This is how I got a seat at the table.
4 min read
I’ve never been afraid of the word “no.” I’ve heard it a lot in my career, but I learned from an early age that being told no is a speed bump, not a dead end. I think I can thank my parents for moving me across the country in sixth grade for that — trust me, being the new kid in middle school with braces and internal head gear and uncooperative curly hair in the Florida humidity will build resilience in just about anyone.
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But then, it might also have to do with graduating from college during the worst economic time since the Great Depression. In the year — or really years — that followed, I was told no a lot again. I’ve been told no at countless jobs I didn’t enjoy, heard the word as I spent all day filing papers and as I stood folding shirts at a big box retailer for hours at a time. It’s a word I’ve probably heard more often than “yes,” to be honest, and every time I’ve heard it, I’ve processed, licked wounds, adapted and pushed forward.
All this is to say that my resilient “muscle” is pretty strong, and it’s how I’ve gotten my seat at all the tables in my career.
My first big career milestone came when I transitioned from working as an admin assistant at a large university (one of those no, no, no and no jobs) to recruiting at a large tech company — without prior recruiting experience. I spent a year learning the ins and outs of the recruiting world by having informational interviews — cold emailing people to ask them for a seat at the table, at least for a 20-minute coffee. Ultimately, I’d have 30 informational interviews, but for the record, I asked 70 people for interviews, so I had less than a 50 percent acceptance rate. Plenty of “no” with the occasional non-response thrown in.
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Nonetheless, I turned those informational interviews into my secret weapon. I got my resume seen by cold-emailing and guessing emailing addresses until someone got back to me. Finally, someone did. Becoming a recruiter was truly a career milestone.
My next career milestone happened less than six months later, when I pitched myself to my manager to take over the entire university recruiting program. Someone mentioned the open position in a meeting, and I raised my hand. I put together a 10-page PowerPoint presentation to showcase the strategy I would implement and the goals I would work to accomplish — plus all the benefits those goals would provide the company. I got the promotion and for the next three years, I learned how to be a strategic leader, how to present my ideas to the decision makers, how to collaborate and, most of all, I increased my confidence.
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It was that confidence (and resilience) that helped me make the leap into entrepreneurship with Career Contessa. From convincing women to let me interview them for a site that didn’t yet exist to creating proposals for advertisers who had never heard of us to cold-emailing influencers to partner with me on an event, I’ve had to earn my seat at every table by taking risks and not giving up. Over time, the table has changed — now instead of a laptop on a coffee table in my house, it’s a conference table at a dedicated office space complete with a signed lease. The environment has changed for me and a few friends volunteering their time to hiring my first full-time employee, then another and another. And the product has changed from a simple career blog to a career resource used by over 1 million women each year.
Earning my seat at the table hasn’t come easy and it hasn’t come fast. There is no such thing as instant success. While I’m currently working in my dream job as the CEO of Career Contessa, I’m always looking for the next table I can pitch to, work with or use as a jumping off point for the next milestone. And my best advice for those of you looking to get your seat at the “table”? Don’t be afraid of being told no. And understand that you can always change the path — without sacrificing your career vision.
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.