From Investment Banker to HR Advisor, Nathan Tanner shares career advice we all can use

26ffb03Over the course of his career, Nathan Tanner (BYU, ’15)  has worn many hats – Investment Banker, Private Wealth Advisor, MBA Student, and now Talent Acquisition Lead.  Through these diverse roles, Nate has gained experiences and insight on what it takes to navigate a professional career. Recently, Nate added another title to his name – Author, when he published “Not Your Parents Workplace,” a book that outlines some of the critical career lessons he’s learned over the years. Nathan was kind enough to share his insights with us in a recent interview.

MBASchooled: You started off your career as an Investment Banker. Did you ever think you’d be working in HR back when you started?

Nathan: Never. While I didn’t dream of being a career banker, HR was certainly not on my radar. Like many, I had only seen the transactional side of human resources and had a very narrow view of what HR professionals did. But as I started talking to professionals, and more importantly, when I reflected on my interests and strengths, I felt like HR was the right path. Human resources, when done right, should be a strategic function to a business. If you can hire, train, motivate, compensate, engage, and manage your employees effectively, your company is going to win. Too many companies treat their employees poorly and mismanage talent. My goal is to change that.

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MBASchooled: Speaking of Banking, you worked for an Investment Bank during the 2008 Financial Crisis. Are there any lessons or experiences you took from that time period that have been particularly valuable to your career?

Nathan: Working 80+ hour weeks in an environment with zero tolerance for errors made a big impact on me. It forced me to deliver high quality work and increased my tolerance for stress. There were several times when I thought I reached my limits but had to find a way to push through and keep working. While it’s not a life I want to live again, I’m glad I started my career in investment banking.

With that said, the biggest lessons came when I was laid off from Barclays Capital. It was January 2009, and while I felt confident I’d find a job quickly, the markets were awful and I struggled to find work. I faced rejection after rejection. It took me a long time to find a new job. The first lesson I learned was the value of having a job. I didn’t appreciate what it was like to go to work and get a paycheck until I was denied that privilege. Second, I learned the importance of showing companies how I can add value. This might sound obvious, but I frequently went into interviews and talked about my skills (e.g. how to analyze financial statements) without making a connection to their needs (e.g. managing inventory effectively). Job candidates need to explicitly share how their skills can help the company. Finally, I learned how to handle rejection. I was rejected by so many companies that each additional rejection had little impact. When the fear of rejection is eliminated, you’re able to take bolder risks.

MBASchooled: You are the author of the book, “Not Your Parents’ Workplace: Critical Lessons for Interns and Young Professionals.” What motivated you to do this, and what was the process for writing it like?

Nathan: Lehman Brothers went bankrupt a few weeks after I joined, and then I was laid off after the Barclays Capital acquisition. I kept a detailed journal throughout these experiences and thought they might make for a compelling book. But after writing 10 pages I realized I had no idea what I was doing and set it aside. When I was a second year MBA student, the idea to write a book came back. I had recently completed an internship and accepted a full-time offer with LinkedIn. I was working as a LinkedIn campus ambassador, helping students learn how to build profiles, find jobs, and develop career management skills. I was passionate about helping others launch their career and wanted to share what I had learned with a broader audience.

My goal in writing Not Your Parents’ Workplace was to write a candid account of my professional experiences and the lessons learned along the way. Basically, I wanted to write a career management book for Millennials that was written by a Millennial.

Having never written a book, I tracked down every resource I could get my hands on. I read several books and articles that taught how to write a book. When it came to writing, I built time into my schedule by blocking out two to three hours chunks of uninterrupted time. I sent the initial draft of each chapter to my younger brother who was a recent college grad trying to find his way professionally. He provided very candid feedback. Friends and family offered unique insights on subsequent drafts, and several authors shared lessons they learned about writing. I was fortunate to get some great blurbs from bestselling authors Ben Casnocha (The Start-up of You and The Alliance), Liz Wiseman (Multipliers and Rookie Smarts), as well as HR thought leader Dave Ulrich. Overall, the book required a lot more time than I originally anticipated, but I’m very happy with the final product.

MBASchooled: In your book, you mentioned that you weren’t initially enthusiastic about getting an MBA. What changed your mind?

Nathan: As an undergrad, I always planned on getting an MBA. I even took the GMAT three times. As a college student my “master plan” was to work two years in investment banking, then two years in private equity, venture capital or corporate development before going to business school. But when I moved into private wealth management, which was a much better fit than any of the post-banking options I mentioned earlier, getting an MBA didn’t make sense.

Additionally, many in Silicon Valley (where I live) downplayed the MBA, saying that it no longer added value. For a while I found myself buying into that. I But when I decided that private wealth management wasn’t going to work out, and I examined my options, my opinion about business school changed. I was confident that I wanted to move into HR, but I wasn’t 100% sure it was right for me, so I wanted some time, and an internship, to make sure I was on the right path. I’ve found that making significant career changes are really hard without going back to school. It proved to be a great decision for me, but at the time it wasn’t easy.

MBASchooled: Even for motivated and focused MBA students, there’s always some anxiety or fear associated with pursuing a career path. How did you have the confidence to pursue a career in HR, and what kind of advice do you have for those who might be dealing with these concerns?

Nathan: Before pursuing HR, I did a lot of informational interviews. I spoke with professionals in HR as well as MBA students who considered HR before deciding it wasn’t for them. Getting a variety of perspectives was really helpful. Eventually I hit a point where I had acquired enough knowledge and needed to move forward. I wasn’t completely sure HR was right, but I knew that confirmation wouldn’t come until I did an HR internship. At that point I focused 100% of my efforts on landing the best HR internship I could find and was fortunate to land at Linkedin, my top choice. The LinkedIn internship confirmed I was headed in the right direction.

I’ve seen many MBA students fall into the trap of pursuing several different career paths without committing to any of them. They make a millimeter progress in a million directions. While this approach might work for some, too many students miss out on great opportunities because they don’t have a clear sense of what they want to do. I’ve found that the best approach is to commit to finding the right path and then give it your all. Later, if you decide you’re not on the right track, you can take a step back and refocus your efforts. You can’t just wait for inspiration.


MBASchooled: What experiences, classes, or opportunities from your MBA experience have made a difference in your time at LinkedIn?

Nathan: My Business Strategy professor, Dr. Paul Godfrey, shared that the key to thinking more strategically was learning how to ask better questions. He discussed several tools to develop this skill, but one stood out – read a lot. Years earlier he’d set a goal to read 30 books in a year. He achieved the goal and when on to read 30 books a year for the next 10 years. I took the challenge to read more and committed to the 30 Book Challenge, which I wrote about here. My goal in this challenge wasn’t to read some arbitrary number of books each year, it’s about making a commitment to lifelong learning. When you’re not in school, it’s easy to just focus on your job and let your personal development stagnate. I don’t want that to happen to me.

One of the biggest benefits of getting MBA was the network. That may sound cliché, but the relationships I built during those two years have been invaluable. I loved being surrounded by so many intelligent, driven professionals who were making dramatic life changes and trying to find their place in the business world. Since graduating, I’ve had several calls with my classmates. We talk about our jobs and the challenges we’re facing. I regularly seek advice from alumni who graduated several years ahead of me and can provide unique perspective. These relationships mean a lot to me.

MBASchooled: In your career, you’ve spoken with and coached many young professionals. From these conversations, what are some of the common challenges that you see young professionals facing?

Nathan: One of the bigger challenges young professionals face is a lack of clarity in their career path. Many don’t know what they want to do with their career. I have a lot of empathy for these people, because most of my career has been spent trying to figure out how to discover my personal strengths and find a path that will best utilize them. If you’re in this boat, I would advise you to be patient and realize that self-discovery is a journey. Take time to invest in yourself. Develop new skills. Take an online class in something you know nothing about. Reach out to a professional to learn more about what they do. Most importantly, stay curious.

Another challenge young professionals face is inertia. It’s so easy to take the path of least resistance. It’s easy to find a job you like and just apply for it online. It’s a lot harder to ask for an introduction to someone at the company, schedule an informational interview, come up with thoughtful questions, and consistently stay in touch. Yet the latter approach will yield significantly better results. Learning how to build professional relationships is a critical skill. Networking can be awkward and doesn’t come naturally to many, but it’s a skill that can be developed with consistent practice. Don’t let others dictate your professional future. Instead, take a proactive approach to managing your career. You decide whether you’re a success.