Meet the CSE | Student Leadership, Case Interviews, and Combating Imposter Syndrome with Geri Brehm

Meet Geri Brehm

For this “Meet the CSE Series” blog post, CSE Career Captain, Yuxuan Zhang, MSBA’24, interviewed Senior Associate Director Career Advising and Mentoring, Geri Brehm.

Student Leadership, Case Interviews, and Combating Imposter Syndrome with Geri Brehm

As part of the CSE Staff Interview Series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Geri Brehm, who has been a part of the Brandeis family for over 14 years. I especially enjoyed learning about her wisdom on leadership and more about case interviews, which is such a benefit to students. Check it out now! 


You’ve led workshops for students who hold leadership positions on campus to help them translate the skills they’re acquiring as student leaders into successful responses to interview questions, as well as leadership beyond Brandeis. In your opinion, what makes a strong leader? How important do you think leadership experience is?

I think leadership experience is key; it helps students develop a strong voice and professional identity. It helps them understand what values and strengths they can bring to the table of employers they work with. The training helps them identify goals that can build motivation for them to be driven. It helps students focus on people, communication, and an outcome-oriented mindset they can be proud of.

Everyone has the potential to be a leader but not everybody wants to do it. Students might want to look at what drives them, and then they can take on leadership in their career.

Yuxuan: Great insights! I have a follow-up question: Do you think everybody fits a leadership position or only a small number of people, what’s your take on that?

Very interesting question. When I was at Harvard Business School, I took a class with Abraham Zaleznik who wrote an article on teaching business leadership. I think that it’s both, I think that students can find leader identities in themselves whether they choose to be leaders or not. There are other ways other than being leaders to succeed. I believe being leaders are about skillset not just the title, that’s what leadership means to me.

For students who do not have leadership experience, how would you advise them to begin getting it?

First get inside the field, and do an internal audit about your strength, skills, and ability, and how you can brand yourself. Once you understand what you can offer, you can move on your career path with more assurance and confidence.

Yuxuan: I would say it takes a lot of self-awareness, don’t you think?

Self-reflection is important and the first thing we should work on. We should take time figuring out what we can do and what we cannot.

Yuxuan: With that being said, a lot of international students struggle with finding what they are good at, or we have imposter syndrome of what we are good at. Do you have any advice for those of us experiencing this?

Most students have this concern as they are given a variety of classes. You want to excel in each area but you don’t have time to step back to think about what you are good at. I would suggest talking and consulting with alumni and professionals with the expertise you are looking at. Ask questions such as what drives them, why they are in the position they are in right now, and why they made the choice they made. And then you should reflect on whether that resonates with you. I have just talked with one of my students and you don’t develop career passion immediately and that takes time. You might take a variety of different paths before you find your true passion with meaning.

I will use an example about my son’s friends. He graduated but went back to school, of course, there was a lot of pivoting. You have to constantly reflect. When I first graduated and sought a job, I was looking for a title, so I got a job as an organizational development leader in the manufacturing industry. I ended up learning a lot but found out that’s not where I wanted to be, hence I pivoted to other industries.

You also host a weekly case interview practice workshop. How are cases presented in interviews different from the ones we do in our classes? What industries tend to have cases in their interviews?

We look at smaller problems that require less reading. What we intend to practice is active listening. We present you with a question and help you structure critical and organized thinking. Students can then address problems in multiple dimensions and look at opportunities and risks. These case practices help you get comfortable with the problem-solving mindset using business scenarios. Industries such as consulting, financial services, and nowadays data analysis, started having case interviews.

Yuxuan: What do you suggest students do if they haven’t started registering for your case study workshop?

Be proactive, case study requires skills that you need to practice over time. I encourage students to come practice several times because it also builds their confidence. The more you practice, the more it becomes a game for you.

Yuxuan: When do you think it’s the best time to start?

Immediately. You don’t want to wait to develop a skill, it can help you in class as well. 

A few years ago you wrote a series of blog posts for CSE Connect about Strategies for Managing Stress, how do you personally manage stress? What’s your recommendation for students trying to manage the stress of job and internship search?

The job market is awful and recruiters don’t always have the best measure to recruit the best talent. For students who are starting, rejection is hurtful but I want to let students know they should be confident that rejection isn’t personal. I want the students to understand they have a lot of value to give by going through school and experience. I think students should be more open in sharing their struggles and let facilities help.

Based on your personal experiences, what is your biggest piece of advice for students?

To stay connected with friends, faculties, and staff. Take opportunities to explore and enjoy. It is a learning time and expands your horizons.

What’s your favorite small talk topic? If a student wanted to initiate a really fun conversation with you, what should they talk about?

I like to get to know them! Themselves! I like to hear about why they picked Brandeis, their field of study, their impression of the United States, and their favorite restaurants, and I like to share great events and museums. 

Yuxuan: What should they not talk about?

Good question. Avoid topics you don’t know about, it is easy to ask questions such as things about themselves and their interests. Once you understand their interests and amplify them later. Ask about something you have an interest in as well therefore you can make a bridge and build a connection.

This original CSE blog post was written by Yuxuan Zhang, MSBA’24, and copy-edited by Stephanie Borr ’22, MA’23.

By Yuxuan Zhang
Yuxuan Zhang CSE Career Captain