Posts tagged #young professional; career insights; entrepreneurship; leadership; startup

Bill Cole on Career Pivots, Working with Ambiguity, and "Collaborative Decisionomics"

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One of the most beneficial practices I’ve used as a professional is talking to (or reading about) and learning from successful people who have a different perspective or background than I do. I met with Bill Cole in Kansas City a couple months ago at the recommendation of my husband, who has worked with Bill for a number of years through his consulting work. After an energizing conversation with Bill about his career pivots, creating structure from ambiguity, and his approach to making decisions, I was excited to finish up the seventh episode of The Savvy Young Professional podcast and not only share it with you but also listen to it to hear Bill’s ideas again. Along with a preview of our conversation below, you can listen here, on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, or Spotify. And, if you have not already, please leave a review either in your listening app or via the comments below. Thank you!

Bill has had an unconventional career, starting as a teacher and coach, migrating to the utilities industry, and becoming one of the most senior leaders at a large engineering and construction company (with no formal background in engineering, construction, or business) as a result of an opportunity that tapped into his love for teaching others. Bill currently runs his own consulting business along with investing in small businesses. His story showed me the endless possibilities available with respect to your career path when you combine natural talent, sacrifice, and hard work. Over and over, Bill has been excited to learn something new and get out of his comfort zone rather than continue on with an easier, comfortable path. This mindset required him to put in the time and sacrifice to learn all the time and travel quite a bit, as well as risk potentially failing.

One piece of advice I appreciated from Bill was his recommendation to “prepare for the things that are done to you”. Other people and their decisions or actions are out of our control, and the only things we can really control or prepare for is ourselves and our reaction to the situations we find ourselves in.

Bill is also writing a book which will include his approach to decision making that he calls “collaborative decisionomics” . His approach looks at the vectors that are part of the decision process and helps one reason and rationalize making a decision. For example, let’s say you are originally from St. Louis, attend school at the University of Missouri in Columbia, MO and receive an amazing job offer to go to New York. It sounds fantastic, but you are hesitating at accepting the offer. Why? While your career, money, and a New York lifestyle may be enticing factors or “vectors” in your decision, returning home to your family in St. Louis may be a more enticing vector that you value more than the job in New York. The point of the exercise, which goes deeper than this example, is to examine our values and motivators, and make logical decisions based on the criteria most important to us and our goals.

I hope you enjoy this episode!

Managing Your Career in the Age of Social Media (Part 1)

Photo by  Tim Bennett  on  Unsplash

Photo by Tim Bennett on Unsplash

I was fortunate to go to college and start my career prior to the onslaught of social media that permeates our world today.  I remember how exciting it was when Miami students could register for a Facebook profile, because in 2008 you had to have a “.edu” email address from supported universities to join Facebook.  The platform retained that exclusivity, and thus retained its cache for me, throughout my college experience. For my four years of college, social media and my internet presence was concentrated within the quasi-protected confines of Facebook.  This was true for most of my peers, as well, though some people were starting to branch out into blogging. The thought of auditing my online presence and social media accounts before recruiting season never occurred to me because there was nothing to find, and recruiters were not looking for me on these platforms.  Instead, my personal brand started and stopped with the interactions I had in person, phone, and via email with potential employers.

Over the past decade, the advent of multiple social media platforms that enable us to share the details of who we are on the internet has transformed our daily lives. From the way we communicate with other people to how we share ideas and information, the internet has created a platform for people to share, comment, and present themselves and their ideas to the world.  With these platforms comes the opportunity to enhance ones’ professional network and growth opportunities by connecting with people online who you never would have the opportunity to connect with in person. But, social media can also work against you - along with Linked In, 70% of employers are reviewing candidates’ other social media accounts including Facebook and Twitter as well as searching for you via Google, Yahoo, or Bing. This data also noted that 54% of employers found information online that caused them not to hire a candidate.  


I was shocked to see how many people lost job opportunities due to their online presence, though I in my experience I think the internet creates a greater level of comfort where people have the freedom and courage to share content that they may not share in real life.  The internet also never forgets, and old content can be unearthed by curious companies and recruiters who want to validate a hiring decision.


What are these companies and recruiters looking for? A few things, including, but not limited to:

  • Alignment between how you’ve described yourself on your resume, your interviews, and your online presence

  • Confirmation of your qualifications for the role

  • Use of/savviness with social media for marketing and social media-related jobs

  • Inappropriate content from you or what others have posted about you, including photos and comments 


How should you respond?

The best approach is to be proactive, being as intentional about your social media presence and online brand as you are about other areas of your life.  If you have some opportunities to improve your online brand, the best place to start is by auditing your online presence to clean up any questionable content and then filtering all new content moving forward.


Audit Guidelines

  • Set your personal social media accounts (e.g. Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter) to the highest level of privacy available.  This will minimize the number of people who can view, tag, comment, and view your information.

  • Review your network of connections on personal social media accounts to ensure you know and trust the people with whom you are connected.  Remove anyone who has not helped position you positively in the past online as well as people you do not know or do not trust 

  • Review the media you have uploaded or are tagged in and delete anything that may be perceived negatively by a potential employer.  This could include photos, videos, comments, and accounts or interests you are following.

  • Google your name to see what information comes up.  Remove any negative content that you control and request that others do the same, as needed.  

Future Guidelines

  • Review and rationalize who you add as connections to your personal social media accounts.  Do you know each person in real life? Are they trustworthy? Do they portray you positively online?

  • Exercise caution with the content you post on your accounts, including photos, comments, and likes/shares.  Avoid sharing or being tagged in content with polarizing viewpoints, personal details about your life/daily routine, and negative language as well as photos or other media that may be perceived negatively by a potential employer.  

  • Optimize your LinkedIn profile.  While this is not the only source for curious employers searching for information about your, it is a common place for someone to make an initial connection with you.  Take the time to make sure your profile is an accurate representation of your qualifications, skills, and experience. I’ll be posting next week about how to refresh your LinkedIn page to accomplish this.

  • Create (optional) professional social media accounts for Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram that showcase your brand, especially if you are working in an industry or within a digital media function that looks for these skills. This will help round out your professional online presence beyond LinkedIn and showcase your ability to engage with a virtual audience professionally. I’ll share more about how to do this in the next few weeks.

Today, your personal brand spans many outlets, including your online presence. While it creates more work to manage each account, being mindful of your online brand may bolster your career opportunities.

May Recap: What I Read, Listened to, and Talked About this Month

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Photo by Charles 🇵🇭 on Unsplash

My reading and listening have been light this month as I’ve had not one but two terrible colds. You may think that being sick is the perfect opportunity to curl up with a good book or podcast, and you’re right - but I enjoyed some light, easy reading and listening during my downtime versus anything too serious or thought-provoking. That said, I still had a good month reading, listening, and talking about interesting content and ideas.

What I Read

The Best Business Strategy is Satisfied Associates

What is more important in a business - a great idea, or talented, engaged people? I remember my entrepreneurship professor asking the class this question years ago, and we resoundingly said a great idea! He pushed back and proved to us through research and examples that talented, engaged people can take an average idea and transform it into something great, while a mediocre group of people can ruin even the best of ideas. While I’ve always remembered this maxim, he never told us how to hire and retain these amazing people. Thankfully, Michelle McClay, Vice President of Deployment and Analytics for The Resource Group, shares her experience and tools for engaging and retaining people in this article.

The 22 Immutable Laws of Branding

As someone interested in branding but without a formal marketing background, I loved this book. It is simple, straightforward, and the authors, Al and Laura Ries, build out the content in a logical sequence for the reader to use in a practical manner. Each of the 22 “laws” are presented in a way that one could use and apply them as they are creating a brand, whether for a small business, startup, or an established company looking to launch or revive a brand. Filled with examples of common consumer products, the authors use data and stories to illustrate and justify each law as well. One caveat: the latest version of the book was published in 2002, so some of the examples, and some of the content regarding the internet, are dated.

What I Listened To

i Will Teach You to be Rich - An Interview with Ramit Sethi and Tim Ferris

I’ve had an interest in personal finance since I was young. Growing up, one of my earliest memories is going into the bank (ATMs didn’t exist yet!) and depositing birthday or Christmas money into my bank account. I loved watching the balance on my bank book grow with every deposit I made, and was fascinated with the idea that smart investing would double your money every seven to eight years - all for doing nothing! While seven years felt like an eternity when I was seven years old, as an adult, I appreciate how quickly money grows when invested and managed well. I’ve read and listened to a few different personal finance personalities over the years, and this was my first time hearing of Ramit Sethi. The son of Indian immigrants, Ramit recounts how he learned negotiation from his father by shopping for cars, often for days on end and a firm grasp on what he wanted from the deal. As a saver rather than a spender, one of the things I appreciated that Ramit talked about was how everyone has different priorities with their money, and that by saving on the things you do not prioritize, you can let yourself dial up your spending on the things you do prioritize. For example., you may love travel and decide to increase your annual spending on travel by five or ten times, funding this by dramatically cutting expenses in other areas of little value to you. This enables you to either travel more or to travel in a different way - nicer hotels, exotic locations, or unique experiences. This advice helped me rationalize the things that are important to me and the things that aren’t, recognizing that they will be different than how other people think about their money. You can listen to the entire conversation here, or read Ramit’s blog here.

What I Talked About

Business Dinner Etiquette

This may be one of the most enjoyable business dinners I’ve experienced during my career. I had the opportunity to host a business etiquette dinner with our summer interns and their managers - about 35 people total - and share information from what to do with your cell phone during dinner to the proper way to eat bread. The most important part of etiquette, which I stressed at the beginning, was for everyone to be comfortable and to have fun. Remember that concept and then act in a way that makes everyone around you comfortable, from the topics you talk about to the amount of alcohol you drink (if any). We also went through specific table manners and I shared some resources with each person to reference in the future. Given the interest in the topic by the group, I’ll share a post with more information on this topic later this month.

Three Lessons from my Mentors

Along with the etiquette dinner, I was honored to be asked to share an executive spotlight to our new interns as well. I mentioned in my Speaking Boldly post that I have been focusing more on telling stories to reinforce ideas during presentations rather than reciting facts and data, and decided to tell three stories that occurred during internships or my first year of full-time employment. The stories focused on the value of giving to others, how to be resourceful/figure things out, and the importance of humility. I covered these stories, and four more, here a few months ago as well.

Michelle Flink on "Dealing with Ambiguity, Getting Out of Your Comfort Zone, and Working at a Startup"

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I am pleased to feature a career Q&A today with my longtime friend, Michelle Flink. When I met Michelle in college, she was fascinated by entrepreneurship and interested in pursuing her own venture someday. Over the past decade, she has made significant contributions to the dreams of other organizations, both mature companies and startups, to prepare herself for future entrepreneurial opportunities, and is someone whose opinion and experience I respect. Here, she shares her perspective on a number of topics, including how she learned to handle ambiguity at a young age, networking tips, and what it was really like to work at a startup in the Bay Area.

What people and events during your childhood played a major role in how you approached your career?

There are three people that come immediately to mind - my parents and my tennis coach growing up. 

Very early on, my parents instilled in me that a solid work ethic was the foundation to any success. I learned early on that anything you wanted in life took effort and hard work to achieve; nothing should ever be taken for granted and nothing comes without hard work. For example, I had to do chores growing up and for me, it was more about contributing to the family (a team so to speak) versus doing chores to earn money. I learned that being part of a family and a team meant that everyone had to pull their weight, and while I know many people do chores growing up as a way to earn money, for me, it was an important lesson in contributing and not letting your family/ team or commitments down. I also kept very busy, between sports, music lessons, school, etc., I learned how to stick to a schedule and how to prioritize school and homework with many other activities. This was a huge help in preparing for college and my career beyond school. I feel like being successful in your career is all about knowing where, when and how to prioritize and organize your ever-growing list of projects and 'to dos'. It was great to have this foundation built into me from a very early age.

My tennis coach was also my first boss growing up. He was the tennis director at the tennis club I trained at, and I started working for him right before my freshman year of high school.  Interestingly, I learned more about hard work, having a good work ethic, problem solving and just getting the job done than I have in any subsequent job. He was one of those bosses where he gave you a vague task and said, 'I need you to get this done by next week'...no other instructions or directions. I remember one of my early jobs was him asking me to order trophies and t-shirts for an upcoming tennis tournament we were hosting. That was the extent of the request... 'Michelle. We need to order trophies and t-shirts for x tournament. Get it done'. My 13 old tentative, somewhat shy and not yet confident self, had so many questions...'Where do I get trophies & t-shirts'? 'How many'? 'What size'? 'How much can we spend'? I had no idea where or how to start. I asked these questions and my coach's response was, 'Figure it out'. This was just one example where I panicked, cried and got angry about not knowing exactly what to do. I was great at following specific directions, but found the high degree of ambiguity, especially with so little experience, daunting.  Later I realized that my coach could have easily given me all the answers, but the true lesson I learned in that job and took with me my entire career was that I can problem solve and figure anything out on my own. I learned that there is no task too great to accomplish; the task at large may seem overwhelming, but with research, preparation, hard work, and problem solving you really can do any job that is given to you. I've taken this lesson with me in my career and always think about how my coach helped prepare me for the work world and life's challenges better than any boss and job I've had thus far.


What did you study in undergrad? Did you intern or work somewhere in your chosen field before graduating?

I was a Business Marketing major with a minor in Entrepreneurship. I had many internships and jobs that focused on work related to my major and minor before I graduated. I worked for my first boss and tennis director throughout high school and early in in college. I then interned for a smaller start-up company focusing on building out Marketing, Sales and Advertising tactics for their growing business, and also did study abroad programs that were tied to internships working for companies while also furthering my education.


What were some of the most important things you did during college that helped you land your first job?

I think the activities and classes I had in college helped me to be successful in my first job, but honestly found the most important thing I learned was the importance in networking. This is what ultimately helped me 'land my first job'. There are tons of really smart and successful people out there that will have resumes that look equally as impressive as yours, but so much of business - making deals, getting into closed doors, etc. is done through your past experience and work, your reputation, and the networks that you make along the way. I truly believe that networking is equally important as being a smart and hard worker. You can be brilliant, but it's hard to continue to be successful and have more doors open to you without making real and true connections with the people you interact with.

I find the best sort of ‘networking’ is when you are authentic in your intentions. It’s taking the time to really get to know someone. It’s taking time out of your day to grab coffee or lunch. It shouldn’t be forced, instead it should be wanting to truly get to know and spend time with that person and know who they are both at work and outside. Asking questions about how work is going, what are they proud of, what are they struggling with as well as asking about their family, friends and hobbies outside of work. Networking is building lasting friendships and truly being authentic in your interactions.

You started your career in healthcare with the Advisory Board Company, and were quickly promoted to a leadership role, working as the Chief of Staff and a manager within the marketing group.  Were you prepared for this role when you started? If not, what were some things you did early on to make your transition more successful? What did you learn along the way?

If you are continuing to push yourself and grow in your career, I feel like you are never 100% truly 'prepared'. In any new job or role that you are promoted to, there are always opportunities to learn, grow, improve and get better. Yes, there are things you can do to help you be more confident for the next step, but you have to go into it knowing that you will have a lot to learn along the way and once you are in the role for some time and have honed-in and perfected that new skill set, then it's time to push yourself again and step into a new role and start over. 

There are things you can do along the way to set yourself up for successful instead of failure. For example, know what the ‘next job’ is about. Know what your strengths and weakness are before going into the role and how those play into that new role so you know where you may need to work harder and focus more in the beginning. Find mentors both inside and outside of your company - they can help you in different ways. Shadow, mimic and learn from others that have gone through that role before or who are currently in the role and who are successful.

After starting in Washington D.C., you moved to San Francisco with your husband while continuing to work for the Advisory Board Company on a remote basis, with some travel as well.  How did you approach and agree on this remote work arrangement? Did this reinforce or change your opinion on the practicality of remote work situations?

Luckily, I was working at a company that was very supportive of remote workers so long as you had proven yourself to be a self-motivated worker who has historically had a good reputation of having a good work ethic. I had been with the company for four years before asking to work remote. Since I had established a solid and reliable career, my manager and colleagues trusted that I would take that same work ethic outside of the four walls of our current D.C. based office. While I worked the majority of the time remote, I also traveled at least once every two to three month based on the nature and responsibilities of my job.

I am a huge proponent of allowing people to work remote so long as you can prove that you are just as efficient working remote, the workplace should allow for more flexibility for their employees. I believe that good talent is good talent no matter where they are based. Companies should be more focused on hiring and retaining the best talent instead of settling on others just based on physical location.


What was it like to transition from a more mature organization to the startup environment at Gainsight? What did you enjoy about it, and what did you not like?  Would you recommend that young professionals try to work for a startup if they have an interest in this type of work or are interested in becoming an entrepreneur themselves?

It was definitely a transition, however, one I was looking forward to. At my previous job, I had always sought out more opportunities that lent themselves to a more 'entrepreneurial' feel in nature, for example, products that were recently launched, or being re-launched, etc.  I’ve seen that you can find those entrepreneurial experiences and opportunities even at bigger, more established companies. I took these opportunities and it helped make the transition to 'startup' life a lot easier. I loved the amount of responsibility you get at a startup - you truly learn so much and have much more responsibility that you might at a bigger company. With that comes a lot less established processes and organization. You are essentially helping to create the process and organization at a startup which can be a lot of fun for some people, but others might find this a bit frustrating if you've been used to or expect order. In start-up life, you need to be able to make order from the chaos. I think it's a great idea for many people who are interested in being an entrepreneur - you will definitely learn a lot, but I also do not think it's necessary either. You can learn just as much at a bigger company if you find the right opportunities. The one piece of advice I will give is to join a start-up for the learning and opportunity, not to 'be at the next unicorn company'.

A couple years ago, you decided to pause your career and stay home with your daughter.  How do you feel about this decision two years later, and what advice would you give to other parents or soon-to-be parents who are wrestling with this decision?

It's honestly been the best decision I have made. I feel fortunate enough to have been able to stay home with my daughter - I find it so rewarding that all my time, work and effort is going into supporting and raising our little girl. I feel the time I am investing in her and our family are and will be so much more rewarding to me personally than investing in someone else's company or dream right now. I have the opportunity to invest in my dream right now - my family, and I feel so lucky to be able to do that. I also have other dreams - I would love to go back into the workforce and/or own a business of my own, and know one day I will focus on that again. Life will continue to evolve and change and a career in business I'm sure will be back in the horizon for me, but for now, I am right where I want to be. 

My advice is whatever decision you make, have no regrets! You have to do what is best for you and your family, but don't allow yourself to feel bad one way or the other for the decisions you've made or have had to make. You should never make yourself feel guilty or compare yourself to others and the decisions they have made. You don't know their full and complete story and they could never fully understand yours. Do what is right for you and what makes you happy! In the end, that's what life is all about ;o)!

About Michelle Flink

Michelle Flink brings a combination of marketing, entrepreneurship, and leadership skills to help organizations grow and thrive. Her professional experience includes a series of rapidly progressive leadership roles with the Advisory Board Company, a healthcare consulting and technology company, as well as a Senior Manager role with the customer intelligence startup Gainsight. Michelle earned her Bachelor of Science in Business from Miami University and gained additional experience in marketing and entrepreneurship life through a variety of internships and study abroad experiences with startup organizations. View more about Michelle here.