Campus a la Mode will be introducing a new column, Alumni Spotlight, to provide readers with a glimpse into post college life. I hope this new column can be a way to gain insight into the real world and inspire you all to follow your passions as well as learn about job possibilities you may have never considered before. The first Alumni I interviewed, Kara Harms, is a whimsical, ambitious, passionate photographer/blogger/community acquisition manager living in California. While in FAB she was a photographer for TWIN Magazine and served as the marketing chair. Kara is doing amazing things now and is filled with advice on her experiences. Read on to hear about my interview with her and be sure to check out her stunning photography here and her lifestyle blog here.
By Sadie Strassman
Where are you working now/what have you been up to since graduating?
I spent the summer after graduation traveling and photographing weddings. After 16 years of school I really just wanted to relax! In August I started interning at an advertising agency as an art director and it was around this time that knew for sure that I wanted to move to San Francisco. I stayed in Minneapolis through the end of September and then my boyfriend and I road tripped across the United States to California where we now live. I've been breaking into the startup world since living in San Francisco because it's such a big market out here. I'm actually doing a lot of stuff right now. I guess it makes up for those months of doing nothing last summer. My full time job is with a startup called SharePractice and I'm their Community & Acquisition Manager. My job is to get as many users for the app with spending as little money as possible. It's a nice mix of creativity and strategy. On the side I do community management for two startups called Barn & Willow and Bitfinder and still photograph the occasional Napa Valley wedding. When I have spare time I run my fashion blog called Whimsy Soul and travel around Northern California for fun.
What has been the hardest part of your career?
The hardest part of working in the startup industry is being female. Yeah, you heard that right, I'm pulling out the gender card. Over 80% of the workers at startups are men and I've found it extra challenging to be taken seriously and get hired onto teams due to this gender gap. I even had one job interview ask me if I could really work on a team with a bunch of guys! Other than that, I find working with remote colleagues challenging. The startup industry is very "remote" friendly which on one hand is great since you can curate top talent from all over the country or even the world. On the flip side, it can be hard communicating effectively when you aren't sitting next to your partner and he's probably in a different time zone.
What advice do you have for college students interested in your career?
Have a portfolio that you can show anyone at anytime! This is really important for anyone in photography, design, marketing/advertising, writing and other creative fields. Even retail! I really love Squarespace since the UI is super friendly, but it doesn't really matter what web service you use. Just make sure you have a professional, clean, well-designed site with your own domain name up and running before you start looking for jobs. If you're stuck getting started find a friend with some design skills to help you out or take a look at mine to get inspired.
What’s the best part of your job now?
I get to try any new idea I want (and can sell the boss on). Since there is no right answer in marketing, the sky is the limit. Working at small companies means your ideas are actually heard and you can probably act upon them. Bigger companies work much slower and can almost be afraid of change.
What do you hope to be doing 10 years from now career wise?
It's kind of a secret dream that my fashion blog with take off and I could spend my days getting paid to play dress up, traveling and taking photos. Who wouldn't want that? More realalsticallyI would love to be a creative director at an ad agency or the head of marketing at a cool startup.
Can you describe a typical day/week in your job?
I spend most of my day in front of a computer! I'm sure my eyes are going to shit. Monday-Friday I head to work at SharePractice and no day there is the same. That's startup life for you. When I get home I typically spend 1-3 hours writing blog posts and scheduling social media posts for my part time gigs. The weekends are reserved for taking photographs for my fashion blog which I try to do in various parts of the city. This is always fun since I've lived here for 6 months and haven't even come close to seeing all San Francisco has to offer. You can follow my adventures on Instagram @TheWhimsySoul.
What skills/experiences best prepared you for this job?
Interning defiantly helped me learn new skills and figure out what type of work places I enjoy. But honestly, the best experiences are the ones I made for myself. I created my own projects and sought out groups like FAB and NSAC that gave me a chance to grow my skills in a supportive environment. This all lead to great portfolio pieces and tons of hands on experience to talk about in interviews.
What is the company culture like where you work?
Startups are very relaxed in many ways, but everyone works hard. You don't have to start up 9am sharp if you don't want. Me and the business guys tend to come in early while the developers all arrive around 2pm. As long as you get your work done, people tend to not mind when you do it. Everyone at startups are very passionate about their work and actually enjoy coming into the office each day. They'll be more likely to linger past work hours since they are into what their building. It's a great environment to be in. But, that being said, like many startups, my office is in the founder's home. He and his wife just had a new baby so I've learned to tune out the cries and adjusted to accidently walking in on the mother breastfeeding. I also have to bring my own computer to work each day. Startups aren't 100% glamorous.
What step do you recommend someone take to enter your field of work?
Learn as many skills as you can! In college I worked at a newspaper, magazine, multiple studios, a museum and an agency plus I ran my own photography business. I picked up design, strategy, writing, video editing, photography and multi-tasking skills during this time. The marketing field is evolving so much and it's really important for employers to hire people who can do more than one thing and pick new skills up fast. I suggest taking classes that expand your skill set and getting involved with groups that can help you grow those skills. Just start doing and learning!
If you could do it all over again, would you choose the same path for yourself? If not, what would you change?
Yes, for the most part. I wish I had minored in graphic design, but I didn't know that was an option before it was too late. I also wish I had started my fashion blog earlier, like maybe when I was studying abroad in Italy. I am really glad that I chose to take the risk and just move to California. I debated it for a while. Leaving the midwest, all my friends and family to live in a city I've never been to before was risky. But it worked out. Moving to San Francisco was incredibly hard- this city isn't an easy one to move to since the housing market is so freaking competitive, I want to make that very clear for people considering moving out here. It took us 2 months to find an apartment. But once you are settled, there are tons of opportunities, the city has so much to offer and the weather ain't bad. If you're ever in the Bay Area, say hi! Or if you're thinking about moving out here please reach out. I'll be happy to answer questions, give apartment hunting advice, etc.
If you are an alumni and would like to be featured or know an alumni that would, please email firstname.lastname@example.org with recommendations!