OCTOBER 30, 2018 | BY SABRINA HAO AND COLE ZAHARRIS
Emily Tan currently works in Business Operations at Scoutible, a start-up that develops AI-backed, immersive video games used to uncover latent strengths and hire top talent. In this position, she manages the customer pipeline end-to-end, go-to-market strategy, operations, marketing/design, finance/fundraising, UX, people operations, and more. Prior to that, she was a Business Development Associate at Applied Predictive Technologies and an Institutional FX & Commodities Sales Summer Analyst at J.P. Morgan. Emily graduated from Duke University in 2017 with a Bachelor of Arts in Public Policy and Philosophy. During her undergraduate career, she was the Entrepreneurship Chair and VP of Professional Development for BOW, in addition to being involved in Duke Business Society, Duke Financial Education Partnership, and the ChangeWorks Social Entrepreneurship Competition. She was also a finalist in the Duke Start-Up Challenge in 2014 and played piano for the Duke Symphony. Emily currently resides in San Francisco.
Why did you decide to join BOW and take a leadership role in the organization? How has BOW influenced your career trajectory?
Like most, I was impressed by how involved BOW members were in the business community and how capable the leadership team was. I spontaneously applied to BOW leadership my freshman year to get my feet wet, and I became the first BOW Entrepreneurship Chair and later the VP of Professional Development. The exposure to experienced professionals at Duke and the broader Durham community was incredibly inspiring, and I found that throughout my 4 years in BOW, hands-down the greatest reward was meeting fearless women and men who didn’t give up throughout the trials in their careers and who were willing to pay it forward to the community. Even though I didn’t know it at the time, I’m sure that exposure, especially to entrepreneurs, greatly impacted my transition from working at a corporate beast like J.P. Morgan to working at my 8-person tech start-up today.
Did your career interests change at all at Duke? What advice do you have for members who are unsure about what they want to pursue after graduation?
My career interests absolutely changed throughout my time at Duke. I committed to working in finance and specifically sales and trading early on because I thought I had my pick between finance and consulting. Tech to me was not even in the picture, because I didn’t major in computer science or engineering. I also wanted the prestige and stability that finance guaranteed, so I went into the industry thinking that I would be able to grow my career there. I learned pretty fast that going into a vertical that you do not fit in, for whatever reason, wears you down mentally and emotionally incredibly quickly. Regardless, I wouldn’t have traded my experiences at J.P. Morgan and later Applied Predictive Technologies for anything else, because I believe it’s equally as important to cross off what you don’t like as it is to find your niche. For those who are unsure, I recommend focusing less on the industry and stressing less (if possible!) about your first few jobs and getting that right. All experiences are valuable in employers’ eyes and to your personal and professional growth. It’s easier than ever to move between different industries and roles as long as you apply yourself with hunger, and long-term fulfillment is worth a few wrong turns.
What is it like working for a start-up? How would you compare your experience at Scoutible to your experiences at larger firms?
One thing I didn’t realize beforehand when I dabbled in different start-ups is that if you truly believe in the core of the start-up, whether that be the mission or the people (or both), it can be so much more than just a job/career. I never thought I would have so much sway in a company’s strategic direction before I came to Scoutible, and through being thrown into new situations, I have discovered strengths that I never would otherwise have known (marketing and user experience, for example). Of course, start-ups aren’t for everyone and certainly have their cons across the board. At the big firms I’ve previously worked at, I could take days off or clock out when everyone else did (sometimes even 5 pm). I was deeply unfulfilled, but I had more of a work-life balance. At a start-up, work never really “ends” at a certain time of day and taking a day off can drastically impact your team’s productivity; however, if you’re happy with what you’re doing, it doesn’t feel burdensome. Additionally, no matter what a big firm says about having a flat structure, it is virtually impossible (bureaucracy is inherent to size). I’m happy to say that at my current company, I freely own the things I do and the results I make, big and small, without dealing with any red tape.
What do you like to do in your free time?
It’s difficult to plan out free time when you work at a start-up and have erratic hours, but I’m still furthering passions I discovered in college (salsa dancing, writing, working out, etc.) and have picked up on a few new ones in the Bay Area, like hiking and urban dance.
How has mentorship factored into your career path?
I never really enjoyed structured mentorship – as much as the intentions are good on both sides, there’s a dance of inauthenticity that I found awkward and unfulfilling. Organic mentorship, however, has easily changed my life. I’ve been lucky enough to meet people who have truly empowered me to make the best decisions for myself, personally and professionally, through some of my toughest career pivots.
What is your #1 interview tip?
I have two tips I would put on the same level of importance. First of all, remember that your interviewer, no matter how much more experienced he/she is than you, is just a person. Having now approached interviewing from the other side in a professional context, I can tell you that it’s the exact same as interviewing for any organization on campus – be your authentic self and try and connect with your interviewer. But just as important as nailing the interview is finding out if the company in question is a place you’ll thrive in (and too often we forget to do that). Be sure to really engage with your interviewer and try to assess your fit/happiness potential through asking questions unique to yourself and your research.
What is the most important lesson you have learned as a full-time?
You’re not going to get things right the first time. Actually, you’re realistically going to stumble a few times before you really find your groove. Nobody expects you to come in and knock their socks off without any experience. Don’t be too hard on yourself – of course, the goal is always to continuously strive for improvement, but it’s just as important to maintain a positive attitude towards yourself and your growth.