Freelancer, consultant, a jane of all trades: A Q&A with Lorelei Yang

By Caroline Pepek, Director of Marketing and Communications at MassBio

Lorelei Yang considers herself an honorary MKTG WMN. A former pharmaceutical consultant by day and a freelance writer by night, Lorelei is an incredible business mind but with the communications chops to win hearts and minds (and get sh** done).

While she’s still relatively early in her career trajectory, Lorelei has netted a ton of — personal and professional — experience by taking on many roles across multiple sectors. Most recently, she was an Associate Consultant at ZoomRx, but Lorelei has also worked in finance, industry-agnostic marketing strategy consulting (where her clients included were in industries as diverse as CPG, beauty, and travel), and politics.

Recently, Lorelei talked with us about knowing the power of “I don’t know,” the importance of representation on teams, and learning how to push for what you’re worth. Comments have been edited and condensed.

Lorelei Yang

What was something that was surprisingly helpful to you when you were starting your career?

My first job after college was in finance, which is somewhere I never expected to be. It served me well, though, because it helped me find that I’m passionate about the intersection of business and social impact.

Early on, I had to learn — and be willing — to say to myself “You know, I really don’t think I’m doing a good job at this.” When you’re in school, you’re not necessarily rewarded for that — you need to act like you know everything — so that was a big mindset shift that came as part of my first job.

But talking to other women [particularly college alumnae and the recruiters she’d worked with in the past] about what I was going through and saying “I’m really struggling with this at work, and I’m not really sure how to deal with it — what do you think?” was extremely helpful. [This approach] helped me figure out what was in my control and what I could affect.

How does this approach play out now in your work life?

There are so many little ways in which women soften their language and ways of being in the world. My first employer in finance was majority male-led, my second employer was mixed-gender leadership, and my third team (team is a generous term — it was the founder of the company and me) was entirely female. And, when I think about the period of my career where I grew the most confidence as a leader and trusted in myself, it was when I was being directly being managed by a woman — there’s no comparison. You can’t really underestimate the importance of having an example right in front of you — when I had a female manager, I had the blueprint for what I wanted to do and be. Representation like that makes a big difference when you’re just figuring out where you want to go and how you want to get there. Now [when she’s working with junior staff], I try to be really honest about what has or hasn’t worked for me and own my mistakes.

Over the past year, I’ve been lucky enough to be a very informal mentor to a recent undergrad who’s interested in a journalism career. We connected because I freelance, and it’s been fantastic and rewarding to connect over the long term with a fellow minority woman who is still figuring out her professional and personal goals. I don’t have a lot of the answers, to be fair, but we talk about the things you’re not going to learn in an academic environment about being a working professional like, “how do you network” or “how do you cold call.” Through those conversations, I’m able to coach and talk about times I’ve made those mistakes and pass that knowledge on.

Freelancing is all about LITERALLY knowing your worth and getting compensated for it. How have you navigated this in your freelance career and in your day job?

Freelancing and setting rates and negotiating regularly have made me a much stronger negotiator. As I started to work in healthcare in my full-time job, I realized there were more synergies with my freelance work and I started to pick up a handful of clients in the healthcare space. One of the things I’m really finding is that building expertise and having a track record of success does a lot for how much credit people will give you before they meet you. Once I began to build a niche, I became much more valuable to a specific kind of organization.

I’ve also learned how to drop clients. Choosing to make that decision taught me that there are going to be times when you need to cut your losses — the grief you get or the lack of fulfillment makes it not worth sticking around for, even if you need the money. And I’ve been very lucky: I’ve never had to rely on my freelance earnings alone to pay my bills, so I’ve had a bit more latitude. But I do think that willingness to put what you want for yourself first is really important. If someone is not willing to pay you market or meet you where you’re at, let that opportunity go to someone else, because you’re better off waiting for something else.

Over the course of my professional career, I’ve become more comfortable with pushing hard for compensation at my full-time job. That was really difficult for me. Culturally, I’m Chinese-American and in Chinese culture, that’s just not a thing you do — you work hard, you keep your head down, and you hope for the best and that your boss will recognize you. That was the approach I took in my first two jobs.

But at a certain point I realized that if I didn’t start asking for what I wanted in terms of career progression or a raise or bonus, it wasn’t on my manager’s mind the way it was on mine. One of the things that made a big difference, though, was my partner. When he found out that I had asked for raise and didn’t get it, he prompted me to go back and push for it. Having someone in my corner with a more objective perspective has been incredibly helpful. This isn’t me saying “get a man so you can borrow his privilege,” but I think many women worry that asking for more at work is selfish or shrew-y or ungrateful — and I really struggled with that. But I realized, “if not me, then who?” and that I needed to push for what I was worth.

What a world we live in. Closing question — what’s your best non-career advice for our MKTG WMN?

I have three:

  • It’s so important who you choose to spend your life with. If your personal life is in a good place, your career will grow too.
  • As you grow out of your college years, you might also grow out of your college friends. That’s OK.
  • Always have a good cocktail recipe for parties and a go-to takeout order for nights when you don’t feel like cooking.

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