Brandeis International Business School

027: Preparing for the Future of Work: Networking & Yes, And

From how to reach out to a mentor to why you should say “Yes, And”

Ronit Avni is a tech and media entrepreneur and Peabody Award-winning producer who works at the intersection of tech and social impact. She is the founder and CEO of Localized, a career tech platform that connects educated talent in emerging markets with global businesses, drawing on diaspora networks at scale.

Localized is focused on connecting companies that are looking to hire in emerging markets – places like the Middle East, North Africa or India – to talent. They do that by partnering with universities in those markets, whose schools may not have career services infrastructure, alumni services infrastructure, or access to companies that are entering those markets. By connecting the companies directly to the schools, not only can they access the talent but the students gain access both to potential employers and industry insiders who can guide them.

From the Dorm Room

Ronit studied theater in Montreal before attending Vassar, which happened to be one of only four universities offering generous financial aid to Canadians at the time.

And, like a lot of our past guests, Ronit did not have her current career planned out when she got to college. When she first got to Vassar, she thought she was going to pursue a career in Theater Directing, but she got hooked by Political Science and ended up majoring in it.

She started thinking about how she could fuse her interests in a way that was creative and fulfilling, and she landed on the idea of combining human rights work with documentary filmmaking. This was pre-online video, and there weren’t a lot of people operating in this space.

Then, she learned about an organization called Witness, which was one of only a couple of entities putting video online. Witness was a human rights organization that was equipping people around the world to video cameras and working with them to train them to document abuses, and then work strategically to use the footage that was captured to try to effect a legislative or policy change.

She did ultimately get her first job out of college at Witness, and one of the things that helped her do that was getting a fellowship to intern at a human rights organization overseas. This demonstrated that she was being proactive to pursue this space, as well as showing that she was proactive in seeking out funding and fellowship opportunities, which was a lot of what Witness was doing in the field.

To the Boardroom

However, when Ronit first applied to Witness, they didn’t actually have any listed job positions.

So she decided to, instead, inquire about an internship. She wrote them basically saying, "Hey, it doesn't look like you're hiring at the moment. Do you have any internships? I would love to take one, but I can't afford to work for free. So, I'd be happy to find a job in New York, and then volunteer for you." 

They wrote me back saying there were no internships – and, on top of that, that she was late to email them.

But then, a few days later, she got another email that said they did, actually, have a job opening and inviting her to come in for an interview. “And I think the first lesson for me just entering the professional world there is,” Ronit says, “Number one, you never know what's going on within a company or an organization. So, just because something's not posted as an opening doesn't mean that an organization or company isn't thinking about their next hires or isn't dealing internally with a transition.

“And the second thing was thank goodness that my responses were very polite and amicable, even in rejection, because ... I didn't burn a bridge there. And so, they were able to then come back and invite me to come in for the interview.”

Ronit also has a somewhat unorthodox piece of advice for young professionals and those who will be graduating from college soon, actually stemming from one of her most-hated classes:

Improv skills are incredibly valuable, no matter what discipline you are pursuing.

In hindsight, although she hated it at the time, improv was probably the most valuable class she ever took because she learned a principle called “Yes, And.” The idea of Yes, And is that no matter what idea is thrown to you from an audience or an actor, you can't just ignore it, pretend it didn't happen or say no because then the whole show stops and crashes. So, you have to find some way to integrate that idea, even if you disagree with it, and come up with something better as a result. “Those are muscles that need training because, later, for things like brainstorming, for working in teams, for managing crises, those become essential skills. And they are essential skills when we start talking about the future of work,” Ronit says.

The Entrepreneurial Edge

Every week, we highlight one piece of advice for aspiring, struggling, and successful-but-want-to-be-even-more-successful entrepreneurs:

In every part of Ronit’s educational and professional journey, networking was vital – and this is very much the case in the entrepreneurial world as well. So, we asked Ronit for her best tips on how to network:

  • Do your homework. It's not enough that you just check that LinkedIn page, although that’s a good place to start. Do a little bit of homework, so that they don't have to run through the basics with you. 
  • Then, you want to go in with a clear ask. That could be something as simple as, "I don't know what algorithmic trading is. I'd love to learn," or, "I'd love to volunteer for your organization," or, "If I were to apply for a job at a company like yours, what are what three skills do you think I would need?
  • During the conversation, make sure to take notes.
  • Finally, the most important thing is the follow up, which is the thank you afterwards. Ask if you can keep in touch, keep them updated, or circle back later – and then do it! Keeping a list and then following up will set you apart.


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