Exchange Rates

I am going to Zagreb, Croatia this weekend.

I needed to exchange some money for it. When I bought the tickets SBB, the Swiss railways, gave me a coupon which waives their commission if one wants to exchange money. I used it today and ended up paying 447 sfr for 2600 hrk. If I use Google now, I find that it is worth only 412 sfr. All in all, a loss of 35 sfr !

Interestingly, there were several options open for me. It seems that the banks give better rates and I could have used my ATM card to take out money directly in Croatia. I could also have called the bank in advance and informed them about my need. They provide exchange for a reasonable spread of 2-4%. I would have lost around 17 sfr then … probably.

It is interesting that I started thinking about these options only when I was done making the exchange. I felt that SBB is the only option while I was on the counter.

Character flaw

After performing very badly in an interview yesterday I realized that I have a major character flaw which I need to work on.

It can be succinctly described as “arrogance”.

It sabotaged my interview on two levels.

I was asked three very simple questions. So simple that I smiled and was quite dismissive of them. I refused to take the question and by extension the interviewer seriously. I did not pause to think why he would ask such a question i.e., what is the answer he is looking for. Worse still, I knew the interviewer to be smart, able and someone I could learn a lot from. None of this went through my head and I blurted out wrong answers after wrong answers without giving them *any* serious thought. I did not consider how my answers will separate me from the other people he has interviewed for the job. All of it was just plain sad.

After spending nearly 2 years learning about investments and reading dozens of books, I had come to believe that the MBA is a stupid degree and probably I know a significant bit more than a garden variety MBA student. Being dismissive of an entire degree and curriculum is height of arrogance. I was asked one business question in the interview. It was to explain the profitability of a certain industry. Even though I knew it to be true, I never had seriously thought about why this is the case. This industry is not patent protected, has no moat, no brand recognition and is not protected by regulations either. Still it has enjoyed great margins for centuries. I completely failed in answering this question. I am sure that an MBA student will have no trouble in coming to the right answer. A structured way of learning things has its benefits. You don’t end up with gaping holes in your knowledge.

This is particularly bad because I have actively tried to be more humble for a few years now and I thought that it was working. I guess my baser instincts have not been completely overridden. It has ended up costing me the chance to work with someone I deeply admire.

I want to list here the things that might help me fix this issue, at least for interviews.

  • Don’t blurt out what comes to your mind immediately. Take time to think the question through. Why was this question asked? What does the interviewer gain by it ?
  • Look for a solution in a systematic way. You might be well served by thinking out loud. Separate the important variables of the question and weed out the useless information. Ask for additional information if you need to. Do this even for simplistic questions.
  • Once you have an answer, check if it makes sense by testing it on trivial cases you can think of.