Katherine Connolly is a graduate student at the Harvard Kennedy School. At the time of this interview, she was finishing up work as an Account Manager at Purple Strategies, where she supported clients through the development and implementation of corporate, political, and nonprofit crisis strategy campaigns across multiple channels and stakeholders. She attended Oxford University and has lived all over the world through her work in consulting and politics.
Tell us about your background and what led you to where you are today.
I grew up in a really international setting. I was born in Brazil to Irish and American parents who worked in agribusiness, so we moved around a lot. I went to school all over the world, but ended up going to university at Oxford in the UK. Halfway through, I got an interview for an internship at Deloitte. I am a huge proponent of internships. By that point, I had some work experience, but this internship really helped me decide what I liked and didn’t like doing. By the end of my internship at Deloitte, I was offered a job (another reason internships are great!) Around that time, I was diagnosed with cancer, and took a year out of school for treatment. I’m in permanent remission now, but during that time, I took time to think about what I wanted to spend my life doing. I came back really focused on completing my degree.
After finishing school, I accepted a job at Deloitte, hoping to build a broad base of skills. At Deloitte, I was on the Customers and Marketing team and also had the opportunity to lead their volunteering partnership with the Prince’s Trust. I ran the first ever volunteering event, and eventually sustained 2-3 events a month that included over 100 volunteers. I loved it! Since then, I’ve worked in politics, with NGOs, banks, and charities. I am now an Account Manager at the communications firm Purple Strategies, where I focus on crisis management communications.
What is a big risk you’ve taken, and what did you learn?
After running the volunteering arm of Deloitte’s charitable partnership, I realized I was really interested in getting more civically engaged. In the fall of 2018, I took a huge plunge: I left my job at Deloitte on a Friday and by Tuesday, I was in a Subaru with a printer in the backseat, heading to Peterborough, NH. Since I enjoyed leading volunteers so much at Deloitte, I got a job as a Field Organizer for the New Hampshire Democrats. I loved the work, but the change was dramatic. I went from a 6,000 person office to a 6,000 person town and ran field operations in ten towns in the area over two months.
The first day or two in New Hampshire was a big transition. When I was at Deloitte, I was in a big office in the middle of London, everything worked properly, there were people all around to help, and I had almost any resource I needed at my disposal. When I got to New Hampshire, everything was different. The campaign office was in an old video store; it still had markings on the wall for video shelves and posters. There was no real heating, and I was the person in charge. Our regional director was over an hour away. During that time, I really leaned into my soft skills.
At the end of the campaign, I realized I wanted my work to be somewhere “in between.” The campaign work itself was interesting, but I really liked the structure of working in consulting. Purple Strategies is the best of both worlds for me. Half of the people I work with have a consultancy background, and the other half have political backgrounds on both sides of the aisle. I really have the best of both worlds. I work with clients all over the world, and the things that I’m really interested in are still an asset for the company.
What’s a tough career lesson you had to learn and how did it serve you?
When I was working in politics, it felt like the only thing happening in the world. It truly took up almost all of my time. During that time, I learned how important it was to turn off and disengage, even for a few hours. When I had a few free hours, I drove out to the mountains and went for a hike. Taking that time away to turn off was critical, and I still try to practice that today. In my current work, my professional crisis management skills have really helped to build my own resilience and personal crisis management. Even though it’s really difficult, taking the emotion out of the news is so important. Day to day, it’s hard to break away from the news and technology, but taking a break for a little bit each day is necessary.
What’s a piece of career advice that has stuck with you throughout your career?
I really think I got some of the best career advice when I was an intern. When you’re an intern, there are so many experiences around you that you can learn from and people who want to help you. Especially at the beginning of your career, I think it’s so important to keep that intern mindset. Still today, I’m constantly learning from the people around me, talking to people I don’t work with day to day, and trying to take on extra bits of work to explore other areas I’m interested in. Always learning and trying new things is so important to growing yourself and forwarding your career.