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Career Tips for Difficult Times: Founders’ Perspectives

October 1, 2020

The Wall Street Journal held a virtual Jobs Summit recently where Clara Shih, Founder & Executive Chairwoman of Hearsay was interviewed alongside Kenneth Lin, Founder & CEO of CreditKarma. Michelle Ma, WSJ Assistant Editor, Live Journalism, dug into what they learned from the 2008 recession, which was the time period both Shih and Lin founded companies.

Over ten years later, here we are again. As CEOs who have weathered difficult times and hired their fair share of candidates over the years, they had some excellent advice for those who find themselves unemployed, like so many Americans today.

If you missed the live event, here are the highlights.

Every job teaches a skill

Lin suggested that every job can build your skillset. He shared that he once had a job as a dialer for stockbrokers. This involved a stack of index cards with names and phone numbers on them and dialing all day with the goal of getting those people on the phone. Though it may have seemed like a trivial role, he learned how to be more confident on the phone; a valuable skill.

The lesson? Even a job you may not be excited about is teaching you something. If you end up taking a position that’s not perfect to put food on the table, look for what you can learn and make the most of the job you have. Then when you interview for your next role, present what you learned.

Hustle and other top skills in demand, today and beyond

Everyone knows times are tough and what was relatively easy 6 months ago takes real work in today’s virtual, budget-conscious world. That’s why when Clara’s hiring these days she’s looking for someone with hustle, which she defines as someone who knows how to get creative, get things done, and take risks. Number two for Shih is empathy/EQ and knowing how to connect with people in a remote setting.

Lin shared that passion is one of his key criteria. When times are tough, what pulls people through is when they love what they do. He said he knows sometimes it’ll just be a paycheck, but if you have a choice, pick the job you love.

In terms of skills based on experience (hard skills), Shih suggested that the ability to connect with customers, writing code/engineering, and being able to write (content, copywriting, etc.) are always in demand.

Mine LinkedIn for Hidden Career Advice

Have you been using LinkedIn to re-establish dormant connections and see how the people you admire got where they are? If not, it’s time to get your LinkedIn hustle on.

When Ma mentioned that Clara has said LinkedIn is a blessing for job-seekers, Clara enthusiastically talked about the ability to look at the career paths of people you admire and see how they’ve gotten to where you want to be—what did they study, what certifications do they have, what kind of experience do they have? Take this opportunity to map the next steps you want to take in your career. Then invest in yourself and get the skills you need to take the next steps.

Valuable advice from a mentor

Randy Komisar, a prominent Silicon Valley attorney, executive, and author was a professor of Shih’s at Stanford. Like many college seniors, she wasn’t sure what she wanted to do once she graduated. When she asked him how to think about her career, he told her that if she wanted a big career in tech, she needed to build up generally valuable skill sets, including these three things:

Ship a new product end-to-end: conception, design, prototype, iteration, shipping, launch, continuous lifecycle
Customer experience skills (sales, account management, etc.)
Learn how to manage people

Resume vs. referral: what’s more powerful?

Someone in the audience asked how many people are hired based solely on a resume versus a referral. Shih and Lin agreed here; referrals are preferable. Shih pointed out that this speaks to the importance of networks (another point in favor of re-connecting if it’s been a while!), while Lin mentioned that referrals have higher close rates. Shih also noted, however, that a referral only gets someone in the door; they still have to earn the job. Both do extensive reference checks and interviewees speak with multiple people within the company before being offered a position.

Keep going!

This has been a hard year and there are lots of smart people out there looking for their next role. Aside from the excellent advice they shared for job seekers, Shih and Lin also shared the truth behind start-up life, which can serve as excellent inspiration to keep going through the tough times. A start up founder and CEO, during a recession or not, gets knocked down over and over again. CreditKarma almost ran out of money three times; Shih cleaned the office along with her CEO/product manager/designer/you name it duties. For 99% of start-ups, it can take years of grit and determination before making it. The big secret? Just keep going!

We currently have a number of open positions at Hearsay, so take a look at the Careers page and let us know if there’s a match.

Marisa Ruffles

Senior Director of Marketing

Marisa leads the product marketing team at Hearsay Systems and leverages ten years of SaaS marketing and sales experience to help financial services organizations deliver an authentic client engagement experience through digital channels.

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