Alex Cavoulacos and Kathryn Minshew Discuss The New Rules of Work

Alex Cavoulacos and Kathryn Minshew/Photo © The Muse

The working world has drastically changed over the years, and continues to transform with each passing day. The constant progression of technology has altered the way every company is run, and has completely redefined the meaning of “work.”

Alex Cavoulacos and Kathryn Minshew are experts when it comes to anything and everything to do with careers. As the cofounders of The Muse, a career-building platform, they have helped over 50 million people with their career search per year, and over 700 companies expand their talent and brand. Alex has spoken on WNYC, at SxSW, and was named one of Inc’s 15 Women to Watch in Tech and Time’s 140 Best Twitter Feeds of 2014. Kathryn has appeared on The Today Show and CNN, and contributes career and entrepreneurship writing to the Wall Street Journal and Harvard Business Review. She was named in Forbes’ 30 Under 30 in Media and Inc’s 15 Women to Watch in Tech. Needless to say, both women have been extremely successful in their own careers.

I had the opportunity to interview Alex and Kathryn shortly after their book hit shelves, and asked them all about how to get ahead in the professional world today. Read on for their thoughts on how to become satisfied in a career and how to make the most of every opportunity, all by following the guide in their book, The New Rules of Work.

SIGNATURE: Can you sum up the “New Rules of Work” that people should follow, and elaborate on why they’re necessary in today’s world?

ALEX CAVOULACOS and KATHRYN MINSHEW: In the last decade or so, nearly everything we know about work has changed—so everything from how you apply to a job to how you move up at your company to how you think about long-term career planning has changed, too. For example, people used to have 5-10 year plans—now, technology could change so much about the way we work and the jobs that are available, that for most of us it’s better to focus on 2-5 years into the future instead.

Technology has also meant that we work more than ever and that we live our lives increasingly out in the open. Those two trends point to our #1 most important rule, which is the first step in The New Rules of Work: Discovering your personal career values and planning your career decisions by understanding what’s meaningful and important to you.

SIG: You cofounded the New York-based career-building site The Muse. When and why did you launch it? Can you tell us more about who should be using this site, and what it’s all about?

AC & KM: We launched The Muse in 2011 as a platform to help people find, land, and succeed at their dream jobs. From personal experience, we realized that the job search was broken and that there was a huge opportunity to transform the way people took charge of their careers and found companies that would align with their values, goals, and work style.

Unlike other career sites, The Muse doesn’t just focus on the job search stage of the process (which, if you think about it, is only a very small stage in the grand scheme of your career!). If you are looking for a job, The Muse features a visual, behind-the-scenes peek into inspiring companies around the world and an easy way to discover open jobs. But we also offer tactical, relatable advice on everything from productivity to asking for a raise to dealing with an annoying co-worker, as well as one-on-one coaching with career experts. And every Muse user can personalize their experience on the site to make sure they’re getting the most relevant advice and resources.

SIG: Did you always know what you wanted to do with your life? How did you jumpstart your career?

AC & KM: We definitely did not always know! We talk about this quite a bit in the book: Alex grew up in France, where she was forced to pick a career direction at age 15. She specialized in biology and genetics, until she got to college and realized that lab life was not for her. Kathryn dreamed of being a diplomat, until what seemed like an ideal position at the U.S. embassy in Cyprus taught her that the glacial pace of government work felt stifling, and wasn’t a good match for her orientation towards action.

We both ended up as consultants at McKinsey (where we met). Alex was thriving there, while on the other hand Kathryn quickly realized it wasn’t her ideal work environment or lifestyle (traveling every Monday-Thursday, week in, week out, was certainly part of that!). That early experience showed us that there was a huge need for people to be able to interact with a company before they started working there, and ultimately led us to the idea for the company profiles and employee video interviews on The Muse.

SIG: What’s your opinion on millennials and the somewhat popular idea that they are “lazy” when it comes to seeking a job? Why do you think this generation is perceived this way?

AC & KM: It’s hard to generalize about such a huge group of people, of course, but we believe that the “lazy Millennial” stereotype is way off. The main difference between Millennials and other generations is that they grew up with certain newer forms of technology like smartphones, wifi, great video chat, and other recent advances. Because of that, millennials might be a little more impatient (hey, they’re used to Googling the answer to anything), tend to want more flexibility (which makes since when you’re tethered to work 24/7 via a phone in your pocket), and generally want work that aligns with their personal values (because their lives are public on social media). Studies show, though, that people of other generations want these things, too—Millennials (again, because they’re used to having a voice) are just more comfortable asking for them.

SIG: What suggestions would you give to someone who is graduating college and beginning the job search?

AC & KM: Network, network, network. We can’t stress enough the importance of building and maintaining relationships at every stage of your career, but it’s really crucial as a new grad. First, the more you meet and talk to people, the more you’ll know about career paths that might be interesting to you and how to land jobs in those fields. Secondly, even if you have a killer resume and cover letter, having people who can make introductions to companies or put in a good word for you is a great way to get the attention of a hiring manager.

SIG: What was one of the most rewarding work experiences you had in your lifetime?

AC & KM: Even though we’ve had some bigger rewarding moments, like when The Muse’s first round of funding hit the bank and seeing The New Rules of Work live in a bookstore, the most rewarding moments for us are always when we hear from users about the impact we had on their careers and their lives. Whether it was to help a user feel less stuck and alone in a tough job search, or when someone worked with one of our coaches and then landed their dream job, that impact is why we do what we do.

SIG: What would your best piece of advice be for someone struggling to find happiness in what they do for a living, while also juggling financial burdens?

AC & KM: The answer’s going to be a bit different for everyone, depending on what’s most important to them and what allows them to be happy at work. In The New Rules of Work, we walk through an exercise to help people identify their career values—things like autonomy, creativity, contributing to social change, teamwork, risk-taking, learning, financial gain, and more. If you identify your 4-5 key career values (which can change over time), and then make job-related decisions based on those values, you’re more likely to move in the direction of fulfilling work.

SIG: How do you foresee the work industry changing in the next 20 years or so? How about the mindsets of employees?

AC & KM: If you think about how work has changed in 20 years—and how much that change has accelerated in the last five or so—it’s impossible to predict how much it will change in the next 20. With that said, we talk a lot about how to “future-proof” your career, so no matter what happens, you’ll be a valuable team member. One of the things that will never change is the importance of soft skills, like leadership, critical thinking, and emotional intelligence. Even if robots take over aspects of our work (hey, it could happen), we still need people to lead and solve complex problems. In any case, it’s really important to have the mindset that things will continue to change, and that you as an individual have to be adaptable, too.

SIG: What should someone do if they like their job, but experience little to no growth, and feel stuck in a position they’ve been in for years?

AC & KM: There are all kinds of ways to approach this—from asking your boss to take on new responsibilities, to networking with people in your organization who’ve been able to grow there, to leading an initiative that no one else has time for. If you’ve tried all that and still felt stuck, it might be time to look outside of your company, whether that’s taking on volunteer or freelance projects or looking for a new job where you’ll have more room for growth.

No matter what, use this as an opportunity to take charge of your career. That’s what The New Rules of Work are all about.