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How Strategic Communication Alum Yuri Zheng Landed Her Dream Job

For many international students, navigating professional networking and the job search in the U.S. can be daunting. But 2020 Strategic Communication graduate Yuri Zheng, who is originally from China, began her job search early on during her time at Columbia University. She worked with the Columbia SPS Career Design Lab to refine her resume and master the art of networking.

“On the first day of the program, I set a goal and worked proactively during my time in the program to reach this goal,” Zheng recalls. By her second semester, Zheng secured an internship with digital marketing agency Vertic. Upon graduation, Zheng had three job offers and most recently joined e-commerce giant Amazon as a Programmatic Solutions Consultant. She shares how she prepared while at Columbia, and offers advice for current students seeking in-industry employment in the U.S.

Why did you enroll in Columbia’s Strategic Communication M.S. program? What did you gain from the curriculum?

The program offers a good balance between school work and work-life, and as well has amazing professors, administrators, and classmates who supported me both on and off-campus. Plus, its location in New York is the ideal place to start your dream career in media and advertising.

How did the Career Design Lab, and other University connections or resources help you in your job search? 

I’ve always dreamed of attending Columbia University. Securing my first internship was the most challenging, as I was navigating the job market as an international student in a new country. But I started early. During my first semester, I set a goal for myself, and then I worked hard to network and secure experience in my field. The Career Design Lab played a vital role in helping me do this. Together, we built my resume and worked on rebranding myself on LinkedIn. And of course, I attended all of their workshops and networking events. Columbia has an impressive and seemingly never-ending network of alumni, so my approach involved reaching out to as many alumni as I could on LinkedIn. 

As students, we can sometimes focus too much on grades and GPA. When I started searching for internships, I realized that the media industry puts more emphasis on your experience."

What surprised you the most about the process of finding a job when you were a student?

I was surprised to see so many of my international peers waiting until the last minute to apply for jobs—don’t do that. The key is proactivity. As students, we can sometimes focus too much on grades and GPA. When I started searching for internships, I realized that the media industry puts more emphasis on your experience. 

Barbara McGloin, the Senior Associate Director of the Career Design Lab, was such a great mentor to me. She really empowered me in the job hunting process by listening to me and providing valuable advice and tips that uniquely fit me. I was overwhelmed by the level of support from the program and from the Career Design Lab. Professor Alexandra Merceron is really the one who reinforced my belief in the importance of networking. She motivated me to expand my domain knowledge and be more open-minded.

What was the most important lesson that you learned when you embarked on your career training?

Don’t compare yourself to others and trust the positives that others see in you. During my time at Columbia, I experienced my fair share of imposter syndrome. But after entering the professional world, I have learned to trust what my superiors see in me. If they promote you, they see something in you and it is important to believe that and act with confidence. Focus on your own work and commit to continually bettering yourself. 

After graduation, I quickly realized that I needed to change the way that I approach my job. My managers didn’t hold my hand, so I needed to be more proactive in the pursuit of my goals. Learn, talk to people, and always ask for feedback. 

What lesson do you wish you had learned before you started interviewing with American firms?

Always prepare ahead of time by having potential answers to common interview questions and a few questions for the employer ready! Don't ever look down on yourself; imposter syndrome is normal, often among women, but remember that if you don’t know something, chances are other people probably have the same questions!

About the Career Design Lab

Exclusively available to students and alumni of the Columbia University School of Professional Studies, the Career Design Lab provides individualized career coaching that covers overall career assessments, resume and cover letter writing, agile internship and job search strategies, personal branding, interview skills, career transitions, salary negotiations, and more.