Monday, December 7, 2015


Reflecting on the course I have mixed feelings about how I feel about it. There were definitely parts that I did enjoy, but there were also some that didn't necessarily coincide with my learning style. To start with the positive, this was the first economics course I have taken that really stressed the conceptual and application side of the concepts. Both the lectures and the blog posts really emphasized a conceptual understanding that I have never had to develop with such depth in any other econ class. I really enjoyed the blog posts, they helped me to understand why the ideas we learned about actually mattered, and thinking of applications for each lesson pushed me to understand the ideas rather than recite them. I think the most interesting of these was the principle agent model, because it provided the perspective to understand a conflict in the work place that I had experienced. There is definitely a learning curve for writing the blogs, it is very different from writing an essay and I still have trouble at times with the different format. I don't know why, but I did find that I tend to be very brief when I am writing in this voice so more often than not I have had to go back and elaborate further or fluff up my sentences so that they would be communicated well in the blog.

The excel homeworks, on the other hand, I was not particularly thrilled about. I sometimes found it unclear what exactly was being asked and for some reason the way certain things were explained prior to the questions, I feel that key elements were missing from me actually understanding some the assignments. I generally feel like I learn best when I learn the content and use the homework to test and practice my knowledgeI did, however, like that they were done in excel. It was great to get immediate feedback on my answers and I thought it was a very smart way to do homework. Although it didn't allow for partial credit, I liked that I didn't have to be worried about glitchy assignment sites or log in information. Most of the assignment did go well, and actually were great at preparing me for class on Wednesday, but the more difficult assignments could have used more preparation.

Finally, with respect to the lectures I feel that there were a lot of great dynamics in class. I feel like I was able to grasp the concepts quickly because you used a lot of practical examples, and that the lectures were generally engaging. I liked how there was a participation component, and that it did help to hear new voices participating in the lecture, but it definitely could have been further utilized. It is a shame less people were willing to participate. I think a participating factor in this was that the lectures did lack a structure that most students have become accustomed too. We are very used to powerpoints being used to keep things on track, and the open lecture format does not coincide with this well. I think even a powerpoint with a few of the main points of the lecture would help to keep things on track and students to organize their notes so that they would feel more comfortable participating.

This course presented a lot of really interesting topics, and definitely taught me concepts that I will be able to use in my career rather than to just complete my college degree. I actually used some of the concepts from the lesson on insurance and risk in an interview for a company that I will actually be starting my career at! So thank you for a great semester!

Monday, November 23, 2015


This past summer I interned at Aon Hewitt as a Setup Configuration Specialist, where within my team and among the interns I developed a reputation as a reliable team member who could make contributions on complicated projects. This role was primarily technical in that my responsibilities generally included database testing and configuration. However, there was a communication component to it, in that I had to work vertically and horizontally with senior members of my team to help them with their tasks. Once I became familiar with the system, I took it upon myself to manage my time well so that my primary tasks would be done early so that I could reach out to other members of the team to help them with complete their tasks.

Essentially, I just worked hard and resisted shirking in an environment and role where I could have done so easily without being detected. Many of my fellow interns often shirked or just chose to work slowly and only do the work they were given because that was the expectation set by our managers. Of course, I would sometimes wish that I could just relax and take it easy like them, but I didn't allow myself to do this. I set expectations for myself that I would work hard and prove that I had a lot of potential as an employee going into the internship. I did this because  I was uncertain about the level of competition that there would be among the interns for a full time offer, and as such wanted to put myself ahead of the pack so that I would increase my chances of "winning" an offer. A large part of this was to maintain a high level of productivity and to make myself noticed within the team by constantly reaching out to help others with their work. This slowly built my reputation as a competent employee and new expectations were set to match my level of performance. I generally worked to enhance it further by negotiating with more experienced team members to do some of their clerical or meaningless work in exchange for putting me on more advanced projects.  The conversation generally went like this, "Hey Jared, I see that you have to do four test plans by the end of the day, but that activity setup looks interesting. If I do those test plans for you could you put me on the setup," which almost always resulted in a sigh of relief and a yes. I think this helped me to further improve my reputation because it showed that I wanted to learn more and take on more responsibility. This reputation was important to maintain for me because I wanted to have the assurance that if I ended up winning and accepting an offer, that I would have a good head start on my career to move up the ranks faster.

I never did "cash in" my reputation, but building it did serve to get me the job offer. The competition was not as fierce as I had anticipated, half of the interns received offers, but building my reputation there made me feel very comfortable as I searched for alternative offers. Upon letting them know that I accepted an alternative offer, some were rather gracious in my decision while others were fairly upset, but I guess that was to be expected regardless.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Principle Agent Problem

Last week I posted about a time that I experienced conflict in the workplace, and for this week I intend to analyze it from the perspective of the Principle-Agent problem. To recap, I worked as a telemarketer soliciting donations. For each call we were supposed to do our best to capture the donations and to run through a script in order to do so. All calls were considered equally. On one particular call, I felt that it was morally wrong to convince this woman to give her money to the foundation because I knew she didn't have much she could spend and I felt that I was taking advantage of her emotions in order to take her money. I complained to my manager and they made me go through with it. Tensions escalated and after a dispute with my manager and some rather passive aggressive actions on their part, I decided to leave the company.

This is a classic example of the Principle-Agent problem, where my manager was the "Principal" and I was the "Agent". From the perspective of the Principle, it was the Agent's job was at the very least to run through the three ask amounts of the script and follow the standardized guidelines for all callers, and also for the agent's to do their best to capture a donation. These values can be broken down to serve two purposes, the first to maintain control of the process and create a standardized sense of order among the Agents, and the second as a function of revenue collection. According to the Principle, those two values were to guide the Agent's actions while on a call. From the perspective of the Agent, these values were quite clearly communicated, and more often than not did not cause a problem.

However, in this situation, in my interaction with the donor, identified a moral hazard that I did not want impose on them. By doing my job as instructed, I would collect a donation and satisfy my responsibility but I would put a significant financial burden on the donor that I did not think was ethical to do. As the only point of interaction with the donor, my self-interest challenged the Principle's expectations of my role as the Agent, and accordingly, a conflict emerged. To that extent, my problems with how the call was going was breaking the two rules that Principle set forth and thus could have been seen as a subversion of their power. This obviously upset the Principle, and put tension on the relationship between the Principle and the Agent that was eventually escalated to the point where I, as the Agent, had to leave that company and the working relationship.

Having experienced the Principle - Agent first hand, I feel that the only way to resolve that problem is to establish a feedback based, Agent - Principle relationship. Although I understand why the Principle was upset, their failure to address my complaints in engaging in the moral hazard is representative of a failure on their part to be receptive to the Agent- Principle dynamic of the relationship. Had they been more receptive to feedback, the problem would likely have been resolved rather than escalated.

Friday, October 30, 2015


I have always been one to try to diffuse potential conflicts but I can think of one particular instance where I refused to compromise and the conflict escalated. I used to work for the ABC Foundation, which was a non-for-profit that used telemarketing campaigns to collect donations and raise money, as a caller. Like the 80 other callers, my job was to call potential donors to 1) update their information, and 2) try to collect a donation from them.

It was essentially a very simple sales job. Although there was no product, we were selling them on the idea of supporting the Foundation and that their money would be going to a good cause. We had a prescribed "script" that we could use but it was more so meant to be used a guideline. The script was relatively aggressive, you were supposed to ask for donations of different amounts at three different points in the call before you hung up.  The idea was that you would build a rapport with the potential donor so that they would feel more comfortable donating later in the conversation. Not to toot my own horn, but I was a fairly successful caller because I was often able to convert a disgruntled "no" into a donation through the process of rapport building. My strategy was to get to build trust between myself and the potential donor by learning about them and telling them about myself. Once they felt like I was a real person, I would sell them on the idea that they had a vested interest in the future of the foundation and that they would be able to make a real lasting impact for the foundation's cause.

There was one call in particular that led to a conflict between me and my manager. I was speaking to a retired woman who, immediately after my first ask, declined to make a donation. She explained to me that her husband had alzheimer's and that she was working part time at an elementary school so that they could make end's meet every month. We eventually started talking, she told me about her grandkids who were in college, and I told her about my college experience. This was right around the time after Sandy Hook, and she was absolutely devastated about it because she couldn't imagine that done to the kids at her own school. We talked for about thirty minutes about it before we started talking about the foundation and her connections to it. I finally asked for the second ask amount and she said no again because she really didn't have the money, but it seemed like I could probably push her to. At that point I was ready to give up, I knew that I could probably convince her to donate but it felt morally wrong because I knew that she did not have the money to. As she went to go check her checkbook (yes she explained to me that she balanced all of her budget in her checkbook) I tried to explain this to my manager. Unsurprisingly they didn't give a damn, they told me to push for the donation, and since I had little time to negotiate I had to listen. So when she came back, we talked a little more and eventually I sold her on the donation and she gave $26, because it was all she could afford and wanted it to be dedicated to the children lost in Sandy Hook. I thanked her for her donation and we concluded the call.

After the call, my manager called me into a conference room to talk about it. I explained that I was pretty upset that we just took advantage of this old lady's emotions for $26, of which meant a lot more to her than it did to the foundation. My manager didn't care, and was actually upset that I would try to end the call without pushing for the third donation. Our disagreement escalated and led to an angry conversation.

Fast forward to the next day, I was then awarded for having "the best call of the week". This only got pissed me off more, because it felt like it was clearly done in spite by my manager because of our disagreement. This poisoned the relationship, and even friendship, with my manager to the point where a few weeks later I turned in my two weeks notice.

Having raised over $20,000 dollars in the semester, I quit because of a disagreement over $26 that was unnecessarily escalated. This was a lose-lose because they lost a good caller, and I lost a paycheck every two weeks, and all of this could have been avoidable if my manager had taken a more passive approach.

By intentionally escalating our conflict instead of trying to diffuse it, my manager failed to resolve this conflict. Had they just heard me out,  and acknowledged that I felt what was done was morally wrong and put it to rest, the story would be very different. But to award me for it and portray it as something that I should be proud of was unnecessary. Although it was my job to get the donation, the situation sent me the wrong signal, and created a work environment that I no longer wanted to be involved with.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Team Production and Gift Exchange

The study done by psychologists Michael Tomasello and Katharina Hamann poses an interesting scenario in how gift exchange and team performance may be impacted by systematic changes. This study was a test to see whether or not children were inclined to share the "gifts" that they both receive from working together. In the study, the children had to pull on separate ropes simultaneously in order to receive marbles, where one child received one marble and the other received three. They were then observed as to whether they would be inclined to share marbles to reach an equal distribution. This was compared to an alternative scenario where the marbles were already in the cups when they got to the machine, without having to pull any ropes. Similarly, their behavior was observed to see if they would share marbles and why. When comparing the outcomes of both scenarios, the children in the first scenario were considerably more likely to engage in sharing and reach an equal distribution by either one child giving his/her extra marbles or the other child asking for them and immediately being asked for them. These results can be extrapolated to our expectations of gifts when asked to work together, and that when equal work is done, individuals are more willing to share their gifts with the others on their team.

The only example of this that I can think of was when I was working at a small healthcare consulting firm. There were ten consultants who brought in work for the company, and given the relative small size of the group, the scale of contracts ranged from the thousands to the millions of dollars. Since they were all working for the collective good of the company to bring in more business, there was an opportunity for individuals to feel they deserved more of the pot since they were bringing in more money. Why should someone who brought in a million dollar contract be paid the same as someone who brought in a handful of thousand dollar contracts. However, this was not an issue for them, as all of the consultants shared the value brought in and received around the same level of salary. I think this dynamic was able to exist because the of the small size of the firm. There was a very strong feeling that everyone was working as a team and that there was no competition among the consultants. It was a very tightly knit group, and as such everyone felt the need to do their best work so that the team would benefit. The priority of the team before the individual benefited all of the consultants because they were able to share the profits of the company equally, and all equally succeed, instead of distributing pay by commission which would have fractured the team mentality of the organization.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Managing Income Risk

Preparing to start my career after completing my degree has been the focus of my entire undergraduate career. This has been prevalent through the many different directions my education has gone over the past four years.

I initially came to the University of Illinois to study Chemical Engineering, which was influenced primarily by the fact that the university was a top engineering school and that entry level chemical engineers see some of the highest initial income's for recent graduates. Second semester, I took a class where we met with professionals in the field to paint a better picture of what chemical engineers do in the real world. Unfortunately, after listening to a new presentation each week, I began to realize that engineering really wasn't my passion. The last straw was a presentation from an engineer who had gotten his MBA and come back in more of a business/managerial position. Inspired by the kind of work he did, I met with him after class to seek advice on how I could experience a similar dynamic  and type of work. His advice was simple, drop engineering. He told me that while it is a great field, if it is not the actual work you care about, you won't advance in your career, and that many engineer's salaries flat line after several years of work. This was a very quick lesson in the value of future dollars, that although I may not start out at as high of a level, the plateau in salary would not occur until much later and at a higher level. After this conversation, I began to rethink my career choices and reorient my goals to reflect the value of entering a field with a great potential for growth.

Almost on the contrary, I switched into Political Science, as I was always interested in it and reasoned that a liberal arts degree, when leveraged properly, would help me to grow my career later in life. The summer between my freshman and sophomore year, I got my first job as a telemarketer for the University, which was at first just for some extra cash, but of which the value would be seen later. Additionally, I was always told how critical it was to have at least two well established internships during my undergraduate career. Looking for an internship the summer between my Sophomore and Junior year, I came to the quick realization that there are few recruiters who would continue to read my resume after reading "B.A. Political Science". I was lucky in that I was able to leverage my telemarketing experience into an internship at a small healthcare consulting firm. That internship, little did I know, would spark a passion for healthcare management, an industry with relatively high barriers to entry. I learned about project management, developed my business acumen, interacted with clients, and worked on my professional data analysis skills. Despite having one internship under my belt and finally finding a field I cared about, I soon realized that I incurred the same problem. At the fall career fair my Junior year, I saw the eyes of countless recruiters glaze over as they realized I was only studying political science. I completely struck out, and decided that if I was going to get a job, I needed to add a greater value to my degree by adding something quantitative, which is what led me to Economics. I picked up my second major in Economics shortly after, and come the Spring career fair, the story was very different. Recruiters were interested in me for my economics background and I was able to leverage that and my past internship to get another internship for the summer between my Junior and Senior year. This new role, was essentially a technology liason that involved me interacting with the client and the database that managed their information. While this was completely outside my wheel-house, I developed my query writing and problem solving skills. Now as a senior, all of these experiences have culminated to a competitive full time offer at a healthcare consulting firm. Through the interview process, they viewed my educational and technology experience along as the necessary prerequisites to join on as an entry level consultant in the Revenue Cycle Transformation division. For some perspective, this division uses multiple dimensions of data, generally claims related to find non-labor reduction ways of improving reimbursment rates or saving money for the system. Essentially, restructuring clinical sequences so that profit may be maximized without diminishing the quality of care.This position is not only in a field that I am passionate about but it is also well paid and in a competitive work environment. I see a lot of potential for growth now that I anticipate joining, and as such have been able to reflect on how my decisions helped to mitigate my income risk.

First, I chose to study something that I cared about in addition to adding a major that I knew would get me a job. While it would be ideal to only study one or the other, at the end of the day I knew that the purpose of getting my college degree was to get a job, and in order to do so I had to have a diverse education that provided me with both quantitative and qualitative problem solving skills. Additionally, I also tried to develop my business skills very early in my academic career. Although I didn't realize it at the time, progressive work experience and internships through college allow your future employer to trust that you will be a successful employee and that you will perform in a business setting. Most importantly, however, I found that I secured my income risk by developing my "personal brand". I never thought that I would advertise my self as an "analytics" guy, but my economics degree and internship in the tech role branded me the label unintentionally. Analytic problem solving skills are easily trusted, in that the formal education and the experience one receives is a measurable indicator of that person's ability to apply those skills in a professional setting. Since this skill is easily trusted, it meant that I had opened the doors to more opportunities since seemingly now every position has some "analytics" dimension to it. I evolved my brand from a Political Science student looking to take on complex problems in the business world, to "a soon to be graduate in Political Science and Economics that uses his analytical problem solving background and passion to healthcare to innovate data-driven solutions in the changing climate of healthcare".

Keeping my eyes to the future now, I chose to accept the offer at the consulting firm because I knew that it would only further develop my analytic skills and healthcare practice knowledge, without pigeon-holing me to a particular division within healthcare (clinical documentation, electronic health records, etc.). Since Revenue Cycle has a wide breadth of potential projects, this will set me up to develop a larger range of experiences and hopefully one day allow me to enter a managerial position at a higher salary because of my breadth of experience. While it also serves me well that this position pays the best of the other offers I have received, I know that had it not I still most likely would have taken it because of the opportunities for growth that it would provide me later in life and the ability to secure a higher income as my career grows.

Friday, September 25, 2015


     Suppose the Campus gave (this means there is no additional charge for receiving the allocation) each student an allocation of "Illinibucks" which could be used for the sole purpose of moving to the head of the line. Use of the Illinibucks would occur at a pre-specified price set by the campus. What sort of thing would be a candidate for this? How would you spend your Illinibucks? What issues would arise if the administered price was too low? too high?
The best candidate for this system would be course registration, since all students need to fulfill a certain amount of required and elective classes I think the Illinibucks concept could be useful in that it would provide a better signal of the demand for courses, and would allow students to better quantify their preferences. If students were able to "cut the line" at a certain price then it would help to make the registration process a little more fair. For example, look at a class like ECON 203. Several business majors require ECON 203 in order to take higher level classes, as well as the Economics students. While the university provides both a large class size and three offerings for it, it is still a highly demanded class, to which those majors get first dibs at registering for. At the time I tried to register, I was not yet an economics major so I had a very difficult time registering for this class. Since it was a highly demanded class, had I been able to use the Illinibucks system, I most likely would have used all my Illinibucks to cut the line and get into the class. I think that high demand core classes, like ECON 203, would benefit from this because it would allow students who really need to get into the core class to do so, while providing the incentive for students who may not need to take it right away to use their Illinibucks to get into a highly demanded elective.
     Additionally it would provide a better signal as to what the student body needs offered that particular year. If the price is set correctly, and a greater deal more of people would decide to spend their Illinibucks on a class, then the department would know exactly how many excess students want to take the class and then be able to decide if offering another section would be the best remedy. Furthermore, it allows the students to add a quantitative value to how they register for their classes by "budgeting" how they would spend their Illinibucks, they would be able to prioritize which classes they absolutely need to take first and which ones that semester were less important. This provides a considerable benefit to the student because it would grant them some certainty that their wants and needs would be met by the university and refocus course selection on student interests rather than scheduling requirements. However, I suspect that this would be rather prone to "strategizing" where students would strategically pick the classes they need instead of displaying their true preferences, unless the mechanism for distributing the seats in a class would incentivize them to rank according to their real preferences. I know that if I were in this situation, I would spend my Illinibucks on the classes that I anticipated to have the highest demand, especially the sections at the best available times. There are always classes that will limit your schedule, so for me to be able to cut in line for a class that fits my most ideal schedule would be the best case scenario.
     I think the biggest problem with the Illinibucks system would be how the prices would be determined. In order to set the price, the University would have to set the supply and then estimate the demand accordingly so that the students who use their Illinibucks would get into the classes they need. On one hand, if the price was too high, then students wouldn't use their bucks and would most likely not even try to register since the high price would indicate to them that it is highly demanded. On the other hand, if the price were too low, then there would be a very big problem. Students would use their Illinibucks and then be faced with the dilemma of either an overcrowded classroom or not getting into the class. This would upset quite a few students because they would feel that they wasted their Illinibucks. If potentially students could place bids and then the price be set, they would be able to get a better estimation of what students would be willing to spend their Illinibucks on.