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Spotlight on: Tali Chuchinsky, T'12

April 5, 2017 | By Ekim Buyuk and Marielle Rodgers

Tali graduated from Duke in December 2011 (class of 2012) with a B.A. in Program II: Philosophy and Comparative Literature. She completed a summer internship at Morgan Stanley in her junior year, and transitioned to consulting for full time. After first taking a year off to travel abroad in Southeast Asia, India, and finally Israel where she worked at the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra Foundation doing marketing and fundraising, she joined The Boston Consulting Group (BCG) in the NYC office. Tali later moved back to Tel Aviv, Israel and joined a startup in online performance marketing that manages much of Google’s EMEA (Europe, Middle East & Africa) B2B marketing (i.e. AdWords, Google Apps for Work, etc.). She then transitioned into technology as an early employee of a fast growing startup called Twiggle. Returning to her love of Strategy, Tali recently joined a later-stage tech company, SimilarWeb, on their new Strategy team and currently plays in the Israeli National Volleyball league.

Tali Chuchinsky, T'12

Thinking back, what led you to join BOW?

I was studying Program II, I was doing Philosophy and Comparative Literature, and I was also a musician. So I was very much an advocate for the arts and humanities at Duke. I really thought that I was going to get a PhD after Duke. I took a few graduate level classes and realized I didn't want to do that right away. So I joined BOW to help me get an internship and some real work experience to simulate what else was out there. BOW was my way to meet girls who had done it already and could mentor and guide me through the whole process. Through BOW I got advice on how to land the internship--if this is what you want, this is how the process looks, this is how you need to prepare, all that stuff.

Can you talk about the jobs you've had, how you handled those transitions and ended up where you are now?

The unifying theme for me is that I take opportunities as they come, and I think that has to do a little bit with risk appetite. I think the path I was originally on, investment banking and consulting, which are awesome for many reasons, I've found have a generally lower risk appetite, meaning there is a perception of career-step clarity and guarantee from those activities (although of course nothing in life is guaranteed and few 20-something year olds are clear on what they want to do). Wanting some adventure before entering the corporate world, I did a gap year after graduating a semester early (with an offer from BCG in hand and the ability to pick different start dates). During that year, I went to Southeast Asia for 5 weeks, meditated with Tibetan monks in India, and built an exploratory life in Israel. My dad is Israeli and I'd always had a passion for the culture and people and wanted to experience living there. I did an internship with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra to experience the world of arts administration, hoping to combine my passions for business and the arts. There I did fundraising and marketing, discovering that this world may be a better fit for me later in life.
I went back to New York and loved BCG. I thought it was an amazing way to start my career--in GoldiLocks fashion, academia for me was too hot, finance was too cold, and consulting was just right. Consulting was a great fit because they care about what you think, they loved that I loved to ask the right questions, it's about nurturing you professionally, it's a development-oriented culture that offers exposure in what I can only call Business 101. I did projects across multiple industries and functions and the partners I worked with were like professors. You're constantly being evaluated and given feedback, which can be draining as it takes at least a year until you’re somewhat competent, but I liked that it was about learning new skills constantly and getting help on how to improve from super talented people, in pursuit of eventually being promoted. It was an intensive schedule and often exhausting lifestyle, though I mainly left because I wanted to move back to Israel.

How does Israel differ from the US in the types of jobs and industries available?

When you go to different markets you learn there's a whole different industry map. In the US, I mainly heard about finance and consulting from Duke, which can be really small in other markets by definition of the market’s size (i.e. Israel). Israel is known as the start-up nation, it's second only to the US on a per capita basis in generating new innovative tech companies, and drew nearly $5B in investments in 2016. I found my first job there by looking on LinkedIn for jobs related to strategy. The company I found did online marketing for Google - it was a great way to start.
Wanting to transition closer to the heart of technology products and further from professional services, I used a headhunter and became the fifth employee for an ecommerce Search company named Twiggle - it's grown to 60 and on track for 100 employees by end of year. They're a hardcore technology company with mainly R&D software engineers. I built and managed a team of eight people doing knowledge design, essentially structuring data that improves the company’s algorithms. In the early days, I did strategy, product management and marketing, often preparing decks for the founders when meeting investors and potential customers. As the company grew, I became more focused on my team - defining KPIs, methodology, scaling.... However, I wasn’t going to stay a Team Leader in R&D forever - I wanted to get back to impacting the decision making process of a business. Then I heard about an opening at SimilarWeb through a friend. It’s a mid-sized (~350 employees) global SaaS (software as a service) company that is on track to go public in the coming years and they were looking for someone to help take them more enterprise and expand their market share, so I applied. Seemed like a perfect blend of strategy and technology.

What were the differences in recruiting for a more traditional path like investment banking compared to smaller industries like the arts or startups?

When it's a traditional path, you have to learn the rules of the game and become really good at playing them. There's the info sessions, on campus mingling and a whole ecosystem to pass through just to get to the first interview. And from the first interview, there's a clear dynamic and process to move on to the next ones, until finally you get the offer. You start with more junior people and more technical questions, later meeting more senior people and more personal questions. You need to understand that if you come from a non-traditional background (e.g. humanities, like me) your most important job is to explain your story - motivation, passion, unique capabilities - while if you're more traditional, the burden is standing out. It was easy for me to stand out, but took a lot more effort to show that I was a great fit.
When going after a smaller organization like the Philharmonic, startups or tech companies, you have to know the channels. For most small to medium companies, there's always the classic company career page or LinkedIn. There are also dedicated websites that show all the startups hiring in a city. For me, I learned to be aggressive and proactive because it mostly comes down to connections. If I decided I wanted to work for a company with no job posting or person to contact, I still tried to reach someone in the organization who would at least know my name and know that I'm interested should something ever come up. Part of the mentality shift here is that, in the structured recruiting process, the timeline and entry points are clearly defined. For everything else, you have to imagine that you create it; they may not know they're looking for someone but meet you and like you enough to find a place for you in the future, so things are dynamic because their businesses are dynamic. You're planting seeds and you don't know when they’re going to grow but you have to plant as many as possible.

Are there any other strategies you have used to enter different jobs?

Once you've [planted enough seeds] and created a name for yourself, it becomes referral based. This job came from a friend I worked with in the past and it came to me rather than me pursuing it. In the beginning, like with the Israel Philharmonic, I reverse engineered a way in knowing I wanted to be there. I didn't know anybody there and didn't have an exact entry point, so I had to think of who I did know who could help introduce me. You'll be surprised at how many people will help you if you just ask. And remember, you’re not asking for much - almost everyone has the time for a brief phone call and if you’re lucky a coffee. It's part of planting seeds. Then growing seeds is all about staying in touch, updating your “board of advisors” on the decisions you make and checking in on how they’re doing.
The places that are hard to get your feet in the door are the large, structured places since they have the resources to focus on matching exact prior work experience to a particular current business need. As such, they often require a certain number of years in a specific function that they're looking for, so if you are trying to stretch yourself for that role, you have to know the audience. Knowing if that's something you want in the future enables you to start now. For example, I try to develop relationships with HR or mutual friends at companies I’m interested in - perhaps it will help me end up on a “short list” of candidates later down the road. Networking is ongoing, and when you make strong personal connections and friendships out of it, it’s even fun.

Do you have any interview tips?

Bottom line to remember at all times is that you're selling yourself, so have confidence. When I went to finance interviews, I didn't know as much about finance and numbers as my peers (so I also had to work harder preparing, like practicing quick math on the bus and memorizing study guides). I knew that they would push me to see how far I could go, how logically I think, and test how I handle the pressure. Remembering to just be the confident version of myself, regardless of how I thought it was going, helped me think clearly and get through.
A critical part of being confident is knowing how to tell your story since you have complete control over it. I'd write bullet points with the main things I wanted to land and practice saying it without looking. Eventually I'd have to be natural--it's not a script and there are different ways that you'll end up getting there each time, depending on the person you interact with. If you practice it enough, it'll just flow. If there's an interview that I knew I really cared about, I wanted to have a few practice ones before so if they didn't go well, that's ok, and I could practice what an interview felt like. Try to have a few small ones before the big ones, like an athlete preparing for a big race.
The second tip is really cheesy but helped me a lot, and that is doing power stances. I'd stand in front of the mirror in my suit before my interview like Superwoman telling myself I deserved it. I needed that because I was very intimidated by the process and you need to nurture yourself. The people who are quality people with great potential will show how quickly they learn and how passionate they are, which is what matters. That comes through in your body language and communication skills and the way you handle the pressure. Sometimes in order to be yourself and be confident and you to need to practice being yourself and being confident. It doesn't always come naturally. Do things that make you feel awkward and outside your comfort zone to help you build presence and confidence before the big moments. I would even try to hold eye contact with complete strangers on the East-West buses before interview season - a bunch of people must have been totally weirded out! But it helped me nail eye contact as second nature when needed :)