Interview With Alumni: Paul Gao’18 shares his experience in Guidehouse as Financial Services Consultant
LinkedIn Profile: https://www.linkedin.com/in/zhaoyi-gao/
Babson College| 2014-2018
- Bachelor of Business
- Administration, Finance, General
NYU Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service| 2018-2020
- Master of Public Administration
- Finance, Public Administration, General
Skills & Certifications
- Bloomberg Market Concepts
- CFA Level III Candidate
- Financial Modelling
Guidehouse| Full time
- Financial Services Consultant, Aug2020-prsent
Build America Mutual| Internship
- Municipal Credit Intern, Jan2020-Jun2020
- Consultant, NYU Wagner Capstone Project, Sep2019-May2020
- Financial Services Summer Intern, Jun2019-Aug2019
Interviewer: So I just gonna ask, are you coming from Beijing?
Interviewee: Yeah I’m from Beijing. I grew up in Beijing and I came to Boston for High School when I was 16. And I went to Babson College for undergraduate school.
Interviewer: I remembered that you said you got H1B, so you are also an F1 student, right?
Interviewee: Right. So I was an F1 student when I was at Babson. Then I went to NYU for graduate school.
Interviewer: Yeah, I see that. That makes sense. I was looking at your LinkedIn and I saw your internship in Beijing. That part, I understand that you probably got it through half of your effort and half through your connection. So that makes sense. But you also got a ton of experiences in the US. We all know that it is not an easy thing for an F1 student to get an internship. So can you tell me some tips or tricks or secrets of how you found these opportunities?
Interviewee: Sure. when I came to New York for graduate school, which was a 2-year program, everyone (in the program) was actively looking for internships for the summer. That was the fall recruiting … actually I was having a lot of roadblocks at that time. At that time, I didn’t know how to start so I just started with applying on the website. I thought that I could get some interviews but actually not. So the reality is to get an interview and to get an internship, the key is to network. I think that’s something that I didn’t know before I came to New York. So I had a hard time networking with people, learning how to build the connection, and also building my resume. I think there are different perspectives and aspects that are important. The resume is definitely important. I think the key to getting an internship and getting an offer is to know someone, I think that’s pretty universal for all students including US students and international students. You can network on your way out and you don’t even need to have a very flashy resume with a really good background. Not everyone works for JP Morgan are from top Ivy League schools. There are many students who come from different colleges and Babson has already been one of the schools. I don’t think the location is important but it’s like a pretty basic foundation when landing a job or internship. The most important part is definitely networking.
Interviewer: I agree! Talking about networking is a pretty big word and people always want to know how to network. So I was assuming that in New York, everybody hangs out in New York City. What did you do to help you, because I see a big change from Babson to NYU, so what did you do differently this time in NY?
Interviewee: I know that at Babson we have a lot of career events, for example, with Babson’s alumni. It is really competitive. Honestly, if you go to NY, go to a career fair, there will be thousands of students seeking jobs with 10 or 20 employers. With those big-name employers, there will be more than 50 students in line, competing with you. The career fair is good and there is an info session for you to learn about the firm. but I don’t think it is a good place for networking. Honestly, unless you are really outstanding, like top students, and you have a really good pitch, better than anyone else in the room. Otherwise, I don’t think you can impress employers — I think it’s pretty hard. Even though I actually got my first internship at a career fair, but it’s still hard.
Interviewer: Do you mean your first internship at the Guidehouse ?
Interviewee: Yeah. I even went to DC to work with the firm. I got the internship and met alumni in the career fair and we had a great conversation. She really liked me and I was looking for an internship and they were recruiting full-times. I just asked that I was so interested in this, do you have internships opportunities at your firm. And luckily, they just opened up their first class of internship at that time, so I got really interested in that and she got me into the team. I was directly working for her. I think most of the time, networking is really important and I think a career fair is not a good place for networking. Well, it is a good place to explore but not a good place to land a job. I think the most important networking place is actually on LinkedIn. So basically, for the firm you are interested in, you go to their LinkedIn page and find alumni and friends who are working there. Then you send a note to connect. For example, “my name is Paul and I’m currently a Babson student. I’m a senior at Babson and I got really interested or passionate about banking. And I would really love to learn more about the experience at JP Morgan. Any feedback or advice would be really appreciated.” Just send them the note and invite them to connect.
Interviewer: I have a question about that. So I got your part, and that’s the part we always tell students to do when reaching out to the alumni. And I’m sure that the NYU alumni are just the same as the Babson alumni. A lot of them are very nice and do offer a chance for you to speak to them. But what’s after that? Maybe you get a chance to talk to alumni, so what’s next? You ask them how to keep the relationship.
Interviewee: Right, that’s a good question. Basically, when you ask them, some of the times they accept and some of the times they refuse. After you connect, you have to follow up. There are a few times one of them is really nice, like saying “I’m happy to connect. Let me know if you want to talk in person and you can grab a coffee”. But that’s really rare because most people are really busy. They just accept your invitation to connect but then they probably won’t reply to you. So you have to follow up, like “Thank you for connecting!”. Then you ask, “Are you available sometime over the next two weeks for a coffee chat? In person or over the phone”. If you are in Boston and they are not, you may do the chat over the phone. When you follow up, you send a message. Maybe half of them may reply to you but half of them may not. For people who reply to you, you need to schedule a time with them, you may ask, “How about Friday?”. And then you schedule a time like, “Thursday afternoon sounds good to me. My phone number is ~. I look forward to talking with you”. That’s the first step — schedule a coffee chat.
Interviewer: Now you are in the coffee chat. What’s next?
Interviewee: I think I would say there is a trick. If he or she is your alumni, it’s easy to connect because Babson is a small school like you all know about Babson. I think one of the tricks or one of the rules in the coffee chat is that at least for the first minute, don’t talk about work. In the first minute, if you guys scheduled coffee on a Monday or Tuesday, you can talk about your weekend. If you guys schedule a coffee chat later this week, you can ask how the week is going right and how the work is. Busy? Then you can ask about any plans for the weekend. Just chat and don’t talk about work. The trick for the first one-minute is talking about something else. They may have been working all day and people like to chat but just about themselves, not always thinking about work. Like if I’ve worked 40 hours for the job and you schedule a coffee chat just asking me about what I do and I have to explain it. I think the trick is: try not to ask about work for the first minute. Try to talk about something else you can chat about. For example, “When did you graduate? What was your major?”
Interviewer: So small talk, you are saying, an opening statement.
Interviewee: Definitely start with how your week was, how was work, how the weekend was, and any plan for the weekend, just like a general check-in. You talk with him or her to see how he’s doing to make sure that he or she feels that you are not just looking for a job. You want to connect so you won’t just talk about work, which is the first rule. And then if he or she is an alum, it’s always easier because you can always chat about Babson. “What’s your major? When did you graduate? Who was your favorite professor? What was your favorite class?” Just start talking, you don’t have to do anything else, just listen. It’s so much easier. You just respond and keep talking about their life rather than the business. They may ask how Wellesley is or how Babson is and they will keep talking about their story. And that will be the easiest conversation. You will go really smoothly. Just in case, let’s say that it’s not that easy. Maybe they had a bad day and they don’t want to talk too much, “Okay so I don’t have much time so what were your questions?” That will be hard but I think one more coffee chat you have, you’ll get more experience, which allows you to be better. I think one of the important things here is to show interest. Study the person you are talking to before you chat with them. You can’t, like “I like banking but I don’t even know what banking is”. I’m just into finance and this person is at the bank. You have to study what they’re actually doing. There are different kinds of banking jobs at a bank and there are so many kinds of finance jobs. There are buy-side and sell-side; there is banking; there is the asset management and there’s hedge-fund. There’s also trading firms, commercial banks, and investment banks. They are all different. Even in the investment bank, there are people doing equities, IPO, and debt. So there are just so many different things you have to study before you ask. You can’t just be like, “Oh I’m really interested in finance”. They will have a hard time explaining it. So you probably have to study a little bit before you meet in person. You have to know what you are interested in and I think that’s a hard thing for students because when we are looking for a job, most of the time we are pretty lost and we don’t really know what to do in the future. That’s why it’s good to ask a lot of questions. I think the important thing is that if you don’t know what you want then you need to…
Interviewer: Figure out what you want first?
Interviewee: Not really. I think the important thing is just to ask a lot of questions. Try to really ask people what the person is doing and let the person do the talk if you do not really know what you are looking for. If you know that you are really interested in the field that this person is working at, then you can show interest, let’s say “I’m really passionate about this role, but I’m totally new to this industry. I don’t have any working experience here. Could you tell me more about your career path? What advice will you give me, a new-hire or entry-level?”
Interviewer: It makes sense.
Interviewee: Either you show interest and then ask them for advice, for their career story. If you don’t know enough about the industry, you just ask exactly what kind of job they’re doing. But don’t ask “What do you do”. You should ask “Could you walk me through it like a normal day at JP Morgan?”, “What are the day to day job you do and what do you think is important to go into this industry?”, “What skills are important and what recommendation do you have for me to build my skill so I can come to this industry?” I think that after you ask the question, then people will start talking. So there are different scenarios. The person will do all the talk so you just need to listen, you don’t have to talk anymore. People love talking about themselves. So I’ll get them talking then you know at the end of the conversation they will be happy to give you referrals.
Interviewee: You have to have some responses, like “Oh this is really interesting”. Even though you probably have no idea what they’re talking about, you still have to say “This was so interesting” and then “could you tell me more about this work?” You can always ask more questions and respond to what they say. If they talk for ten minutes and you have zero response, they might think that you are not interested in what they say. It’s really important to respond to the person, acknowledge them and show your interest during a conversation. These are all important tricks. And I never asked for a referral because I think the referral will come naturally if you guys had a great conversation, because at the end of the conversation, if the person didn’t offer, then I don’t think they will be willing to give you a referral even if you ask. People know what you want when you have a coffee chat for a referral. People know in the first place and this is what they expect. But at the same time, they want to have a nice conversation, they don’t want a student who is just eager for a job. They want a person who is really interested in this field.
Interviewer: I agree and I also think that if you do refer alumni, you do want to refer someone you feel comfortable with and is going to do well. So you don’t want to refer anybody. That’s how I feel.
Interviewee: Some people are nice like I’m always willing to refer. The thing is, sometimes the person is not ready, so I’ll let them know. I’ll give you a referral but you have to polish your resume or you should practice for the interview. Let them know what to improve and I can schedule one more meeting with them. And they are really passionate about it. But sometimes their resumes were not ready so I gave them some advice but sometimes people don’t get back to me because they’re not really interested. If you are interested, you can take my advice and update the resume. I gave you a referral and you’ve got an interview. Before the interview, you will ask for more advice and you try to spend more time with me, you ask more about the work. If you don’t do that, you might even not get an interview. So it is really important to be consistent, show passion and interest. Not just think that “Oh I just casually network with people, casually want this job. If you want something, you really have to work hard for it. People are willing to give you recommendations or advice and give you a referral but you can’t be like after referral this is all set. You have to put more effort into building connections.
Interviewer: That’s why I said that I don’t usually give referrals unless I like you. But in your case, you are obviously very generous.
Interviewee: After the referral, you also have to put effort. Getting a referral is not the end. Even though you got an offer, you need to network with people in the firm to help you succeed. So it is really important to keep a relationship, even though you don’t talk to this employee every week. After the referral, you need to send an email just to say “thank you” and to give an update. When you apply, you can let the person know “I applied, and thank you so much for the coffee chat”. You always follow up, which is another trick. So basically let’s say you didn’t get a referral for the coffee chat, after the coffee chat, and in a message, telling the person that you think you learn so much from the conversation and you really appreciate their time. This is really important to show gratitude. So that’s important and also when you applied, let’s say the person gave me a referral, when you applied and got an interview, you should give them an update. I think it’s important to keep updated. That’s the basic and probably the easiest way to keep a relationship — just give them an update like “I just want to let you know that I got an interview from JP Morgan. Thank you so much for the referral and I’ll keep you updated.” Even though they might not even care but I think it’s important for you to show that you remember them and you know to update.
Interviewer: I agree. It’s everything in your life. You do have to show gratitude. It’s not just for job searching.
Interviewee: Yeah, you got an interview and just scheduled another time with them just to learn what questions you are expecting, or more about the firm culture — what the talking point is. Every firm has its own culture and they will ask why you are interested in this firm. You can’t just say “Your firm is so famous”. Big names are not an answer. Some people like to know more about specific cultures. But the easiest answer is up to a person and the firm and you may feel that they are really nice to you and help you a lot. You feel really good in the environment of this firm. That’s the easiest answer because you’ve already talked to someone working here. Or people would like to explore more about the firm culture. You can ask whoever refers you what the biggest positive about the firm is. And they’ll give you the answer. You can just use that answer during your interview.
Interviewer: Agree with that. I appreciate that you can give us an in-depth description of our introduction about how you reach out to people and talk with them to follow up. It’s actually pretty late so I’m trying to not take too much of your time. I’m going to ask maybe a few more questions, so I can wrap this up. One of the questions I have is about your company Guidehouse. Obviously, a lot of our students know about the traditional consulting firm and all these things. And I heard that Guidehouse is a part of PWC. So what is the difference between Guidehouse and the other companies in terms of you’re working there?
Interviewee: Guidehouse was PWC’s public sector. We were doing public sector consulting in 2018. And we spin-off and acquire a full-service consulting firm called Navigant. After the acquisition, we’re in both public sector and commercial sector. Personally, I’m in the public sector because I study MPA at NYU. What I do right now is about public finance and my client is the federal government, which is involved in traditional finance and public sector. So it was a perfect fit for me because I have a traditional finance background from Babson and I also had a master of public administration in graduate school. So it matches my background. And in terms of your question about what the difference is. I could give you a high level of introduction of the difference in the consulting industry. People thought the consulting industry is all strategy but it’s not true. Only I think that the MBB are strategy consulting. So the strategy is definitely an important part of the consulting, basically, you provide strategies to help a firm. Most of the time, it is not what we learn from class and they have some kinds of problems that we have to solve. For example, a company could use a million dollars just to confirm the internal strategy that they are trying to implement before they make a decision. Those strategy consulting firms are definitely a big part of consulting firms and the Big Three are really good ar strategy. Most of the time, you are competing with the Big Three on strategy consulting but it’s hard because they’re really good. For most of the other firms, I think consulting is mostly project management. What we do is basically after a strategy is decided, which is the implementation part. The implementation part is what we call project management, and project management is what most consulting firms are doing, including Big Three. You might have different focuses, like maybe a project management in technologies. There is project management in different industries like the healthcare industry, life science, energy, financial services. Most of the work is actually project management-related, which may be operating the process or upgrading your software. Basically, consulting is breaking into different sectors. You have a background in life sciences, then your client will be pharma company. You are good in financial services banking then your client will be the bank. What you’re doing is project management, but you are also required to have some background or experience in the field. This is consulting and this is what consulting does. And I think for my firm, we definitely have specialization in the energy sector and we’re also great in the financial services. That’s what I think Navigate is really good at. And we’re also good at the public sector but Deloitte is a really big competitor.
Interviewer: Yeah, Deloitte is very famous now in this industry. That makes sense. One last question related to the topic we just talk about consulting. So you talk about your financial background, public information background and you talked about project management. So there are a variety of different skills you have to use in this job. On the other side, you know that Babson doesn’t really have a concentration called Consulting. If I’m a student who wants to enter the consulting industry, what kind of thing do I need to put on my resume in order to say that “oh this is going be an interesting resume and is going to be selected by Guidehouse.
Interviewee: That’s a great question. Actually, there is a specific concentration called strategic management at Babson.
Interviewer: Right. But you just said that only the Big Three are talking about the strategy. You guys are more like project management.
Interviewee: So I think the skillsets for consulting required are all the same. Basically, consulting firms are client-facing. You will need good communication skills and presentation skills, etc. These are all really important. I remembered that we had the MCFE program at Babson. I think that’s really helpful for entering the consulting industry. You have a consulting project at Babson. The MCFE program is definitely a way to get involved, a good starting point, and a good thing to show on your resume. Another thing is the class called ASM, which is strategic problem-solving. I think it is one required class at Babson, in your junior year. Basically, that’s a consulting class. You learn a lot about problem-solving with two big presentations to solve the problem for two firms. For an undergraduate student who hasn’t got any experience, it’s good to build your projects there. When I was interviewed by consulting firms, I always talked about that project when I was at Babson. That is consulting to solve a problem and create a presentation. I think that’s a good experience you can talk about and to put on your resume if you’re looking for a consulting-related job, no matter if you apply to the Big Three or the other different firms.
Interviewer: I see. You are saying that if you are a Babson student, at least those two experiences will be on your resume, which is gonna help your resume to stand out. Is that what you are saying?
Interviewee: Right. These experiences are definitely good. I think the important thing about a resume is not only about experience. Many students don’t know how to write a bullet. You need to have at least three to four bullets for each of your experiences. For the most important experiences, you need to have 4 bullets and each bullet should have two sentences and each sentence you need to directly show what you did, what methods, and what result. Let’s say, I did research by doing something and presenting something to the whole class. So basically you have to say what you did by what method and get what result in one bullet, which will be two sentences long.
Interviewer: So that’s what we say that people always forget to talk about the results. They tell people what they do but they actually do not tell people the result of their tasks.
Interviewee: Yeah, people always say that “I did this, I did that”, but people don’t usually talk about their results. You have to incorporate your result. Sometimes you can even add a method, but the result is more important. You have to have a result. Include numbers in your resume too — it cannot be just words. It has to be like, “I improved the sales 50%” or “I wrote 50 research papers”. You have to add some numbers to show some quantitative information. You need to have two sentences long bullets and three to four bullets for each experience. And always show results. And using stronger words is also important. I think Harvard has a really good resume guide that kind of gives you suggestions on what kind of word you can use to be sound stronger. Like you can say “I conduct a research” instead of “I did a research” or “I led the team” instead of “I was a part of the team”. I think it’s always important to use stronger words on your resume.