October 05 2016
The third section, adulthood, covers the next ten years as I attempt to gain lucrative employment. I was determined to stay with my parents and to build a career in finance. I would prepare with an iron will and a laser focus to break into an investment banking job after only nine months. Finance Enough was enough with the acting dream, it was time to cash in what had once been a stellar resume for a real job. I immediately zoomed in on a career in finance. I had been exposed to investment banking lore through campus gossip at both Microsoft and MIT. It was suggested that for a young unattached person chasing monetary gratification, there was no better way to trade smarts and work-life balance for a fat paycheck and a fast-tracked path to senior management. Forget about the Silicon Valley ideals of changing the world through technology, I only wanted to be paid well for my time. Family would be the ends for my means and I would no longer look for higher-calling validation through my vocation. If the stars aligned, perhaps one day I would return to storytelling as a hobby, unencumbered by the need to making a living from it, and thereby able to enjoy the art for its own sake without the taint of commercial industry. I updated my resume, artificially extended my tenure at Microsoft to the present, and erased all traces of artistic aspiration. I downloaded books on investment banking careers and planned the ideal career path: a few years of grinding out all-nighters in investment banking, where the deal cycles were short and exposure wide and varied, to graduate to a few years of buy-side private equity, where investment cycles were longer and less time-intensive, finally to retire to a job in portfolio management, where taking a percentage cut of funds managed while guiding a mostly passive asset allocation to track the market was leisurely yet lucrative. My parents agreed that the long-term career prospects of finance were better than that of computer science. Here, one did not have to stare at a computer screen late into life and to constantly compete with new graduates by learning the latest programming languages. A career goal of ending up managing the endowment of some large entity like UBC seemed like a reasonable and comfortable target. My parents were mostly concerned about my long-term health, rather than my ability to making loads of money, and were happy simply with the fact that I was determined to stay in Vancouver with them. Vancouver, as it turned out, was a very small watering hole for finance, so I began by submitting applications far and wide to gain practice with the notoriously difficult interviews. I used the MIT alumni job board and found interviews with finance-related firms across the United States in big markets with lots of opportunities. I attended a series of interviews with hedge funds in New York, driven around in a beat-up and lived-in sedan by a shady head hunter who would continue for years afterwards to try to land me a job in the big apple so he could get a cut. The interviews were brainy and analytical, and I did not make it very far with my rusty mathematics. Another interview for a management consulting job brought me to gleaming downtown Los Angeles, and yet another with a fund in Houston, Texas, where the portfolio manager chatted with me for fifteen minutes, sussing out whether I had insider tips while his eyes remained glued to a Bloomberg monitor. I was invited to a large interview event with the world's biggest hedge fund in rural Connecticut. I spent the night before in a roadside motel as remote and dumpy as the establishments I had stayed in during my acting tour. The next day I was driven to the corporate campus hidden deep in the woods, joined by a few hundred other young graduates, including some brandishing the MIT GradRat I had designed on their fingers. The firm was apparently famous for its confrontational culture that prized truth-seeking over collegiality. The interviews were group affairs where we had to fight for our turn to speak, and we were asked outrageous brainteasers such as designing world-denting products on the fly and defending the idea from endless critique. By the afternoon, I looked around at the rat race and decided to stay quiet for the rest of the day. There was no conceivable way I was going to uproot myself to try to set up life in this particular middle-of-nowhere, to be attacked on a daily basis with no family to fall back to. It did not matter how much the job paid. I had crossed off another item off my list of life. The overall interview experience in America reaffirmed my dedication to remain in Vancouver and to make a life around my family. CFA Up to this point, I had never taken a finance course in my life, beyond a long-forgotten introductory Economics class at UBC. It began to dawn on me that unlike my university days when the Department of Science was the most difficult to get into, modern students had clued into the political realities of capitalistic society and competed to get into the Department of Commerce, making a business degree the most sought after and inflating its entrance GPA to a lofty 90%. If I were a student today, my marks may not have earned me a spot on the roster for what seemed like an ephemeral degree that tried to teach life experience in a classroom setting. Nevertheless, these were the new graduates I would be compared to for the very few entry-level finance jobs in Vancouver. To be competitive, I began with the end goal in mind and worked backwards, identifying what a prestigious finance firm looked for in candidates. My Microsoft internship office mate had been a medical school graduate before leaping into a job at the prestigious management consulting firm McKinsey, so I knew such firms were not necessarily looking for an academic background in business. In fact, it was widely whispered that the only metrics they assessed were smarts and dedication. They were rumoured to particularly like science and engineering recruits because these backgrounds had quantitative rigor and the recruits were smart enough to be taught what finance they needed in speedy boot-camps. My background matched these requirements on paper, the only thing I needed to demonstrate was dedication to the financial industry, given my conspicuous short tenures in academia and industry. To do this, I signed up for the Chartered Financial Analyst program. The CFA charter is an industry certification meant to provide a common way to assess a standardized set of fundamental finance knowledge. The scope of the CFA program was extremely wide and deep, making it an arduous accreditation to earn and a solid testament for those who earn it. Many finance undergraduate students join the program in their senior year while their schooling was still fresh, to help them bridge academic theory to industry practice as they began the job search. For me, the CFA program was the chance to both learn the requisite body of knowledge and demonstrate my commitment to building a career in finance. For many like myself, seeking to make the early-career transition from afar to business, the CFA was essentially a cheap, difficult, self-studied MBA degree. It was not for the faint of heart. The program was composed of three levels, each culminating in a grueling six-hour exam with pass rates of around 50%. The second and third level exams were available in cities around the world on the same day only once a year, while the first level was available twice a year. One had to pass the levels in order, meaning it took a minimum of two-and-a-half years to pass all three levels, provided one passed each exam on the first try. The difficulty of the program was reflected in the failure rate of around 50% even for the third exam, meaning half of the practiced hands who had passed the the first two levels still failed the final hurdle, and would have to wait an entire year before trying again. Once I paid my $1,000 for the level 1 exam three months away, I received a package of six textbooks in the mail. The books stacked together were one foot tall and covered foreign sounding topics including Ethics, Financial Statement Analysis, Corporate Finance, Portfolio Management, Risk and Return Analysis, and Derivatives. My English ability had vastly improved in the intervening years since UBC, but the technical terminology mixed with the esoteric concepts pushed my exam-busting DNA to the maximum. Since I had chosen this pursuit with eyes wide open after crossing Microsoft and acting off my list of life, I dove in with maniacal zeal and made up for my lack of exposure and experience with resolute hard work. I wrote notes for each of the six books, condensed the notes into my own summaries of about a dozen pages, and crystallized the ideas of the entire curriculum of thousands of pages into a single hand-written page, filling both sides of the page with tiny writing and leaving no white space unused. The act of repetition and distillation helped me load the vast amount of material into my short term memory, I may not have understood the concepts as fluently or as deeply compared to commerce students, but my sheer pattern recognition ability and clinical question answering methodology made me an exam-writing machine, and the pass-or-fail mark was all that mattered here. In the month before the exam, I shifted my focus from material digestion to exam performance. I organized all the sample exams I could find and grouped them by subject area, practicing each one to gain maximum exposure to the types and distribution of questions. Then I saved a few complete six-hour exams packages and wrote them in simulated real world conditions of exam day, removing as much distraction and variability as I could, right down to choosing the clothes I would wear on exam day. The day before go-time, I drove to the Pacific Colloquium, a sports stadium that was the site of the Vancouver test for its 1,200 candidates, to plan my route. On the big day, I brought a plastic bag with the only things allowed inside the stadium: government-issued photo ID, HB pencils, erasers, a standard-issue calculator with no memory capabilities, ear plugs, a watch, a bottle of water and no phones, wallets, or memory aids of any kind. Rows of tables and chairs were laid out in grids on the floor of the giant sports stadium, with a few feet separating each candidate in all directions, and aisles across the assembly for constant patrolling by serious-faced exam invigilators. After the exams were handed out, I put on my well-worn ear-plugs and plunged into the multiple choice questions. The questions were long and convoluted, often employing double negatives and had similarly precise choices for answers, but it was the pacing that was brutal. Though the exam was six-hours long, only about a minute-and-a-half could be allocated to each of the hundreds of questions. Every question required scribbling notes to work out the answer or eliminating choices towards a reasonable guess, and then carefully marking the choice on an answer sheet. The answer sheet was a form filled with rows and rows of tiny oval bubbles. Each answer had to be marked on the correct row, by using the pencil to completely fill in a round bubble. The minute-and-a-half had to also account for double- and triple-checking both the answer itself and that the correct bubble had been filled in, as time ticked by and vision began to blur from staring at the sea of tiny bubbles whose pattern of markings would determine one's ultimate fate. The answer sheet would be machine-read, and no marks were given for partial answers or scribbled works-in-progress. The exam was a vicious test of time-management, forcing one to triage questions by punting difficult ones to the end by immediately recognizing the subject area being tested and the type of work required to derive a sensible answer. The inevitable trip to the bathroom for the three-hour morning session had to be carefully planned as the walk from the stadium floor to the foyer was a good few hundred feet. It was best to go towards the end of the exam, after all the questions had been given the once-over, so one could recharge during the trip to come back to review the answers and tackle the difficult ones that had been left behind. But everyone wanted to go around that time and there were not enough invigilators to accommodate, so one had to also plan around the crowd. Once the morning three-hour session was over, we were let out for a ninety-minute break. I would ignore the lineups for people waiting to retrieve their superfluous jackets and backpacks, briskly walk to my car in silence, and eat my prepacked lunch of sandwich, fruit, and yogurt, the same meal I have had for all my practice exam trial runs. I would then take a 25 minute power nap to rest and recover before heading back to the line for getting back into the stadium. The afternoon was an identical three hours that strained the body and mind. After treating the exam with reverence and putting in over 700 hours of cumulative preparation in three months, I passed the level 1 exam with flying colors, scoring 75% or higher on all subject areas. Relieved and happy, I immediately signed up to repeat the ordeal six month later, for the level 2 exam taking place at the end of the year. Toehold I conducted my job search while studying for the CFA exam and applied the same cold clinical process of working backwards from my ultimate goal of a stable, lucrative finance job in Vancouver. The first point of contact between myself and employers was my resume. The objective here was one that would garner an interview, so I continuously refined mine in both form and content. I had saved what my old Microsoft office-mate had given me: a digital copy the resumes for his entire Harvard MBA class, all 250 of them. It was a treasured possession with a clear and concise format that I meticulously copied: a single double-spaced page highlighting education and experience with never more than three bullet points for each item. I carefully trimmed my resume, pruning superfluous words and highlighting distinct experiences by managing the negative white space such that a quick scan down the page would invite the eye to linger at the keywords that begged further study: "MIT", "Microsoft", "Japan". After copying the template of this gold standard for resumes, I filled it in with similar content to what had gotten its owners to Harvard: "CFA Level 1 Candidate", "4.0 GPA", "Leadership Award". All that was missing was an entry-level finance job that would make mine indistinguishable from theirs. For job leads, I scoured the internet for Greater Vancouver job boards, ranging from the general, to the institutional, to the highly specific. I bookmarked the dozens of pages and noted when I had last checked them, so that I would not miss a single relevant entry. The general pages had a large variety of mostly entry-level jobs that had nothing to do with finance. The institutional pages of the universities, municipalities, and banks were annoying to deal with as they each had convoluted forms that had to be manually filled out for each and every position. The highly specific pages, such as the job board of the local CFA society, were the real gems, with each being a highly relevant entry-level finance position, but these were few and far in between. Each year about 1,200 candidates wrote the CFA exams in Vancouver, yet the local society would have no more than two or three postings per month. I sought to increase my odds at gaining interviews by applying to any that had even a remote connection to finance. I calculated that out of about 50 submissions, I received a handful of responses for interviews, so I saw this as a numbers game and sought to turn the tables to my favor by widening the net and chasing all leads. I was very proud of my methodical approach to the job hunt, both in constructing my resume and in submitting hundreds of applications, so much so that I created a weblog called Greed Is Good, where I posted the library of links I had gathered. Later in time when I was well on my way to a finance career, I would credit my tenacious approach with my early success. I landed my entry-level job before I even wrote the level 1 CFA exam, barely three months after I gave up acting. The opportunity was through a referral by a Transition Program classmate to the father of a friend of his. My exhaustive canvassing left me well attuned to the local job market and I knew this was exactly the type of job I was looking for. My constant practice helped me nail the interview. The gentleman I was referred to was the sole employee of the Vancouver-arm of a Hong Kong commercial real estate investment company. The company had a sizable presence in Hong Kong and China but owned only a single commercial building in downtown Vancouver. They were looking to expand their presence in Canada and I was to be paid $50,000 a year to help the manager perform due diligence on Canadian real estate for sale. Though the company was tiny, I knew from my research that I could spin the work I would be doing as solid financial analysis which would unlock my resume and make me very competitive for the more established finance firms in the city. The manager was a Chartered Accountant by training, he had become the trusted Vancouver consigliere to the family of the Hong Kong owners over decades of loyal service and friendship. Though he told me he was not paid outrageously, he had no supervisor and could come and go as he pleased, overseeing some of his own real estate investments on the side. We shared our small office on the top floor of the four-story building with a self-employed lawyer and the rest of the building was taken up by a restaurant and shops on the retail level and an English-language school on the lower floors. My boss hired building managers and custodians to maintain and operate the building, and did the day-to-day cash management and accounting by himself. He was extremely proud that the building was located on the Robson Strip: a few blocks of tourist-trap that was known to carry the highest per square foot retail rent in all of Canada. I put on a suit and tie and took the bus from Dunbar to downtown to begin my professional career in Vancouver, feeling the buzz of the crowd as I walked to and from the building my employer owned on the busiest retail street of Vancouver. Before I began work and after I had passed the level 1 CFA exam, my parents and I vacationed in China. We made this trip once every two years or so, whenever the opportunity presented itself to visit our large extended family. On this particular trip, I was invited to see some of the projects my new employer in Shanghai. There, I met the eldest son of the Hong Kong family, essentially the boss of my boss. He was younger than my manager yet treated both of us with great respect whenever he visited Vancouver. He had a degree in architecture and boasted that he carried around five hard drives of the sketches for all the projects he had been involved in. He said he was a Director on the Board of the HSBC Bank of China and was very serious about good corporate governance, even though his company was family-owned. He had five young sons, and told a story about how he brought them to visit the Haagen-Dazs store in the large mall complex the family had built in Shanghai. He ordered half a tub of ice cream and was dismayed at how it was served. The server had used a knife to cut a carton of ice cream in half, and put one half, paper container still attached, on a plate. The boss eagerly showed me a picture of the half-carton of chocolate ice cream his young sons had to deal with, and happily said he had sent the same picture to Haagen-Dazs headquarters in Europe to complain, so they could work to improve their corporate culture. I shown around by a different ex-pat who also worked in Shanghai. He was an MBA classmate of the boss and had begun to regret uprooting his young family to China. He did not enjoy the level of access to and support from the boss that he felt he was promised and was not sure whether to tough it out or go back to his old pre-MBA job. He showed me around the mall complex, where a multi-floor supermarket had daily foot-traffic in the ten-thousands. It was very impressive but also difficult to tell what the company had actually done, though I surmised that they had secured and developed the land by financing it with partners and then sold the resulting retail, office, and mall spaces to others to recoup their investment. The MBA grad also showed me a smaller project of some residential houses with courtyards in Shanghai's old diplomatic quarters, and suggested that these free-standing houses were rare in China and the project were to be luxury units for use by government officials, hinting that the company's ability to secure this project was a sign that it was well-connected. I did not understand much, but after having been a bum actor, it was nice being shown around while wearing a short-sleeve dress-shirt in the summer sun, nodding and listening to real business talk. I dutifully collected the man's business card and deemed him to be now a part of my new business network. I began to work in the tiny office downtown, sitting at a desk in the common area, with the two enclosed offices used by my supervisor and the lawyer sub-tenant. A shared conference room for meetings rounded out our small and cozy space. My manager frequently hosted real estate investment professionals and brokers who brought with them industry chatter and fancy brochures describing buildings for sale. We took all meetings, hoping to stay abreast of the deal flow, and met some colorful characters. One was a tall clean-cut Asian man in a spotless suit with polished shoes who talked about the Venture Capital fund he worked for in Silicon Valley, and how our company could become an investor. Another was a local real estate agent who boasted about having attended the boss's boss's wedding in Hong Kong, and how told the company patriarch he should buy an entire apartment building in Metrotown as it would make a nice inheritance gift for one of the grandkids. We eventually took a serious look at one project for sale, a package of commercial and industrial lands and buildings being sold by a large conglomerate. As part of the due diligence work, I visited all the sites that were in Greater Vancouver, read up on the sites that were in Alberta, and created detailed cash flow projections for each property using Microsoft Excel. The projections were very specific, but they were based on very broad assumptions about overall economic growth which would impact the vacancy rates of the buildings. It was largely a case of "garbage in, garbage out", but I did the work anyway, continuously refining my spreadsheet templates to be as clear and flexible as possible. My boss also hired lawyers to perform the legal due diligence on the properties. Again, these were people who boasted of their ties to the bosses back in Hong Kong and were eager to please. The target company created a physical data room of all the documents for the properties for sale, the legal associates went through the title documents and while I focused on the numbers. It was my first exposure to deal professionals in Vancouver, and I overheard their chatter about taking boats out to English Bay for the summer fireworks. In the end, my boss's boss came over from China to review our work, and decided not to pull the trigger. He of the Haagen-Dazs complaints asked me whether I had any feedback on the overall process. I told him I was aghast that we had spent $50,000 on legal fees for the months-long process, and that the legal work could have waited until we were sure of our numbers. He told me it was all apart of doing business, that paying the brokers in town would keep them bringing us deals, and one day they may show us an obvious slam-dunk. I could not comprehend how wasting my annual salary on legal fees was a slam-dunk, but years after I had moved on, I saw that the company had purchased two more buildings in downtown Vancouver, so maybe greasing the wheels had paid off. Touchdown The close shared quarters and my constant agitation for more fulfilling work began to get on my manager's nerves. I distracted myself by studying for the CFA Level 2 exam, listening to Economist magazine audio articles on my iPod, and building ever-more elaborate Excel cashflow models. I constantly fidgeted with my resume, updating it was with I was learning and doing as I kept an eye on the local CFA society job site. My dream job appeared about six months into my tenure, and this time, my resume and I were both ready for it. The posting was by a mid-tier financial services company, publicly-listed in the US with offices all over North America. The opportunity was with the small elite Vancouver investment banking team of The Firm, to work as an entry-level analyst across all of their deals. This was as legitimate a capital markets finance job as it got in Vancouver, as many of the larger retail banks had their finance operations out east in Toronto. I added the six-months experience as a private equity analyst to my resume, coupled it with a sharp cover letter, and submitted my application to the position I had been preparing my machinery for. I received the call for a phone interview, a sign that the resume that I had so methodically crafted had passed muster. I would later find out that I was one of about a dozen applicants out of a total of eighty who landed a phone interview. Given my level of preparation, I knew my odds for landing the job vastly increased with each step further along the application process. The resume was my entry ticket to the game, but it also laid the ground rules for how the rest of the game was to be won. Just as I had designed the negative white space on my resume to highlight certain keywords, "MIT", "Microsoft", "Japan", it was now clear that these key ideas had evoked a strong connection with the hiring manager, so the phone interview was a chance to amplify these impressions to gain entry to the next step. On the phone with a lower level vice president who had the job of screening the dozen candidates down to about half, I professionally and passionately elaborated how my MIT and Microsoft experience led my wanting to get closer to the business side of the world and dedicating myself to pursue a career in finance by passing the CFA Level 1 exam and finding a job as a private equity analyst. My foreign experience in the US and Japan led me to decide unequivocally that Vancouver is the best place in the world and I was set to deepen my roots here, surrounded by family and friends. I received the invitation for the next round of face-to-face interviews. The offices of The Firm were in a premier AAA building at the busiest business intersection downtown, next door to the fancy Hotel Vancouver and the grassy lawns of the Vancouver Art Gallery. The building was called Cathedral Place because it shared the block with a church, had a greenish facade with perched stone beasts, and was topped by tall diamond-shaped spires. The investment banking group occupied the spire-adorned penthouse. I was to have a series of interviews, one with each of the managing directors and another with the group of three vice presidents together. Before facing the interview gauntlet, I came up with a plan to insulate myself from the eventual outcome by maximizing what I would get out of the process itself. My plan was to think from their perspective and identify the attributes they were most likely looking for in this position, and then to use the interviews to align myself with these attributes as best I could. This way, if my understanding of the essence of the position was correct, and I managed to convince them that I embodied this essence, then I should have as good shot as anyone of getting the job. Even if I did not ultimately win the position, because someone else better aligned themselves with the position, or because of uncontrollable vagaries of social preference, the exercise of identification and performance would be an invaluable skill that I could continue to hone with successive interviews until the dream job became an inevitability. This exercise had actually already begun at the resume and cover letter stage, in which my application package was constructed to highlight the attributes key to the position, but now in the face-to-face interviews, the stakes were raised, but so were the tools available at my disposal. The key attributes I identified were ability, dedication, and Vancouver-roots. Ability and dedication were obvious choices given the nature of the job. There was a common local inferiority complex which regarded Vancouver as a backwater and feeder market for Toronto, and the attribute of Vancouver-roots was an additional way to demonstrate not just my commitment to finance in general, but also to finance in Vancouver and by extension to this position in particular. For me, this job was not a stepping-stone, it was my end-goal, my dream vocation, and I was going to let them know it. This was something I could speak passionately to because it was true. I had indeed abandoned a lucrative career at Microsoft to come home to be with my family and friends, so that I could build a career in Vancouver from the ground up, and I had already laid the foundation with my current position. With these three attributes clearly in mind, I approached the interviews with an agenda and I was not to be deterred: not by the limited time, not by inept questions, and certainly not by nerves. I would cut through anxiety by focusing on a simple task: how to use every ounce of my being and every interaction with them to convince them I was the singular embodiment of ability, dedication, and Vancouver-roots. In my scoring system, a passive candidate's direct response to a single question may score a single point towards one attribute. My active agenda-seeking encouraged me to score multiple points across all the attributes in one go. For example, straight off a greeting of "So, how do you like Vancouver?" which threatens to waste valuable interview time, a conservative face-value answer of "I like it well." barely scores a single point in the Vancouver-roots category. Whereas my answer would be an animated "I love it! I grew up here, left to attend MIT and to work for Microsoft, but came back home to build a career in finance in Vancouver because I wanted to be near my family and friends and nowhere else." By my metric, I would have scored multiple points for each category of ability, dedication, and Vancouver-roots, as conveyed through body language, delivery, and content, all packed into a single response that is succinct and natural enough that is unlikely to make the interviewer feel like I was speech-making. Assuming the interviewer had intelligently designed a set of questions to adequately assess the attributes that would be key to the job, if I scored multiple hits with each of my interactions, I would theoretically end the game with a better than 100% correspondence with the attributes. Of course, most interviewers were not proficient at interviewing, because it is not their main job, so I could use the scattershot framework of their questions to paint the exact picture I wanted, so that even ill-prepared interviewers could not stop me from delivering my message. In fact, if the they allowed it, I could take my queue off the first hello and deliver an entire monologue for the entire session, repeating these themes over and over again by pulling different concrete examples from my resume and life experience, telling them a story of how a life lived to this point was as a perfect match with the opportunity on offer. Of course, to be convincing, the monologue could not be memorized word-for-word, because the key to the game is both delivering a message, and ensuring it is well received. Here is where my winding road through the theater really paid off. Actors are trained to live in the moment and measure success of their actions by the reaction of the intended recipients. If the interviewer was clearly agitated with long-winded answers, then I would give a quick "yes/no" and wait the chance to expand that will inevitably come with more rapport. Building a human connection would allow me to deliver expansive answers and have it gladly received. By this point in the game, I had many tools to build rapport. The channels of communication had expanded beyond the page and phone receiver to include body language, posture, intonation, facial expression, and eye-to-eye contact. The shared points of contact had also expanded from the job posting and application to the previous interviews themselves. I could lean-in to questions with "That's a great question! As I chatted with so-and-so on phone last week, I told him ...". I could refer to the conversation I just had with the preceding interviewer as an excuse to engage and elaborate and demonstrate consistency, empathy, and rapport. The group interview with the three vice presidents was the easiest forum for my preparation. Here, each of them were limited in the number of questions they could ask, had to be polite listeners as they were in the presence of colleagues, and often sought to align their impressions to avoid standing out. They were under duress as well, because they could not hide behind general impressions for their ultimate individual verdict, instead they were receiving the same information, so had to ground their decisions in the specificity of my answers. This made the group eager note-takers and much more susceptible to my subtle influence. I only had to repeat what had worked in the individual sessions and not step out of bounds, as the only thing that could automatically eject me was a definitively strike-out against one of the attributes I had identified. Factual near misses were even non-consequential, I flatly did not know the answer to a finance question and admitted so, but suggested a reasonable guess. I was told it was wrong but it was likely because I had not been in the industry for long. It was like they wanted me to succeed! Which I think is true from the interviewer's perspective. Everyone wants to find the perfect candidate quickly and move on from the anxious process, so there is much confirmation bias. Ever since receiving my resume, they likely would have assumed I was strong numerically, given my subtle highlighting of "MIT" and "Microsoft". So my main focus was deflecting other weaknesses associated with this generic stereotype. I had already prepared my shield against the most likely stereotype, that I may be good with numbers, but not with people, in the cover letter I submitted. In it, I admitted that so far in life, my academic rigor had made me successful at MIT and Microsoft. But in examining the career of investor Warren Buffett, I felt the numbers were responsible for half of his success, the other half was the ability to establish rapport and social connections with individuals and groups. This had an even greater impact on his success. I wanted to join the team at The Firm because I wanted to contribute my numeric skills to help the group succeed, at the same time I wanted to learn to become a better builder of a deep and meaningful social network in Vancouver. This story easily deflected the tricky but inevitable question of "What is your biggest weakness?". It is a trick answer to a trick question, by self-identifying the vague and universal weakness to which no one is immune, I had nullified it, while at the same time cementing the assumption that my numerical skills are beyond question. I had also done it in such a way that is grounded in the specific job at hand, a non-too-subtle compliment that again demonstrates my steadfast commitment to this position. The final and potentially the most risky question is always "Do you have any questions for us?" Often stated rhetorically almost as a good-bye. I viewed this as dangerous because a quick "no" would instantly erase many points scored for dedication demonstrated so far. How can someone so passionate about the job not have anything else they want to know about it? My go-to answer was an excited "Yes! I had been dying to learn more about the group and how the day-to-day is like!", inviting the interviewer to talk freely. This subtly turn the tables on them so they are put in a position to convince me of the merits of the job. The more they talk up the workplace, the more likely they are to associate the happy emotions they are describing with the person they are trying to convince: me. People project, it is basic human nature, and people love being listened to. If I could get someone to talk about themselves for 30 straight minutes while being an avid listener, I guarantee in their unpreparedness they will begin to reference and confirm the points I made about the position through my performance, further entrenching into fact that I am a great match the attributes needed for this job and ending on a glorious high note. I began strongly and got better as the day progressed and my points of reference with the group expanded. I had executed my plan with scientific precision that was grounded in the theater arts. I had been well-trained for the highly structured framework of the interview performance, and I had come exceedingly well prepared. I would joke years later that if the group knew how rebellious I would become later in my tenure, they would never had let me in the door. One insightful question that I artfully expanded into my point system was "Won't you be bored with the work of an investment banking analyst?". I answered that I saw the job as a key part of the team. Making sure the nuts and bolts of the numbers were correct was essential to win the trust and loyalty of our clients. It turned out that the question was right on, as I would get bored in about two years. But then again, perhaps the interviewers knew that bright candidates would all eventually get to that point, and they were happy to get the two years of solid service. I would also boast later that I had so systematized the interview process, that I could trounce the vaunted medical school panel interviews should I ever change my mind about medicine. The final round of the process were reference checks. Here, my UBC E-GEMS mentor made one last contribution to my career by taking the call from her new perch of academic power in the United States and speaking well about our shared experience from almost five years ago. It also helped that a colleague of my father at UBC was now a member of The Firm in a different team, and he gave confirmatory evidence to my life story, including my glittering graduation from UBC. I gave my two-week notice to my toehold job, and, nine-months after giving up the acting dream to build a career in finance in the small pond of Vancouver, I became an investment banking analyst working above the clouds at the heart of the city. I was to be paid a $50,000 base salary, with a bonus of about the same amount annually. So I had finally returned to the high watermark of earnings from my Microsoft days, but now, I had the solid foundation of my family and friends around me, the ends for my means, and the sky was the limit.