HPW’s Inspiring Women series profiles remarkable Greek-American professional women whose stories of success inspire and encourage us to achieve our own career goals and aspirations.
Founder & Chief Operating Officer, The Muse
Alexandra Cavoulacos is the Founder & COO of TheMuse.com, a career platform used by 50+ million millennials to find a job, learn professional skills or advance in their careers, and by hundreds of companies looking to hire or grow their employer brand. She’s also the author of “The New Rules of Work,” a modern playbook to help millennials navigate their careers. Alex was named one of Forbes 30 Under 30 in Media, INC’s 15 Women to Watch in Tech and Business Insider’s 30 Most Important Women Under 30 in Tech. She is a frequent speaker on company culture, diversity & inclusion, entrepreneurship and productivity. Prior to founding The Muse, Alex was a management consultant at McKinsey & Company. She graduated from Yale University, and is an alumna of Y Combinator.
As a COO, what is the key to retaining talent and keeping an employee happy and motivated in their job?
It’s irrelevant if you are a COO or a first-time manager, the rules are the same on talent. There are some basic things that drive most people in life-not just in work life. Knowing they are valued means a lot. Getting out of their way is important as well. The people you really want in your company are the self-starters and problem solvers, and micro managing people with those characteristics will absolutely demotivate her/him. So, you guide and support, but you basically set them up to succeed and step to the side. I am a bit nonstandard in that I joke around constantly. I make or order silly things for my team members, have running jokes with colleagues, and generally try to keep things light. We are all in the office too many hours to pretend to be robots with no personalities. Work hard, laugh hard.
About The Muse
The Muse is the most trusted career site for Millennials and beyond, changing the way candidates find their ideal jobs and helping employers find their best-fit candidates. Selected by millions as their career platform of choice, The Muse delivers quality advice, skills-building resources, and coaching services to passive and active candidates. Employers rely on The Muse to hire top talent by showcasing their brands and corporate culture, creating authentic and lasting connections with candidates before they even apply.
The Muse offers career coaching services, what are the benefits of a career coach?
The Muse Coach Connect offers job seekers access to professional career coaches who offer services like resume review and editing, one-to-one mentoring sessions via phone or Skype, and help with personalized job search strategy and networking tips. A career coach can be helpful whether you’re a first-time entrepreneur, early in your career, or a long-time company veteran. Career coaches are great at helping you take a step back, looking at a problem from a new perspective and helping you focus on a solution. If you’re looking to level-up in your current role or interviewing for an entirely new position, they can help you with salary negotiation and will provide you with sample scripts and tactics so you can feel confident and prepared when the time comes for that discussion. On the flip side, even if you’ve been cruising along in a dream job, it can be so helpful to make sure you’re constantly re-evaluating, re-prioritizing, and staying motivated!
What is the difference between a career coach and a mentor?
There are a few big differences. The first is that a career coach is a paid professional. A mentor is unpaid, someone you’ve developed a personal relationship with and who’s chosen to invest in you. A mentor can be a sort of role model, or someone you look up to. She’s probably in your field, and you aspire to be where she is one day, and you might speak a few times a year, once a quarter or more. You’re hoping to learn and grow as much as you can from her experiences, and she gets fulfilment from helping someone else in their career. A career coach, on the other hand, is a professional you’ve chosen for their expertise. You may have weekly or monthly touch bases with them, or have reached out for just a specific question. Coaches can help you plan out your goals and prioritize the important stuff, and will often ask you questions to think about your ambitions and motivations.
Do you have a career coach or a mentor? If so, how have these relationships benefited your professional and personal growth?
I work with an executive coach, like many entrepreneurs at fast growing organizations. Not having a manager to give me feedback and push me in my career means that it’s been even more important to find that external partner to make sure I’m growing as much as I can. I’ve had a number of mentors at different stages of my career, and in each case was grateful for the time and expertise they shared with me as I navigated a new role or challenging situation at work.
What are some important networking tips that are often overlooked?
I like to think of networking as simply meeting interesting new people and getting to know them. It’s far less intimidating that way, and it helps keep things in perspective. Almost everyone feels awkward when they first arrive at a networking event (some people are just better at masking their uneasiness than others) but the sooner you can skip past surface conversations and start having an authentic dialogue, the sooner you’ll start to feel at ease. During conversations, focus on the other person. Inquire about their passions, hobbies, and interests rather than simply asking “where do you work?” Better yet, offer to help people. The key to creating lasting connections is not thinking “what can they do for me” but thinking about what you can do for them. Lastly, don’t forget to follow up. I like to send a quick note within 24 hours, and if it makes sense, connect with them on LinkedIn. Always be helpful, generous, and considerate when reconnecting after an event.
The Muse also offers an extensive ‘Job Search’ and ‘Explore Companies’ feature. What are the benefits of going to The Muse for a job search?
The Muse is like no other job destination and it’s changing the way individuals find their ideal jobs and employers find their best-fit candidates. For individuals, The Muse offers a behind-the-scenes look at job opportunities, original career advice from prominent experts, and access to the best coaches to get personalized and private career help. Unlike most career sites, The Muse supports people throughout their entire career journey on topics ranging from workplace etiquette, communicating with your boss, building relationships with your peers, what questions to ask in an interview, or job search strategy. Employers rely on The Muse to hire top talent by using compelling content, photos, and videos to showcase their brands and company culture, promote job opportunities, and create authentic and lasting connections with candidates before they even apply.
Generally speaking, most job boards target candidates who are actively looking for jobs, and they tend to provide a limited amount of information about each individual job posting and company. By contrast, The Muse also helps passive job seekers (those who are for the most part, happily employed) to grow in their career and explore new opportunities in a uniquely personal way. Our users can access photos and videos of a company’s office, interviews with that organization’s employees, and a wealth of information on company culture and values to make sure they’d be a good fit.
Since 2015, we’ve also offered Coach Connect, the first major online coaching marketplace that connects professionals with an expert career coach. Our users can sign up for 12 different types of services such as leadership and management training, resume reviews, interview preparation, job search strategy, and negotiation assistance.
If you can give one piece of career advice to women, what would it be?
My advice would be: always be authentic to yourself. Whether it’s managing, negotiation or public speaking, you have a choice in every work interaction as to how to conduct yourself. When I first started managing, it was super helpful to realize that there were many ways to be an effective manager and I modeled my style off of a number of different people I had reported to in the past, taking what felt right to me. In some places I was more assertive than a former boss, in other places I was more collaborative. Finding your style is key for career success and satisfaction.
“The New Rules of Work”, a book co-written with The Muse co-founder Kathryn, comes out in April 2017. What inspired you to write this book?
We founded The Muse based on the idea that we wanted to give people the resources to find their path, land their dream job and kick their career into high gear. The New Rules of Work was written on that same premise. The world of work is changing, and we quickly found that many existing resources didn’t provide thoughtful answers that were relevant today. We wanted to give people a playbook to navigate this ever-changing landscape. We’re really excited to share the book with the world!
What type of audience is “The New Rules of Work” geared towards?
“The New Rules of Work” can be helpful for anyone who cares about their career! In it we go through how to know what career path aligns with your values and interests, how to then land that job and how to succeed once you’re in the position. Fundamentally, we believe and want everyone to love his or her job. In fact, we believe that you should be thrilled with your job. And more than thrilled—fulfilled by it.
We’ve had particularly good response from career changers, new grads and people feeling stuck in their careers. There are a number of normal inflection points over a 40+ year career, and this book is that go-to guide for all of those moments!
Outside the office, we hear you like to bike ride. Tell us a little bit more about that.
Indeed! I love my road bike, and really got into long-distance cycling before starting The Muse. Before starting the company, my co-founder Kathryn and I did a century ride (100 miles!) out on Long Island and the year before that, I did a 20 day bike trip with my little brother from the South of France up to Paris, covering 840 miles. It’s tough to fit such a time-intensive hobby into startup life, but as the weather gets warmer I hope to at least start getting some weekend rides back in.
Favorite Greek restaurant in New York? Favorite Greek dish? Favorite Greek island?
Growing up, I spent 3 weeks every summer visiting my grandparents in Greece. I have fond memories of those times, and anytime I have galaktoboureko, it reminds me of my Yaya and Papou. In New York, my favorite galaktoboureko is from Artopolis Bakery in Astoria.
And my favorite Greek island is Sifnos. Small, few tourists, and the perfect blue Aegean.