Carolina alumna Clare MacDonald has tapped into the skills she gained studying political science and studio art in the College of Arts & Sciences to propel herself to a career as a product designer for LinkedIn.
When Clare MacDonald ’19 came to Carolina in the fall of 2015, she didn’t know what she wanted to major in. She had no idea what shape her future career would take.
Now, as a product designer at LinkedIn, MacDonald has not only charted a successful career path for herself — she’s helping others do the same.
After considering a range of majors, including journalism, economics and business, MacDonald settled on political science. She felt the course content was critical to understanding current events — especially during the 2016 presidential election — and she loved how her political sciences classes made her think.
“It wasn’t necessarily something I wanted to go into professionally,” she says. “But I really enjoyed political philosophy, especially studying the intersection of race and class.”
Born and raised in Huntersville, North Carolina, MacDonald began noticing the wealth gap across her region of the state as a teenager. At Carolina, she learned about policies that can contribute to such disparities, and she continues to be mindful of them in her professional life today.
“It’s relevant to my work because one of our goals at LinkedIn is to democratize the hiring process,” MacDonald says.
MacDonald got her first taste of the tech world during her sophomore year at Carolina. She helped start the UNC Institute of Politics, which aims to inspire undergraduate students to pursue careers in politics and public service. As vice president of communications for the organization, MacDonald designed the institute’s digital, branding and print content. She also ran tech team workshops and collaborated with team members on overall digital strategy.
As she investigated ways to make government more accessible to constituents, she realized user-friendly digital tools were critical and shifted her focus more.
“Learning more about UX (user experience) design seemed like the best next step,” she says.
As a Morehead-Cain Scholar, MacDonald received funding to spend the summer in San Francisco, completing a UX design course. She enjoyed the course so much that she accepted an internship at Airtable the next semester. Then, in the summer of 2018, she interned at LinkedIn, and the company hired her as soon as she graduated in the spring of 2019 with a degree in political science.
Being a product designer at LinkedIn is akin to navigating a complex and dynamic maze, according to MacDonald.
“You have to plan every potential step,” she says. “Some people think of product design like graphic design, but it’s totally different.”
Her day-to-day includes meetings with various people and teams — from talking with other designers and engineers to relaying information to the marketing folks and the legal team.
Excellent communication skills, which MacDonald says she acquired and refined at Carolina, are essential in her career. MacDonald says another major area of expertise she gained at UNC-Chapel Hill was the ability to write well.
“The biggest thing I took from Carolina is how to write – quickly and concisely. That’s been really beneficial since a big part of my job is content writing.”
A lifelong artist, MacDonald also completed a minor in studio art. She worked on several art shows while she was at Carolina. Those experiences taught her how to work in a fast-paced environment and deal with unexpected challenges.
“When you’re putting together a big show, there are so many moving parts, and things can change at the last minute,” she says. “You have to be adaptable.”
MacDonald believes another crucial component to being successful in her competitive industry is the ability to ask for help and not be intimidated. While at Carolina, she navigated resources and potential opportunities by regularly reaching out to her professors.
“I think because UNC professors are so accessible, I developed this ability to approach anyone,” she says. “Now I’m comfortable reaching out to anyone regardless of seniority level.”
MacDonald is grateful for the guidance she has received over the years and is keen to pay it forward. In both her professional and personal life, she enjoys talking to high school and college students about potential career trajectories.
“I always tell students to study what interests you, maybe pick up a couple technical skills along the way, but focus on getting a broad education,” she says. “That will ultimately make you a well-rounded person and ideal candidate in this new job market.”
It comes as no surprise that MacDonald is passionate about mentorship.
“If there are any current UNC students interested in working with LinkedIn or in UX/product design, don’t hesitate to reach out,” she says. “My DMs are always open.”
By ML Parker, University Communications