life lessons

They’re not smarter than you

Over a year ago, I was worried that I wouldn’t get an internship. I was interviewing for a competitive position at a well known financial reporting company in San Francisco. I had some relevant experience, but I still felt like I was on the outsider looking in. I was competing against students from top-tiered schools from around the nation; students who knew (we will visit that again) more than me.

I was going over my resume and doing mock interviews with one of my older brothers one night. He could tell I was nervous – mostly because I told him about my lack of confidence. “They’re not smarter than you,” he told me. Even though I didn’t understand that statement then it has stayed with me.

Even though I didn’t get the job, I went much further in the process than I would have guessed and it was a invaluable experience for me for other upcoming competitive interviews.

I just started reading Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers. The crux of his argument is that success is not based on working hard and being smart – most of it is circumstance and luck.

To me, success, however you want to define it, is gained by knowing how to get it. While I am focusing on getting a job in this post, I don’t see why this principal is not true for other goals one may have.

I didn’t know I didn’t know what I didn’t know. For instance, I thought if I worked hard, which I knew how to do, someone would find me and hire me. Like fair dust, my dream job would fall on me and I could then fly off to Neverland to my condo, better body, and car. Reality hit me when I was going door to door in the hot sun selling alarms and my peers were doing something I vaguely understood called ‘internships’. It was said that these ‘internships’ would help students land their desired job. I then knew I didn’t know what I didn’t know before and the more I learned, the more I realized I didn’t know what I needed to know.

I ventured into this internship world and got an internship; and got another one; and got another one. In each internship I heard stories from the people around me about their future plans. I interviewed at more competitive places. I talked to more professionals and heard their story. It was in an interview that it finally hit me with what my brother had told me.

I was in the financial district in San Francisco, overlooking the bay bridge from the third floor of a nice building, and I was sitting across from an associate at an investment bank. This was an informal interview; the one where they make sure you are worth their time. After he was done testing me and my answers seemed to appease him, I asked him to share his story. “How did you get here?” His story all made sense. It was logical. Good school to the right clubs to the right internship to the right first job, etc. But what really struck me is when he mentioned what his father and uncle did. His father was a venture capitalist and former banker and so was his uncle. He did the right things, he probably had some luck, but he did something similar to what his father did. That was his paradigm – he was going to be in finance. His father showed/told him how he would do it.

Since that meeting I have looked back at interactions I have had with people I thought were smarter than me and I realized that the majority were just normal people that had been exposed to different things than I had. I have met people that are smarter than me, it happens a lot, but I also meet people that are perceived smart and aren’t; they just saw a world in a different way.

You need to be a hard worker. You need to be able to meet expectations. You need luck. You need to know your stuff. But you need to know what hoops to jump through. Whether that is networking or jumping on a plane to meet with a company you really like just to meet them.

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