Once a month, Steppingstone Alumni/ Board Members will share insights on their career journey and provide career tips and guidance for Steppingstone Scholars. For this month, Scholars will get a chance to learn more about Denny's career journey working for a mental health technology company!

Tell us about yourself! Where are you from? What was your post-graduate high school?

Hi - my name is Denny Yu, he/him/his, from the Steppingstone Class of 2010! I was born and raised in Boston, MA, more specifically in Charlestown. My mother was an ardent believer in the transformative power of an education. From a young age, she emphasized how important it was to her that I attended college because

it was an opportunity she never had when she was growing up in China. Thus, I wasn’t

surprised that my mother enrolled me in a program like Steppingstone just before middle school began. Although my mother helped pave my path to college, she never tried to dictate my interests when I got there. Entering college, I had no idea what I wanted to be; my focus was on taking classes that interested me, earning good grades and pursuing learning for learning’s sake. That approach eventually led me to my current career in marketing.

If your plans after graduating high school involved pursuing a college degree, how did your experience or studies while in school prepare you for the roles you have been in

and/or are currently in?

Although I work in marketing now, I didn’t take a single marketing class in college; in

fact, my school didn’t offer any. What my studies did do was teach me to enjoy the

process of learning and to ask questions until you truly understand a topic. It’s these soft skills I honed in college that have helped me in my day-to-day job. To really be able to sell a product to someone requires you to first learn all you can about them and then shape the kind of messaging that would make the product seem attractive to them.

Outside of the classroom, I was also the head of a tutoring organization for K-12

students in the local area. I cared deeply about the students and families we were

helping and wanted to make sure the entire campus knew we existed. One of my

favorite projects in college was creating flyers for the program and taping them up all

around campus, hoping to draw help from fellow classmates. That was the most direct experience I had with marketing while in school but it also showed me that I could be good at this kind of thing in the future.

a. Follow-up: Did your declared major limit you to a certain career path?

I majored in economics and psychology, which were the two most popular degrees at my university. As I mentioned earlier, I had no idea what I wanted to do and so, while not intentional, choosing majors that I was interested in but also happened to be extremely popular made sure that the career paths of the vast majority of graduates from my school would also be open to me.

What has the journey to your current role been like for you?

College freshman Denny had no idea what he wanted to do after college and even

entering senior year, that was still the case. At my liberal arts school, I enjoyed taking a variety of classes (French, psychology, history, education, economics, etc.,) but it wasn’t until the winter of my senior year that my career path began to crystalize when I landed a marketing internship at a mental health startup. I enjoyed projects that my manager assigned me and it became clear to me that the work seamlessly combined my two majors - economics and psychology.

A few weeks after graduation, I moved to Cincinnati, Ohio to begin my career at an

advertising agency as part of a rotation program where I worked on paid search

(Google/Bing) and paid social (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter) ads for ~1 year. Then, in

2022, I relocated to New York City to pursue an opportunity closer to home at

Talkspace, an online therapy company, where I currently use creative marketing

strategies to bring therapists to our platform.

What do you enjoy most about your current position?

Marketing is a massive industry. Think about the types of advertising you encounter

everyday (billboards, social media, streaming platforms, newspapers, Google, etc.,).

Most organizations have specific team members that specialize their knowledge in a

certain advertising type (example - they know everything about Google Ads but not

much about Instagram ads). As someone new to the workforce and who wasn’t even

sure if marketing was the field for me, I was afraid to follow that specialized path.

In my current role, I am the only member of my team who focuses on marketing to

therapists. Because of that, I’ve been entrusted by my team to experiment with a variety of different marketing tactics and learn more about how each subtype of marketing works at a very niche level. It is an invaluable experience to have in my early career and has allowed me to reflect on the types of marketing that most interest me.

What tips might you have for Scholars hoping to pursue a similar career path that you’ve taken?

For those interested in marketing, a few things:

1) consider a rotational program if you’re unsure what kind of marketing you’d want to focus on - being exposed to a variety of different roles ensures you have the opportunity to explore what actually interests you. (Side note: startups can also do something similar - you get to wear multiple hats at a smaller organization.) Additionally, rotational programs usually take place in a cohort setting that make it easier to make friends and meet similarly-minded people at work.

2) When you’re getting started, you may not have the most experience to place on your resume. Find free certificates that showcase your interest and initiative to employers.

What tips might you have for Scholars looking to strengthen their resume-building or

interview skills?

1) If you are in college, reach out to your career counseling office (and do it early!).

These people are quite literally there to help you - that’s their job - so do not be afraid to use them. Career counseling offices have experienced staff members who are experts in reviewing resumes and the interviewing process. They’ve also worked with alums from previous years and can help connect you to people who are in the fields you may be interested in.

2) Make your resumes short, organized and easy to read. Recruiters read many

resumes; you want to make sure that when they read yours, they do not struggle to get through it. Shorter resumes ensure that you, and the recruiter, are focused only on your most important and relevant experiences and skills.

3) The more you practice your interviewing skills, the better you get at it. You’ve

probably heard this common refrain many times now because it’s true. For behavioral

interviews, preparation is key; most questions that you will be asked are ones you can

prepare for in advance (Google “most common interview questions”). Preparation breeds confidence.

Networking can be hard…how do you recommend Scholars connect with others in the

fields they’re interested in and strengthen their relationship-building skills?

I struggled with the concept of networking when I was in college - why would someone agree to help a random student they didn’t know? “Because that person was in your shoes before”, responded my career counselor. Many professionals likely had help getting started in their career, are appreciative of the assistance they received, and recognize that they can provide that same assistance now.

During the actual process, do some research on the person you are connecting with so that you are not spending valuable time asking them information you can find out

beforehand. Finding commonality (maybe you went to the same university, came from the same hometown, or played the same sport) can also make it more likely someone agrees to network with you and can help break the ice.

Finally, one of the reasons why networking is so popular is because it works. Most jobs are filled before they are even posted to Indeed or Linkedin because someone at the company recommends a person in their network that can do the job. Networking is how many people find their first or next job.

What are some questions to ask of your future employers?

Interviewing is a two-way street - they are trying to find out if you are a good fit for the company and, equally as important, you have to figure out if the company would be a good fit for your skills and goals. So, at the end of the interview, when they ask you if you have any questions, the answer should always be yes.

One of my favorite questions I’ve seen is “What is the coolest vacation someone on your team took recently? How long was it?” It provides insight into what the company’s work-life balance expectations are and can help you gauge how close a team/organization may be.

Other common but important questions include who you’ll be working with on your team, what training and professional growth opportunities look like and, if applicable, what were some of the challenges the previous person in the role faced.

What advice would you give to Scholars hoping to strengthen their negotiation skills?

If you are new to the workforce, you may be grateful to even have an offer in the first place. To negotiate for more may seem excessive, intimidating, and awkward. Some companies, like my first one, make it easy for you and state that they don’t negotiate for your specific role. However, most companies allow and, more importantly, expect you to negotiate. For that reason, in most cases, the worst they will say is no. The upside of asking, however, is usually worth it - in my current job, I negotiated an extra $5k on my starting salary!

A mentor once reframed negotiation as advocating for yourself and what you bring to the table - that is something you constantly have to do in your career (think about advocating for your idea on a collaborative work project or making a case to a manager about why you deserve a raise) so it is good to get as much practice as you can.

a. Is there anything you recommend Scholars not do when negotiating with others? (i.e., when negotiating for a later start date, higher salary, etc.)

If they provide a salary range during the job interview, it is generally not a good idea to ask for a number higher than the range. If there is a misalignment of salary expectations, it would save both you and the company time to recognize that earlier on.