85. How to Build Authentic Professional Relationships with Aleenah Ansari

April 20, 2023

The following article may contain affiliate links or sponsored content. This doesn't cost you anything, and shopping or using our affiliate partners is a way to support our mission. I will never work with a brand or showcase a product that I don't personally use or believe in.

The following article may contain affiliate links or sponsored content. This doesn’t cost you anything, and shopping or using our affiliate partners is a way to support our mission. I will never work with a brand or showcase a product that I don’t personally use or believe in.

How to network without feeling icky

If you’ve ever found yourself walking city blocks to your egregiously expensive parking spot after eating room-temperature meat and cheese while double-fisting a stack of business cards –– you’ve probably just left a networking event. Either that or a really, really bad kid’s birthday party.

No shade to these events, they’re doing the best they can, but the world is changing, and networking is feeling less and less worth it. Fortunately, as the times change, we’re finding better ways to connect without getting squished between a realtor and a tech bro (there’s a joke in there somewhere –– a realtor and a tech bro walk into a bar… feel free to leave us a voicemail if you figure out the rest)

We wanted to talk about networking and how to do it without feeling like you’re just making meaningless connections –– so we invited Aleenah Ansari to join us to talk about her experience building long-lasting relationships through authentic networking.

What you’ll learn:

  • Why traditional networking just isn’t cutting it anymore

  • Where you might be going wrong in your current networking efforts

  • How to land a job in an industry you’ve never worked in before, or where you don’t meet some of the requirements on paper

  • How to build your own network and community

More Resources on this topic: 

Episode – How to Be the Most Interesting Person in the Room

Freebie – How to Land the Job Webinar

Aleenah’s Links:




Meet Aleenah

Aleenah Ansari (she/her) is equal parts storyteller, creative problem solver, and journalist at heart rooted in the stories of people behind products, companies, and initiatives. She writes about travel, entrepreneurship, mental health and wellness, and representation in media for Insider, The Seattle Times, Byrdie, and more.

You can usually find her searching for murals in Seattle and beyond, visiting a bookstore, and planning her next trip to New York. Learn more at www.aleenahansari.com.


[00:00:00] Tori Dunlap: It’s so good to see you for, uh, people who aren’t in based in Seattle. You were kind enough to, uh, facilitate and moderate, uh, our book kickoff event in Seattle, which was our largest book event that we did, which was very exciting.

[00:00:13] And then you were kind enough to interview me for Seattle Times. I’m excited to have you. I would love for you to talk a bit about your background and sort of your like non-traditional route into working tech

[00:00:26] Aleenah Ansari: as I think back on my career, I feel like I was probably the last person to work in the tech industry. Um, I’m really privileged that both of my parents are doctors, which I feel like is not, it’s not very common. They. I don’t even know. They met in Pakistan somewhere. They went to the same medical school and then they came to the US by way of New York and then Chicago, and then made their way to Federal Way Washington, which is a city south of Seattle.

[00:00:51] As you can probably imagine, I really thought that I would be a doctor and I really didn’t have any issues with that. I mean, I feel like health is the most intimate thing that you have. It informs our lives. It changes our lives.

[00:01:02] And I actually feel really lucky to have the parents that I do because they taught me how to advocate for myself in patient care settings. And then later on in my career, in my. Um, but what really changed for me was actually when I got to college. I have a, I met somebody who was trying to be like, super involved in everything.

[00:01:20] Like she had this whole plan to double major, double minor, and she was gonna be a part of the college newspaper. And so she said, Aleenah like. Please do this with me. I think it would be really fun. And I was like, oh, like I don’t really consider myself a writer, but maybe they’ll have a photographer application.

[00:01:36] And so I filled out what I thought was the photographer application, but it was actually the journalist application. And so then they emailed me and they were like, Hey, like are you ready to be a journalist? We have like a four week crash course in journal. And I was like, journalism, like I’m supposed to be.

[00:01:53] I mean, I’m supposed to be a photographer. What do you mean? And I just kind of took it as a sign. Um, and I ended up taking that entire crash course and actually falling in love with interview based writing, which is of course how we met. Um, so that was sort of like the first thing that changed my life and.

[00:02:09] Arguably, I don’t know who I would be without that experience, but I remember a few years later, kind of halfway through college, I had done all the biology, I did the chemistry, I took organic chemistry lab, like there was a, like the final, you were given an unknown compound and you had six weeks to run test to figure out what it was like.

[00:02:27] I didn’t just say I was pre-med. I, I didn’t, okay. Like I lived it. I went home when I talked to my parents about medicine. I was really there for the ride, but I sort of reached this point where as much as I loved medicine as a way to make people’s lives better, I felt like my gift was really getting in the room with people and understanding who they are through interviews and then making their story more accessible through writing, which I had found out through journalism.

[00:02:53] So I was still a public health and biochem major, but I was making the transition to apply to human-centered design and engineering, which ended up being my major. And I remember in a random December I was like, okay, well maybe I’ll intern at tech this summer. Like who knows? I logged onto the Microsoft website and the only opening for an internship was a UX writing internship.

[00:03:17] And I was like, I’m a writer. Like maybe I, I could do that like writing, like that’s what I do. Storytelling. And I remember reading one of the bullet points that was. Do you have empathy for people behind products? Do you love making complex things simple and advocating for users when they’re not in the.

[00:03:34] And I was like, yeah, I actually really feel that. Like I didn’t know that you could do that in tech, but if you’re there’s an opportunity, why not try it? So I ended up applying to that position obviously thinking that nothing would happen. I had no connections at Microsoft. I didn’t even know where Microsoft was.

[00:03:49] I just knew it was nearby cuz I went to school in Seattle. And then randomly two months later, a recruiter emailed me and said, Hey, we really like your background. Like it’s cool that you’re in public health, but we also really love your writing. You seem like somebody that would really add to Microsoft.

[00:04:04] Why don’t you come in for an interview? And so literally, that was like the first time I ever interviewed for Big Tech and it was Microsoft. I took the bus over, I got so lost, like it’s still the bus that I take to go to work. Even to this day. I ran around the whole campus. I was like, why are you giving me free food?

[00:04:21] Like, I’m just confused at his experience. I can’t believe you’re paying me. None of the internships I’ve looked at can even pay me to live in Seattle for the summer. And crazy enough, the, the person that I interviewed with actually had worked at the Seattle Times before coming to Microsoft, and many of the people on his team were journalists that went into the tech industry because they wanted a change in career.

[00:04:43] So I think it was sort of this example of preparedness meeting opportunity where. I had never planned to be in tech, but I had this skill and this love of making complex things simple and talking about people behind products and advocating for users that it just ended up being a place that I have been ever since.

[00:05:03] I interned that summer I interned again and continued to work full-time in tech, not in a writing role anymore, but now as a marketer. And so I guess it’s just kind of a story of like following my gut, but also believing that I could learn some of the things that were new. But I could also lean on my strong skills as a storyteller and somebody who’s very empathy based in the work that I do.

[00:05:25] So very non-linear journey for sure. 

[00:05:27] I definitely wasn’t like the most traditional candidate, but I felt like I found a place that valued my nonlinear journey and my skills, and I feel like the other half is also just.

[00:05:37] Putting yourself out for opportunities before you feel ready and being open to failure like I’m failing. Failing in the traditional sense all the time. Even now as a freelance writer, I get rejections in my inbox all the time, but that doesn’t mean that I won’t keep trying for that next, yes, it just happened that my first, yes, was a major tech company that many people dream about working.

[00:05:58] Tori Dunlap: Totally. Um, you studied human-centered design. Can you talk more about that and how it helped you build out the framework for how you work with others?

06:08] Aleenah Ansari: Yeah, it’s a good question. So I remember I first discovered human-centered design and engineering at the University of Washington. Really early in my college career, and I found that it was like a home for many people who had been told that they had to pursue STEM in some capacity, but they still had this desire to be creative and create products and services for people and with people.

[00:06:31] And I think honestly, fundamentally, all engineering should be human-centered, but not everybody puts it into the title. Um, and that’s why I’ve always loved that program is I feel like they really have put people first in the way that the program is run, but also in the classes that we take. So pretty much anytime we would.

[00:06:48] Be doing anything, whether it was like researching a new service or coming up with a new prototype for an app. The central question was always, who are we designing for? What are the unintended consequences that we’re not anticipating? And how can we, how can we build trust with the people we’re designing for so that way they ultimately love this product and feel empowered by it.

[00:07:09] Um, and I think that that is an approach that I’ve always taken to life and probably one of the reasons they accepted me to the program is that a lot of times as a journalist, I’m really rooted in my curiosity of asking people questions versus making assumptions about who they are. And if you ask the right questions and you create trust, then you can unearth findings that you’ve never imagined before, and that’s how you tell a really great story.

[00:07:30] In my case, whenever I’m doing a q and a, or I’m writing a story, I’m always trying to tell the story otherwise untold, and part of that is asking a question deep enough that no other journalist may have asked that. And in the same way, if you’re doing a user interview, how do you find that moment where you can really understand what a user needs that may be different than what you have?

[00:07:49] Anticipated or what your own bias is. So I think that approach is really, really free flowing and rooted in curiosity and enables you to create the most inclusive product services and experiences, which is definitely part of my mindset as a writer and a marketer too.

[00:08:05] Tori Dunlap: Well, and as somebody who’s been interviewed by you, I would say, Very accurate. I think you found really thoughtful questions to ask that maybe somebody else hadn’t asked me before, and I love that, that approach, I think that is a, a question or a concern I hear from a lot of people is it’s like, okay, tech is where the good money is, right, and where the good benefits are, but like, I am not an IT person, right?

[00:08:25] Or I’m not, I, I feel more creative than that. And I think there is room that you can find at any company, especially, you know, companies that really value, uh, creative solutions and human-centric solutions. You can find those sort of opportunities for you if you are more like a right brain kind of touchy-feely person rather than like a left brain analytical person.

[00:08:48] Aleenah Ansari: Hmm. Yeah. And I feel like the industry has also really changed in this way as, as much as, of course, you need engineers and those are the roles that you see. You can’t build a product without a marketing team, a content. Honestly, a legal and PR team to review things. A strategy team, like there’s so many elements of what creates a product.

[00:09:06] It’s not just those traditional IT or engineer roles. You really need everybody to create an inclusive product that your user or your consumer wants.

[00:09:15] Tori Dunlap: Totally. Let’s talk about networking. You talk about how important it is, and I think we sometimes hear the word networking and we’re. That is done in pencil skirts and stuffy suits by straight white men. And it’s like, I, I very much credit like my version of networking to like setting myself up really well, especially as I was graduating college.

[00:09:36] And I think for you, you shared previously that like self-reflection is step zero to networking and that you’re setting a goal to like attend at least one event a month. So talk to me a bit about that. What is like networking, if you put it in quotes in 2023, and how are you figuring out how to build a network yourself?

[00:09:58] Aleenah Ansari: Yeah, I mean, it’s an interesting question because even when I’ve talked to a lot of clients and mentees, when they hear the word networking, they always have an adverse reaction initially. And so I’ve kind of reframed networking to be about relationship building, and I find that that is so much.

[00:10:14] Expansive and community driven, because to me, networking is actually really about building meaningful relationships and sustaining them over time. And that’s always what I’m trying to do is when I’m meeting somebody new, usually my goal is not to get a job or an opportunity, it’s actually to learn from that person whether we are only talking for 30 minutes.

[00:10:33] Or we talk every week for the next five years like I have with some of my mentors. And if you’re really rooted in learning from people and being curious about them and then following up further down the line, then you’ve truly built a relationship and that person can be an advocate for you and vice versa.

[00:10:49] And so now that I have that mindset, it’s much easier to go into traditional networking situations because honestly, I just wanna make friends. I wanna learn and meet people that are in like my future dream. Inspire me, I wanna share my own experiences, and that’s way more fun than this traditional model of networking that you described.

[00:11:08] Like, I remember when I went to my first career fair, I had like dyed my hair pink and I was wearing like a leather mini skirt. And I had just gone back from study abroad and I was like, yeah, this is me. Like if a company doesn’t wanna work with me in my authentic form, then they don’t wanna work with me at all.

[00:11:24] I don’t wanna work with them. And I’m completely okay with that. A really good example of this that I recently saw is I went to this. By Asians in advertising and it was called matchmaking, and they had these breakout sessions where you’d be able to talk to three to four other people. And we were asked to not only talk about our work, but one of the questions was, share your Asian American identities and why they’re important to you.

[00:11:48] And I thought that was such a great question to hinge on relationship building. And even in that call I shared like I’m never asked to share these things on a day-to-day basis, but why can’t I share these pieces of myself and who I am? And so even in those conversations I talked. Something that I’ve been thinking through, which is, what do I wanna wear to my wedding?

[00:12:06] As somebody who’s Pakistani but lives in America? Do I wanna wear like a more traditional South Asian Pakistani outfit? Do I wanna wear a Western outfit? Do I wanna change? Um, and I shared that in that call and people kind of gave me their own advice and the ways they thought about bridging their home culture with the culture of the place that they live.

[00:12:24] And that to me are really like the conversations that I remember. It’s about, it’s those relationships. And when I feel like I was able to share. Holistically, and maybe those people will think of me for a future opportunity or ask me to write a story, but that’s secondary to what I’ve learned about them and what I’ve been able to share.

[00:12:40] Tori Dunlap: Yeah, I often tell the story about how. You know, I would show up, especially early in my career, feeling a little like a fish outta water in like Adidas and a leather jacket when everybody else had, you know, pencil skirts and the blazers and the suit jackets. And I was like, it actually I think was part of the reason I was able to be successful was people saw me as more approachable and accessible.

[00:12:59] Uh, and, you know, like their best friend or a sister, rather than feeling like, oh, it’s this person who like knows a lot about money as opposed to, you know, someone I could actually talk to. Where do you think people go wrong when it comes to networking?

[00:13:15] Aleenah Ansari: Yeah, I think the only way to really go wrong is to see networking as purely transactional and not 

[00:13:22] Tori Dunlap: transactional. 

[00:13:23] Aleenah Ansari: Mm-hmm. Yeah, and I think the way to combat that is to really build that relationship over time. Um, and there’s honestly like you can do this in the moment by, if you have a great conversation with someone, just sending a follow up note about what you’ll remember about the conversation.

[00:13:38] Or like if you mentioned a book, send a link to it so they can check it out. Um, for if I meet people I really admire, I’ll put. Their birthday or even their work anniversary on my calendar so I can follow up with them and say, Hey, I thought of you. I know it’s been five years at this company, or I know that this thing launched and I’m really proud of you and I thought of you.

[00:13:57] And if you can sustain that relationship, then it does help with those more traditional pieces of networking because that person may think of you if an opportunity opens up down the line or if they wanna bring you onto their team. But first it’s really being a genuine person. And I think I’ve seen that more as somebody.

[00:14:13] A lot solicited for a lot of connections is actually very few people do that follow up. They very few people spell my name right? Look me up. Send me a follow up note after. Tell me that they’re thinking of me when I’ve launched a project that I mentioned. And those really small things make kind of those hundreds of people I’ve ever talked to start to stand out from the few people that I feel like are invested in me holistically and that I feel like I can and want to.

[00:14:40] Tori Dunlap: Yeah, I think we’ll do an interview or a solo episode on the podcast about like informational interviews. Um, but I would love to hear your insight on, on that concept. It’s what I did when I was networking, especially when I was Yeah. Senior in college. I did an informational interview every week until I graduated, and it was very much like, Reaching out to people I admired reaching out to people in potential industries I was interested in and just saying, Hey, do you have 15 minutes or a half hour either to get coffee in person?

[00:15:06] It was much more pretty. It was much more like calls or, you know, zooms. And me just asking them questions and it served the dual purpose for me of one, getting a lot of really good information about like what potentially I wanted, what industry, especially me working in marketing. I was like, do I go to a like marketing agency or do I try to do marketing in house?

[00:15:25] And then of course, The happy, uh, other conclusion is that you’re on their radar, right? And if something opens up, you’ve hopefully made a good impression and you’ve managed to build that connection. So can you talk to me about the informational interview? Has that been helpful for you? I imagine you’re also getting asked to do informational interviews now, so what does that look like for you?

[00:15:47] Aleenah Ansari: Yeah, and it’s interesting that you bring that up because I remember when I first got my internship in tech and I knew nothing about it, I talked to one of my human-centered design and engineering professors. Like I walked up to her after class cuz I really admired her and I said, Hey, I’m interning in big tech and I just.

[00:16:04] Really I’m having imposter syndrome. I don’t know if, if I deserve to be there. I feel like I have a lot to learn, but I’m also really scared and she’s like, most of the job can be learned. That’ll be fine. But what you need to do is three informational interviews a week for your 12 week internship. And I was like three informa.

[00:16:21] I was like, are, are you sure? Like she, and she was so adamant about it and I really trusted her. And honestly, if she hadn’t said that to me, I don’t know what the course of my career would be now. And so once I kind of had that advice in mind, my North Star was. I wanted to meet somebody who was a storyteller for a living in tech.

[00:16:39] That was kind of the goal that I had. I wanted like my job title to be storyteller. I had figured out how to be a writer, but I wanted something that felt more creative, and so a lot of my informational interviewing was, Meeting different people around the company and then at the end I would take advantage of what they call the snowball effect, where I would say, based on the things that I’ve shared and my desire to have a storytelling role in tech, who are two to three other people that I should talk to, and do you feel comfortable putting us in contact or giving me their email, and then I can start the conversation.

[00:17:09] And I actually did that. I went all the way around my campus during the summer cuz everything was in person at that point. And I actually found somebody who was telling really, really cool multimedia interview driven stories for a living. And I think at the end of our conversation, our very first one, I said to her, You are exactly who I wanna be, and I would love to pitch myself to be an intern on your team if you feel like there is a budget and a need for that.

[00:17:34] And that person that I talked to actually advocated to get the budget internally for a position to be made. That I could interview for. And this was a really strategic move on my part because I knew at the company I worked for, if there was an internship, it would be backed by the funding to be converted full-time no matter what.

[00:17:50] That’s just how the company worked. And so I had basically secured myself a job after college for that internship if everything went well, and it did. And that’s how I started at the company that I work for. So I think having a really clear goal is helpful. Yeah, it was like total game changer in my life.

[00:18:07] But I think what made me successful in those conversations, I think the most important thing that people miss is honestly doing your research about that person and having really, really clear targeted questions. And being a journalist actually helped a lot with th
is because even now as somebody who gets asked a lot of questions, many people will just come to me and say, How did you get to this company?

[00:18:29] Why do you like writing? How did you get started? And for me, like sometimes I wanna say I’ve owned Aleenah ansari.com for the past eight years, and if you wanna know how I got here, like, believe me, it’s all there. I’m a writer. I’ve written about my story. I would much rather be asked like kind of a level two question, which is, oh, like you love writing so much, why did you wanna do it in tech specifically?

[00:18:53] Or why do you choose to do something different from writing in your day job but have a writing business? What is it like doing both of those things? Those kinds of questions I feel like are where I’m really able to be helpful and tell a story otherwise untold and it’s probably more interesting for the other person.

[00:19:08] So that mindset of like being a journalist has enabled me to ask really good questions and do research. And it’s honestly, if you take 15 minutes to look at someone’s LinkedIn, their social media, Their website, especially if they’re in tech, they probably have one to ask them deeper questions or even ask about a certain project, a certain role, A company, you’ll probably get pretty far in impressing them.

[00:19:29] And honestly, if you end up working for that person, you’ll have to do that level of research in your job someday. So if you can demonstrate that skill early, it really helps. Um, the other thing that I found really helpful, Is to be really clear with your ask. So sometimes you may just be having a conversation out of curiosity, and I’ve definitely done those.

[00:19:47] But actually to get the current job that I have, when I, I switched for my first full-time role. I met with my now manager probably a year and a half ago, and I told her really directly, I wanna work under you, I believe in your leadership style. Tell me how I can start to prepare to be in a role under you in the next six to nine months.

[00:20:07] And I think being really clear about my goals, but also where I was at, was probably part of the reason that I got hired nine months later when I didn’t even know another opening would come up. And when we met again, she was like, okay, Lena. Obviously I know who you are, I know your background, but obviously we need to still go through this interview.

[00:20:24] But you know, it’s great to be reconnected with you. We already have that context. So if you can be clear upfront about what you wanna learn, maybe what an ideal outcome would be, why you found that person, why you’re interested in them. Maybe you wanna be mentored by them. Saying that upfront can be really helpful, especially if this person is receiving a lot of really, really broad requests and they can’t take all of them.

[00:20:44] It helps to, to be given an ask that someone knows that they can take.

[00:20:48] Tori Dunlap: Yeah. Um, first about questions we had, um, Danielle Robe, who’s another journalist and a friend of mine on the show, and she literally talked about like the superpower of asking questions. And we’ll link that episode. It’s like, uh, I think we titled it like, how to be the most Interesting Person in the Room, right?

[00:21:03] So it’s perfect just trying to impress people at a dinner party, right? Asking really, really good, thoughtful questions, but also in a interviewer career context. I think it’s incredibly powerful. And then to your point about, really direct, ask the amount I can speak to, you know, the amount of emails in my inbox or on LinkedIn or on Instagram asking me a question. 95% of questions have an answer that I’ve already put somewhere. So you’re to your point, the biggest question we get is how do I start? There is literally a page called start here on our website. So like I can tell if you haven’t looked into anything, we can tell that we get literally like thousands of submissions to our Facebook community.

[00:21:46] we curate those to make sure that, you know, we, we send people the right materials and it like it exists. And there is something so refreshing about really good questions and also a very specific ask where you’ve done your research, you know, what this person’s capable of, as opposed to just like, I need to rant and I need to tell you all of my problems, or I need to, like a very specific ask is really, really, really helpful as opposed to like, help me do this.

[00:22:10] Maybe not, not helpful. So yeah, I completely agree with everything you just said. One of the things that I talk about so much in terms of interviewing and building a career is the importance of storytelling. And even if you

[00:22:26] never. for yourself. You are your own brand and you are your own brand ambassador and how you choose to communicate what you do, how you interact with people.

[00:22:37] Uh, you know what your career story is, I would argue is your most like powerful way to be in rooms. You want to be in to progress in your career,

[00:22:48] to advocate for both yourself in and out of the workplace. Can we talk about how storytelling is, you know, that powerful piece in, in your career, and what does it look like at your current job?

[00:23:03] What does it look like then outside of work?

[00:23:06] Aleenah Ansari: Yeah, I mean, for me, storytelling has been part and parcel to being able to do the work that I do, and I think early on in my career it was. Honestly, really authentic storytelling about even the gaps that I had had and my desire to learn. Like when I first interview, my first interview for that internship, I actually told my man, my manager at the time, who became my manager, that whole non-linear career journey of how my parents were doctors, how I was making this switch to do writing, how I really believed in it.

[00:23:37] And if I, if I hadn’t told that story of how. I was a non-traditional candidate, but I still felt like I had something valuable to say. I’m not sure I would’ve gotten the role at all, because if I think about it, I may have sounded like everybody else who interviewed for the job that day, but I was able to connect really specifically with my manager, who I found out was an editor at the Seattle Times, a place that I now freelance for that we knew some of the same people without.

[00:24:01] Going into all of that, we would’ve never really connected on this more human level. And that’s something I keep in mind. It’s like, of course you wanna be somebody that can do the work, but you also wanna be somebody that can demonstrate curiosity and interest in the other person’s work that you can learn and ask really good questions.

[00:24:17] I find that the questions that I ask at the end of the interview, honestly, are as important as the stories that I tell about myself during the I. So all those pieces are really important. Um, and so when you’re kind of crafting your career story, what I tell my mentees and my clients is 

[00:24:33] there’s an impulse to really focus on just the job title that you want and that can only get you so far. And so what I tell people is tell a really great story about how you solve problems and the
perspective that you bring to the table. So when I’m in interviews, I don’t just say like, Hey, I’m a writer and I wanna take on this marketing role.

[00:24:53] And I have like three years of experience, I’ll say like, and what I said when I transitioned from like a writing role to a marketing. Is, I’ve been doing marketing my entire career when I am doing research about potential angles and interviewing somebody that’s a competitive analysis or a user analysis when I’m thinking about the right keywords to put into a title and description, that’s search engine optimization, and I feel ready to continue to apply the skills I’ve always been using in this new context and to use the language behind them.

[00:25:23] And I feel really excited by this company’s mission. X, Y, z I believe in empowering every person on the planet. And I do that on a small scale for this newspaper. And now I wanna do it for your global company. And in that way I’m able to tell this person not just what I do, because they probably know that from my resume.

[00:25:41] I wanna tell them the how and the why. And for me it’s always been the what motivates me. The reason why I’m a writer in the first place is because I feel like there are stories otherwise untold. Um, and for me, growing up, I didn’t feel seen like as a queer Pakistani woman in the stories that I read. And so now for me, it’s really important to tell stories that inspire people that make them curious and wanna learn more, but also that they feel represented in the subject matter experts that I bring in.

[00:26:10] Um, I remember when I was a journalist, I learned that 70% of sources are white men pretty much predominantly. Um, and that shocked me. Most of my sources were women of color, people of color, non-binary folks. And that to me was the default. That was the bare minimum that I could do for any story. Not just a story about diversity and inclusion, but really framing people as experts who often told me we’ve never been invited.

[00:26:37] Buy this newspaper to share our story, and these experts were always here. They just weren’t being sought out. And so that is also a part of my story is to amplify the work of others who are not always invited into the conversation. But now that I’m in a position to advocate for them, I bring them into the writing that I do so their work can shine and be seen in the ways that it deserves to.

[00:26:57] Tori Dunlap: Which is so, so powerful. I need everybody listening to go back about two minutes. You gave about 10, let’s say tens of thousands of dollars in career coaching. Just in how you answered that hypothetical question of like, I literally, it’s like you and I did a little mind meld. I have an entire workshop that again, will link in the show notes called How to Land the Job when you Don’t Meet the Requirements.

[00:27:20] And it’s literally this idea of taking the bullet points from the job description of the job you’re trying to do and think, oh, I already have these skills, right? How do I just bridge them into the job I want? And we talk about this as well in the book Financial Feminist of like, okay, you take the things that you do have, Skills are teachable, right?

[00:27:38] Or like programs are teachable. And instead we show, actually, we do already know how to do this. Uh, it just might not be like a direct one for one thing. You’re just learning how to bridge those skills into the career, into the job that you’re applying for. So go back and listen to that. You did. That was just perfect.

[00:27:55] That was like a perfect representation of exactly how to impress in an interview, especially if you’re like, I don’t know if I have all the experience I need. You probably, probably do. You just need to know how to again, tell your story in the interview.

[00:28:10] Aleenah Ansari: Yeah, and I mean, if you meet 100% of the qualifications, you’re definitely overqualified. Nobody should be able to do a hundred percent of things in a job description. Then there’s nothing to learn or to grow.

[00:28:20] Tori Dunlap: Totally. And I mean, we all know the stat, I think, I think it’s 40%. If you have, if men meet 40% of the job, uh, qualifications, they will apply. We as women, I think it’s like 95 or a hundred percent, we will not apply unless we meet all of them. So start applying for jobs that you don’t necessarily meet all the qualifications.

[00:28:39] Um, and then yeah, learn how to tell your story beautifully in an interview. Um,

[00:28:43] Aleenah Ansari: Yeah. And then I just have like an interesting example related to that. I have a, I remember it when I was in college, I had a friend who actually applied to a job, like we were in human-centered design and engineering, and she applied for a developer role because she thought she had a better chance and she actually didn’t make it through, but she still tried.

[00:28:59] And then the recruiter reached out to her and said, Oh, your background is actually much more suited for our user-centered design position. I’ll send your resume over there and you can interview for that role and she actually ended up getting it. So if you’re able to even put yourself out there and even better connect with directly with a hiring manager or recruiter, there may be a role that you are not even seeing or you haven’t thought of.

[00:29:20] That’s a good fit too. But if you don’t make that initial contact and that effort, then you’ll never be found for an opportunity that could be more.

[00:29:27] Tori Dunlap: Yeah. What is one thing that somebody could do today or maybe in this next week to help them start writing or telling their career?

[00:29:36] Aleenah Ansari: Hmm, that’s a good question. What I usually have, my, um, my mentees and my colleagues do is write out what I call core stories. So there’s sort of these really great examples of like, Things that you’ve accomplished in your career. Because another common pitfall that I see is that people focus on job responsibilities and not job accomplishments.

[00:29:57] And everybody can can do the job responsibilities. You can write the stories, you can create the campaign. But success is really thinking about the reach of those campaigns. Maybe charting higher in seo, maybe it’s landing a big global moment in meeting, in beating out your competi. And so you probably have those really great stories of success.

[00:30:16] So start to document them on a pretty regular basis. You could even put like a calendar blocker on your calendar every two weeks or every quarter, whatever makes sense for you, and start to write down those wins because if you don’t write them down in the moment, you’ll start to lose track of them and then craft these really great stories that you can leverage in an interview.

[00:30:36] And if you need a framework, the star method is pretty common for. Situation, task, action, result. Um, and result is really where those accomplishment pieces can shine. But another piece that I think people forget about when they’re interviewing is, You do the star method, but you always wanna connect it back to the role or the company.

0:55] So you’re not just telling the story of this moment that you did in the past. You wanna bridge the gap and say, and this is how I would apply that thinking, that mindset to this company. And so what people don’t realize is oftentimes the companies that you apply for, they have blogs, they have company values.

[00:31:12] Public facing about sections. And so if you can connect the work that you’re doing and use some of the language of those values, you can bring up their mission statement and how your work exemplifies that. You’re making it so easy for that recruiter or hiring manager to say, this person gets us right.

[00:31:28] They didn’t just do this work in the past. They see how that’s part and parcel to how we run our business every day. So don’t forget about that piece when you’re interviewing, take those core stories that you know, like the back of your hand. But then start to connect them and think, how would I apply that for this new role?

[00:31:42] Especially if you’re navigating a career transit.

[00:31:46] Tori Dunlap: For our younger audience who might be thinking, I don’t have any experience to talk about. I don’t know what my story is. I’m just trying to figure out how to get my first job outta college. What does telling a compelling career story look like for them? And how do they overcome the, the mindset block of like, I don’t have anything to talk about.

[00:32:06] I have no experience.

[00:32:08] Aleenah Ansari: Yeah, I mean, I think step zero is, is to. Question that mindset to think, why do I think I don’t have any relevant experience when I’ve done something right? I’ve had jobs, I’ve done school projects, I’ve collaborated with others, I’ve, everybody has built something in their life. We all have, whether we’ve meant to or not, whether we identify as entrepreneurs or builders or tinkerers.

[00:32:31] And so I feel like the first step is to believe that you have an important perspective and to find those stories where they do exist in your. So I remember in my first year of college, many people drew on the projects that we did in class because that made sense. Other times, people would just create their own, like I know somebody who thought, I feel like the playlist creating experience for Spotify isn’t that intuitive.

[00:32:53] Intuitive. So I’ll redesign it myself. I’ll interview people in my life because I think this is interesting. And then I’ll write a medium case study and propose my own recommendations. And nobody is asking some, and whenever you’re interviewing, nobody’s saying, where did you do this? Is it a valid context?

[00:33:09] They just wanna see that you’ve done the work. And actually, I think examples like that are really powerful because you’re taking the initiative on yourself to solve an interesting problem. And I’ve seen people do this. Tweeted at companies and get interviews there because the companies are excited by these new ideas and initiatives.

[00:33:26] Um, and another good example that comes to mind is many people in UX design, which is what I studied, would do 30 day design challenges. There’s also 30 day writing challenges. There’s marketing challenges and they’ll put it on their portfolio or their website. And when I had that on my portfolio, Almost every recruiter asked me about it because it was different than everything else they would say like, tell me why you did this design challenge.

[00:33:49] Right? It’s so different than everything else you do. Um, and that’s a great opportunity to say, I took the initiative to learn design and I wanted to try many different contexts at once. And see what stuck to me. One day I’m redesigning the checkout experience at a grocery store, and tomorrow I’m creating a mobile app to get Taylor Swift tickets, right?

[00:34:07] Like that really fast ideation can create so much great conversation about your process and how you approach things. So the first step is believing that your work and your perspective matters, but then it’s also doing the work in whatever context makes sense. And then reflecting on it. In whatever place makes sense.

[00:34:24] It could be a portfolio I’ve mentioned Medium. That’s a place you can self-publish case studies or even just like you could create a social media account where you put your design or writing or marketing projects. Whatever you do, you just wanna have a place where people can learn more about your work and that final product as well as the process.

[00:34:41] Tori Dunlap: Yeah, I joke that the first round of her first a hundred k was me running Pentatonics Tumblers. a pentatonics like crazy. They call them Penta Holics. So I was a Pentatonics super fan and I ran fan blogs for them on Tumblr, and that was like my first iteration of like, You know, managing content, putting out content marketing, all of that fun stuff and growing a community like that was, yeah, that was my first iteration of that sophomore year of college.

[00:35:09] And then in terms of more like, you know, hard, more practical experience or like, you know, more considered professional experience, I was the editor in chief of our yearbooks yearbook, so I had literally something physical to present at meetings. I was like, I managed a staff of 12, you know, it was photos and editorial. And, and graphics and the design of the book, and like, we got it done on time and I was the first person to get it done on time in five years. And so like, there was a, you know, a, a compelling story there. Even if it was, you know, you could look at it and be like, oh, it’s a college yearbook. And it’s like, yeah, it’s a published product.

[00:35:43] It’s a published book. Yeah.

[00:35:46] Aleenah Ansari: Yeah, it’s interesting that you say that cuz I remember even when I was interviewing like a thing that I did in college for. I think three of the five years I went was I worked at my college’s writing center. I actually worked at two different ones. One was like a morning one, and then one was open seven to midnight.

[00:36:01] So this was like a huge part of my life. And I think like one of the interviews I walked into when I was in tech is she had my resume on the table and she pointed at my writing center experience and she said, I wanna hear more about this, and that was her very first question. Nothing about my like center for neurotechnology research, my writing samples.

[00:36:20] Like she wanted to hear about me at the writing center and why that mattered to me. And that was a really great place for me to talk about these, like empathy driven one-on-one conversations and then connecting that to the way that we learn about customer needs. By building trust and creating space for them to tell us what they need.

[00:36:36] So yeah, those non-linear, those non-traditional experiences, honestly, are the most interesting because they’re different from what everybody else has, and that’s where you can tell some of the best stories.

[00:36:45] Tori Dunlap: Yeah. What do people miss when they tell their stories? What do they not think about or what do they forget?

[00:36:52] Alee
nah Ansari:
Hmm, that’s an interesting question. I think the biggest one is still the, is that they don’t highlight their accomplishments or they don’t talk about them verbally. They only talk about. What they did. Um, and I think another common pitfall is using a lot of we language, like saying, referring to your team.

[00:37:11] So we all created this product, we created this campaign. It’s really important in an interview to be able to name the part that you had the most responsibility for. So even like if you’re doing that reflection early on, if you had to give yourself. A title, a descriptive title, what would be your particular role of the project and how can you tell the story of that?

[00:37:31] Because if you say we, the whole time, even when it’s you, your hiring manager or recruiter may assume that you didn’t actually do all of that work when what you’re describing is something that you are responsible for. So that ownership is really, really important. And then also getting metrics whenever you can about the impact.

[00:37:48] I know a lot of people will say, like, Aleenah, I don’t know where to get the metrics. Like, we don’t have any data. We didn’t measure. And so this is a good example to say, maybe start measuring things like from here on out, ask your managers or your recruiters or even people you work with, like what does success look like and how can we measure that?

[00:38:05] Intangible and non-tangible ways. So whenever I’m presenting on impact, usually I’ll bring in data about like performance views, reading rate, engagement. But I’ll also usually bring up some kind of like customer or stakeholder verbatim. For example, I told a really interesting story about my company’s first underwater data center.

[00:38:25] We were one of the first companies to ever do this. It made a really big splash. Our CEO retweeted the story. And so I had a lot of great metrics about the reach, but the best part to me was actually someone reaching out to me directly and. Because I had had somebody who was like an expert who was a person of color in the story and they said, seeing that person quoted in the story of innovation makes me feel like I could work at this company, and that’s not something I never thought possible before. It’s really inspired me to think about this field, but also see myself in it. And for me, that piece of moving the needle on culture was just as important as telling this really.

[00:39:01] Story that so many people resonated with. And I like to present both of those pieces in interviews, and I think that works really well because oftentimes we want our stories and our work to succeed in terms of metrics, but we also care about the people who interact with them and see them and work with what we do.

[00:39:17] And so if you can tell that double pronged story, then you’ll be much better off than somebody who just tells a story of what happened without highlighting who you are or what happened to it after you were done.

[00:39:29] Tori Dunlap: Yeah. One of the examples I give in my book when we’re talking about like negotiating salary, we’ve spent a whole chapter, you know, talking about as you know, the earning, you know, negotiating your worth, trying to figure out. How do I find a comp or position that compensates me fairly? One of the, uh, examples I gave in my negotiation for my last job, yes, I had marketing metrics.

[00:39:49] I had performance-based metrics, I had all of that. I also instituted a gratitude practice. We were a tiny little startup and. Uh, one of the things I kept hearing from leadership and from team members was like, I feel disconnected from people. Sometimes it doesn’t feel like my work is being seen by other people.

[00:40:04] Like I want to foster a, a sense of community at the company. And so, uh, at the beginning of every week, we would say one thing we were personally grateful for and one thing we were professionally grateful for.

[00:40:13] And it was a great way of acknowledging team development and like starting to have people interact with each other and acknowledge each other for the work they’ve done.

[00:40:21] And it was part of the reason I got a raise was it wasn’t. professional, like metric accomplishments or my metric contributions. It was also, oh, she’s a great part of this company culture. She’s fun to have around, she gets our values, she’s improving life at work. And so I think it’s a great, it’s a great point of, you know, there’s, there’s very much the, the numbers and the, and the quantity metrics, but there’s also the quality or more, um, yeah, company culture metrics.

[00:40:50] Um, speaking of career stories, I would love to know what’s the next chapter for you? What is the next phase? Is it more writing? Is it tech? Is it something in the middle? What does that look like for you?

[00:41:02] Aleenah Ansari: Yeah. You know, I think I as, as surprising as it may seem, I feel like I don’t actually have a long-term career plan, because if I did, I wouldn’t be where I am now. 

[00:41:13] Tori Dunlap: I love that though. I love it.

[00:41:16] Aleenah Ansari: you know, it’s kinda liberating. Yeah. I, I mean, if you had asked me pretty much any amount of. Before now, if I would be a marketer at a large tech company with the freelance writing and speaking business, being engaged and getting married in Hawaii, owning a condo at 26, like I don’t think any of that was really what I expected.

[00:41:34] And so I feel like. What I really care about is just creating opportunities to keep bridging creativity and strategy and telling stories that matter. As long as I’m doing that, which is what I’ve tried to do my entire career, the short amount that my career has existed, then I feel like I’m winning. So I’m okay with whatever that looks like, but the only thing that matters to me is that I’m still telling stories.

[00:41:57] But those stories can exist in a number of forms, and I would still be.

[00:42:01] Tori Dunlap: I love that answer, Aleenah, truly. Um, thank you for being here. Thank you for your work. Where can people find you?

[00:42:08] Aleenah Ansari: Sure. So the benefit of my name is, it’s really easy to find. I have great SEO because no one spells it like me. So if you go to aleenahansari.com, you’ll find me there. I’m also Aleenah Ansari on Instagram, on Twitter, on LinkedIn. I’m on most social media. I love the internet. Okay. I spend a lot of time there. So if you find me there, 

[00:42:27] if you wanna connect, I love hearing a really good opening question. Clearly I ask a lot of questions in my day-to-day life, but if you have an interesting question to ask me or to share your answer to, I’m open to that. Since those are the things that I feel like I write about, they inspire my next story

[00:42:42] or idea, so open to your curiosity and questions that you may have.

[00:42:48] Tori Dunlap: I love it. Thank you. . This was such a valuable episode, we appreciate you being here. Thank you.

[00:42:53] Aleenah Ansari: Thank you for having me.

Tori Dunlap

Tori Dunlap is an internationally-recognized money and career expert. After saving $100,000 at age 25, Tori quit her corporate job in marketing and founded Her First $100K to fight financial inequality by giving women actionable resources to better their money. She has helped over one million women negotiate salary, pay off debt, build savings, and invest.

Tori’s work has been featured on Good Morning America, the New York Times, BBC, TIME, PEOPLE, CNN, New York Magazine, Forbes, CNBC, BuzzFeed, and more.

With a dedicated following of almost 250,000 on Instagram and more than 1.6 million on TikTok —and multiple instances of her story going viral—Tori’s unique take on financial advice has made her the go-to voice for ambitious millennial women. CNBC called Tori “the voice of financial confidence for women.”

An honors graduate of the University of Portland, Tori currently lives in Seattle, where she enjoys eating fried chicken, going to barre classes, and attempting to naturally work John Mulaney bits into conversation.

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