Career Advancement

Kathryn Minshew: The New Rules of Work

Dream jobs usually don’t just happen—building a vibrant career takes time, energy, and maybe a wrong turn or two. No one knows that better than Kathryn Minshew and Alex Cavoulacos. After frustrating job searches, the two former McKinsey consultants co-founded The Muse, a jobsite that helps users figure out what they want to do with their lives and how to get there. Now, they’ve shared their insights in their book, The New Rules of Work. Forté caught up with Minshew on a recent Friday afternoon to talk about how workplaces are changing, how it’s ok to not know what you’re doing next, and how business is way cooler and more meaningful than Minshew initially thought.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Forté:  Why did you decide to write The New Rules of Work?

Kathryn Minshew: My co-founder Alex and I had been talking about writing a book for a long time, in part because there’s been a lot of demand from the Muse community not only for more content, but for content delivered in an easy-to-navigate way. And we didn’t feel like there was a great career book out there for the new generation that went step by step through the job-seeking process. So because we felt like our readers would be excited about it, and there was this gap in the market, and it would serve as our platform to inform more people about the Muse, we did it.

Forté: What are those new rules of work? How have workers and workplaces changed?

Minshew: I think the relationship between individuals and their careers, and by extension their employers, has been changing over the last decade and those changes are only speeding up. People now expect to work for an organization that shares their values. The balance of power between individuals and companies has shifted, meaning that the most talented people are looking for employers to convince them to take jobs, and not the other way around. People’s careers are less linear than in the past—there are numerous ways to learn new skills and acquire new experiences both in your day-to-day job, on the side, on nights and weekends, and people are taking advantage of that to craft more fulfilling, but also more eclectic, careers for themselves. People are changing jobs more often as well, and companies are starting to wake up to what it takes to retain and invest in their workforces. And there’s a growing awareness among employers that the experience that jobseeker has can affect whether they buy from you if you have a consumer product, or whether they recommend you to your friends and family.

Forté: Let’s say I’m a millennial jobseeker. What’s biggest idea I should take away from your book?

Minshew: I think the overarching theme of the book is that career trajectories aren’t scripted or linear anymore. So you have more options, but there’s also more responsibility on you to architect and navigate the career that you want. And in order to do that you need new tools and new strategies to understand what direction you want to go in, and then [you need to] acquire the skills and relationships that will enable to get you there. The book is a combination of a lot of very specific tactics—we get really deep of how you narrow down what you want to do through something we call the Muse Method, we talk about the new rules for landing a job, so how you network and build a personal brand, and how to ace different types of interview from group interviews to skype interview to in-person interviews with a new twist. What are the new rules of mastering first impressions, the art of communication, managing up, and other soft skills so whatever level you’re at, you can position yourself as ready when the time is right to move ahead.

Forté: Before you were an author you were an entrepreneur, which was already a full-time job. What was it like running the Muse and writing a book at the same time?

Minshew: Very, very hard! It was a lot more challenging than I expected. My co-founder and I made it work by dividing and conquering the chapters and finding ways to work on the book that didn’t feel so much like work. We also did a lot working sessions on Sundays. There’s a restaurant between our apartments that has a fireplace downstairs. So we would buy some drinks and an appetizer and work on the book for three or four hours.

But it was really hard. There were weeks that we were working until midnight every night for the company—we went through a Series B fundraise while we were working on the book, we grew the company from 65 employees to over 100, and doing that and juggling creating a book was tremendously hard, but we were lucky to have each other and a great team. There were so many people who stepped up, either with the company or with the book, who helped us make sure it was a great reflection of what we wanted to put out into the world and that writing it didn’t take too much away from the business, which needed every ounce of attention we could possibly give it.

Forté: We work with a lot of young women who are college students or recent grads just launching their careers. They’re still figuring out what they want to do, and maybe they don’t think they’re the business type. Imagine that person. What’s your advice to her?

Minshew: I would tell her it’s okay if you’re not sure what you want to do next, or if you think you’re sure and you follow that path and it turns out to be different than you imagined. That’s part of nearly every career journey, and while those moments of uncertainty and anxiety can be frustrating and demoralizing sometimes, it’s a necessary part of understanding who you are, what you want to do, and what you want to bring into the world.

I’d also tell her not to get too hung up on preconceived notions of what different careers mean. My dad loves to tease me about how in college once I stood up at a lunch we were having and yelled ‘I hate business!’ at the top of my lungs. And of course that’s so funny now because I frickin’ love business, it’s fascinating to me, I enjoy it, and what I thought “business” was was so different than what I do every day, and I couldn’t imagine a better career path for me than starting and scaling a startup that was very much a business.  And sometimes I think you have to break up with your preconceived notions to really understand the reality of a potential career path and whether it’s right for you.

Forté: Let’s debunk that a little bit. What was your old idea of business, and what is it now?

Minshew: I used to perceive business to be very cold and transactional. I thought of it as sad men in suits pushing numbers around and occasionally yelling at each other. And while I’m sure there are businesses in the world where that’s more accurate than not, it hasn’t been anywhere near close to my experience.

I think of business now as a combination of three things. One is a mission or a purpose in the world that you seek to make real—there’s something you want to change, a way to make things better, a product that needs to exist. Secondly, business is finding and motivating a collection of great people to go after that mission or that goal. And third, it’s the numbers and math and financials that makes it possible for you to expand your team, or invest in that initiative, or try that experiment and feed that back into the organization to continue to grow. For me, that human element, the ability to work with incredible driven people all moving in the same direction, and the fact that you can change things in a big way and create a product or a system or a process that makes people lives better by allowing them to use it, I love a lot of those elements that I never before knew existed.

Watch our live conversation with Kathryn, hosted by Morra Aarons-Mele.

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