While Kelli Muilenburg ’07 was a student at Calvin, she learned about the importance of connection, networking, and relationships.
Muilenburg spent an interim in Seattle writing her business major honors thesis on the topic of e-publishing and what it would mean if the entire publishing industry didn’t exist the way it did (the Amazon Kindle was released a year later!). As a result of her time there, she realized she wanted to live and work in Seattle but wasn’t sure how to make the move happen.
After almost skipping a work social event in downtown Grand Rapids during her senior year internship at Steelcase—simply because she couldn’t find a parking space—Muilenburg learned the value of good networking skills. Thankfully, she found a space in front of the restaurant and reconnected with a former co-worker who mentioned his brother-in-law worked for Amazon. Her interest was piqued, and her colleague introduced her to his brother-in-law, and she was ultimately referred on to Amazon.
“They flew me out to interview; I interviewed on my 22nd birthday, and then I got a job offer as I was walking out of my last exam at Calvin,” she said. “I felt like my life was a movie … It is still the most amazing thing I’ve ever experienced because I almost skipped the happy hour.”
Her experience that day is why she encourages students to take advantage of networking opportunities: “You need to put yourself into position to meet someone who can help you connect.”
Even though she did her thesis on e-publishing, at Amazon Muilenburg worked on product launches for food vendors through Amazon’s grocery division. She worked at Amazon for three years until her job was outsourced.
After getting laid off and considering her path forward, she thought about her connections and reflected on the career paths of people she admired. Former vice president of student life Shirley Hoogstra had been a mentor of hers at Calvin. “I just loved the work she got to do with students in student life,” Muilenburg said. That relationship resulted in Muilenburg deciding to pursue a master’s in student development administration from Seattle University. “I loved the university student population but realized that I missed the corporate setting.”
Another relationship ultimately brought about the next step in her career. A friend of hers who worked in university recruiting at Microsoft suggested joining her there, and again, Muilenburg’s interest was piqued—even though she had never considered that as a career path. Her friend referred her to Microsoft, and she got the job.
She was meeting with interns in her first week, and even though the content was different, talking to students was very familiar. Oddly enough, as a student, she had stumbled across a piece of advice from Microsoft’s internship program describing how to talk about your skills in a résumé. She took that advice and used it, never thinking that she would one day participate in the recruiting process for Microsoft’s interns.
Today she is an operations program manager at Microsoft, where she manages the strategy for the final round interviews for university candidates coming to Microsoft. She also has hired two other Calvin alumni to work on the university recruiting team.
Her liberal arts education from Calvin has helped her immensely in her work with recruiting, especially her psychology classes. Calvin’s mission to equip students to think deeply, act justly, and live wholeheartedly as Christ’s agents of renewal resonates with her. She thinks about the thousands of students that she is bringing to Microsoft. While the next applicant will be one of thousands she sees, for the applicant, it is the first time there, and she wants to make sure they leave knowing they had a great experience and will speak well of their time at Microsoft.
When she thinks about students looking for work, Muilenburg advises, “Know that you have to make a good first impression. I usually know in the first three minutes if I’m going to hire someone, often just from the conversation that takes place walking into the interview.”
She’s thankful for the relationships and mentors she developed at Calvin, like the one with Hoogstra, as well as with Robert and Cherith Nordling, who mentored her while she was a Barnabas leader on campus. While working with the Nordlings, Robert wrote her a note she still has that reads, “You lead as naturally as you breathe.”
She values the encouragement of getting the affirmation of that skill set, and now Muilenburg is taking the leadership lessons she learned at Calvin and using them with her team at Microsoft.