. This represents a four-place jump since the last such poll. And we were all pleasantly surprised to find out that a Darden second-year is now engaged… to Jenna Bush. Where the hell am I?

So far, though, my favorite thing about this school is the free Starbucks in the morning. I’m not a big coffee drinker, but that could be destined to change soon in the coming year, I think. And, no, that’s probably not really my favorite thing… it’s just my favorite touch.

So, today we’re off to orientation and taking our class photo. Orientation continues tomorrow and Tuesday, with the assignment of our sections and learning teams. We’ll be together as a team for the year, and as a section for the quarter (they divide the year into quarters here). On Wednesday, real classes start, and the fun begins!

This weekend, I’m heading to the AL gulf coast just in time to be battered by a hurricane (j/k)…. actually the officers of my old unit are getting together for a reunion. I haven’t seen some of these guys for several years, so I’m looking forward to what is required to be a good time. This will probably be my last big trip for the semester.

Well, I hope that everyone is well… Jim’s wedding creeps closer, and his bachelor party is coming together… no more details there, that will remain largely secret. My parents are getting close to finally opening their store in Cumberland, MD, and my bud Austin is getting close to finishing the already infamous “Wilson” movie. When it’s released, I’ll send you all a link… you’ll need to check it out… he’s put a lot of time and effort into creating it, and it should really rock.

So, until the next time I can come up for air…

Moving

February 25, 2008

Please note, this is an old post transferred from my old blog site. Original date was July 26th, 2007.

 Wow, it’s been a busy week. Since my last blog, I went to DC to my friend Matt’s birthday party (two weeks ago). It was a great time… since it was the 14th, he had the whole thing themed around Bastille Day… with predictably fantastic results. Then I spent the better part of a week helping load and unload commercial shelving for my parents… they’re going to be opening a country store in downtown Cumberland, MD, in a few weeks. Last weekend I went to sunny LA. I flew into LAX on Friday, rented a car (free upgrade to a Chrysler 300 from an economy car, score!) and went to the Marriott where I was staying. It was in Marina del Rey, located between Santa Monica and Beverly Hills. I wanted to visit my old college bud, Steve, and maybe do a little surfing too. I lugged the board with me. Steve and I scoped out the local Kwiki-Mart (formerly a 7-11 now made up to look like a Kwiki Mart for the movie) and then grabbed a bite in Century City. Afterwards, we did a driving tour of Bev Hills and Rodeo Drive. Then I went to bed (jet lag!) and got up in the morning with waves on my mind. I drove down to Manhattan beach, but the surf from a distance didn’t look too good. So I parked (pretty far away, traffic and parking are both generally a nightmare in LA) and walked down sans board. Of course, when I got closer, the waves looked much better, so I rushed back and grabbed the board. Needless to say, it turned out to be a great day. Between Saturday and Sunday, I had some of the best rides in my life. The waves were bigger than even France, and they came more consistently, with less chop and longer frequency. This was cool because this way I could more easily paddle out to the lineup without exhausting myself getting past the breakers. I fell plenty, too, of course, but for the first time, I could really see turns and moves happening, less voluntarily than instinctive, and it was great. Man, I am telling you, surfing is the bee’s knees.

So, other than that, Steve and I went out Saturday and Sunday night in Santa Monica for food, shopping, and drinks. The nightlife is quite good, and the place is just full of beautiful people. I stayed away from the most pretentious places, fortunately.

Well, I hardly had time to relax upon my return on Monday, because the furniture shipment was coming to my new apartment on Wednesday (yesterday). Since the shipment could arrive as early as 8 AM, I had to leave to Charlottesville at 4 AM, packed and ready to go. So naturally, the movers didn’t come until almost 3 PM, and found me both tired and a bit irritated. My irritation grew as they couldn’t open the crates (didn’t have the right tools) and pretty much put everything wherever they wanted. However, I did manage to get them to take all the packing materials with them. I’m about halfway unpacked now, still a long way to go. However, it’s beginning to take shape. I did get my internet up, and cable is on the way. Today I picked up my official “Darden” laptop. Tonight, I’m heading to DC to an alumni party for current Darden students (Yay, network!).