Hiba Elbuluk, a member of the Class of 2017, reflects on her unexpected career change just a year after graduation, the importance of self-care and navigating the transition from college to career.
Describe your professional and personal journey since graduating from Princeton.
I started at Goldman Sachs straight out of college having done both my summers at the firm and serving as the head student ambassador for Goldman Sachs on campus. However, after a year full-time, I realized a career in trading was not exactly what I was looking for, and I didn't want to build my career in the financial services industry.
As I looked to leverage my architecture degree, I came across the field of product management. I started searching for opportunities to enter the product field. I found a seed stage startup called Squad that had an opening for a product-adjacent role that could provide me with a foundation.
I spent eight months at Squad, but unfortunately, at the seed stage, the company was susceptible to many organizational changes and market strategy changes that left me without a product team and the description of my role was changing away from product. Subsequently, I resigned from Squad a few weeks ago in an effort to exert my energy into finding the right product role at a more mature company (Series B or later) and within the consumer retail space.
What or who helped you the most after graduation?
The biggest thing for me was a true support network—my family, my mentors from internships and my closest friends supported me continuously and in a multitude of ways. Whether it was practicing interviews with me, being a listening ear or traveling with me to different places. The people I had forged the closest relationships with served as a foolproof support net for adulting.
If I had to pick out one person in particular it would be my older brother Osama. He told me before I graduated that my 20s would be filled with highs and lows, and it's not easy. You're learning to deal with adult things like taxes, rent and bills.
You have responsibilities outside yourself. You have work politics to deal with. And I think when you're a senior that's so ready to leave, you paint this rosy photo of what you think post-grad will be, and it was refreshing for me because when things did get difficult, I remembered what he told me.
Outside of work, what were one or two of the biggest things you had to adjust to after leaving Princeton?
A few things to note here. First is the rigidity of your schedule. At Princeton, you truly have complete control over your schedule, which classes you take, where you go and what time. Once you start working and you're on someone else's clock, your schedule becomes dictated by the workplace.
When I was working in finance, I would wake up at 5 a.m., get to my desk at 6 a.m. and I didn't leave until 8 p.m., which gave me an hour and a half to eat, shower, potentially workout and fit in a phone call. Sometimes it meant coming home and just sleeping, but that level of rigidity in schedule wasn't something an internship or Princeton could have really prepared me for. Of course, not everyone will work in finance and not everyone may have an ultra-strict schedule, but the point here is that there will be an inflection point post-graduation regardless of who you work for, where your time is no longer all yours.
Another big adjustment is figuring out what self-care means for me and creating a routine around it. This is somewhat embedded in my first point as it relates to figuring out a routine under new time constraints, but at Princeton you'll always find places to satiate your curiosity whether it’s in the classroom, an organization, an Eating Club, etc.
But in a stage of such great metamorphosis, it's extremely important to find methods of self-care and build them routinely into your schedule because otherwise you'll put them on the back burner when they're essential to your development in and outside the office.
You won't anticipate that you have to work to schedule these things in, but if you let life become your work, you'll lose touch with a plethora of things that satisfied you before, and no one really talks about that.
If you could go back, what is a piece of advice you wished you would have received in preparation for life after Princeton?
Take a personal finance class whether online or through the Office of the Dean of Undergraduate Students. Learn how to do all the real life “adult” things like creating a budget, how to do your taxes, ways to create passive income, etc. And secondly, get comfortable with ambiguity. Nothing will be as planned out as your life as kindergarten through college was.