Her Career is a series of articles dedicated to the career development of Northwestern women. We talk to recent graduates or current students to get the best advice for those who have interests in similar fields.
Molly Shaheen, a 2015 Northwestern graduate, currently works at Edelman Chicago and is a member of the Associate Enrichment Program, an 18-month entry-level program for post-graduate agency types. Her responsibilities include working across the firm engaging in marketing and business roles from digital strategy to health communications and media relations. Prior to entering the workforce, Molly was an active member of the Northwestern Community. She served as the Kappa Alpha Theta Philanthropy Director, the Director of Communications for Wildcat Welcome and held various executive positions for F&F Marketing. Additionally, Molly’s résumé includes internships at numerous PR and media agencies. Continue reading to learn more about her road to success and her tips to get the most out of your Northwestern experience!
1. What did you study at Northwestern and how have your studies influenced your career?
I majored in Journalism with an IMC certificate and political science minor- and I honestly use pieces of each in my current job. I work with reporters on media projects, help develop and execute marketing plans for brands that serve a business goal and, all the while, have to keep critically aware of the business goals of brands.
My classes proved themselves invaluable because they helped introduce me to the different career options within the massive umbrella that is “marketing.” I learned how I might be able to peruse a creative and (eventually) lucrative career- and be happy in the process. Connecting with professors, TAs and school administrators taught me the value of networking and asking the right questions. Finding my own mentors in campus staff and keeping them close gave me a crash course in managing up.
2. You were the co-president of F&F, the marketing agency on campus, last year and prior to that the VP of Human Resources and a general member. How was being in charge of the group? Additionally can you offer advice on rising to leadership positions in student clubs here at Northwestern?
I loved my time leading F&F- I was able to pursue the projects I loved while shepherding a growing campus organization into a new phase.
Anyone looking to get more involved needs to give themselves enough time in an organization to figure out if it’s really a good fit- especially before raising their hand for additional work. You’ll be a better leader if you want to be there and are passionate– and you won’t find yourself tied to a group down the line where you dread the work. Everyone wins when everyone is doing work they enjoy.
But- and my second piece of advice- is to always raise your hand when you think you want something. Get more information from upperclassmen or peers, apply for it even if you feel under-qualified and then aggressively chase down. Especially as young women, I think we feel timid about applying for things before we feel we’re “ready” or it’s “appropriate.” I was VP of Human Resources for F&F after only one full quarter in the group- and then down the line when I was president I often felt like I was begging our mostly female staff to apply for open positions. Go for it, ladies!
3. You’ve interned at amazing companies like Ogilvy Public Relations and Skirt PR to name a few. How did you land those positions?
I was nothing if not scrappy when hunting down those jobs- I actually found Skirt on Twitter while searching for lifestyle and fashion PR opportunities in Chicago (I’ll save anyone in the same boat some time- there aren’t many…). I liked what I saw and sent them a blind email asking for a summer internship when there wasn’t much info on the website.
I interviewed in Wicker Park the next week and started a few short weeks later. A secret—I didn’t even know what a media relations WAS before working at Skirt #fakeittillyoumakeit. Ogilvy happened a bit more conventionally- I landed the job through a blind resume drop. I think I had built up enough smaller-scale experience for myself on campus and through Skirt that I was finally able to tell a persuasive personal narrative. One step at a time.
These two jobs I was able to wrangle for myself helped me land my top choice JR site (major PR firm Weber Shandwick) come senior year and, eventually, my current position with Edelman.
4. What advice would you give your student self? What do you wish you had known as a first, second or third year student?
Honestly, stop wearing gym clothes to your day job. Class is work, office hours are work and meetings are work. I was guilty of this basically until the day I graduated and it kind of haunts me now. You can be the smartest person in the room but people might not notice if you walk in screaming “I didn’t care to put on pants today.” I was the worst at this one- but I’m realizing how far looking pulled together can get you at work, especially at a casual-dress office.
Maybe this is weird, but other than the lululemon crisis on campus, I don’t look back at many of my decisions and see big missteps. That isn’t to say I didn’t make mistakes- trust me, I did- but as a form of self-preservation I just chose to find opportunities within them. Cliche, I know.
5. What do you suggest women do on campus to get the most out of their Northwestern experience?
Hands down, find strong female mentors for yourself on campus- they’re probably already in your life. Whether it’s your PA, TA or RA or an older student who worked a cool job last summer or someone in your sorority who you look up to—female mentorship can and should exist on campus.
Partway through my sophomore year I decided I wanted to take action to land an internship for the coming summer but didn’t know how people even got creative job experience- it didn’t feel like the career fairs were for people like me and I had trouble finding anyone older doing something I wanted to do.
I ended up literally teaching myself what networking was. One day I was getting coffee downtown with my mom’s bosses friend’s ex-coworker who had a startup in the city. Then I was in Evanston meeting his other friend who wrote children’s books and lived in Evanston. Then she quite literally told me what PR was and was introducing me to her friends in the industry. At some point in there I had my first internship. That path was messy and far from Goldman Sachs glamorous- but it taught me the skills to connect with people with the humble need for information and guidance.
There are so many women on campus doing amazing things for themselves- kicking ass, taking what they want and completely ready to impart some wisdom- but I think sometimes we feel wary of “bragging” and then every class of ladies ends up doing it solo, quietly.
You don’t have to teach it all to yourself- the greatest career asset at NU for young women is the population of other amazing women. Find someone you look up to, learn from them, learn with them and then share it with the rest of us.