How to be lucky and find a great job (or how I got into management consulting)

I’m currently a management consultant for EY and was previously a management consultant at Deloitte. Before that, I was working at the Government of Alberta and before that, I was in Vancouver trying to find work. Let’s backtrack to when I just graduated university.

I graduated from UBC in 2008 and although I had secured a job for the summer, I was stuck in the middle of a recession with no end in sight. I thought I would be okay though because I had graduated with a practical degree (Computer Science and Mathematics), with co-op (i.e., work experience at companies such as Shell, Telus and PMC-Sierra) and with top grades. Clearly, I had overestimated my chances because company after company would either turn me down or turn me down after giving me an initial interview. I tried to stay positive and applying to jobs every day became my full time job. Finally, my Mom was sick of me just sticking around the house and she brought me to her work so that I could learn under the IT Administrator there. The IT Administrator taught me quite a lot but the job itself was not a real job – I was not getting paid anything but it was definitely an opportunity to get out of the house. After a few months, I decided that if I couldn’t get a job in Vancouver like I wanted, I should try to apply to other Provinces or even the States. That’s when I received an interview from the Government of Alberta for a position titled “Emerging Technologies Specialist”. It was for Alberta Justice and the position would help out with educating users on new technologies, building websites, designing proof of concepts, gathering business requirements and general IT support. After a successful phone interview, they flew me out where I also passed their in-person interview and received an offer. A few weeks later, I landed in Edmonton with my Mom who came over with me to help me find a place and get settled.

When I landed in Edmonton, knowing absolutely no one, I knew that I had to slowly branch out and do some uncomfortable things. At the same time, living by yourself in another city is a great opportunity to do the things that you never felt like you could do — I went and played badminton several times a week, I went to the gym almost every day after work, and just like in Vancouver, I joined a Toastmasters club to see if I could build out my professional network.

I had no idea that a few years later, joining Toastmasters would help me get into management consulting at Deloitte, one of the biggest professional services firms and one of the big four, as they say. Funny enough, being a Toastmaster led me to connecting with employees at Deloitte, one of which referred me to the position within Deloitte. The first time I applied, I thought everything was going well – I had met with several employees for coffee who all seemed to take a liking to me and I successfully got through the case interview. Yet, several weeks passed and I later found out that the employee who referred me had moved back to his home country (the UK) and that there was no one there to push my application forward. I followed up but was told that I would have to re-apply as they had lost my application. I hung up dejected and did not think about it for some time.

After a year or so had passed, I was walking back home from work towards my condo when I saw what appeared to be a homeless man holding open the front door to the condo. I thanked him and walked past when all of a sudden, I heard “Wang?” It was the employee that had returned to his home country a year earlier; he had now moved back and would be here permanently. We again had coffee and he referred me to Deloitte again. This time, with him pushing my application through, I joined Deloitte.

Here are 10 things I learned from this experience:

1. Do things that you want to do

This is good advice for just getting to know like minded people in general no matter what you are trying to do (e.g., date, build our your network, find friends). For me, I always enjoyed playing badminton and have developed some of my closest friends through playing the sport at various clubs throughout Edmonton. I also enjoyed going to Toastmasters and have built up quite a speaking career through regular attendance at clubs.

2. Just because you don’t get an opportunity does not mean it is your only one

I was reading Steven Johnson’s How We Got To Now and one of the stories was fascinating – the technology (I think it may have been the phone but my memory is fuzzy), while it was built by Alexander Graham Bell at that time, would have been built in that time by someone else since all the right technologies were in place and things were just moving in that direction. This is just a long way of saying that if you are meant to be a consultant, a teacher, a doctor, etc. then the universe will conspire to make you one. You just do not know when it will happen.

3. If you don’t get that opportunity, wait patiently but build out your skills and network while you wait

While I did not get into Deloitte the first time (actually, I had applied previously when I was trying to find work right after university but I only realized this after I looked at my awful cover letters when I was clearing them out), I continued to attend Toastmasters to build out my public speaking, leadership and communication skills. One of my intuitions coming out of university was that there would be a huge demand for people that had intersecting business and technical skills and could sit and translate between the business and IT. While still doing my job and learning about new and emerging technologies, I improved my communication skills so that I could explain these new technologies to Toastmasters and coworkers alike.

4. Be positive and look out for opportunities

While I was initially dejected that the time I used to apply to Deloitte was lost, I remained positive due to the fact that someone out there thought that I was good enough for a big four firm and that they wanted me at the company. This confidence later translated into bigger opportunities at my work at the Government of Alberta and I tried to take on more and bigger responsibilities not just at work but also at Toastmasters where I became Division Governor one year managing 50+ clubs in the Edmonton area. No doubt some of these leadership skills helped me later in life leading and managing projects for my clients but I also kept my eye out for the opportunities that were out there and seized them when I had a chance.

5. Sometimes you might not be ready for the opportunity but you have to attack it with gusto

Even when I finally got into Deloitte and had years of experience working for several large organizations, I was not ready for consulting. I’ll be honest, I sucked at the job for the first few years, mostly because I thought the way that I worked at the GoA would be at the same standard as at Deloitte (I was wrong). It took me a couple years to get on track and perform at a high level and even now, I constantly make sure that I never make the same mistake twice and that I am improving my outputs all the time (even when two clients request the same things back to back, I try to improve the deliverables in some tangible way). This growth mindset is ridiculously important for young professionals starting out in their careers (and even mid-level professionals looking for that next jump).

6. Don’t be afraid to connect your interests, hobbies and passions together

Outside of work, one of the things that I was quite passionate about was design. For me, a well designed product, like something from SimpleHuman or Joseph Joseph was just sexy. Heck, I was so passionate about design that I even did a Pecha Kucha talk on Design. As I was doing speeches and presentations at Toastmasters, I realized that putting slides up with text on them was not that engaging. It was the same in consulting – you have to know your audience and you have to engage them with meaningful content and diagrams, not just essays or walls of text. I started to incorporate more design aspects into my PowerPoint deliverables and these were increasingly well-received by my clients.

7. Get to know a super connector

I’m not a networker at all. I’ll be honest, I’ve gone to several ‘networking’ events and have sat in the corner by myself, eating appetizers and then leaving without introducing myself to anyone. I’m always amazed by those people that effortlessly introduce themselves to others, get to know them, have a great conversation, hand them a business card and then move on to the next person. These are the people you want to know, especially if you are not great at networking yourself because they can then connect you with the people you want to know (without you having to get to know a hundred people to find that one person that can give you the connection at the company). Of course, the super connector benefits from having connected two people in their network and they may get benefits down the line, but a lot of the times, they connect people because thats what they do. For me, I got to know a few super connectors that have helped connect me to individuals that I could not even meet even (they do not go to networking events as they are all busy running successful businesses).

8. Give a little to get a little. Give a lot to get more.

Whatever your goal is when meeting new people, you are going to get more if you give more. I mean that saying you are from Vancouver when you meet someone new or saying that you are from Surrey in Vancouver where a lot of Asians live can mean the difference between a boring conversation about Vancouver stereotypes or someone that may have specifically traveled to Surrey before and has a lot in common with you. Earlier in my life, I was always holding back information, thinking that I could somehow get more information from others and have an advantage over them, but over time, this was the wrong way of thinking – giving more information to others will give both of you an advantage.

9. Do things that might scare you. Do things you might not like. Learn from it all.

As I was working at the GoA, I had always wanted to try Improv. I watched Whose Line reruns all the time and figured that if they could do it, anyone else could. How wrong I was. The problem, as I was acting out in Improv workshops, was that I was in my mind and constantly thinking of ways to make the scene funny. In Improv though, you don’t have to make things funny, you just have to have a plot, a story, or a direction. I learned a ton in Improv – raising the stakes, always saying yes, never asking questions and many of these have translated into great meetings at Toastmasters and great opportunities in business.

10. Being in the right place at the right time is not everything, you also have to be ready for the opportunity

Just because I met the Deloitte employee at my condo that day doesn’t mean that I got to work at Deloitte right away. I had to get coffee, I had to meet with several Deloitte employees again, and I had to meet with the Partner (who was finally convinced after I sent him a strong e-mail saying that I wanted to join Deloitte). Even though I knew I wanted to switch careers and this is what I wanted, I had to prepare and make sure that I was doing everything I could to make a successful transition over. I wasn’t just letting things be. I made sure to influence things as much as I could.

I’d like to think that I was in the right place at the right time, but I didn’t realize that I was preparing all along for that opportunity.

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