“It’s a People-Driven Thing”
We’re seated in a glass-walled conference room at Ovative Group’s glistening new North Loop headquarters, the Minneapolis skyline at a short distance, with Ingrid Sabah (BA ‘18). She’s listening to Eliza Stougaard, a CLA undergraduate, explain how the diverse set of course requirements at the college made her an attractive candidate for Ovative’s competitive internship program and are now helping her thrive in the role.
“Just having a major”—for Stougaard, it’s statistics—“on its own wouldn’t be that valuable,” she explains. “I think it’s really combining that communications and writing with [the major] that makes the major so much more valuable.” Sabah chimes in. “It’s a people-driven thing,” she says, nodding. “It’s a human experience.”
Long before Sabah arrived at CLA and began her studies in strategic communication, she understood that the world was indeed “people-driven,” and she set about making connections as broadly as she could.
Growing up in the Twin Cities, Sabah found an internship right out of high school, through The BrandLab. Later, while a student at UW-Eau Claire, an internship at Minneapolis advertising powerhouse Mono drew her back to the Cities. She had seen many friends, some from The BrandLab cohort, stay in the Cities and continue to excel in extended internships. “As much as I loved school, I was excited to apply it to the working world and experience sooner life after college.”
Returning to Minneapolis and arriving at CLA, Sabah added internships at Buffalo Wild Wings’ corporate offices and at Ovative Group to her resume. Sabah appreciated being able to, as she puts it, “elevate” classroom learnings to the workplace: “There’s nothing more fulfilling or more rewarding [than] to know, ‘Oh, I did a project on that.’ And I can bring that to my manager, and… they can see me as an expert because I formally studied this.”
Pulling back the curtain
With four internships under her belt, Sabah decided to give Ovative a shot for her first job after graduating. Drawing on her education and work experience, she earned a role on the Talent Operations team. “It’s been awesome,” she looks back, “to get exposure and an understanding of digital media, an understanding of the bigger picture of what we’re trying to do here, and to support in the growth and development of a business.”
In her role, Sabah attends many of the internship and career fairs that she visited as an undergraduate, including the CLA Internship & Career Fair (scheduled this year for Friday, September 27). She enjoys returning to the University of Minnesota, to relive some of her time here, and to also give back. She credits the University for fostering an environment of support for students, and she has noted how that energy has “flowed into many of the agencies and partners around town.”
Asked to reflect on the best of CLA, Sabah points to how well the Hubbard School of Journalism & Mass Communication connects students with the local industry—even for someone like her, who networked incessantly. “They pull back the curtain and provide great opportunities for exposure, in that the industry comes to you, in a classroom, to get you set up and let you know what’s coming next.”
Quick to name a bevy of favorite professors, Sabah credits the college with bringing in faculty who are enmeshed in the professional realm. “Although the world is changing and digital media is more prevalent than it used to be, they have profound, unique experiences and historical understandings of the industry. That allows them to support work even in newer, digital spheres.”
Finding candidates with the capacity to develop
In her current role, Sabah helps to find candidates who will support Ovative’s particular industry, but also who have the capacity to develop. “We want to welcome people who align with our values, who are driven, who are genuine, who are engaged, who are accountable, and are looking to make an impact.” Those characteristics, Sabah adds, “show up in so many different ways”—in the form of different people, with different backgrounds, and from different majors.
Obviously, with Stougaard, the CLA intern, her statistics major aligns closely with Ovative’s specialization in search engine marketing. But Sabah is quick to note that her background in journalism has also proved befitting. “For me, in my journalism background, it comes together at Ovative in that, people are coming from all different places. Yes, the numbers are there, but it’s the people, their experiences, their educational background, that diversity of thought, that comes together to have a richer experience for a richer outcome.”
Pointing to a list of CLA’s Core Career Competencies, Sabah talks about how the Hubbard School of Journalism & Mass Communication—as well as her many internships—helped her develop all of the competencies, often in concert. “I don’t think any of these things happen in a silo. If you’re thinking analytically or thinking critically, how are you able to communicate your thinking? Not being able to communicate well can make it seem like you haven’t thought things through entirely. In that sense, all of the competencies work together.”
Giving the list further consideration, she zeros in on leadership, but with a caveat. “Leadership shows up differently. Not everyone is a loud, robust, and aggressive leader. Some people lead more from the back of the line or even from the middle. Knowing how leadership shows up for yourself is really important. That way, you can better advocate for yourself to say, ‘I’m not that, but I am this, and I do this really well.’”
Before taking me to visit Ovative’s rooftop deck, I ask Sabah if she has any advice for CLA graduates. Sabah returns to a familiar refrain: the human experience. “Trust yourself, trust your partners, trust CLA, and your advisors, and—it’s so true—make connections: network, network, network, network, network, network. In bold, ten times… because it really is always connections that foster all this other stuff. If you’re wanting to get your foot in the door, that’s a human thing. Everybody wants to make those connections and help bring people along.”
Part of those human connections—that human thing—also involves knowing yourself. “What I found to be true,” Sabah adds, “is that, in Minneapolis, so many people are willing to help get you to that next place. But if you haven’t taken the time to know what you want, people can’t really help. So, the hardest part is knowing what you want, and then the second part is asking for it.”