When she was working for Leo Burnett in Chicago, Catherine Yi regularly met with UIC Business students on campus. “I met with students through Alumni 4U, and every meeting was different, depending on what each student wanted to learn,” says Yi. “But there was one piece of advice I had for everyone: start interning as soon as possible.”
Yi’s path to her current role at Amazon included a series of internships during her time at UIC Business. Though some internships were more relevant than others to her current work, none was more or less valuable. “I can draw important distinctions between the work I did in one internship as opposed to another,” she says, “but what matters overall was the volume of work experience and interview experience.”
Yi grew up in the Chicago area, where her parents run a few small groceries and liquor stores. Her parents being entrepreneurs, business school was a natural topic of family conversation. Yi began at UIC Business in the fall of 2007. By April of 2008, she was interning at Technomic, Inc., a research and consulting firm downtown.
“As a freshman, I didn't hesitate to start preparing for interviews,” she says. “I met with advisers, I practiced with friends, I worked and reworked my resumé. Still, being so young, I was going into the interviews blind. I wish I'd known how to speak more precisely and more professionally.” The new Professional Development Program, Yi notes, would have been the perfect resource.
After rising through Technomic’s ranks to lead intern, she moved on to a public relations position at the Korean American Chamber of Commerce. “I’d been volunteering with the chamber of commerce for a while, and when the opportunity came my way, I took it,” she says. “I wanted to try different work, to learn what felt right and what didn’t.” That summer, Yi also interned with PrepMe, an educational services firm. “I’d also considered becoming a teacher, and here was this opportunity to apply my business skills in an educational space. Again, I took it. I wanted to try it out.”
By her senior year, Yi was squarely in her wheelhouse, working at Morningstar as a marketing intern. “At Morningstar, they saw I had more experience, so they gave me more work and more ownership. What I learned at Technomic and the other internships–things like email etiquette and how to participate in meetings–helped me to hit the ground running.”
Throughout these internships, Yi increasingly took on responsibility in the American Marketing Association. One of her most important decisions, she says, was to join the AMA board right away. “It taught me another kind of ownership altogether. In an internship, you work for a supervisor. They have a process, and you learn it,” says Yi. “On the AMA board, you're all students, you're all hungry to learn, to gain visibility, and you're all trying to grow AMA together, brainstorming together and executing together in ways you never experience in class or an internship, because at the end of the day, the future of the organization is entirely on you.”
Her work with the AMA also put her in touch with her future employer, Leo Burnett. “In my senior year at UIC, I brought Leo Burnett to campus for the AMA, and I kept in touch, applying for openings whenever I could. About a year after I graduated, my contact in their HR department reached out to me with a position that fit my skills, and that’s how I got my start.”
Yi started at Leo Burnett as a Content Manager, executing and maintaining content for different online retailers and following the evolution of the online marketplace to keep ahead of the curve. From there, she moved within the firm to the role of Content Strategist, creating the content instead of implementing it. “Within Leo Burnett, there’s a lot of room to move around. By working on so many teams, you get exposed to different roles in the organization.”
The move to Amazon, however, was more than a mere switch. “To be honest, it started with an opening I saw on Linkedin. I applied, and then put it out of mind. Having heard about the difficulty of getting into Amazon, my expectations were low. But I got a call back two months later, and all of a sudden I had less than a month to decide whether to move my life to Seattle.” Fortunately, Yi had an itch to live outside of Chicago.
Yi now works on the Amazon Devices Team, where she’s taken ownership of Amazon Dash and, more recently, the Fire Tablets. Would she be at Amazon without her experience at PrepMe or the Korean American Chamber of Commerce? “It’s impossible to say. What matters is that I followed my hunches and put myself to the test. You only get real experience from real interviews and real work.”
Over the course of many interviews, Yi taught herself a number of things. One of her tricks: map your skills. “I’d do as much research as possible on which skills a company was looking for. Then I’d write about my own skills, and literally draw lines across the page from their requirements to my abilities. This way, in the interview, I was ready to cut to the chase.”
The more you interview in college, she says, the more you can iron out the kinks before hitting the job market. “Take every interview you can get. If you’re offered a job you don't want, great–turn it down. If you’re not offered a single job, figure out what’s going wrong.”
“When I got a call back from Amazon, they moved very quickly, meaning I had to prepare very quickly,” says Yi. “I’m glad I had all those trial runs and rocky interviews behind me.”