Kathryn Minshew is a big believer in work-life fit. While balance might not always be possible, the entrepreneur says that her mindset is all about the ways in which your career and your personal life can complement one another. It’s this kind of thinking that drives her as she grows her company, The Muse.
The founder and CEO of career platform The Muse launched her business six years ago with the hope she would be able to help connect job seekers to the right companies, while adding a human touch to this often stress-inducing process.
Today, the company has a user base of more than 50 million people, with it aiming to provide all the tools people need to find new career paths -- everything from personalized job recommendations to taking a look inside at how offices look.
The Muse also offers courses to help people boost the skills on their resumes and provides advice from the a network of more than 500 career experts.
We caught up with Minshew to ask her 20 questions and find out what makes her tick.
1. How do you start your day?
I'm a night owl. I usually start my day between 8:00 and 8:45 in the morning. I'll grab breakfast out of the fridge, possibly something I made the night before like overnight oats or chia pudding. And ideally get a good 30 to 60 minutes on my laptop before I go into the office where I can just crank out a little bit of focused work before the day fully starts. I get in around 9:30 and once I'm in the office I have a lot of things happening, meetings and calls. So, I really value the mornings as a chance to get quieter work done.
2. How do you end your day?
I tend to leave the office between 6:00 and 7:00 p.m., usually to go meet a partner, candidate or board member for drinks, or go to some sort of work-related event. I'll get home between 9 and 10 p.m.
I usually spend the next one to four hours in this chair that is like my focus chair. I love doing work late at night, because you're not getting a lot of email. So, it's much easier for me to get into a state of flow. It's not uncommon for me to be going strong until midnight or 1:00 a.m. I often need the evenings to focus, take a step back and process all of the information, to-do's and email responses and action items that need more time.
3. What’s a book that changed your mind and why?
Arcadia by Tom Stoppard. I love it, because among other things, it plays with the idea that the past is challenging, because you don’t really what happened unless you were there.
It also deals with themes of love, relationships and history in this smart, compelling way. It broadened my perspective of what topics could go together and what similar interests person were allowed to have.
4. What’s a book you always recommend and why?
I always recommend The Hard Thing about Hard Things by Ben Horowitz to early stage entrepreneurs and people who are interested in getting into business. I think it's a useful counterpoint to some of the hype that pervades the industry. There is a lot that is incredibly exciting and inspirational about building companies, but there are also the moments where to quote Horowitz, "you eat glass and stare into the abyss."
5. What’s a strategy to keep focused?
I like to list out my most important priorities either on a notepad next to my computer, on a sticky note nearby or somewhere easily accessible. I can then constantly ask myself the question of whether what I'm doing right now moves me towards those priorities.
6. When you were a kid what did you want to be when you grew up?
An ambassador, a CIA agent or international woman of mystery. Or an aid worker. I was fascinated by international relations. I used to watch that television show Alias with Jennifer Garner, and I thought she just seemed like the coolest person I could possibly imagine.
7. What did you learn from the worst boss you ever had?
You get better work from people with love rather than fear. I worked for some incredible people and some very difficult people in my day. The worst was probably a guy who had been a former interrogator for the IDF [Israel Defense Forces]. We eventually developed a good cadence and relationship but at the beginning of our time together, he used to surprise me with very aggressive questions about work that he asked me to complete. When I would get flustered or nervous in answering him, he would think I was hiding something, when in fact I was just really thrown off that he had shown up behind me when I was knee-deep in an Excel model.
[The turning point happened] when our team went out to dinner together, and I learned he had been an interrogator. It made him make sense to me. So, instead of me feeling like there was something unique and specific about our relationship,I started to see his behavior in the perspective of how he'd been trained. It gave me more empathy for where he was coming from.
I learned that once he had asked you to do something, even if it was a multi-day project, I should be prepared to give him a full and complete articulation of what I had done, what I was going to do and the progress of the project.
8. Who has influenced you most when it comes to how you approach your work?
Probably my parents. My father is brilliant with numbers and has enabled my brother and me a lot of opportunities.
My mother is incredibly intuitive and thoughtful about people and relationships, and what drives people.
9. What’s a trip that changed you?
I lived in Rwanda in 2010 for part of the year. I was working with the Clinton Health Access Initiative on vaccine introduction. Interestingly, I was there because when I left McKinsey, I was interested in technology, entrepreneurship and in global development.
I had the opportunity to take a six-month position in global development in Rwanda and other places. I realized that if I didn't scratch that itch now, I might always wonder whether it was the right path to take. Whereas, I felt like technology would still be there when I got back. The work was absolutely fascinating, but I also struggled with having the patience to work within a large government bureaucracy. It ended up making me excited to come back and start my first company and get involved with technology.
10. What inspires you?
Other entrepreneurs. I love spending time with other people in the field who are building things, creating things, making things happen. I think you can get different sources of inspiration and energy from entrepreneurs who are just starting out -- who are in the throes of the seed stage, which I think is the hardest stage -- as well as entrepreneurs who are scaling companies to thousands or tens of thousands of people and have their own lessons learned about the challenges.
11. What was your first business idea and what did you do with it?
When I was 13 years old, I decided I wanted to produce plays, so that my friends and I could perform in them. But I knew that if we didn't find a captive audience, it would just be our parents pity watching us.
I realized there were two populations of people who would probably be thrilled to see productions by 13 year olds: those with children and people in senior citizens homes. So I founded a group called Star Workz Children's Theatre. Over the next six years we produced plays for audiences from three to 300. We did a show once literally only three kids showed up.
12. What was an early job that taught you something important or useful?
My first job was a lifeguard at the Hamlet Swim and Tennis club for minimum wage. After several months I was promoted to assistant manager; I was one of the few lifeguards that consistently showed up on time and was sober. I learned a lot about being vigilant. I also learned that sometimes promotions don't mean your job gets better; it means it gets worse. When I got promoted to assistant manager, I made something like 20 cents more an hour, but I had to get to the pool at 6:00 a.m. two to three days a week. I also had to clean out any dead bugs or animals from the storm drains.
13. What’s the best advice you ever took?
No matter how challenging or difficult a situation looks, it's not over until it’s over, and there is a often a way to bring things back from the brink.
14. What's the worst piece of advice you ever got?
When I was fundraising for The Muse, many people told me to kill the content side of our business, because they felt that trying to be a career advice destination and build a job site were incompatible. I thought that they were wrong.
15. What’s a productivity tip you swear by?
Keep track of your own energy for a few days, or ideally a week. Also, understand when you're in your zone and motivated and when you feel particularly tired. Then, do your best to schedule accordingly.
16. Is there an app or tool you use in a surprising way to get things done or stay on track?
I love the app Boomerang to get emails out of my inbox and bring them back later on at a scheduled time. I'll schedule all the Boomerang things that I receive in the middle of the day for later that evening. I also really love the app Pocket, which lets me save articles for later.
17. What does work-life balance mean to you?
I love the concept of work-life fit, which is understanding the ways in which your career and the rest of your life complement each other, work together and fit each other. For me, I also like thinking about work-life balance over the course of one's life. This is a part of my life where I'm comfortable dedicating more time to work. At other points in my life, I hope to have more time for the life part of things.
18. How do you prevent burnout?
I get re-energized through travel. I try to make sure I have two to three chances a year to get out of the office to a completely different environment.
19. When you’re faced with a creativity block, what’s your strategy to get innovating?
Movement. I will walk around the block, walk around my apartment, or I put on a song and dance like an idiot. If I'm in the office I might get up and get water or take a lap.
20. What are you learning now?
As the founder of a quickly scaling company, you're constantly re-learning how to do your own role. Having 50 people is different than having 150. I'm learning a lot right now about how to lead and manage and make sure that everyone in the company is marching to the same drum and heading in the same direction.