Alumni Career Q&A for International Students: Job and Internship Searching


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Photo of Career Adviser Brett, author of this blog postBy Brett Boettcher, NCA associate director of professional program strategy & management, serving students in the School of Professional Studies and master’s students in The Graduate School.

Welcome to the Alumni Career Q&A for International Students blog series! Each month, NCA will feature a Q&A with former Northwestern international students about their experiences navigating the U.S. job search process. The goal of this series is to help current international students understand what they can do to successfully plan their career and excel in the job search.

In this month’s edition, NCA solicited feedback from three international student alumni:

  • French master’s graduate from civil engineering program working in structural engineering
  • Chinese master’s graduate from analytics program working as a data scientist with an insurance company
  • Korean undergraduate from electrical engineering program working for a financial software, media, and data company
  • Chinese master’s student from integrated marketing communications program working for a marketing strategy company

Here are their responses to questions related to interviewing and networking for positions within the United States:

What challenges did you experience with the U.S. job search and how did you handle those challenges?

A lot of employers do not know the process to hire international workers and are afraid to look into it. A good way to prepare employers to that process is to give them a brief summary of how it will go, and to reassure them that nothing is asked from them while you are on OPT.

I got a lot of rejections. Also it was quite unclear to me what I did during the interview [that] was wrong. So I talked to a lot of alumni, asked for referrals, and asked them to help me (with) mock interviews.

Many challenges are regarding immigrant status. I dealt with them with people skills and tactical skills.

What advice would you give current international students who are seeking jobs in the U.S.?

Practice your networking skills. Build your network and get referrals.

Networking is the key no matter what position or industry it is.

Read the job description carefully, find the ones that MATCH your training background the best.

What resources did you use since the start of the school year for your job/internship search?

LinkedIn, CareerCat (NCA), Glassdoor, personal network.

NCA (Northwestern Career Advancement), ECD (Engineering Career Development), Department (MSiA) alumni network, online applications, etc.

Stay tuned for next month’s blog post on the non-academic job search for PhDs!


Pay attention to “the little things” in your job/internship search


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Photo of Rachel Garson Taylor, M.A., LPC, NCA assistant director of student career advising, serving students in Kellogg Certificate Program for Undergraduates.By Rachel Garson Taylor, M.A., LPC, NCA assistant director of student career advising, serving students in Kellogg Certificate Program for Undergraduates.

At some point, you have probably heard a cutesy saying about the “little things.” It is the little things in life. It is the little things that matter the most. Little things make big things happen. There are too many to list and you get the point. The applicability of these phrases is widespread, including your approach to the internship and/or job search.

The little things that make a big difference on your resume:

  • Size of your name – If you make it too big, it may say something about the size of your ego or be perceived as filler. If you make it too small, it may make your name less memorable.
  • Relevant course list – Select courses that give additional information so that an employer understands what relevant knowledge and skill base you have to offer.
  • Order of bullet points – Be strategic about the order of information you present. Lead with the strongest and most relevant skills as they align with your pursuits. If you are applying for an analytics job, lead with analytics skills; if you are applying for a communications internship, lead with your communication skills.

The little things that make a big difference on your cover letter:

  • Correct position title – While this sounds obvious, this error happens with great frequency. Use of the incorrect position title may communicate to an employer that you are either not detail-oriented or you did not invest the time to write a letter for them specifically – neither of which will support your candidacy.
  • The why you need to know – The body of the cover letter is intended to demonstrate to a potential employer how you have used your skills in other experiences to make an impact. Take this one step further and articulate why this adds value to the position you are pursuing. This demonstrates understanding of the role and directly aligns your experience to the position you are pursuing.

The little things that make a big difference in your interview:

  • Your chair – Although you may know where to sit, wait until offered a seat. This demonstrates respect and good manners.  Both are important as employers think about your potential to interact with other staff, clients, and leadership.
  • Their name – As you are saying goodbye, use this opportunity to thank them personally using their name. This adds a layer of familiarity and warmth to the impression you are hoping to create.
  • Thank you note – Write one! Because not many applicants are doing this, I can’t think of a better way to set yourself apart. Additionally, if you are going to write a thank you note, personalize it to your conversation with that specific interviewer.

The little things that make a big difference on your job/internship search attitude:

  • Potential – See the potential in yourself and the opportunities available. When you see the potential, your excitement will be conveyed in your commitment to the search, the effort you exert, the application materials you submit, and the way you present yourself.
  • Success – While your ultimate goal is to secure a job/internship, celebrate each success along the way of making this happen. For example, an invitation to interview is a huge step forward and one that you should acknowledge as it means the employer sees your potential.

I encourage you to embrace the “it is the small things” mentality as you approach your search. The little things will help you to stand out as a candidate. All these little things will add up to make a positive impression with employers and ultimately a difference in your search. For more guidance on the job/internship search, schedule an appointment with your NCA career adviser.

Transferable skills: What they are and why they matter


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Laura is an associate director of student career advisingBy Laura Myers, associate director of student career advising, serving students in the School of Communication and Bienen School of Music.

Leadership. Ability to work in a team. Communication. Problem-solving. Strong work ethic.

Are you surprised to learn that these are the top qualities employers want to see on new college graduates’ resumes? (National Association of Colleges & Employers (NACE) Job Outlook 2016). I often meet with students who undervalue their experiences, or think that if their experience isn’t directly relevant to the industry they’re applying for then it’s not worth listing on their resume. The qualities listed above are not “hard skills” such as computer programming or foreign language proficiency. The qualities listed above are what we call “soft skills,” or transferable skills, and they are incredibly important to articulate not only on your resume, but also in interviews and when networking. We call them “transferable” because they are skills that can transfer to future work settings.

Transferable skills are sought after because they are often a reflection of your personality, work ethic and interpersonal skills, which can’t be taught. Hard skills can be taught. People can be trained in them. However, it’s much harder, and some might say impossible, to teach transferable skills. But the good news is transferable skills can be developed over time.

So how can you develop transferable skills? Through your experiences, whether that be in extracurricular activities, internships, volunteer opportunities, on-campus jobs or the classroom. The first step is understanding that you are gaining transferable skills all the time, but since they are hard to measure, you need to be able to articulate where and how you are gaining them.

Follow these steps to help you identify where and how you’ve gained transferable skills:

  1. Start by making a list of the top skills desired (leadership, ability to work in a team, communication (written & verbal), problem solving, and strong worth ethic).
  2. For each skill, list specific examples of where and how you used the skill (think extracurricular activities, internships, volunteer opportunities, on-campus jobs, the classroom, etc.)
  3. Keep this list and turn your examples into strong resume bullet points or to answer behavioral questions in an interview, which are both places you will need to articulate transferable skills.

Here are some ideas for each skill to get you thinking:

  • Leadership (think about a time that you):
    • Delegated tasks
    • Initiated a project
    • Supervised or trained staff (student staff counts!)
  • Ability to work in a team (think about a time that you):
    • Brainstormed ideas for a group project
    • Listened to others’ ideas
    • Collaborated with others
  • Communication – written & verbal (think about a time that you):
    • Presented information
    • Wrote or edited material
    • Interacted with customers
  • Problem solving (think about a time that you):
    • Researched information
    • Analyzed data/materials
    • Enhanced content
  • Strong work ethic (think about a time that you):
    • Promoted in a job/internship
    • Showed determination
    • Received an award or recognition

Please keep in mind that if you haven’t developed these skills yet, that’s ok too! You still have time and plenty of opportunities. You also don’t have to go at this alone. Make an appointment to meet with your NCA career adviser or counselor and we would be happy to help you!


Alumni Career Q&A for International Students: Networking & Interviewing


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LarryBy Larry Jackson, NCA Assistant Director of Student Career Advising, serving students in McCormick School of Engineering & Applied Science and the science fields in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences.

Welcome to the Alumni Career Q&A for International Students blog series! Each month, NCA will feature a Q&A with former Northwestern international students about their experiences navigating the U.S. job search process. The goal of this series is to help current international students understand what they can do to successfully plan their career and excel in the job search.

In this month’s edition, NCA solicited feedback from three international student alumni:

  • Chinese Master’s graduate from Biotechnology program working in consulting
  • Indian Master’s graduate from Mechanical Engineering program working in engineering
  • Turkish undergraduate alumnus from Industrial Engineering program working in consulting

Here are their responses to questions related to interviewing and networking for positions within the United States:

1. As an international student, what cultural differences did you experience during the U.S. interview process?

“Nothing significant during formal interviews, but I found small talks were very challenging as I felt it’s the key to establishing a connection / chemistry with interviewers.” 

“In the U.S., engineering recruiters focus on your technical expertise as well as how good of a fit you would be for the team. Most of the interviewers will ask you about your hobbies to understand if you could jell with other people or if you are a well-rounded person.”

“The entire interview process in the U.S. is so much more competitive and intense compared to my hometown Istanbul. For consulting recruiting specifically, I recognized that case studies in the U.S. are focused on measuring a candidate’s ability to apply specific examples to overall industry trends. I also found the U.S. interview structure to be much more punctual and organized. This speaks to overall cultural differences between the two countries.”

2. What resources did you find helpful in preparing for U.S. job interviews?

“NU Career Services (i.e. Northwestern Career Advancement and Engineering Career Development) and peer feedback on top of practice, practice, and practice. Because I was preparing for consulting interviews, I also found the book Case in Point to be extremely helpful.” 

“Engineering recruiters focus on your resume unless you are going for consulting interviews. The key is to know the stuff mentioned on your resume thoroughly.”

“I used the Case In Point textbook as my main print source. I paired up with one of my friends who was also going through consulting recruitment and we went through all example cases in the book as if we were doing a real interview. I also tapped into the Harvard Business Review case examples online. Additionally, I made use of NCA for overall recruitment guidelines and tips.”

3. How did you use networking in your job search as an international student?

“I believe networking is the only effective way for international students like me who didn’t have a robust background [in the field]. I mainly used LinkedIn and local professional associations to network with people. I connected with a few hundred people working in consulting and requested an informational interview. I probably talked with 30 of them and one of them helped me land my current job. Networking could let people know you beyond your resume. It’s like you setting up your 1st round interview by yourself and you can also get a lot of great information to tailor your resume and cover letter.”

“The key to a successful job search is networking. Knowing the right people can make the process faster and successful. I would contact friends you make in classes, your professor and try LinkedIn.” 

“Networking is so important both before and after recruitment. During the job search process I reached out to consultants and expressed my interest in the profession. I also connected with recent Northwestern graduates who became consultants. This helped me learn firsthand what it meant to become a consultant right after college. Networking also allowed me to introduce myself, build relationships, and help recruiters put a face to my name before the official recruitment timeline started.”

4. What advice would you give current international students about networking?

“Be tenacious, patient, and genuine. About being genuine, networking is not about finding someone who can pass your resume to HR (it should be a natural outcome). It’s about learning about the job and figuring out if it’s a mutual fit. So if you are not genuinely interested in the job, then don’t your waste time there. You will have a much better chance when applying for a job you truly like.”

“If you are invited to any event, make sure you never say ‘No.’ Go and meet people.”

“Always network. Meet people wherever you go. You will learn a lot from them. Don’t hesitate to ask questions. Get your name out there and make the recruiters remember you. Networking will make you stand out in a pile of very competitive candidates.”

Stay tuned for next month’s blog post on job and internship searching!

#MySIGPStory: Numaya (WCAS ’19) @ Mission Measurement


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Numaya Shahriar is a junior in Weinberg College, majoring in psychology with a minor in business institutions and a certificate in integrated marketing communications. Numaya was a 2017 Summer Internship Grant Program (SIGP) recipient.

Describe your summer internship. 


A photo of Numaya and fellow interns on the last day of their Mission Measurement internship, making an “M” sign with their hands.

I was one of two advisory interns on the advisory services team at Mission Measurement (MM), a company that advises corporations, governments, and nonprofit agencies on their social impact and furthers the research on measuring impact. I worked as an intern for one of the analysts and provided support to their projects. My primary responsibilities involved conducting primary research on the client’s field, sorting and analyzing survey data, brainstorming solutions to key issues and contributing to the development of client deliverables.

How did you learn about the opportunity? What resources were especially helpful in your internship search?

I came across MM when looking for Northwestern alumni working in the social sector. I reached out to an NU alum who was a manager there through a friend who had previously interned at the company. After a great conversation over coffee, I followed up to express interest in interning at MM and he forwarded my resume to the operations manager.

LinkedIn was crucial in finding contacts to reach out to, and NCA in developing my resume and cover letter. Looking at the Chicago Field Studies website for previous organizations and firms where students worked was extremely helpful.

What did you enjoy most about the experience?

The people at the company – employees and my fellow interns – were integral in making my internship memorable and enjoyable. I particularly appreciated the collaborative nature of consulting work and learned how teams work in corporate environments. Everyone was extremely willing to answer questions at all times, and the effort made to design clear tasks and instructions helped me feel ready to tackle any work I was assigned. Also, I loved getting to know the other interns – through lunches in the Loop, after-work activities and random snack breaks in the office.

What is the biggest takeaway from your internship?

I was able to provide support on a range of projects and get exposure to various client problems, and this was a huge area of learning for me. From an understanding of how schools can measure their impact to how foundations can be more effective in their charitable donations, I obtained a lot of insight into the social sector. As a result, I am more sure of my decision to pursue a career in education, particularly due to my work on a project for a school, helping them develop their impact measurement and reporting methods.

What advice do you have for students pursuing internships that will help them be most successful?

I think the most important thing is to ask a lot of questions and keep checking in with supervisors to make sure you are on the right track. Having confidence in your abilities is important to succeeding and making an impression on others in the workplace.

#MySIGPStory: John (WCAS ’19) @ Avila Laboratory in Colombia


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John Hruska (WCAS ’19) is majoring in economics and the integrated science program. John was a 2017 Summer Internship Grant Program (SIGP) recipient.

Describe your summer internship. 

I was collaborating on research in the Avila Laboratory for Electrical Engineering and Microelectronics at Universidad de los Andes (UniAndes), the top private research university in Colombia. My responsibilities included designing and running experiments as well as preparing the results in an academic manuscript. Some of the analysis techniques used were Electrical Impedance Spectroscopy (EIS), Scanning Electron Microscopy (SEM), and Atomic Force Microscopy (AFM).


How did you learn about the opportunity? What resources were especially helpful in your internship search?

The most helpful resources for me were a professor at Northwestern who was able to put me in touch with contacts, and the Northwestern Career Advancement Office who helped me at every step along the way as well as to feel prepared and certain.

What did you enjoy most about the experience?

I most enjoyed working with the incredibly dedicated and accessible faculty at UniAndes. My other favorite parts were making great friends and connections as well as exploring the nature near the city and the museums of history and art, like the Gold Museum, the National Museum, and the Bogota Museum of Modern Art.

What is the biggest takeaway from your internship?

I was able to immerse myself not only in academic work/life, but in Colombian culture, the Spanish language, and international living. Aside from learning so much about myself and the world around me, I also developed my scientific and work skills.

How has SIGP helped shape your career path?

It has exposed me to people and situations that helped me understand what a career in academia is like and how I can best prepare for one. Over my two months in Colombia, I had the opportunity to take part in many engaging and educational activities.

DC Government, Law and Policy Career Trek 2017 Recap


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By Samantha Schmidt and Abby Hodonicky

Samantha Schmidt will graduate in June 2018 from the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences with majors in history and Middle East and North African studies.

Abby Hodonicky will graduate from the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences in June 2019 with majors in psychology and English literature as well as a minor in legal studies.

Our first day of the Government, Law and Policy trek started with group introductions as we bonded over our travel woes from the day before. After setting out from the hotel, our first stop was the American Medical Association, where we enjoyed learning about how the organization has evolved to become more liberal in recent years. We then took the Metro to Georgetown Law School, a visit whose highlights included a self-guided tour of the beautiful campus and insight from an admissions officer about how using the GRE as an admissions test will likely diversify the pool of law school applicants. From there, we headed to Albright Stonebridge Group, an international consulting firm whose model of building mentoring relationships between new employees and more seasoned advisors sounded like it would make for an excellent work environment. That evening, the unfailingly hospitable former Congressman Kolbe hosted us at his home for dinner. He told fantastic stories about his world travels and regaled us with his insight into the current pitfalls of politics in Washington, a fascinating conclusion to our day.


The next day began with a question and answer panel with Northwestern alumni who work on Capitol Hill, the highlight of which was hearing about the state of gender relations in their workplace, the challenges women face, and the progress they have made. Afterwards, we visited the Urban Institute, where it was encouraging to hear about their goal of “elevating the debate” in DC by focusing on objective research as the best guide for societal progress. We then braved the downpour outside to walk to the State Department, and once there we were gratified to hear one employee’s impassioned speech about the importance of studying what you love and then using that knowledge to make the world a better place. For dinner, we headed to a young alumni reception hosted by Holly Rehm, WCAS ‘08, and her husband. It was wonderfully helpful to hear from them and the other young alums about the practicalities of getting by in DC when you first arrive, including the tips to take on two jobs and find multiple roommates.


On our third and final morning, we checked out of our hotel and signed thank you notes to our various hosts before setting off for the American Enterprise Institute, a think-tank that describes itself as “a university without students.” While there, we heard from scholars Karlyn Bowman and Norman Ornstein about their long, illustrious careers and fascinating research on polling and the current administration. Finally, we finished our trip with a visit to the law firm Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom where we had a lovely conversation over lunch about the general benefits of a law degree in terms of developing your critical thinking and writing skills.

The employers and alumni throughout the trek enthusiastically shared advice, and some common themes shaped our conversations. Most commented on the importance of networking, particularly of personalizing your interactions with potential employers and never burning bridges. Holly Rehm, for example, suggested calling an employer after submitting your resume to make sure your name stands out. Holly’s point not only gives a concrete example of personal networking, but gets to the importance of persistence. Several alumni explained that it is important to show excellence in all of your work, even if you do not intend to hold a certain position forever, so that you can advance along your chosen path.


Visiting DC enlightened us to the day-to-day realities of living and working in the nation’s capital. The intensity of the city’s atmosphere, manifested in the long hours, high stakes, and broad reach of the work its inhabitants do, is definitely challenging, but hearing from alums also reassured us as to how rewarding these efforts can be. It was also useful to visit such a wide variety of employers working in diverse fields, and hearing about how people’s career paths can wander between these industries confirmed that our lives in DC would never be dull.

We were surprised by the combination of flexibility and drive that alumni showed. While maintaining the importance of keeping a driving purpose in mind, they attested to the unexpected twists and turns of their careers thus far. Some recent alumni shared their happiness working in a job they never intended to pursue, and the interests that were sparked by getting hands-on experience in local government and on Capitol Hill. The coexistence of flexibility and tenacity show the compromises that end up shaping one’s career in DC.

#InternsofNU: Div @ Morgan Stanley


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Div Dasani is a sophomore studying economics and MMSS.

Dasani 1Describe your summer internship.

As a private wealth management intern at Morgan Stanley, I was responsible for aiding my mentor in investing and growing the wealth of individuals and organizations while learning about the financial services industry. I did this by running financial reports, completing fee analyses, and creating technological solutions designed to increase the efficiency and productivity of my mentor.

How did you learn about the opportunity? What resources were especially helpful in your internship search?

I knew I wanted to gain experience in the financial services industry this summer, so I cold-called every financial institution in my area. I made sure to emphasize my work ethic, leadership skills, and eagerness to learn, and talked to as many individuals in each firm as possible. The network I had grown because of this was an invaluable resource in the procurement of my internship, as one of the individuals in this network introduced me to my mentor.

What did you enjoy most about the experience?

Learning about the financial services industry from my mentor was an extremely rewarding experience. My mentor walked me through his role at the firm, explained various technical concepts to me, and even taught me the safest and most remunerative ways to invest my income. Additionally, working at such a prestigious firm was a fulfilling experience, as I had all the resources and support I needed to prosper in this field. Every one of my coworkers was eager to share their experiences with me, and their advice really helped me grow professionally.

What is the biggest takeaway from your internship?

One of the most important lessons I learned through my internship is to never be afraid to think outside the box. Morgan Stanley rewards creativity, and this aspect of the firm really allowed me to prosper throughout my internship. I was able to use my newfound knowledge in wealth management and pair it with my proficiency in programming to deliver innovative software to my mentor, which allowed him to become more organized and efficient.

What advice do you have for students pursuing internships that will help them be most successful?

Network with as many professionals in your field as possible. Networking not only prepares you for your career by clarifying the responsibilities and tasks you will be faced with, it also provides you with invaluable connections that can open doors for you in the future. Additionally, once you form a network, be sure to maintain those connections, as this is the best way to sustain your network.

2017 San Francisco Startup and Technology Trek Recap


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By Eli Wallace

Eli is a senior majoring in history and minoring in business institutions in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences. He participated in the 2017 Startup and Technology Career Trek in San Francisco.

Day 1


Photo: LinkedIn

Andy Linder organized and led our visit to LinkedIn. He is a Northwestern alumnus who graduated from Medill in 2016. Andy works in sales for LinkedIn’s Global Leadership Program, and has worked there for a year.

The main event during our LinkedIn visit was a panel discussion and Q & A with six LinkedIn employees. Andy led the panel, and four of the remaining five were all Northwestern graduates. The sixth member was a recruiter. After the panel, Andy took us all to LinkedIn’s rooftop terrace where we had photo ops and many enjoyed LinkedIn’s free snacks.

Insider’s insight: A member of the sales team told us that 2/3 of LinkedIn’s revenue comes from enterprise sales.

Biggest takeaway: Create an effective LinkedIn account. Students and professionals can attract real opportunities from their LinkedIn presence. Surprisingly—or not surprisingly at all—Andy was recruited for his job via LinkedIn. The more personal, current, and polished your profile is, the more likely you are to attract opportunities.

Sutter Hill Ventures

Photo: Sutter Hill Ventures

Sam Pullara spoke to our group at Sutter Hill Ventures. He enrolled in a physics PhD program at Northwestern in the mid-1990s, but left during his first year to pursue his interests in computers and technology. Sam spent about half an hour sharing his background with the group, and an hour fielding our questions.

Insider’s insight: Sutter Hill Ventures is one of the country’s oldest venture capital firms.

Biggest takeaway: There is no standard route to becoming a venture capitalist. Sam started off in a physics PhD program in Chicago, and ended up as a technology specialist, entrepreneur, and now venture capitalist. The common thread amongst Sam and others is that they pursued their interests and said yes to attractive opportunities.

Day 2


Photo: Handshake

David Shull and Alex Amerling spoke to us at Handshake. David was the fourth person to join Handshake after the three co-founders. Alex was the company’s first real employee. The two of them spent half of our time together telling us the exciting story of Handshake’s founding, and the other half answering our questions.

Insider’s insight: Hollywood depictions of startup founders are more accurate than you think. David and about seven others on the original team spent the earliest days of the company traveling around the country in an old, beat up Ford to sales and investor pitches, and working out of a rented house in Silicon Valley.

Biggest takeaway: The best ideas come from solutions to problems. The founder of Handshake came up with the idea after experiencing firsthand how difficult it could be getting good jobs from lesser known universities. He originally started by using the expertise he had gained from job recruiting to help his friends get jobs. After graduating, he decided to take a leap of faith and start a company doing it.


Photo: Pinterest

At Pinterest, we got a tour of the office, and spoke with a panel of employees who were Northwestern alumni.

Insider’s insight: Pinterest has a giant pin made of Legos in their building.

Biggest takeaway: Take opportunities when they come your way. Many of the alumni that spoke to us were not from San Francisco, but went there when they had the opportunity to work at Pinterest. Most of them are happy for doing so.


Photo: Thumbtack

We were lucky enough to have one of the three co-founders of Thumbtack, Sander Daniels, speak to us. He spoke about his personal background, the early days of the company, and then thoughtfully answered the many questions we had for him.

Insider’s insight: Although Thumbtack is a software company, none of the three co-founders come from technical backgrounds. Sander graduated from Yale Law School, and the other two co-founders have a background in politics.

Biggest takeaway: “It’s important to have civic minded founders.” –Sander Daniels. Sander and his two co-founders began brainstorming ideas not necessarily to start a company, but to start an organization that would have a sizable impact on the world around them. Sander’s and Thumbtack’s story was a reminder of the importance of looking to serve others as opposed to only thinking of yourself.

Alumni Panel

Photo: Startup and Technology Alumni Panel

The panel was held at Northwestern’s beautiful San Francisco campus. Andy Linder, Zack Moy, Jo Lee, Avy Faingezicht, and Michael Krakaris spoke to us. They shared with us their backgrounds, answered questions, and spoke with us individually after the panel discussion. They were all fairly recent graduates (within about 5 years out). Despite their youth, two out of the five had started companies, and one had just sold his company two weeks before speaking to us.

Insider’s insight: While the panel members certainly valued their academic education from Northwestern, they credited extracurricular activities and experiences for teaching them skills that were most applicable to their careers. For example, Avy worked internships during the school year after his manager at a summer internship told him he was deficient in important computer skills. Avy ultimately got a job at Apple upon graduating.

Biggest takeaway: Very little in Silicon Valley is predictable. Two of the five panel members had started companies. One was 27 and the other was just 23. This would be seen as unusual in most environments, but in Silicon Valley, it is common. Silicon Valley is not the best place to go for one looking for a traditional career path. But if someone is comfortable with uncertainty along with opportunity, it’s a great place to be.

Day 3

Facebook and Instagram

Photo: Facebook and Instagram

Our last visit of the trek was to Facebook and Instagram’s campus. There was a panel discussion and a tour of the sprawling campus afterwards. Just about anything one would need could be found there: several restaurants, a dentist’s office, an arcade, and much more.

Insider’s insight: There were only eight people on the team that built the Instagram Stories feature. Many entrepreneurs look at a large, successful company like Facebook and believe it’s almost impossible to compete with it. In reality, only so many resources and attention are allocated to any given project. It was the responsibility of eight people to create a competing product to Snapchat.

Biggest takeaway: It’s possible to find an entrepreneurial environment in a large, mature company. Despite the fact that over 17,000 people work at Facebook, everyone on the panel spoke of their ability to work on the things that interested them most, and with a relatively high degree of autonomy. If freedom to run is what someone is looking for, there may be more options than what they’d initially expect.


The San Francisco Startup and Technology Trek was an incredible learning experience. I’m not sure that I’ve ever been exposed to so much valuable information and such impressive people in such a small time period—just two and a half days. We saw software companies and venture capital firms, companies in their infancy and mature companies like Pinterest, and we even got to speak with the co-founder of a billion dollar startup. The trek gave me a firsthand perspective on something I had only read about before—the startup and technology environment in Silicon Valley and San Francisco.

Going into the trek, I was deciding between accepting a job offer I received in San Francisco, or asking the firm to give me an offer in Chicago. My mind was made up to accept the San Francisco offer before my plane had landed in Chicago after the trek. My decision was largely informed by this trip to San Francisco. It may be possible that this trek changes the trajectory of my life. I hope that future students find it as valuable as I did.

Photo: San Francisco Startup and Technology Trek

Job (re)Search Resources: Tips and Tools for PhDs


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elysseBy Elysse Longiotti, M.A., M.S., Assistant Director, Student Career Advising, serving doctoral students in The Graduate School.

It’s never too early for graduate students to start exploring different career pathways. If you’re considering an industry outside of or in addition to the academic job market, NCA grants you access to many online databases and resources to help you explore your options and develop a focused job search when the time comes to apply to positions. Approaching professional life after graduate school can be daunting; having a strategy in place to treat your career exploration as a form of research can help limit that anxiety. You can find links to all of our (free!) databases on the Internship and Job Search menu under Student Resources.

Hoovers, Vault, and WetFeet are three tools in particular that can help you conduct targeted research. These three resources alone grant you access to various industry-specific career guides and thousands of employer profiles to help you answer questions like: Who are the primary employers to be aware of? What are the current industry employment trends? What are the typical roles available to someone with your level of experience?  Hoovers specifically will allow you to make a list of employers according to criteria such as geographic location and industry of interest.

While these are wonderful ways to learn more about organizations and positions within targeted industries, I suggest using resources such as Versatile PhD (also on the NCA website) and LinkedIn alumni pages to learn more about others’ experiences. Not quite ready to contact people for an informational interview? Versatile PhD is an easy way to hear about others’ experiences– providing detailed, first person narratives of PhDs and ABDs who have gone on to successfully pursue careers across more than 20 industries (data science, nonprofits,  policy, and publishing, just to name a few). Accounts are divided according to the writer’s former discipline, and further by the industry ultimately pursued.

If this sounds like a lot of work, think about when you applied to your current PhD program and the amount of research that went into that process. You wanted to be in a department with faculty you would want to work with, resources you would want to have access to, and a community that you would want to be a part of. Fit is just as important for the next step you take, regardless of the position you ultimately choose to accept. Keep in mind that none of these tools in and of themselves are the “end-all, be-all,” but when used together, they can help you create a clear picture of the types of positions and organizations that would be a good fit for you.

Overwhelmed by the prospect of determining which industries align with your skills and interests?  You can always make an appointment with our career counselors. They are here to help graduate students assess their interests, values, strengths, and skills. Through a series of assessments and reflection, our counselors help students discover different career paths and identify potential industries to research further. If you are unsure as to what the next step to meet your career goals should be, make an appointment in CareerCat today!