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How I “Defined The Relationship” With My First Job Out of College

Michelle XuJune 22, 2017

It was 9:41pm on a Friday, but the daylight in Lillesand, Norway was not letting up. Earlier that day, my New York-based coworkers and I had caught fish, baited crab traps, and enjoyed a Norwegian dinner with open-faced prawn sandwiches. As we gathered around the campfire to make s’mores under the dimming night sky, I thought to myself, “How did I get so lucky?”

This time last year, I had just completed my undergrad at Stanford. It was an exhilarating and significant moment, but fear soon consumed me. I laid in bed as questions roamed my mind. What am I going to do now? How should I go about finding a job? What do I want to do? Without the immediate goal of completing a reading assignment or preparing for a midterm, I was facing an existential crisis.

The months of job-hunting after graduation felt like Tinder: I expressed interest, went on first dates with various companies, got rejected, licked my wounds, and got back up to repeat the process. Finally, a startup called Firsthand swiped right. I got the opportunity to be a Customer Success Associate. Not knowing fully what my job or any of this would entail, I packed my bags and left the Bay Area for New York City to begin my first serious relationship with an employer.

As with any healthy relationship, Firsthand and I needed to set expectations. When we finally met in person, Firsthand’s CEO Fredrik described three core values that were fundamental to the company and to our working relationship: Generosity, Proactivity, and Problem-solving. These three values act like spokes on a wheel – “without them Firsthand can’t effectively move forward,” he said, “and they will be critical to your success.”

Intellectually, I knew what those three words meant, but I entered the relationship not fully knowing why they mattered. It was ultimately my coworkers who showed me, in their interactions, how generosity, proactivity, and problem-solving helped us succeed as a team. And it was ten months in, at our Values Day retreat in Norway, that these values helped me define the relationship (DTR) with Firsthand.

Once a year, on Values Day, the Firsthand team gathers to discuss how our values have helped us in the past and how they can help us in the future. We have a thought session and an activity for each value. We collaborate, laugh, and reflect in an open environment, and come home with new ideas that we’re eager to implement.

In a relationship, success isn’t determined by the number of likes on an Instagram photo or the score on a final exam. At Values Day I realized that success for Firsthand, beyond hitting financial and strategic goals, is about continually striving to be the best versions of ourselves. As we grow and work together, the company becomes the best version of itself as well. None of this would be possible without our values.

Every day, I see my teammates be generous with their time and teaching each other new skills; I see them be proactive in establishing trusting relationships with customers and clients; I watch us lean into solving big problems as opposed to backing away. No matter what hurdle we’re facing or emotion we’re feeling, our three values move us forward.

People often say that you get out of a relationship what you put into it. After putting in generosity, proactivity, and problem-solving, I’m happy to say that my relationship with Firsthand is going strong.

Michelle Xu

The Good, Bad, and Ugly of Questions for the Interviewer

fredrikNovember 2, 2016

For the better part of an hour, you’ve done your best to answer questions about your strengths, your weaknesses, and your five-year plan. It’s been awkward. By the time the interviewer asks “So, any questions for me,” you’re spent. But it’s not over yet. There’s ample opportunity for failure and redemption in how you answer this last critical job interview question.

I’ve asked hundreds of candidates this question through Firsthand and Evisors. Answers fall in one of three buckets: the good, the bad, and the ugly. Here’s how to know which is which and end your interview on a high note.

Your interview is not the time to get all your questions answered

If you’re contemplating working 40+ hours a week with new people, in a new office, a new culture, with new products and processes, you will have lots of questions. But don’t waste the interviewer’s time on questions you could have googled. Save your precious interview airtime for engaging questions no else can answer.

The Ugly

“Nope.” “No questions.” “You covered them all.”

Having no questions prepared screams you’re not interested in the job and that unless you’re the only candidate that meets the requirements, you’re not getting the job.

The Bad

Bad questions put you and the interviewer in a bad light. They convey that you haven’t done your homework, that you don’t have what it takes or that you lack motivation. Here are some examples:

“Can I ask to be taken off a project or switch teams if it’s not working out?”

It’s a fair question, but asking it in the interview says you’re not confident you can do the job.

“Is it true what they say about the long working hours, that you have to work weekends and holidays?”

Work-life balance is a fair concern, but you should have researched working hours before you applied. Confronting the interviewer with negative rumors like this is sure leave a sour taste in their mouth.

“Has it been hard for the organization to weather the recent downturn/scandal/etc.?”

You may think you sound smart by asking a question about a recent challenge facing the employer, but in doing so you’ve elected to spend your time interrogating your interviewer rather than building a relationship with them by discussing a positive topic that might be of mutual interest.

The Good

The best questions put you and the interviewer in a positive light. They show that you’re knowledgeable, that you have what it takes, and that you’re motivated to join the team. Legitimate concerns can be phrased as bad questions or as good ones. Below I’ve rephrased the three bad questions above to be positive, while still addressing underlying concerns.

“How can I be successful in this role?”

This says: “I’m motivated and driven. I can see myself in this role and am already planning on being successful.” If you’re concerned you’re not good enough, the answer will tell you where you need to be. This question is also a subtle compliment for the interviewer. It implies that the interviewer knows what success looks like and is successful themselves.

“Walk me through your schedule on a typical day”

This question shows that you’re interested and will give you a sense of how long the workdays are.

“What’s been your proudest/most impactful/fun moment in the organization?”

This signals that you’re excited to join in on the fun. Focusing on the positive ensures you’ll end the interview on a good note.

If you do your homework, you can turn almost any legitimate concern about the employer into a positive, engaging, and rapport-building question. For your next job interview, I challenge you to write down twenty great questions and to bring a print-out of them. Pulling this sheet out when the final question arrives will leave no doubt as to how motivated and prepared you are. 


How to “Tell Me About Yourself” in Job Interviews

fredrikOctober 24, 2016

“So, tell me about yourself.” “Tell me your story.” “Walk me through your resume.” Virtually every job interview opens with a version of the same one-liner. It’s a softball, but it’s also a trap. Answer it poorly, and spend the rest of your interview trying to undo a bad impression. Answer it well, and the job is yours to lose.

I’ve given hundreds of mock interviews to job-seeking students and young alumni through Evisors and Firsthand. It stumps me how many people swing and miss at this easy opener. Crafting a great opening elevator pitch isn’t rocket science however, and with practice, anyone can master it. Here’s how.  

1. Start with WHY

The interviewer knows what’s on your resume. What they don’t know is why it’s there. Why are you a biology major who wants to work in finance? Oh, so you’re passionate about cancer drugs because you had a family member who suffered? That’s why you pursued a biology degree and worked at an oncology lab last summer. Seeing how vital research struggled to get funding, you’re now passionate about fixing that. Got it. And you’ve taken up swimming because you never learned to swim as a kid and like challenging yourself. Cool!  

2. Connect it with what they’re looking for 

Talking about passions can be powerful, but only if you tie it what an employer is looking for. If the job description says they’re looking for generous, proactive, problem solvers, talking about being passionate about helping others, being organized and getting ahead of things, or challenging yourself will play well. It’s not about contorting your life story to fit with every company value, but pick a value or two that resonates and use it to frame your story. Calling yourself a problem solver and using learning to swim and improving research funding as examples is one way to do it. 

3. Talk about setting goals and achieving them 

Employers want someone with drive who can get things done. While you may not have a story or a passion that aligns with every aspect of what an employer is looking for, presenting yourself as someone who sets goals and achieves them always works well. Oh, so your goal was to be a confident swimmer – you started out barely able to stay afloat, but now you compete in a water polo league? Impressive.

4. Keep it short and sweet

Don’t ramble or go off on a tangent. Good answers stay on point and don’t exceed 1-2 minutes.

5. Mention what you do for fun

You’re being interviewed by your future colleagues. No one wants to work with someone who is all work and no play. So talk about what you do for fun. Mention things you could involve your future colleagues in, like baking, bar trivia, karaoke, exercise classes, fantasy sports, or multi-player video games.

You’d be surprised how similar most resumes look to interviewers. If you’re just going to read your resume’s bullet-points out loud when I ask you to tell me your story, you may as well not bother. Instead, give yourself a new set of bullet-points to practice covering the five elements above. If you can tell me about your passions in a way that resonates with my company’s mission and values, and you show me you’re a go-getter who knows how to have fun, I’ll be sold.


Choosing a Finance Career: Investment Banker vs. Financial Analyst

Jonatan BorgesAugust 12, 2016

Choosing a career path may be stressful, but fret not. Whether you’re still in college or just starting your first job, you have your entire professional life ahead of you. Congratulations! The possibilities are endless. However, the first few years of your career will likely dictate your career path, income potential, as well as your personal life. A little frightening, but I don’t mean to scare you! I’m only trying to tell you the truth.

While it’s always possible to change your career path, it becomes increasingly harder as time goes by. For example, switching careers becomes incredibly difficult after you’ve already built up skills, abilities, knowledge, and competences within your initial path, trust me. Based on my experiences, I’d like to share some thoughts and examples that can help you successfully choose a career path the first time around.

Choosing Your Path

Through my work I’ve been lucky enough to meet and interview people early in their career who desire to develop, transition, or explore the multitude of options that lay before them. One of the most recent additions to our team here at Trustpilot is a former investment banker who transitioned into a financial analyst role with our growing organization.

Investment bankers are known for having an analytical mindset, hard work, and ability to thrive in a fast-paced environment. Who wouldn’t want an employee with those attributes, especially at a startup? This, of course, gives bankers an edge over their peers when they face the tough decision of what to do with their careers after their Analyst tenure is over. You see, investment banks often contract analysts for two- to three-year time periods. After these periods conclude, an investment banking analyst is left with a decision: stay with the bank on their current career track, climb the ladder from an Associate up to Managing Director, leave for a private equity position, or transition out of investment finance and into managerial finance. 

Luckily for us here at Trustpilot, Michael Tomae, our newest addition to the Financial Planning and Analysis (FP&A) team, decided to leave the investment banking world for the fun and excitement of a startup environment. Michael told us that “the option of working at a startup was particularly exciting. I wanted a career that was fulfilling, where I would feel that my contributions were having a tangible effect on a company’s success. I also value work-life balance,” he went on to say, citing diversity and entrepreneurship as additional reasons why he wanted to work at a startup in an FP&A role. 

Differences Between Managerial Finance and Investment Banking

Looking into Michael’s decision to choose one career over the other is important. In effect, he decided to choose a job that spoke more to his lifestyle and career goals, which means we need to break down the difference between managerial finance and investment banking. The major difference is the amount of ownership a person has over the success and direction of a company. For example, with a company like Trustpilot, financial analysts often work directly with the executive management team or board of directors to develop strategies that increase the company’s long-term growth prospects.

Investment banking, on the other hand, usually does not provide this level of opportunity. An analyst is not taught how to scale and grow a company, design and implement processes, and nurture a business. Investment banking teaches you how to work hard, act professional, and communicate effectively with senior leaders. Additionally, investment bankers learn how to manage work streams, multitask, and execute on deliverables. 

The Benefits of Investment Banking First

This means, of course, that while Michael is best suited for a financial role with a growing startup, his investment banking background contributed to his quick success at Trustpilot. Investment bankers learn a wealth of knowledge and experience on the job that is easily transferable to other roles. What’s more, the intense and competitive nature of the investment banking sector prepares people for life outside of the industry. For example, a career in the startup space, although fun, requires sacrifices. Startup companies tend to pay less and don’t pay out year-end bonuses. The resiliency gained through the time as an investment banker, however, gives people like Michael a growth mindset, understanding that working through lean times results in greater rewards.

When asked what he missed most about investment banking, Michael said, “The one thing I miss from working at an investment bank is the incredible infrastructure and the access to resources. There are times I wish I still had access to the research staff or the unlimited ability to ask designers for help on creating beautiful presentations. At Trustpilot, these resources are scarce and that causes projects to take longer to complete.” However, in true investment-banker-turned-startup-employee style, Michael remains resolute. “I’ve learned to accept this as a ‘no project is too small’ mentality, because ultimately, each action at Trustpilot is a necessary step in ensuring the viability of a growth-stage company.”

Starting a career in investment banking clearly provides a great foundation on which other financial career paths can be built. It gives you a great set of skills and can prepare you for whatever direction you choose. My advice to you: decide your career path in the first few years of your professional life. Gaining skills through investment banking is great, but if it isn’t your desired career, it’s better to get out earlier rather than later.

Make sure you think long-term. Imagine what you want your life and career to look like in 5-10 years. Hold that vision tightly in your mind and then go all in, chasing your dream! Plan your career and your life so that at the end of your journey, you’ve ended up exactly where you wanted to go. I wish you luck, I’m confident you can do it!

About the Author

Jonatan Borges is responsible for Financial Planning & Analysis at Trustpilot, a global multi-language review community that builds trust and transparency between consumers and businesses. He holds a master’s degree in Finance and Accounting and a bachelor’s degree in Economics and Business Administration from Copenhagen Business School (Denmark). He has extensive knowledge within finance and accounting and has significant experience in startups, consulting, online, shipping and IT-solutions.

Jonatan Borges

Startup Your Finance Career

Jonatan BorgesJuly 28, 2016

Why you should work in finance at a startup — When looking for a job in finance most people think of Wall Street and big banks, but have you ever considered working in finance at a startup? Described as the “New Gold Rush,” the tech boom has created more opportunities to join a startup than ever before. I’ve been fortunate enough to work in New York’s Silicon Alley for the past few years, and I feel it’s time I share some of my experiences.

After working for a number of established companies with processes and structures galore, I decided it was time for a change. I wanted an environment where I could fast-track my career. This was how I discovered how intimidating and exhilarating working for a startup could be.

Newly founded businesses have to build everything from scratch. As an early employee, with no guide on how things were done before, this can be really challenging. On the other hand, early stage companies put product, sales, and technology at the forefront, challenging you to innovate, think outside the box, and constantly problem-solve.

Working at a startup, I realized that I had to use my knowledge and creativity to build my own processes and structures. In doing so, I could be instrumental in building a company from the ground up. Coming to work every day knowing that I can make an impact, and that I am helping build something great, really makes a difference. This kind of mindset and drive at a startup is contagious and creates an often euphoric can-do spirit where the sky is the limit.

Startups allow you to be creative and innovative, but where does finance come into the picture?

Startups allow you to be creative and innovative, but where does finance come into the picture? Any business aiming to grow big needs a structured financial setup. This is where you’ll find finance job opportunities aplenty! You will be solving tasks like: How do we measure our financial performance?  What are they key drivers of our business? When will we have to raise the next round of funding?  As a part of this journey, the number of people telling you what to do or how to do it will be limited. That is the charm and challenge of working for a startup, but if you are a self-driven person there is no limit to the tasks or projects you can get involved with and take ownership of. You’ll be given the opportunity to understand and influence the business from the very heart of the engine. You’ll be able to set the agenda and help drive the business to its full potential.  In a short amount of time you will get the opportunity to explore, not only every corner of finance, but also gain insight into the different functions of a company and how they work together.

As the company grows so do your opportunities and tasks. Growth adds more people, departments and complexity. As the business matures and evolves so will its needs and challenges. Working for a startup gives you a unique professional experience. It lets you grow and show the world the creativity and gumption you’re capable of.  Rather than following predeveloped processes and structures, you can create your own and make your job what you truly want it to be.

When you consider the fact that you spend the vast majority of your waking hours in the office, wouldn’t you rather be making a difference every day, working with dedicated and passionate people who are pushing the envelope of what’s possible?

About the Author

Jonatan Borges is responsible for Financial Planning & Analysis at Trustpilot, a global multi-language review community that builds trust and transparency between consumers and businesses. He holds a master’s degree in Finance and Accounting and a bachelor’s degree in Economics and Business Administration from Copenhagen Business School (Denmark). He has extensive knowledge within finance and accounting and has significant experience in startups, consulting, online, shipping and IT-solutions.

Jonatan Borges