Letters to a Young Businessman/woman: To those Overachieving Class of 2018 Haas Undergraduates

Before I start, in advance, I would like to welcome and congratulate the Class of 2018 to the Haas School of Business. As we all know, Haas admission decisions come out this Friday. And in that sense, it may have made more sense to release this post on Friday. However, as it will be highly unlikely that you will be reading this post in middle of your celebration, you are seeing it now.

Although this blog entry is entitled, “Letters to a Young Businessman/woman”, I would like to note that it may not follow a typical letter format and that the title is merely inspired by the book, Letters to a Young Poet. However, I am neither a good letter writer nor a good blogger, so please keep in mind that my letter will not contain any complex logic or any eloquent languages.

Before writing this letter, I was curious about what kind of advices upperclassmen mentors of other schools give out to their incoming freshmen. The list of advices included: say yes more than no, make good friends with professors, GSIs, and especially with fellow classmates, and be confident at career fairs building good relationships with recruiters. However, I have no doubt that along your way to Haas, you have all mastered these skills, or if not, have the potential to practice these skills at any time. Then what should I write about? What advices would actually help you?

About giving advice to someone, Alan Dershowitz said, “Giving advice is among the most hazardous of undertakings,” one of the reason being that “most advice turns out to be a series of instructions about how to become the person who is giving the advice”. To be honest with all of you, I have nothing better than any of you do. Just like I have noticed by my second day at Haas, you will too soon figure out that seniors do know things, but they are also figuring themselves out. They are not THAT cool and I am only one of them. Therefore, I will try my best not to be autobiographical, avoiding the mistake of telling you how to become me (not that you would ever want to) but rather tell you what I have seen and learned at Haas a year ahead of you.

Sometimes people ask me satirically, “Well, what do you get out of Haas, anyways?” My answer to this question is always, “Unlimited printing.” So let us start off with a list of free things you get as a Haas UG. The list includes the following:

  1. Access to the UG computers
  2. Printing, Scanning, and Faxing
  3. Scantrons
  4. Snacks (occasionally)
  5. Access to the library conference rooms
  6. Business card holder
  7. Haas UG backpack (that no longer has “Class of 20XX”)
  8. Printed lecture slides (well, most of the times)
  9. Some school supplies (pens, folders, and etc.)

How to get these list of free goods and services? Don’t worry. You will easily figure it out during your first week at Haas. If you think you are missing one or two from the list, please feel free to ask me or any seniors at Haas, but this letter is not meant to be “How to get free Haas goodie bags 101”. Now, let’s get down to real business.

 

1) Haas isn’t a magical place where you will instantly figure out what you want to do after graduation and for the rest of your life. Yes, Haas will open doors to numerous career options and opportunities. However, more options also mean harder choices. Therefore, you should be the one taking the initiative researching about the different career paths by checking out networking events and talking to numerous recruiters. Most of the interview and recruiting processes are up to you. The amazing statistics and numbers of Haas School of Business is built by nothing else but the tremendous individual efforts and geniuses of its overachieving students. Simply put, Haas does not babysit you.

2) Stop comparing yourself to everyone else. This is a cliché. However, especially here at Haas, it’s so difficult to stop. In the near future, your peer may go to Goldman even though he or she got a lower grade in UGBA 103 than you did. Your classmate may get the advisory position that you failed to get. In class, you may fear that your classmates won’t think you are ambitious enough. I can’t tell you how many students at Haas are interviewing firm after firm wanting to get the most prestigious position at the most prestigious firm. From my knowledge, they are never satisfied with the firms they get offers from. I have heard from a lot of faculty members that even the ones who are successful at getting into the most prestigious firms are sometimes dissatisfied with their jobs, having a hard time seeing themselves fitting in to the culture. Many students at Haas make the mistake of thinking that getting a job is one’s greatest accomplishment. This premise makes many Haas students think that they are always accomplishing less than someone next to them, constantly pushing themselves to submit resumes to more firms. Getting a job, in my opinion, is nothing more than finding an environment where you fit in. Getting a job, therefore, is not an accomplishment. Sure, apply for many firms and be open to numerous positions as some people say, “sky is the limit”. However, do so for yourself, but not to impress others. Thoroughly research each position for your future, but not just for your interviews.

3) It is okay if you don’t have answers right now. Most of us are in our early twenties and have spent our entire life at school. We do not know what is outside. Some students seem to know what they want, but do they reall
y? When you go to career fairs or networking events, you will hear stories of how many job transitions that one has made to find a firm that he or she truly fits in. We are in the learning process where we are still discovering where we fit into the world. Some junior internships do guarantee full time offers and that is why students at Haas are taking interviews and recruiting very seriously. However, signing with a firm for a junior internship means you are making your first choice in your career life. And that first choice, I think, is not binding. From talking to faculties and recruiters, I strongly believe that there are chances for us to make more educated second and third choices after graduation.

4) Think again about what motivated you to pursue a degree at Haas and what it would provide you with at the end. During your senior year at high school, you chose Berkeley. Unless you knew a number of students at each of the school that you have applied, you made a choice to come to Berkeley based on very limited information. If you have recently helped any high school students writing their college essays, I guarantee that there was at least one time you thought, “What do high school students know about college to choose one?” High school students, most of the times, choose colleges based on nothing. Sometimes it may be the colleges that are asking too much as they expect the students to know the difference between Biochemistry and Chemical Biology, and make them choose one that they will study for four years.

Pre-Haas students often consider applying to Haas analogous to applying to a college. This may be because they are required to write a lengthy application or may be because they are in fact transferring from College of Letters & Science to Haas School of Business. However, the truth is, deciding to go to Haas is simply declaring a major. Unlike high school students who have no clue of what they are choosing between, you have plenty of resources and considerations to make your best choice. For those who have interest in economics, you should talk to students who are majoring economics, business, or both to learn which major fits you better. You can meet with advisors of both department and talk about your interests and get to learn more about each major.

Before getting their admission decisions from Haas, students often question themselves, “How should I live my life: as a businessman/ woman?” However, after the decisions come out, students suddenly start to think to themselves with confidence and excitement, “How should I live my life: as a businessman/ woman!” Take a step back. Question again about what you want to do. For instance, if you are thinking about pursuing a career in academia, Haas may not be the best choice for you. Suppose you want to have a profound understanding in marketing. Maybe choosing psychology over business may be a better choice for you in the long run. Last year, of the 297 class of 2017 students (continuing UC Berkeley students) who were admitted to Haas, exactly all 297 students decided to enter Haas. While I am very proud of this number and glad to be one of them, the number worries me because there may have been a student who have chosen Haas over what he or she really wanted to do. While I do hope to see a lot of you next semester at Haas, if there is any subject or a major that you are truly passionate about, I hope you to choose that over Haas.

5) Try joining a research group. One question that Haas students are often asked with is “Why did you choose to study business at such a great research university?” My answer to that question is, “I do research at Haas.” One thing that some Haas students lack in their resume is the research experience. However, many choose to join a research group via URAP or other programs. In my opinion, research is one of the things that you cannot ever do after graduation unless going to a graduate school. The research experience may not be the best resume builder after all. However, because most of Haas students rarely come back to school after their graduation, I recommend you joining a research group that interests you before graduating from one of the best research oriented university.

6) Haas is a business school, not a prep institute for recruiting.  It surely is a stepping stone to a wonderful career and has classes that have higher flexibility with attendance in consideration of interviews and other recruiting events. However, this does not mean that you are free to skip classes. Please note that one of the four pillars of Haas is “Student Always”. And don’t forget this means much more than just getting good grades.

7) There is much more than just business in the world. Different from your first two years, you will spend majority of your time at Haas. You will meet friends here, eat here, and study here. While this is all great, this sometimes limit students’ views. For instance, I have heard a lot of complaints from Haas students regarding engineering students’ communications skills. We all have weaknesses and strengths. Try to learn from others before blindly judging them. Again, be a “student always”. Understanding this, I think, is what distinguishes Haasomes from Haasholes.

8) Become a Class Rep! Raise up your hand high and as quickly as possible if your professor is looking for a Class Rep. It is the easiest way to get close with your favorite professor.

 

I would like to close my long entry today by borrowing a story that was told by Harold Koh at the Yale Law School. Once upon a time, there was an old man and a boy. The old man always lectured to the little boy giving him moral lessons. The boy couldn’t stand it. The old man was always right and the boy hated that. One day, the old man and the boy were walking while the boy saw a bird with broken wings lying on the ground. The boy ran forward and grabbed the bird in his hands. He thought to himself,

“I’m gonna trick the old man. I’m gonna ask the old man, ‘how is the bird’. If the old man says, ‘the bird is alive’, then I will crush the bird and show the old man a dead bird. But if the old man says, ‘the bird is dead’, I will open my hands and let the bird fly away. Whatever the old man says, I will prove the old man wrong.”

Holding the bird, the boy runs up to the old man and he goes,

“Old man, old man! How is the bird?”

 

And the man says,

“The bird is in your hands.”

 

How should you live your life at Haas? The answer is in your hands. Thanks for reading.

 

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