February 22, 2017

The one yes that I needed

Bowie Kung ’17

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After my final round of job interviews in New Jersey, three in one day, I kept re-running them in my head. I thought I had done OK — I’d gone through the cases calmly and quickly and felt that I’d connected with the interviewers. But was my best their best? So many questions, so many emotions: an unfiltered look at the modern quest for employment.

three glass light bulbs suspended against a backdrop of sky

Second-guessing, pep-talking

Before I had even boarded the train back to Mount Holyoke College, I started to second-guess my performance. I even started pep-talking myself to accept what I thought was imminent rejection.

I told myself that no one would think poorly of me for having failed, that it would be a true test of my character and perseverance, and that it was a blessed thing to fail early. Hadn’t Edison failed 1,000 times before he invented the light bulb?

But if I had failed, I probably wouldn’t be writing this. So instead, this is about how I somehow succeeded. And maybe even about how the line between success and failure can feel so thin. 

Mount Holyoke campus at dusk

Everything I had

Throughout my final semester at Mount Holyoke, I put everything I had into my job search. I met with the Career Development Center (CDC) to perfect my resume and cover letter. I practiced case interviews a few times a week with my close friend Sophie Nguyen ’17: For two hours at a time, we took turns playing the role of the interviewer, reviewed case frameworks and challenged each other’s critical thinking and improvisation skills.

I attended countless on- and off-campus company information sessions and career fairs, and connected with alumnae working in the consulting and social sector. I wanted to believe that I had as much choice in choosing a company as a company had in choosing me. Ideally, I wanted to land with a company that consults for various sectors and industries so that I’d be challenged to think from the point of view of different stakeholders.

As a lover of lists, I created a spreadsheet with company-specific application deadlines, interview dates, contact people, general information and interesting facts and news. During this gruelling process, whenever I felt stressed I would tell myself: At the end of the semester, I will have secured something.

Frustration, imagination

So I pushed, applied and networked. And died a little inside every time I got a rejection email. Of the 31 companies I applied to, only a handful invited me for a first-round interview. It was frustrating. I kept thinking, “If only they would interview me, I could convince them to hire me!”

When I did go for interviews, I would remember the wise words that Kate Lowry ’15 once said to me: “In the interview, you are no longer a student but a consultant and your interviewer is the client.” Munching on a bagel beforehand to calm my nerves, I would imagine every interview as an opportunity to make friends with whoever was sitting across from me.

During case interviews, I would take my time in structuring each case and explaining my logic mathematically. I’d tap into my common sense and any business knowledge I’d gathered throughout my preparation. And, most importantly, I made sure to approach each question with curiosity and enjoyment.

close up of train tracks and the blur of passing trees

A scream-whisper

On that train ride back to Mount Holyoke, as I was busy second-guessing myself, I got a phone call from one of the interviewers offering me the job. I forgot to cover the receiver as I scream-whispered, “YES!”

It was the happiest moment of my adult life. I had secured a position at a company that I was excited to work for. McKinsey & Company, with clients in different sectors and industries, will give me the chance to better understand business, social sector and private sector processes. They also put a tremendous amount of training and investment into each employee and have a network of many successful “alumni.” Although I know that getting a job is not the ultimate aim of my years of education, it felt amazing to receive some form of recognition for my hard work.

Without the generous help and support from my friends and staff at the CDC, the arduous and daunting task that is job-seeking would have been even more arduous and daunting. I can only imagine the host of challenges and topics that my friends and I will continue to pore over together in the future, and that will somehow feel more doable just because we are tackling it together.

As for the spreadsheet, I still look at it from time to time. I am proud of each and every rejection — after all, every no brought me closer to the one yes that I needed.

Say yes to your future. Learn More

Bowie Kung graduated from Mount Holyoke College in December 2016. The native of Hong Kong majored in international relations and minored in French. She was the co-chair of C.A.U.S.E. (Creating Awareness and Unity for Social Equity) and Hope of Haiti, a student-led and student-run nonprofit organization that supports a primary school in Pernier, Haiti. Kung is currently taking time off before moving back to the U.S. for her full-time position at McKinsey & Company, the consulting firm.

“I would venture to guess that Anon, who wrote so many poems without signing them, was often a woman.” – Virginia Woolf, “A Room of One’s Own”
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