Career Advising Series: Making a Good Impression with Your Informational Interviewing Strategy


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Mearah, Student Career Advising,TGSBy Mearah Quinn-Brauner, NCA assistant director of student career advising, serving students in The Graduate School.

Conducting informational interviews is a great way to gather intelligence on a career field that sounds interesting to you while also building connections with people working in the field. While informational interviewing is in some ways very simple—you just have to talk to people!—there are many things you can do to help ensure you make a good impression. That positive impression can increase the likelihood that an interviewee will share her contacts with you; will feel comfortable recommending you for an open position; and will even think of you as a good candidate for an opportunity in her organization, should one arise. Here are some tips:

  • Make scheduling as easy as possible. This includes keeping your email brief (one to two sentences each: who you are, why you are writing, and what you want), using formatting to make your email easy to skim (now is the time to play with sentence-long paragraphs!), and ending with a clear request for a conversation, so your contact doesn’t have to guess about your reasons for writing. Once you hear back, suggest some dates and times. If your conversation will be over the phone, share your phone number, but also write that you are happy to call your contact, if she prefers. Most people are very busy and will appreciate your willingness and ability to take on the details of scheduling.
  • Do research before the informational interview. Read your contact’s LinkedIn profile and everything else you can find about her online. Scour her organization’s webpage. Then, develop some questions that you can’t answer by Googling. This whole process may take as little as an hour and will help you make the best use of your contact’s limited time.
  • Ask questions that you are really interested in getting answered and then LISTEN to the answers. Nothing is more impressive than a really good listener. Don’t spend a lot of time developing complex questions that you think will knock the socks off of your contact, if you couldn’t care less what the answers will be. Ask thoughtful questions that will help you gather the information you need. Also, once you’ve asked a question, try to simply pay attention to what your contact is saying and not zone out until they stop talking and it’s your turn to ask another question. Your contact will feel like he is wasting his time if he can tell you aren’t really listening.
  • Ask if you can take notes, and then take notes. If you are doing many informational interviews, the information will start to get jumbled in your head. So, make sure you have a system for keeping track of everything you learn. Also, you demonstrate your organizational skills and your interest by recording the information your contact shares.
  • Make it easy for the interviewee to help you. In other words, don’t ask for something that your contact will have a hard time delivering. Most obviously, this means not asking for a job or internship, since most people are not in a position to hand these out (even if they wanted to). This also means not asking your contacts what career you should pursue. They barely know you! Instead, ask specific questions about their jobs and career paths so that you can use the information you gather to make your own decisions about what career to pursue.
  • Don’t ask “Do you like your job?” This question is misguided for at least two reasons: First, you and your interviewee may have very different interests, skills, and career values, which means that whether they like their job may be interesting to know, but not really relevant to your career exploration or job search. If you are trying to understand what might make this particular job enjoyable, meaningful, and rewarding to you, ask specific questions to elicit relevant information. For example, if you know you enjoy working on projects with others, you might ask, “What kinds of opportunities do you have to collaborate with others in the office?” Or, “Could you tell me about some team projects you are working on?”Second, not everyone likes their job all of the time, but most people will feel it’s important to maintain a positive attitude about their job. Especially when talking to strangers. So, avoid inadvertently asking your interviewee to lie to you by rephrasing this question to get at what you really want to know. If you are looking for information about what makes the position challenging, ask “What are some of the challenges in this job?” Or, “What do you think are the biggest challenges for new employees in this organization?”

Once you’ve made that good first impression, give yourself the opportunity to build on it by following up! One of the most common questions I get about informational interviewing is how to keep in touch with contacts after an initial informational interview and thank you email. My advice is to make following up easier by ending your first conversation with the question, “do you mind if I contact you in the future with any additional questions?” Of course, you don’t need to ask this in order to email, but if it helps you feel more relaxed about writing again, do it.

Also, remember that most people will be happy to hear from you again, especially if you had a pleasant first conversation.

Try these strategies as you plan your next informational interview!

SIGP Views from the Cube: The Atlantis Project


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SIGP recipient EsterEster Hernandez (WCAS ’18) is an anthropology major interning this summer with the Atlantis Project as part of the Summer Internship Grant Program (SIGP).

The internship that I took part in was under the coordination of the Atlantis Project. This is a program that I came about through the Internet while spending time researching pre-med opportunities for my summer. I was searching for some volunteer opportunities that could relate to medicine such as working at a clinic or helping at a shelter center. I was considering opportunities that would allow me to experience something in the health system. I had never shadowed doctors nor had the opportunity and after reading the purpose and goals of this program I was intrigued to apply immediately. The application process was a very simple online form. The letters of recommendation were also an online format. This simple application process was easily accessible and took no efforts explaining my interest in medicine. It offered me a broad range of programs that took place in various parts of Spain as well as various different times throughout the year. After getting accepted I was thrilled at how informed the organization kept me after submitting my deposit. They helped me with various inland and foreign coordinators to guide me throughout my entire trip.

My experience abroad has been beyond helpful towards my career goals. I am observing doctors of various departments in a local hospital under a different health care system than the one I am accustomed to in the United States. As an academic student, pursuing a career in the healthcare and medicine, & not having a close relation to any contacts that have such a career it is entirely useful to experience real life work of different specialties. It helps to identify what is real in a health system and what is perhaps myth or fiction such as knowing everything in a field instantly. I was able to see how even doctors are sometimes unaware of a certain illness and have to confer with other physicians or even literature to find a rapid response. It has helped me see what talents and abilities I will need to enhance or work on to be able to reach my goal as a medic.

I was also able to interact with strangers from different places in the US and had the opportunity to enhance my people skills. It was a foreign experience entirely but I was able to trust my coordinators and my fellows to make the best of the experience. It was a well deserved experience to meet other aspiring medics as well as members of a different culture performing healthcare responsibilities as one unit.

‘Cats Connect: What I learned from networking with NU alumni


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Sophomore Hannah Wald attended the Chicago 'Cats Connect networking reception on July 15.

Sophomore Hannah Wald attended the Chicago ‘Cats Connect networking reception on July 15.

Hannah Wald is a WCAS sophomore double majoring in international studies and political science. Hannah attended the ‘Cats Connect student-alumni networking reception in Chicago on July 15. Hannah is originally from California and is interested in pursuing a career in marketing and communications.

Why did you attend the Cats Connect alumni-student networking event in Chicago?
I decided to attend the ‘Cats Connect Student-Alumni networking reception because I wanted to be able to meet some great alumni who could provide me with valuable insight on their careers after Northwestern and opportunities to think about career paths based on our interests and passions. I knew what my major was and what I was interested in, but I didn’t have any idea on where to look for what kinds of careers I could make from them or what kind of industry I wanted to go into. Talking to alumni really opened my eyes into exploring the possibilities of different career paths and to not limit myself to just one field. I learned the importance of being open to different fields and to allow myself to try new things along the way as I look into building my career.

Northwestern students and alumni network at the Chicago 'Cats Connect.

Northwestern students and alumni network at the Chicago ‘Cats Connect.

How did you navigate the networking event? What advice do you have for other students?
I navigated the event by finding people to talk to one-in-one so I could have a meaningful conversation with an alumnus/alumna. Because of my hearing disorder, I often feel overwhelmed in a big group of people talking at once and it makes it difficult for me to hear people. It made things easier for me to talk and not be anxious, and with the more personal interactions I was able to receive more valuable insight catered to my unique experiences. I was comfortable talking with the alumni at the event because I knew that they were there to listen to me and for me to listen to them and to have a conversation.

Did you meet anyone interesting?
At the Cats Connect event, I met with two different people, Kristen Grisius from the Law table and Marilyn Stein from the Marketing and Communications table.  They were both very nice and willing to talk to me and give me advice on the things that I can do with an International Relations and Political Science.  Ms. Stein shared a similar background in me and went into the marketing field and offered me advice that I can go into multiple career fields.

Chicago Event 2What was your biggest takeaway from Cats Connect?
I would say my biggest takeaway from Cats Connect was the reassurance that I still had the ability to decide how I wanted to pursue my future career and the realization that my specific majors and areas of interest were not limited to one type of career or field of industry.  I had a greater level of freedom of exploring different professions and jobs than I ever thought I had before, which really excited me for what is ahead.  I have learned that it’s okay to change career paths and to even try a bunch of different things before you finally settle into a career that you are passionate about, and it is the best of both worlds if you enjoy your work and are successful at the same time.

Would you recommend other Northwestern students attend? If so, why?
I would highly recommend other Northwestern students attend this event because you never know who you end up meeting in the process. If someone is nervous about always staying professional or worrying about saying the wrong thing, it is important to remember that the alumni that speak to you are there to help you and are there to guide you in a career path that is perfect for you.  Just keep an open mind and open ears and I think anyone can gain from attending unique event such as Cats Connect.

SIGP Views from the Cube: The Modern Dance Music Research and Archiving Foundation


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Rising Junior and RTVF major Cameron (second from right) interns this summer at The Modern Dance Music Research and Archiving Foundation as part of the SIGP program.

Rising Junior and RTVF major Cameron (second from right) interns this summer at The Modern Dance Music Research and Archiving Foundation as part of the SIGP program.

Cameron Smith is a rising junior and a Radio/Television/Film major in the School of Communications. As a Summer Internship Grant Program (SIGP) recipient, he is interning this summer at The Modern Dance Music Research and Archiving Foundation.

Did you hear the one about a Northwestern Student walking into a radio station full of House Music Legends? That’s not a cheesy joke, but rather, it has been my life for the past couple of months.

Through my involvement with WNUR, Northwestern’s official radio station, one of the biggest campus run stations in the US, I was able to obtain an internship for the summer. More specifically, I met my bosses for the summer during an interview panel that the station had organized towards the end of the school year. The panel was on the music industry, with a couple entertainment lawyers, former DJs, and a Production Manager for a local Chicago Venue engaging in the discussion. I listened to entertainment lawyer Charles Matlock speak about his involvement in the industry and his desire to preserve the immense history of Chicago dance music. He spoke about his new company, ‘The Modern Dance Music Research and Archiving Foundation’ that he had been putting together with Northwestern Alum Lauren Lowery. Curious about the Foundation, I spoke with both of them afterwards. Lauren informed me that she was looking for interns for the summer and I put my name into the running right away.

My responsibilities with the Foundation have included but have not been limited to, operating social media, putting together their new archive in Evanston and more excitingly, producing their new show on WNUR. Titled ‘Vintage House’, the show is meant to illuminate the rich history of House Music in Chicago. This is accomplished through Lauren Lowery inviting guests into the studio for interviews. Some of these guests are pioneers and legends in the field, most notably Jesse Saunders, who is credited with creating the first House Music Record. Other guests have been former WNUR DJs, too. Their wisdom and experience has been especially significant for me considering that I will be the producer of WNUR’s dance music programming ‘Streetbeat’ in the fall.

I’ve gotten the chance to wear countless hats during my time with the Dance Music Foundation, and have enjoyed helping a young company maximize its potential. Lauren Lowery has been able to help me in my own career pursuits as well, through using her status on the Northwestern Alumni panel to help me meet individuals that share my passion of creating films. I’ve gotten experience with networking and also learned a thing or too about professionalism. I would recommend that students use their organizations on campus to invite people they look up to talk. You never know who’ll be interested and what opportunities they could potentially offer you.

Here’s to another great summer!

‘Cats Connect: What I learned from networking with NU alumni


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SoC sophomore Aisha attended the Los Angeles 'Cats Connect networking reception on July 28.

SoC sophomore Aisha is interested in pursuing a career in advertising, marketing and public relations.

Aisha Hauser is a sophomore in the School of Communication majoring in communication studies. She attended the Los Angeles ‘Cats Connect student-alumni networking reception on July 28. Aisha is originally from California and is interested in pursuing a career in advertising, marketing and public relations.

Why did you attend the Cats Connect alumni-student networking event in Los Angeles?
I attended the Cats Connect networking event because I really value relationships and enjoy meeting people and hearing their stories. Due to the fact that I am a rising sophomore, I am very new to the business world of networking, but I knew that this event would be the perfect place to start.

What was it like to navigate the networking event?
At first, navigating the networking event was a little bit awkward. It was definitely an unfamiliar environment for me, but I soon realized that everyone at the event was extremely welcoming. Once I got comfortable, I began to really enjoy myself. I still have 3 more years of college ahead of me, and as a result, I really fed off of the interesting and unique stories of both the alumni and current students. By the time that I left the event, I was extremely energized and excited for what the future holds for me.

Aisha  '18 talks w/ alumna Amy Millstone and her husband Tommy at the Los Angeles 'Cats Connect on July 28. Photo Credit: Northwestern Alumni Association

Aisha talks w/alumna Amy Millstone and her husband Tommy at the Los Angeles ‘Cats Connect on July 28. Photo Credit: Northwestern Alumni Association

Did you meet anyone interesting?
During Cats Connect, I learned about so many interesting jobs, but more importantly, I met some incredibly interesting people. I met people who worked hard for many years and ended up in a place they would have never imagined, as well as people who had very specific goals and worked their way right to them. Being in that room with so many accomplished professionals truly made me proud to be a Wildcat. In the coming weeks I will be meeting up with two amazing women who are recent Northwestern graduates. Melissa Cline, who graduated this past spring, is currently interning at OWN and I am extremely excited to pick her brain about her experiences both at Northwestern and OWN. Natalie Burch, a 2011 graduate, currently works at Warner Records across the street from where I intern at Warner Bros. Telepictures Productions and I am extremely excited to grab lunch with her and talk about the similarities and differences of the WB business on the pictures and records sides.

Northwestern students and alumni network at the Los Angeles 'Cats Connect.

Northwestern students and alumni network at the Los Angeles ‘Cats Connect.

What was your biggest takeaway from Cats Connect?
My biggest takeaway from Cats Connect is that there is no one formula that equates to success. There are common ingredients such as hard work and integrity, but everyone has their own story and I can learn from them, but will never be able to reproduce them. Authenticity is key, and I will definitely take these next few years to become the best Aisha I can be which will eventually translate into being the best career woman that I can be. I also learned that Northwestern has such an amazing alumni network and that it is completely up to me to take full advantage of it.

Would you recommend other Northwestern students attend? If so, why?
I would without a doubt recommend this event to other students, whether or not they know exactly what they want to do upon graduation. I think that networking is something that is perfected with practice, and a Northwestern hosted networking event is a safe and comfortable space to begin that practice.

SIGP Views from the Cube: Miami Summer Music Festival


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SIGP recipient, FrankFrank Laucerica is a rising junior studying Voice & Opera Performance/Choral Music Education in the Bienen School of Music. He is a 2015 Summer Internship Grant Program (SIGP) recipient.

Miami has always been my home; it’s where I grew up and where the seed of music was planted in my heart. Ever since I left for Northwestern, that plant has grown each day, but I never imagined that Miami’s sandy shores would serve as the rich soil where flowers would bloom once again. My relationship with the Miami Summer Music Festival began as the need to gain professional experience, as all young musicians are expected to, with the added convenience that I could be back at home. It has since grown to be the single-handedly most influential musical experience of my life.

In the three weeks that I have been attending the program, I have gotten to know people from all across the world, to sing for and with renowned artists and teachers, and have grown as an individual in the meantime. Within the first week, I was introduced to and singing for our maestro, Steven Gathman, from Washington National Opera, our director, Alan Hicks, from the Lyric Opera of Chicago, and in an opera arias recital with Caren Levine, from the Metropolitan Opera. In the second two weeks, I have gotten to work with Manny Perez, from the University of Miami, been invited to sing in a masterclass of his, and to perform in a Zarzuela Concert with Sergio Puig, from the Florida Grand Opera.

Pride in one’s alma mater is what unites alumni across decades of time. I’ve always understood myself to be a proud wildcat, but it wasn’t until I attended this Opera Institute that I truly understood what it meant to be proud of one’s own alma mater. I am attending this festival with four other Northwestern students: Sam Garcia, Catherine McAree, Gabrielle Lowell and Laura Pitkin. Aside from giving me the opportunity for my friendships with each of them to grow, this program has given us the opportunity to represent the true strength that Northwestern has to offer the music world, and you can’t help but get a good feeling in your gut about that.

Northwestern is among the top universities in the nation for Voice & Opera Performance, but one of the issues with only ever having school-related experiences is that we cannot truly gauge where we stand in comparison to others if our perspective never changes. For that very reason, Miami Summer Music Festival has allowed us to have a glimpse of what the world outside of Northwestern offers. It is a place where I feel encouraged to pursue what I love and confident that I can achieve what I desire. Now with the renewed confidence that Northwestern is doing a good job with us, I will return to school with even more drive to take the opera world by storm.

SIGP Views from the Cube: Global Paint for Charity


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Rising sophomore and SIGP recipient Catherine is spending her summer gaining marketing and social media experience with Atlanta non-profit Global Paint for Charity.

Rising sophomore and SIGP recipient Catherine is spending her summer gaining marketing and social media experience with Atlanta non-profit Global Paint for Charity.

Catherine Zhang is a sophomore in Medill, pursuing journalism, a certificate in Integrated Marketing Communications, and a minor in Business Institutions. This summer, as part of the Summer Internship Grant Program (SIGP), she interned with Global Paint for Charity, an Atlanta non-profit, gaining marketing and social media experience.

I’ve been interested in non-profit work ever since I was in high school. Working with Global Paint showed me the ins and outs of non-profit work.

I collected data about local paint stores and reached out to them for paint donations. I worked on emailing and calling potential donors, and also helped manage GPC’s social media accounts, including Facebook and LinkedIn to promote upcoming events.

I learned how to learn Salesforce, Zoho and other CRM websites, and researched grant funding, helping jump start the application process.

During my time with GPC, I had the pleasure of working at the Atlanta Tech Village, an office building inhabited by start-up tech companies and more. Just being surrounded by young, ambitious individuals with a passion motivated me to work harder. This office space reflects that hard-working twenty-first century atmosphere, with nap rooms, contemporary conference rooms, lots of outlets and open space for laptops, and a breakroom stocked with snacks and drinks.

Over the summer, I attended multiple events that showed me more about start-ups and small businesses. I went to a marketing conference and met lots of local software engineers and marketing officials, and even sat in on Atlanta’s version of Shark Tank. It was great to see what the people around me had accomplished.

All of these opportunities, combined with the experience of working closely with my boss and supervisor, made for an unforgettable summer. I’m eternally grateful for everything that I’ve learned.

A word of advice to students pursuing internships: branch out and experiment. Though I’m not particularly interested in non-profit work, doing a marketing internship with a non-profit left me with an interesting perspective about advertising, social media and networking.

You never know what you’re going to find if you step out of your comfort zone.

Summer Intern Experience: MacArthur Briefing for Gov’t and Non-Profit Interns


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SoC rising junior Xiomara is interning this summer at Chicago nonprofit La Casa Norte.

SoC rising junior Xiomara is interning this summer at Chicago nonprofit La Casa Norte.

My name is Xiomara Contreras and I am a Communication Studies major and Latina/o Studies minor in the School of Communication ‘17. This summer I am interning at La Casa Norte, a nonprofit that serves youth and families confronting homelessness. I am interested in pursuing a career in nonprofits, education, or social services.

I had the opportunity to attend the MacArthur Briefing for Government and Non-Profit Summer Interns and chose to attend because the topics they were addressing were on public policy issues I cared about and because of my interest in philanthropy. I wanted to learn more about the research on those issues, and what was being done to address them. At the briefing I learned about U.S. Criminal Justice Reform, How Housing Matters, Nuclear Security, and the MacArthur Fellows Program.

Three important things I learned at the event that all Northwestern students should know are on criminal justice reform, housing, and nuclear security. There are many people struggling to find housing and some are only a paycheck away from losing shelter. We need to make more initiatives to support affordable housing, especially since 1 in 3 people spend more than 30% of their income on rent. I also learned that the United States spends $60 billion per year on incarceration policies, a four fold increase despite crime decrease. We need to question why we are a punitive country and why we spend 12 million a year on jails alone- essentially punishing “poverty” and people with mental health issues, despite presuming innocence. Finally, U.S. security of nuclear weapons is not as secure as we think it is. As Northwestern students we can use our education to address these problems by supporting researching, lobbying in government, or collaborating with experts.

I was impressed by the funding the foundation provides for housing and community development in Chicago, especially since it is directly related to La Casa Norte’s mission. This event helped me gain a better understanding of housing and possible solutions beyond the individual level and more of a policy approach. The event also allowed me to meet other interns working for nonprofits and government who shared similar interests. I was able to speak to Ianna Kachons, who has done a lot of work with housing and said I could contact her if I wanted to learn more about her career path. I will meet with my supervisor, the development and fundraising manager to further discuss the briefing.

A note from NCA: If you’re interested in learning more about the MacArthur Foundation visit Additionally, there is a Fall 2015 Public Affairs Intern position open with the MacArthur Foundation. Visit CareerCat posting #114882 and apply by August 20th.

NEXTernship: A day with National Geographic


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WCAS student Jordan Harrison recounts her NEXT experience with National Geographic. Jordan is a rising junior majoring in biology.

Jordan Harrison spent her NEXTernship with communications manager (and NU alum) at National Geographic.

Rising junior Jordan Harrison spent her NEXTernship with National Geographic communications manager (& NU alum), Beth Furtwangler.

I walked into National Geographic expecting to learn about PR. I actually learned about PR, book publishing, photo copyright, children’s literature, media moments, and the Pope. National Geographic is a truly unique organization; it is a media and a news company, of course, but it also funds research and innovation and keeps such a cooperative relationship with scientists that you know you can trust their facts.

I shadowed Beth Furtwangler, communications manager for the daily news and National Geographic Kids divisions, who also introduced me to some of her colleagues including Lauren Hodapp, Kelsey Flora, Carol Woodward, and Farley Fitzgerald. I am so grateful to all of them for taking the time out of their day to talk to me.

What I really took away from my day with Beth was to always seize opportunities when they arise in the “moment,” whether in media or in my career. For instance, Nat Geo recognized the significance of the recent measles outbreak in Disneyland as a catalyst for conversation about science denialism, and ran the article “The War on Science” online two weeks early to be part of the conversation. In my own professional life, some similar advice I got was to seize internships or other experiential learning opportunities as often as I can.

Nat Geo also changed how I think about occupation versus industry. I’ve never had warm feelings about PR until now because I didn’t think there could be a lot of passion in it. However, a lot of the Communications staff said they felt more a part of a team working in-house at National Geographic than for an agency. For an organization like National Geographic that wears so many hats, from research to outreach to book publishing, the communications team is vital for coordinating everyone’s efforts. It totally changed my opinion of public relations as a fulfilling career. It goes to show that working in different industries can totally change your job satisfaction even if you are working in the same role.

And finally, here’s some fun stuff. Did you know that National Geographic has a cartographic department? A whole department just for maps. Whenever a map is needed in any NG publication, the map department has to make it and lay it out and nobody else can mess with it.

NEXTernship: A day with Quantum Secure


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Northwestern students Ahsan Rehman & Michael Caputo recount their NEXT experience with Quantum Secure. Ahsan is a McCormick graduate student in analytics interested in a career in technology consulting, and Michael is a McCormick graduate student in information technology interested in a career in telecommunications engineering and leadership.

For the NEXTernship program, we shadowed Vik Ghai, the co-founder and Chief Technology Officer at Quantum Secure; a physical identity, security and access management company in the heart of Silicon Valley. Vik was kind enough to not only share his professional experiences, but also spent time outside the office to discuss how start-ups are building solutions to solve the world’s toughest problems.

Quantum Secure is a startup, which has shown enormous growth in last decade by providing solutions to large corporations. Vik and his team are highly efficient when it comes to project execution, as roles are well-assigned and progress is shared on a daily basis. During our shadowing day, Vik shared how he interacts with his sales team and work package divided between the technical team members to work on deliverables. We were also assigned a small problem to develop use cases on how Information Technology and Advance Analytics could be used to develop solutions for Identity Fraud.

Vik is an intelligent and successful entrepreneur, who understands failure is an experience, which allows you to re-think and make improvements for a better approach in the future. He believes ‘Project Execution’ and ‘Client Experience’ are two distinct items that if handled well can lead to the success of any start-up. Furthermore, he considers the Master’s degree from Kellogg invaluable in helping him navigate the corporate world.

This experience allowed us to think about new ideas and gain insight into the life of a Silicon Valley growth company. It also showed us how the time spent at Northwestern can be a great source of pride for its Alumni. The NEXTernship was a fantastic way to network with alumni, evaluate the current Industry trends, and appreciate Northwestern’s amazing education and resources.


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