Kathryn Minshew is the CEO and founder of The Muse, a website that aims to revolutionize the way you search for a job. As well as delivering career advice, listing the coolest jobs, and givings us some exciting behind the scenes with employers, it’s a great place to find out about those once in a lifetime opportunities you’d only dreamed of.
Kathryn herself is so inspiring, she has spoken at MIT and Harvard, appeared on The TODAY Show and CNN, contributes to the Wall Street Journal and Harvard Business Review and has been named in Forbes’ 30 Under 30. I picked her brain on everything from favorite books to launching The Muse, be prepared to be inspired.
What prompted you to launch The Muse?
I was inspired by my own personal experience job searching. When I was looking to make a career change a few years ago, I found myself incredibly frustrated by the tools, resources and guidance available. It was almost appalling how retrograde much of the industry felt: most job listings looked identical, companies shared very little about what it was actually like to work there, and the advice I found online was questionable at best. People deserve better. It seemed like an opportunity to make something that put the individual first.
Given that, my co-founder Alexandra and I started The Muse to provide a career experience that others weren’t offering: user-focused, full of content relevant to a diverse audience at any career stage, and a place for talented people to explore and research different employers through photo and video company profiles.
We’ve since expanded the platform, working with hundreds of hiring partners and over 50 million people to help companies recruit amazing talent, but at our core, our mission remains the same: to be the most trusted and beloved destination for navigating your career.
Do you have any networking tips? It’s an area that most career girls struggle with.
Most definitely. During The Muse’s early days, I used to attend an event (sometimes two) every single weeknight. Many of our early investors, advocates and partners came through connections I made at industry events, through professional associations, and by accepting invites for a variety of formal and informal meetings and conversations. It wasn’t always easy or comfortable, but it really helped us get to the people who could help us grow.
That said, I also know that networking can be daunting and a little overwhelming. When it comes to building a network, the saying that “half the battle is showing up” is definitely true. In the early days of The Muse, I had a strong bias towards saying “yes” to an invitation, even if I was coming off of a long work day and would rather have just stayed on my couch. But you never know what will come out of an event – and I can pretty much predict what will happen if I stay on my couch!
If you’re showing up to network, really make the effort to do just that — hiding in the corner won’t get you very far on this front, unfortunately. It can help to brush up on your “elevator pitch” prior to an event, which can be as simple as your name, your company, plus a 1-2 liner on what you do (in simple, layman’s terms) and why it matters to you. It’s also always a good idea to have some conversation starters in your back pocket, and you can find 30 of my favorites here. In addition to sharing what you’re working on and your near-term goals, show sincerity and interest in what others have to say, and consider how you might be helpful to them as well, either now or in the future. People can smell someone who’s just out for themselves, and that’s no fun.
And finally, do your best to follow up afterwards. I always recommend you send an email within 48 hours, and if appropriate, adding them on LinkedIn can be another way to strengthen the connection.
What does a typical day look like for you? Do you have a strict morning routine?
I wouldn’t say that I ever have a typical day at The Muse! Most days are jam-packed, but I really enjoy almost everything that I do.
If I’m in The Muse office (instead of on the road), I will likely have a few hours of candidate interviewing on my plate, in addition to internal meetings with my team – I oversee most external-facing components of the business, such as sales, marketing, business development, PR and managing our investors/board. Depending on the day, I may also have calls or meetings with investors, press, partners or other key contacts as well. Finally, I wrap up the “day” with several hours of emailing, usually from my couch between 8pm-12am or 10pm-2am. It’s a lot!
What area do you think women struggle with most in terms of career?
Although more of us grow up these days with encouragement to go after what we want, I think it’s still challenging for many women to ask for what they deserve in a work setting.
When it comes to discussing pay or vocalizing interest in projects that challenge and excite them, a lot of women unduly question their value and their competence – even if they’re a top-performer, in some cases. And some of those who do make the ask feel uncomfortable doing so. In my case, the first time I had to ask for a raise, I actually threw up in the bathroom afterwards because I was so uncomfortable.
Similarly, from the standpoint of an entrepreneur, I felt the effects of being a female founder most acutely when it came to fundraising – asking for investment. Though the percentage of VC-backed startups led by women has increased over the past few years, it’s still sub-10%. Looking back at The Muse’s first capital raise, I pitched more than 150 angel investors and VCs when we were seeking seed funding for the company. I eventually got comfortable with asking for investment, but it wasn’t easy.
What are your workwear and beauty essentials?
I keep my work wardrobe and routines pretty simple, which makes travel and being go-go-go much easier. My closet is full of black separates, leather pants, dark jeans and a couple of sleek dresses. I’ll pair most things with a fitted blazer or a leather jacket (and in the event that I forget to throw one on, there’s usually a standby on my chair at the office). I tend not to wear much makeup day to day, but always have a few items like mascara, blush and concealer on me in case last-minute meetings come up, or I wind up needing to go on camera for a company-related press opportunity.
How do you define success? Do you think it’s important that everyone evaluates their own definition of success?
I do think defining success is a very personal thing, but for me, it’s always been important to think about success on the micro and macro level. I’ve been able to see success in many of the small wins The Muse has achieved since Alex and I founded the company in 2011. For example, getting our first user message thanking us for helping someone find their dream job – that was a success, even though we hadn’t yet achieved a lot of typical bigger company success markers like having an office or raising any capital.
These days, I’m very focused on making sure The Muse continues to enjoy rapid growth; that we continue to delight our users and serve our hiring partners; and that we’re building a great place to work that will last for the next 10-20 years. Success as a single point isn’t a milestone I believe in, but I’m excited to continue to foster points of success along the way.
How do you balance your personal life with your career?
I’m lucky to have my co-founder as one of my best friends, which helps bring a little more “personal life” into the office. Even when we’re working late into the night, I know I have someone who’s able to crack a joke over the ridiculous email we just received, and a friend who’s just as likely to sing along to the Hamilton soundtrack as I am.
That said, I would be lying if I said there weren’t sacrifices I’ve had to make in my personal life to grow The Muse to where it is today. I take very little time for myself during the weeks, in order to maximize off-time during the weekends. My fiancé is also an entrepreneur, so he understands the lifestyle – it helps to have a significant other who’s on board with that!
Do you have any advice for aspiring career girls?
I believe it’s incredibly important when you’re looking to make strides in your career to first really know yourself – what you love to do and hate to do; where you excel and where you struggle. The good, bad and ugly. One of the reasons my co-founder Alex and I work together so seamlessly is because we both identified early on which areas of the business were strengths and weaknesses of ours, respectively, and divided and conquered with that in mind.
Whether you’re starting your own business or navigating a new job, honesty with yourself goes a long way. Work on increasing your own awareness of your communication style, your decision-making style, your preferences on feedback. Invest in maximizing your strengths (where you excel) and either improve on your weaknesses or structure your role so that you spend less time in areas where you aren’t strong. It’s a balance – we all need to get better at certain things, but sometimes it’s more helpful to invest in becoming stellar at your natural strengths and finding a partner or someone to complement your weaknesses, then vice versa.
And finally – there’s no substitute for grit and determination, so stay hungry and keep working at your goals.
Who is the most inspiring person you’ve ever met?
I’m blown away by Lin-Manuel Miranda, the creator of Hamilton. He’s both brilliant and genuine, with a true humility that is rare in people who are so talented. We were in the same conversation for half a second, so “met” is a stretch here, but I’m going to go with him anyway.
What keeps you motivated and productive? Do you have any apps that help you stay on track?
The Muse’s community is incredibly motivating for me – whenever I’m having a tough day, I like to read user emails, tweets or outreach and hear about the impact we’re making. And the opportunity here is huge. Industry studies show that two-thirds of Millennials would leave their current employer by 2020 if given the choice. That’s a lot of people asking themselves, “What’s next?” when it comes to their careers. And at the core of what we’re doing, we’re helping people answer that question and get from where they are to where they want to be. And I love hearing about it!
In terms of staying productive, the one app I really love for keeping me on track is the Google Boomerang plug-in, which allows me to use my inbox as a next-level to do list, where I’m able to punt the emails and items I’m not ready to address, to avoid clouding out those to-dos I need to tackle right away. I am also a big believer in carving out time that I know I do my best work to tackle bigger picture projects that require more strategic thinking
What are your top 5 favorite books at the moment?
The Alexander Hamilton biography, Ron Chernow
Tiny Beautiful Things, Cheryl Strayed
Arcadia, Tom Stoppard
Shantaram, Gregory David Roberts
Hamilton: The Revolution (notice a theme?!)