Career Advice From a CEO Whose Job Is to Dole It Out

The Muse founder Kathryn Minshew

Photo: Courtesy of Kathryn Minshew

Whether looking for the right questions to ask during a job interview or tips on how to best update your resume, you’ve likely encountered The Muse at the top of your search results. Since launching in 2011, the site has become an authority on career development with approachable, down-to-earth advice unseen on traditional job-search platforms. At the helm of it all is Kathryn Minshew, The Muse’s CEO and co-founder.

The entrepreneur previously worked at The Clinton Health Initiative, working in Rwanda and Malawi on vaccine access, and was also a management consultant at McKinsey & Company. Minshew also launched another career-oriented networking site, Pretty Young Professional, before The Muse took off. Since then, the CEO has been an on-air career expert, speaker, and honoree on impressive “30 Under 30” lists.

We talked with her about the challenges of entrepreneurship, knowing when advice is right for you, and the myth of a linear career path.

Describe your typical day. What is your favorite part?
“My days are pretty eclectic. I tend to get up around 8:30am, answer a few emails, and then head into the office for meetings, calls and sessions with my team between 9am and 6pm. If I’m lucky, I’ll meet an industry contact for lunch or take an investor or new hire out for drinks. I may eat dinner at a work event with contacts in the technology space, with someone who’s in town, or—on my favorite days—with friends or family. After that, it’s usually back to email between 10pm and midnight to get ready for the next day.”

Kathryn Minshew The Muse

Photo: JD Lasica

When you decided to start The Muse, what doubts did you overcome?
“There are always a lot of doubts that go into starting a company, and The Muse was no exception. I believed deeply that there was a need for a new product to help people like me advance in their careers, but I worried about my ability to get the word out on a small budget, to fundraise, and to build the right team from the ground up. Early on, a lot of the investors we pitched said they ‘didn’t get it’ or didn’t see what was wrong with; it’s very satisfying to see those points of view proved wrong.”

What is the most difficult part of being your own boss and how do you handle it?
“I love what I do, but finding the motivation to keep working late into the night—week after week, month after month, turning down a lot of the fun social activities I’d probably prefer to be doing—is one challenge. You have to be intensely self-motivated. Being self-aware enough to know your strengths and weaknesses, where you need to bring in help for your business, is another part that can be difficult.”

How did you identify what your best skills were?
“In the early days, my co-founder Alex [Cavoulacos] and I did nearly everything. Trying something over and over again is a great way to identify if it comes naturally, if you’re good at it, or if you’re not! I found that I loved pitching, selling, persuading, hiring, growing our audience and customer base, but that there were other tasks within that where I needed to hire people more talented than me to take over. Being honest with yourself is a big part of it.”

You’ve collected impressive accolades like Forbes’ “30 Under 30” in media and Inc.‘s “15 Women to Watch in Tech,” to name a few—what do these mean to you?
“It’s always incredibly humbling to be recognized for what you’re building, but you can’t let it make you think you’ve ‘won’ or the fight is over. The battle to build a truly incredible, world-changing business is really just beginning.”

Kathryn Minshew The Muse

Photo: Courtesy of Kathryn Minshew

When work gets tough, what motivates you?
“Two things: the incredible team we’ve built, and the feedback from users of The Muse. When I need a lift, I go into our user inbox and read some of the emails we get from people who’ve found their dream job or had their life changed on The Muse!”

What has surprised you most in your career?
“When I was younger, I thought career paths were linear, but I’ve been surprised to find how rare that is. Instead, most of the men and women I admire have experimented, failed, or started over in some way earlier in their career. Perhaps it’s those experiences that force us to grow the most.”

When there is so much information available on navigating your career, how do you pick what is most important?
“I think there are two answers to this question: finding an authoritative source, and making sure the advice is authentic to you. To the first, make sure you’re listening to someone who knows what he or she is talking about. There are 10 million poorly written career articles for every one that is actionable, tactical and relevant, so find the people and brands whose perspective you value, and stick with them. Secondly, not everyone’s communication or management style is the same, and not everyone’s career will unfold in a similar fashion. Look for mentors and voices that feel authentic to you, not just the ones that are the loudest. Career and leadership advice is sometimes subject to fads, and you’ll be in much better shape if you work to create the best professional version of yourself—not of someone else.”

If you could give advice to yourself when you were starting The Muse, what would you say?
“It’s going to be scary as hell, but worth every minute!”