Where are they now? Lauren Riefflin

Lauren ReifflinUpon arriving at the UW, Lauren Riefflin (B.A., 2009) thought she wanted to be a business major, but after a few economics and accounting classes realized it wasn’t quite the right fit. She started to explore introductory communication classes – both intra- and interpersonal, public speaking, and rhetorical theory – and became really intrigued. Since she grew up doing a lot of theater and loving drama classes, it wasn’t a surprise to her that she made Communication her major.

She was a member of PRSSA and very involved with her sorority, Kappa Delta, where she participated in fundraising events and activities to support two philanthropies. She was a Recruitment Councilor with Panhellenic, the umbrella organization for UW’s sororities, during her junior year.

We asked her a few questions to see what she has been doing since graduation and how she ended up on the East Coast:

What have you been up to since graduation?

“Directly after graduation, I wasn’t entirely sure what I wanted to do professionally. I didn’t study abroad during college either, so those two factors combined really piqued my interest in traveling. I ended up joining a teaching abroad program and spent 3 months teaching English in Taiwan to Jr. High and High School students, which was an incredible experience.

“After my stint in Taiwan, I came home and started researching entry-level jobs in marketing and public relations (my older sister was in the public relations industry at the time so she gave me a nudge in that direction). I came across a PR internship for a real estate tech company, Zillow, and applied on a whim. I came to really enjoy the real estate world earlier in life, with my first job being a receptionist at a Windermere branch in high school. I worked in client services for a boutique brokerage my first year of college as well. When I came across a PR internship that was real estate-related, I thought it married my real estate and PR background pretty well.

“I ended up getting the Zillow internship, and started in June 2010. I was hired on full-time later that year and have been with the company ever since. It’s been a fast-paced role that has warranted me incredible opportunities to learn, travel, and develop both personal and career-oriented skills beyond what I could have ever asked for. I worked my way up on the team from an intern, coordinator, and specialist in Seattle and am now a PR Manager in NYC as an extension of the home team in Seattle.”

What do your duties include at your current job?

“Zillow’s acquisition of NYC real estate company, StreetEasy, triggered my move out east. Most of my time is focused on developing and executing PR strategy for StreetEasy specifically, which includes reactive and proactive responsibilities for internal and external communications. I work across various departments to come up with unique ways to build awareness for StreetEasy’s tools and information, be it through announcements about real estate market trends that utilize data and market analysis from the StreetEasy Research team, sharing news about a business milestone or product update, profile building initiatives for our spokespeople, and more.

“News doesn’t go very far without someone else to write about, which is where media relations comes in. Building relationships with media outlets, reporters, bloggers, and industry influencers is a huge aspect of my current job as well. Whether it is through phone calls, coffee meetings, or events, I work every day to stay in touch with people so StreetEasy is a top-of-mind resource when they’re working on a story.”

How did you find that job?

“After Zillow’s acquisition of StreetEasy, there was discussion about how we were going to build out the marketing and communications teams there. I expressed interest in getting involved – after a few business trips to NYC, there was something about that city that stuck with me – and it evolved into relocating and heading up PR efforts for the whole brand. It all happened pretty quickly. StreetEasy was acquired in August 2013 and by the end of January 2014, I was moved out to New York.

“It’s been my experience that Zillow is extremely supportive of upward mobility and, as our office footprint grew across the country, encouraged employees to visit other offices. In my case, I relocated entirely to take the experience that I gained at Zillow in Seattle and carry it over to a whole new division of the company.

“I’m still a Seattleite through and through though and bleed purple and gold any chance I get, I promise.”

Do you have any tips on finding a job for those still in school?

“I can think of a few…

“It’s just as much about what you know as it is who you know. Yes, it’s a cliché saying that has undoubtedly been used time and time again when it comes to job hunting, but in this super competitive day and age I think it’s more applicable than ever. To this end, I would encourage students to attend networking events, and stay up to date on campus-hosted job fairs and guest speakers. Meet as many people as you can and follow-up on LinkedIn. Networking is something that you don’t grow out of either. It is very much a part of the real world, and it will be nothing but beneficial to practice while you’re still in school. You never know what connection will come in handy down the road.

“Going on informational interviews was another concept that I snubbed when I was still in school, and I wish I hadn’t. After hosting a few informational interviews later on, I realized it was a smart tool for prospective employees to use. For one, it’s great interview practice. Secondly, it could lead to finding a good professional mentor. Lastly, it’s a great way for a student to get an idea of how a particular department with a company functions, and ask some questions about the company without the pressure of being a formal applicant. Remember to ask not only about someone’s responsibilities and their day-to-day tasks, but also work-life balance, company culture and why they enjoy working at the company. While having applicable experience certainly matters, I think someone’s success at a company has a lot to do with their goals, attitude, and values aligning with the company’s as well.

“Don’t underestimate the power of a good cover letter. Get creative, particularly if you’re looking for a job in a communications-related field. Treat it like a short story instead of a templated business document. You don’t have the freedom to get creative on a resume – I’m not sure if we ever will – but cover letters are, in my opinion, where you get to express yourself. Strike a balance between telling me about who you are and your experience, but also why you care to apply for a role at that particular company. When I’m hiring, cover letters have the potential to win me over before I even look at a resume.”

What do you think is the single most important thing to do while in school to prepare for the real world?

“Two things:

  1. If you can, work or study abroad. I learned so much teaching abroad right after college, my only wish was that I would have done that when I was still in school and didn’t have as many real world pressures impending.
  2. Internships, internships, internships – they give you a taste test of a particular industry, will give you an experiential leg up after graduation, present opportunities for you to meet people/network, and teach you corporate or real world skills that you might not learn in the classroom.”

Now that you’ve had some time to reflect on your time at the UW, what advice do you wish you would’ve received while in school?

“It may take a year or two or three, but think beyond your diploma, beyond your major. Think about people and companies that you admire. Think about how you want to earn a living and back into a major. Don’t feel restricted to the list of jobs on a website or in a pamphlet. If there’s anything I’ve learned in the last five years, it’s that you can earn a living doing almost anything. Some may take more work than others, but believe me, there are so many random jobs that exist and you can do them.

“Secondly, college is such a unique, exciting time, and it is extremely easy to be distracted by social ‘funtivites’ instead of going to class or participating in an after-class group (me = guilty). College really is, however, unlike any other time in your life where you have the opportunity to be totally and completely dedicated to acquiring knowledge and laying a foundation for your future. Don’t take that for granted. Find a way to strike a balance between fun and your future. Get to know yourself, your tendencies, what topics and tasks keep you motivated and what classes you absolutely hate. Take advantage of the variety of classes, different campus activities, extracurricular interest groups, and even office hours with TA’s and professors. There is so much to learn. Be passionate, don’t be afraid to be ‘nerdy’ or do something different while you’re in school. It will all pay off in the end and folks who decided to be less productive in college will be kicking themselves when they read your bio five years later.

“Lastly, joining the Greek system at UW is something that I’ll never regret and I would certainly recommend women consider as they start their college careers. I walked away with incredible friendships, yes, but Kappa Delta was also an organization that provided its members with leadership and development opportunities that might not have been as accessible elsewhere. It’s also an incredible network of people from across the country that you can tap into. (There’s my networking theme again :))”

Where do you hope to be in five years?

“Moving to NYC still feels like a pretty recent (and exciting) pivot for me so it’s safe to say that I’m really focused on my career right now, and seeing the StreetEasy brand grow over the next five years. On the fun side of things, I hope I’m a fluent New Yorker who knows most boroughs – and their real estate markets – like the back of my hand. Professionally, I hope I can continue to expand my areas of ownership at Zillow Group and run a team as a VP of Communications down the road – or some derivative of that. If there’s anything this NYC move showed me, it’s that your life can change at the drop of a hat. All you can do is be open and prepared for every opportunity that comes your way. I definitely see myself in NYC for at least a handful of more years, pending any unexpected changes, so I want to continue to learn, develop and meet new people in my field. I’m fortunate to live in a global media hub right now, where a lot of influential companies are located, and I don’t want to take that for granted.

“I also want to give back to the world, for both selfless and selfish reasons. I’m really interested in diversifying my work experience, and I think volunteering offers a unique opportunity to do that while also helping others that don’t have the time or means to invest in a PR strategy. There are a few non-profit organizations that have piqued my interest, particularly in relation to clean water initiatives, that I’d like to get involved with and lend a hand in both developing and sharing their story.”

Anything else to add? 

“Despite all this talk about planning for your future, please don’t forget to have fun. Don’t get so buried in planning ahead that you forget to experience the present. College comes with flexibility for a reason – it can just take some time to find the right balance. If anything, make sure you enjoy a few Dawg Saturdays.

“Being a Husky is a blast, and I’m so proud that UW is my alma mater.”