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Northwestern University

Young Alumni and First Jobs: "What I Wish I Knew When I Was Here”

Four young alumni return to campus to discuss the transition from student to working professional

By Daniel P. Smith

During her last year at Northwestern, Anja Spruston ’15 admits that she felt anxiety, stress and pressure as she anticipated her life as a working professional.

In fact, even after the economics major landed a job at kCura, a Chicago-based legal technology company, she fretted over being accepted by her new co-workers.

Within days of landing at kCura, however, the concerns that had hovered over Spruston for nearly a year evaporated.

“Honestly, I was surprised by how well I fit in and how much I could add because of what the Northwestern experience had prepared me for,” Spruston told a collection of Weinberg College undergraduates on Jan. 19 at Scott Hall.

During the latest panel discussion from the College’s Student-Alumni Engagement Program — “Young Alumni and First Jobs: What I Wish I Knew When I Was Here” — Spruston and three other recent alums discussed their transition from student to working professional, offering students rich perspective on the process.

On finding a job

When political science graduate Julie Mahoney ’14 began pursuing full-time employment, she largely sent the same cover letter to employer after employer, merely changing names and titles.

When that game plan proved ineffective, Mahoney switched to a more focused approach. She reviewed job descriptions and researched specific companies, while also being more reflective about what she wanted in her first career move.

“Not surprisingly, that translated into more interviews and job offers,” says Mahoney, who spent more than a year at Nielsen before moving into a brand strategist position with Chicago-based digital media company DOSE.

On networking

Mo Safdari ’10, who majored in economics and biology, described the intense networking that helped him score a project manager position at Facebook. He connected with past dormmates, fellow Northwestern alumni and former coworkers to create a web of contacts that led him from one new connection to another and, eventually, Facebook.

“Continue networking, which could be as simple as staying in touch with people already in your network, and you’ll find a way to get opportunities,” Safdari says.

On finding your professional niche

During her first post-graduate year, psychology major Lauren Tindal ’14 worked in technical support at Box. Though Tindal struggled to find fulfillment in the position, it nevertheless spurred earnest self-reflection on how Tindal might use that experience to inform and drive her next professional steps.

“I could still learn from things and that’s the mindset I took,” says Tindal, whose diligent efforts led to role in UX research at Box and, more recently, a design research position at Uber.

 On finding balance

All four alumni encouraged the 30 or so undergraduates in attendance to seek balance, both as a student and as a young professional.

“It’s okay to have anxiety about being a professional and an adult. But also try to be excited about this new phase of your life,” Spruston says.

Safdari, meanwhile, encouraged students to find balance between their career and other areas, such as personal finance, wellness and relationships.

“Start a conversation with yourself now about the personal goals you have and hold yourself accountable to think about these things in parallel with your career,” Safdari says.

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