Interview with Melissa Zhang '17

Tell us about what you study at Duke and which program you are in?
I am a rising junior majoring in computer science and minoring in Finance.

Talk about your prior work experience.
My freshman year summer I participated in DukeEngage Guatemala and worked as a community consultant with local entrepreneurs in rural communities. The experience gave me a firsthand look at the delicate balance that social businesses and B-corps must maintain between the social and financial bottom-line. As a result of my experience, I became interested in the scalable properties of technology and its potential to help the unbanked in countries such as Guatemala.

What did your recruiting process look like? How many people did you reach out to?
I started reaching out to people in industries I was interested in in the fall of my sophomore year. Since then I've had phone calls/email conversations/coffee with over 60 people across the fields of consulting, finance, technology, and marketing.

How did you come up with a list of companies to target?
Gaining such a wide range of perspectives from early on really helped me narrow down my internship search to the criteria of a "tech startup in San Francisco". This seems obvious now, but at the time, I was pretty overwhelmed by all the different industries and career paths that were out there. To narrow down my list of companies, I looked at the smaller to mid-sized companies in San Francisco on AngelList and reached out to Duke alumni at those companies to get a better idea of what they did on a regular basis.

Talk about how you thought about location (city) as it related to recruiting. Did you know where you wanted to end up or were you exploring?
At the beginning of my search, I was pretty open to any location but as the process went on, I received advice to narrow it down to places where I could meet the most people in my industry. This meant going to where technological innovation was happening, which naturally led me to San Francisco and Silicon Valley. I knew that I wanted to get a feel of living in a big city so from there, I narrowed it down to San Francisco itself.

What was a favorite article or tip that someone gave you on the job search process?
The worse that can happen when you reach out to somebody is that person doesn't respond. The best thing that can happen is that you receive an invaluable piece of advice or a connection to that company that might help you in the future. The company I ended up interning at wasn't on my list of target companies but what I learned from talking to different people at those companies ultimately led me to understand myself better and what I wanted out of my summer.

Anything else you'd like to share with Duke students that are doing their own job search?
Be persistent, start early, and take advantage of the Duke network. 

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