In university, a number of friends and I got together to start a business. We didn’t have any idea what we’d create, but we figured we could collectively brainstorm something. We called our little project Project Alpha. Looking back, it’s humorous how little we knew and how unprepared we were.
We never made it past the first hurdle, because we kept stumbling over this one issue: all our supposedly unique and innovative ideas we’d brainstormed had already been done. There were already other products out there that did the same thing we wanted to do.
We scrapped every idea we looked at, and continued moving down the idea list. To no surprise, pretty soon we had exhausted all of our ideas. We had completely failed in our minds, and we thought it wasn’t meant to be. The group never officially disbanded, but it gradually faded away thereafter.
We were clueless.
I recently posted a job on Indeed.com looking to hire someone for a portfolio company of our firm’s. I was responsible for going through the applications, whittling them down, and conducting the initial interviews.
I learned quite a bit from this experience. All of a sudden, many aspects of the traditional hiring process made sense to me. Here are some of my takeaways.
It’s true, employers are flooded with resumes.
For this job, I received over 200 applications in less than a week – and I posted the job around Christmas. There was no way I could have sifted through each resume carefully, trying to find golden nuggets. I had to create a system to filter through them quickly. For this position, I quickly looked at the applicant’s current and previous job titles – if it matched, good. I then narrowed down candidates by determining if they had any experience in the particular industry we were hiring for. Finally, I looked to see if the candidate showed any creativity in their cover letter or resume (important for this position, not always true).
This is why you want your resume to be free of typos, formatted correctly, and look presentable. You want to give yourself the best chance possible, and all else equal, a poorly formatted resume with typos will be rejected over a more pristine one. I’ve heard that the average employer only looks at a resume for 7 seconds, and I found this to be relatively true. It’s crucially important for applicants to make it clear why they’re perfect for the position and how their experience backs that up as quickly as possible.
This past year, I decided to instill a new habit to my life: reading. I realized it was probably the most important improvement I could make that would pay the greatest dividends. I started the year off at a frenetic pace, reading upwards of ten books a month to start, but gradually found a happier medium settling at 5-6 books a month (I was also still in school for the first half of the year, giving me more time to read). In total, I read 80 books in 2014 and more non-fiction books than I’d read in my entire life previously.
You can see my reading list here along with my thoughts on some of them.
Here are 10 things I learned about reading this past year:
1. It’s OK to give up on a book
I finished 80 books this year, but I also dropped 20-30 other books because I wasn’t getting any value from them. I used to feel guilty about doing this, following the mantra I had to finish what I started, but I quickly realized this was a waste of time. I accepted that it’s fine to quit books you don’t like or aren’t doing anything for you.
The timing of when you read a book is sometimes everything – there’s no shame in shelving it to read later, when it may be more applicable to your life. I felt this way while reading many business books. Such books were often targeted towards senior managers or people who were already at the helm of thriving businesses – not so relevant for my present situation. Some books I picked up were simply bad. For these books, I generally gave it 50 pages, then skipped ahead to see if there was anything useful I could pick up from skimming it. No one says you have to read a book from start to finish, either.
“But everyone else is doing it!”
“But everyone else has one!”
“But everyone else thinks so!”
I would whine and use these phrases as a kid whenever I tried to convince my parents to let me go to a party or stay up later or buy me a new toy. They were my go-to phrases, in fact, because I thought if all my friends were doing something, it had to be right…right?
I’ve since realized how wrong (and bratty) I was, and how bad of a general principle this is. If my future kid ever used the same argument, I would 100% not agree to whatever his demand was.
The fact that everyone else is doing something means you should be very hesitant about following suit. Mark Twain once said whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it’s time to pause and reflect. I would add to that, to say pause, reflect, then strongly consider doing the opposite. Continue reading
I’ve found that I greatly enjoy the process of writing, but the more tedious aspect of writing well is editing. If every article I wrote took a total of 10 hours (to keep it simple), I’d estimate I spend only 2 hours actually writing and 8 hours editing. In the editing process, I go through line by line, word by word, asking myself if this is the right word in this sentence, or how could I break up this chunk of text, or should I move this paragraph before that one, and so on. Sometimes I’ll spend a good ten minutes just looking up the right word to insert in a particular sentence. It’s quite an ordeal, and I think it’s one of the reasons why I have so many half-finished drafts sitting in folders everywhere. Getting my thoughts on in a quick ramble is easy, but when it comes to trying to articulate precisely what I wanted to say, and doing so effectively in a terse manner, I freeze. I suppose I’m not sure if this is the way writing is supposed to work, or if my perfectionism is stopping me from releasing more of my work into the public.
Funny enough, the above paragraph involved absolutely no editing. What you’re reading is the first draft. Call this my way of battling my tendency to over-edit.
This year was an eventful year, and one that I think marked a turning point for my personal growth. This will be the first year that I write one of these self-reflections and plan for the upcoming year.
I’m going to break it up by what went well this year (the good) and what didn’t (the bad).
-Graduated from university, said goodbye to formal education for now (possibly forever)
-Moved to New York and closed the long-distance gap with my girlfriend of several years
-Made reading a part of my life. Read 75+ books in total this year, after having read <5 the year before
-Started writing and publishing my work online, receiving tens of thousands of views and realizing in the process that I enjoy writing and thinking
-Began taking my personal and life development more seriously; realized that if I wanted to make the most out of my life, I had to drastically change my mindset, daily habits, network, etc.
-Discovered amazing virtual mentors through the likes of James Altucher, James Clear, and Michael Ellsberg
“Discovered” entrepreneurship and the concept of “choosing yourself” – realized life is so much more than the 9-5 grind if you allow it to be
-Poor productivity/time management for the most part prevented me from doing more with my free time and made others wait for me
-Met relatively few new people both offline and online
-Didn’t travel outside North America
-Didn’t call home often enough
-Consumed far more information than I actually acted upon, i.e. low engagement with the books I read