Meet one of our Sages - Jenn Yee: founding Chicago Director of the Startup Institute, current Career Coach and Innovation & Growth Strategy consultant, featured hustler on WBEZ Chicago Public Radio and TastyTrade Network, featured panelist at Chicago Ideas Week, AND bad-ass mom.

You'd think her BA at Williams College and MBA at Northwestern's Kellogg School of Management was what solely paved her successful path. On the contrary, Jenn attributes her professional achievements to going abroad and working at a startup.

What are 3 of the biggest lessons you learned living abroad?

1. Putting down that you “worked or lived abroad” on your resumé is a game changer.

When Jenn arrived back in the United States to look for jobs, interviewers were more interested in her two-year experience abroad than the years she spent at a university or what she studied there.

“The time I spent in Hong Kong piqued people’s interest - “You went half-way around the world?! Tell me about THAT!”

(Jenn’s shameless plug: “Sage Corps is a brilliant idea because it’s a way to easily access experiences to talk about in a job interview. Hiring managers are really interested in your story, and how you can extract value from your experiences. Bottom line - ‘gaining more experience is key.’”)

2. Learn to laugh at yourself.

While in Hong Kong, Jenn made a huge effort to learn Cantonese. “As a young adult,” Jenn said, “learning another language instilled a lot of humility and taught me how to laugh at myself.” She said that the skills she picked up while learning to translate a word and turn it into something others could understand helped her tremendously in her career - i.e. it set the foundation for her to feel more confident to speak about different computer science languages or to be able to facilitate a conversation between the CTO and COO of a company. (Talk about humility!)

3. Be “startup-y.”

“The jobs I had abroad - working at a university and being a travel writer - were very ‘startup-y.’” In other words, Jenn didn’t have a syllabus to follow when she was working in Hong Kong. She learned how to (a.) operate in an unstructured environment and (b.) take initiative and ownership of her projects. She sums up her biggest takeaway into two words: SOFT. SKILLS.

What’s one piece of advice you’d give to millennials who are looking for a change and/or to transition careers?

"NETWORKING IS NOT A BAD WORD." Jenn was so passionate about this piece of advice that while talking to her, she proposed changing the word “networking” to something else so people would be more open to it (perhaps “mingling” instead? Just a thought). But really - why was she so fervent? Because in her experience, the act of networking was what made every one of her career transitions successful.

The fishermen know that the sea is dangerous and the storm terrible, but they have never found these dangers sufficient reason for remaining ashore.
— Vincent Van Gogh (Jenn's favorite quote)

“I kept my network warm and robust by simply helping people out of good will, especially when I didn't need anything back.” When it came time for Jenn to change trajectories or even build Startup Institute’s brand and partnerships in Chicago, she said the process of asking her network for support was much more authentic and made everything easier. I’m sure you’re thinking - “But how did she even get this network to begin with?”


Lucky for you - she provides an awesome “Networking Tip:"

“After you grab a coffee with someone, follow up by sending them a link to an event, website, or resource you mentioned while chatting.” She goes on to say that “this will add a little brightness” to your growing network and establishes an organic connection.

So what's Jenn’s next big journey?

She says she’s currently living it by moving recently to Boulder, Colorado while she raises a new baby with her husband amidst the Rocky Mountains. She hopes to one day live abroad again to give her son the opportunity to gain that experience and the “gift of becoming bilingual.”

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