When Andrea Shaw ’08 graduated from Albany Law School, she had a clear career path and a job offer on the table. She planned to work her way up the ranks at a district attorney’s office, pivot into a larger human rights organization such as Amnesty International, and eventually settle at a nongovernmental organization.
But graduating during the Great Recession changed her course. Budget cuts affected her post-graduation job offer at a downstate DA’s office. Instead, she took several short-term non-legal jobs in any sector she could.
Shaw found herself in a temporary position with Morgan Stanley—the financial giant was hiring junior attorneys to handle the rush of claims by unsatisfied investors—and the position made an unexpected impact on her career trajectory. She knew that while working for Wall Street types wasn’t in her original plan, it was an opportunity to learn. Shaw has since built a successful career in financial services sector as an attorney and compliance officer.
“You have to identify what your transferrable skills are—and eat a big slice of humble pie,” she said.
Reflecting on that time in her life, Shaw has noticed parallels as today’s students earn their degrees while the world faces a global pandemic.
Her advice? Keep an open mind and don’t place yourself above any opportunity.
“I had many moments back then where law school debt was looming, going from one temp job to the other, and hearing the struggles the government was going through,” she said. “I thought, ‘OK, I need to start believing and trusting in myself, because all of this is going to work out.’”
After several years working in the legal department defending these large financial service firms against investor complaints, she decided it was time to get ahead of the problem, rather than clean it up. She wasn’t being true to her roots.
“In my role of in-house counsel, I worked on many cases that would not have come across my desk if on the front end the process was more defined and there were proper preventative measures in place”. “It really ached me to have to be constantly deliver bad news even though I knew in my gut if there was a more defined process or control, we would have caught the bad behavior without it spiraling to an actual litigation” she said. “I knew if I stayed in that path, I would not be able to add meaning to my day to day tasks and develop my career the way I wanted to.”
In her current role as Head of Compliance and Anti-Fraud at daVinci Payments, she sets the framework to keep businesses in compliance with a “proactive, not reactionary” system. She also manages a team and regularly works to hire new employees. Shaw also teaches two courses as an Albany Law School adjunct professor and recently participated in a program on thriving in uncertain times, hosted by the Career and Professional Development Center.
What stands out when hiring? Investing in and advocating for yourself, Shaw said. Once, when hiring for a junior role, she found herself choosing between three candidates. Shaw chose the person with less experience but who demonstrated the ability to pivot her skills to the job’s requirements. That now-employee spun working as a bartender as building client-facing skills, and dealing with difficult situations and a difficult job market into an opportunity to earn certificates and new skills while looking for the right opportunity.
“Most managers are looking for that person that can sell themselves,” Shaw said. “Use this time. Be able to explain [how you used it]. No job is ever going to be frowned upon, especially if you can explain the transferrable skills.”
Shaw tapped into the skills built in the Family Violence Litigation Clinic and the Anthony V. Cardona '70 Moot Court Program during her early years investigating financial crimes—and those skills will forever prove to be useful.
She also credits her guiding forces: her family—immigrants from Guyana—especially her late grandfather who offered her advice she now offers others—trust in yourself.
“When I talk to my friends [from law school], a lot of us have pivoted in our careers. Most of us are not doing what we thought we would be doing,” she said. “We were sort of the ‘lessons learned’ class. A few of us did struggle. Now, 10 years, 12 years looking back, we are all looking back at how far we’ve come.”