Degree from Michigan: A.B. in Communications Studies with a minor in Law, Justice, and Social Change
Current location: New York City
Year graduated: 2016
Student Organization Involvement: Campus Day, Greek Life (Pi Beta Phi), Residential College (RA at East Quad), Detroit Partnership, Study Abroad
Caroline Shao currently works as an associate at AlphaSights, a global knowledge broker in NYC. She is responsible for sourcing advisors, which is basically a head-hunting position for short-term consulting opportunities.
KC: What exactly is AlphaSights and global knowledge brokering?
CS: AlphaSights operates in the expert network industry. Our clients use us as a platform through which they can find information; however what’s unique about our company is that this information always comes from a human source. We find professionals who have experience in any given industry, and we connect these people to our clients through short-term consulting opportunities. The experts provide information on industry norms, trends, or other specifics about whatever the client’s project might be. Our clients include investment companies (mutual fund/hedge fund), consulting companies (strategy or management), and corporations.
KC: What is your role specifically as an associate?
CS: I’m responsible for sourcing the advisors for our clients. I sometimes talk to people we’ve utilized in the past, but most of the time I’m researching an industry to determine the relevant players and try to get those industry experts to work with us. I get to learn a lot about different industries that I may not have previously been exposed to. For example, I might be working a project about gas pumping in the Texas basin one minute, and the next hour I might be researching vegetable sourcing from Romania. I’ve learned a lot through my conversations with clients and advisors.
This career path is unique because it falls under the category of “knowledge work.” There are certain career paths that depend directly on your education. For example, within medicine or mechanical engineering, your success really depends on the knowledge that you already possess. This industry, however, is all about knowledge work; you have to be able to learn quickly and make connections that would be hard for a computer or algorithm to make.
KC: What were your internship experiences as an undergrad at Michigan?
CS: During the summer after my freshman year, I was an orientation leader for the Office of New Student Programs. The summer after sophomore year, I thought I wanted to go to law school, so I interned at Quicken Loans, a mortgage loaning company. There I worked in the legal department as a banker licensing intern. The summer before my senior year, I worked at a nonprofit in Madrid called “Fundación Madrina.” It was a really small, on the ground nonprofit that housed women, young moms, and families.
KC: How do you feel your education and extracurricular activities at Michigan have influenced your career path?
CS: I was a communications major at Michigan. For communications majors, there are typically four tracks that students will pursue:
1. Marketing and Public Relations (PR)
2. Targeted production/film
3. Creating things – digital media, etc.
4. Graduate programs
I was originally looking into marketing and PR-type roles, but then I found that I wasn’t as creative as I thought I was. I did like client-facing positions, so I started looking into sales, and then I realized that working with data and numbers really wasn’t what I was passionate about. I wanted a job that incorporated more of the human connection component. When I heard about AlphaSights through a recruiter (who also went to Michigan!), it felt like the perfect fit. My job is like a sales role, but it requires more strategic thinking rather than just sales. It also has to do with learning about different industries and being exposed to new things.
KC: What advice would you give to current students hoping to follow in a similar career path?
CS: The most important thing is finding your best fit. You have to know what you like to do, and you need to find a company that has values that you share. For example, if you value the ability to create new ideas and implement them immediately, maybe you should consider working for a start-up rather than a large company.