Career Lessons from Kim Kardashian

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Kim Kardashian and her husband-to-be / baby daddy Kanye West just landed on the cover of Vogue magazine (U.S. edition), which is supposed to the world’s most influential fashion magazine. Back in 2007, I thought her fame would fizzle out after 15 minutes, but it seems that it’s only strengthened over time. Now, the girl who used to arrange attention-hungry socialite Paris Hilton‘s closet has reached the pinnacle of fame.

According to Forbes, Kim Kardashian’s net worth is estimated at $10 million in 2013. From a sketchy sex tape to a business and media empire, you have to admit that Kim Kardashian has had one heck of a career trajectory with plenty of ups and downs.

What are some career lessons we can learn from her rise to a business mogul?

1. Who you know matters 

Kim Kardashian first garnered media attention by hanging out with famous people. As Paris Hilton’s close friend and personal stylist, they were often spotted and photographed together. She also briefly dated former boy band crooner Nick Lachey (when he was still relatively famous) as well as quasi-famous singer Ray J.

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While it’s quite unclear how exactly the Kardashians got their own show, reports suggest Kathy Lee Gifford, who is Kris Jenner’s long-time friend, and / or Ryan Seacrest knew the family and thought they were quirky enough to deserve their own show. Whatever the actual story was, famous people with good connections were involved.

Therefore, your connections and the strength of their connections matter tremendously. Whether you want to be a reality TV show star, a C-suite member, or a billion dollar start-up founder, knowing the right people is one of the most important things you can do to build a successful career.

 

2. Turn lemons into lemonade

This is probably Kim Kardashian’s biggest strength. Having a private home video leaked for the world to see is probably every person’s worst nightmare. Instead of hiding in a hole (which would be my natural reaction), she milked every ounce out of that limelight. She immediately signed up for a reality TV show and a Playboy cover. In fact, she changed the narrative. Instead of having the world focus only on the trashy nature of a sex tape, she opened the doors to her family, showing the world her other dimensions as a sister and a daughter.

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Whenever we may face a bump in our career, it’s important to look at all angles to see how you can turn an impossibly bad situation into a good one. If you’re fired, then will this finally gives you a push to start your own business? If you have an awful manager, then can you learn how to be a good one?

 

3.  Be vulnerable

Humans are social animals. We are hard wired to connect to each other. Being vulnerable, we admit that we are imperfect and that we have weaknesses. We drop our shield and open a door for others to connect. People want to connect with, help, and like others that show their vulnerable sides.

While Kim Kardashian lives the life of the rich and famous, she let’s the world see her vulnerable sides as well. For someone that has a team of hair and make-up experts, she often walks around paparazzi-infested L.A. with no make-up. On her reality show, she openly cries (in a less-than-beautiful way). People like that. People like to see her in good times and bad. It makes people feel like they know her and that she is approachable. Perhaps that’s why she’s a tabloid obsession for so many years.

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At work, it’s important to understand and admit your limitations. I don’t mean list all of your weaknesses to your colleagues. In a situation when you can’t get the information or can’t learn quickly, you need to ask for help. This will not only help you accomplish your task better and faster, but also allow you to learn more effectively. Another bonus is that it forms a stronger connection with someone else, building your network.

 

4. Build a strong personal brand

In addition to a hit TV show, the Kardashians have their own clothing line, make-up collection, boutique clothing stores, fragrances, fitness videos, and more! They have managed to build an empire around the Kardashian name. They’ve done so by becoming masters of media. They are everywhere all the time, keeping their brand relevant and top of mind. Kim Kardashian has over 20 million Twitter followers and 13 million Instagram followers.

They’ve also learned from past lessons. In the beginning, they endorsed almost everything under the sun from alcohol to diet pills, diluting their brand and credibility. Now, they seem to have found their niche and focused their business endeavors on beauty and fashion.

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Self-promotion at work is a necessary evil. People will not consider you for new opportunities or exciting projects unless you promote the good work that you’ve already done. You not only need to be top of mind for managers, but you also should build a reputation for a particular skill / expertise. When a senior manager thinks she really needs somebody to get a particular job done well (e.g., run a marketing campaign or start a new business), then your name should be one of her first thoughts.

 

5. Take chances

The Kardashians have a multi-million dollar empire because they saw opportunities and took them. Some worked out (e.g., her fragrance) and some didn’t (e.g., her song “Jam”).

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The lesson here is the more calculated risk you take, the higher your likelihood is to succeed. You basically won’t know until you try. The next time at work, sign up for a new project, work with someone new, or just think differently. If you try and fail, then try again and do things differently.

How to boost your confidence at work

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This past week, I was invited to join a senior management meeting on behalf of my boss. Normally, this would be a great opportunity to gain exposure to leaders way above my pay grade.

However, I knew this meeting was going to be terribly uncomfortable. I not only had to present bad news, but also my team had made certain business decisions that some meeting members opposed.  

On top of that, only people with 20+ years of work experience were attending the meeting, and then there was me…who is less than 2 years out of business school. I could envision boss’s boss’s bosses throwing darts at me while I stand on top of the meeting room table wearing nothing but a giant diaper. A proud moment indeed…

With an uphill battle to fight, I needed a quick shot of confidence to overcome my nerves and stand by my team’s position.

Here are some ways I tried to zap confidence into myself.

1. Know your stuff: Nobody likes to be caught with their pants down. In the days leading to the meeting, I sharpened my message, anticipated potential questions, and gathered the necessary data / analysis to support my stance. The key is to look prepared and like you know what you’re talking about.

2. Dress to impress: We are all superficial creatures. We tend to make snap judgments of others based on the way they look. He, with the untucked shirt and disheveled hair, looks like he just woke up. She, with the short and tight skirt, looks like she’s fond of a certain kind of attention. At work, the key is to look sharp. Whether your workplace dress code is business formal, business casual, or just casual, make sure you look impeccable…much like Miranda Kerr and James Bond below.

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3. Give yourself a pep talk: Talking to yourself can seem a bit loony, but giving yourself a pep talk can be quite effective. Remind yourself of your strengths and accomplishments. Use these reminders to justify why you deserve a seat at the meeting room table (or a job position or even a date with someone).

4. Power pose: In her popular TedTalk, Harvard Business School professor, Amy Cuddy discusses how our body language not only influence how others see us but also how we see ourselves. By simply changing our pose for 2 minutes, we can feel significantly more confident. Check out the pose spectrum…

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5. Smile! When we are nervous, the last thing we want to do is smile. More often, we put on a frown and furrow our brows while trying to curl ourselves into a fetal position. However, studies indicate that we can actually become happier by smiling (rather just smile because we are happy). Next time you find yourself filled with nerves, just smile and you will feel happier and more relaxed.

How to cold email (and get a response)

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Yesterday, I received a cold email that went something like this:

“Hi. My name is __________, and I am a student at Harvard Business School. I would like a job as  a _[INSERT vague job title]___ at your company. Attached is my resume. I would like to chat about this opportunity. I look forward to your response.”

I think this is a great example of what NOT to do with a cold email. First of all, I don’t know you, so why would I want to give you a job right off the bat. Second, this generic job title doesn’t even exist at my company, so it’s clear that you haven’t researched my company.

There’s nothing wrong with cold emails. In fact, I get quite a few cold emails from eager and ambitious MBA students and alumni. My response rate thus far is 100%. However, there is a good way and bad way to reach out, and how you reach out can affect how likely and willing someone is to help you.

What NOT to do:

1. Give too much or too little information: In my last company, an anxious student wrote to one of our partners saying that he had a dream last night. He wandered around the corridors of our office and suddenly found himself in front of the partner’s office. He was so excited and eager to enter until he found himself completely naked. Can you believe he wrote that in a cold email?!? Creepy….

Alternatively, giving too little information is also counterproductive. I’ve gotten emails with as little information as: “My name is ______. Give me a job______. Reply to me soon.” I don’t talk to people or refer them to my contacts because I get paid to do so. Therefore, your job in a cold email is to give me a reason to be interested in you. Why should I want to talk to you? Why should I refer you to one of my contacts?

2. Misspell contact’s and / or company’s name: This is one of the worst mistakes you can make, but the easiest to prevent. Last year, I referred a student to one of my contacts because I thought she had a great background and seemed quite sharp. Things were peachy until she referred to my contact by the wrong name, even though his name was in the email address and I spelled out his name clearly in my prior exchanges with her. Nothing says I don’t care about you more than messing up their name. Also, misspelling the company’s name shows that you just don’t care enough about the company. Double check. Triple check. Just make sure this does not happen.

3. Spelling and grammar mistakes: I tend to be more forgiving if someone is a non-native English speaker, but I’m probably an exception. Use spell / grammar check or a grab an English-speaking friend. These simple mistakes make you look unprofessional and incompetent.

4. Ask for a job straight away: It’s good to indicate what you’re interested in. However, demanding a job in the first cold email is too much. It’s like asking to marry someone on a blind date. You don’t do it. In the cold emails, the primary goal is NOT to get a job straight away. The goal is to get the other person interested in you. Once I am interested, then I will want to spend my time talking to you. In a phone conversation, your goal is to get me to trust that you are a capable individual with great IQ and EQ and could be a good fit in my company. Once you gain that trust, then I will be more likely to refer you to one of my contacts. This is a marathon not a sprint.

What to do: 

1. Give them a hook: Cold emails should provide a reason why the contact should be interested in you or would want to talk to you. The reason could be anything. It could be giving the contact an opportunity to talk about themselves and how fabulous their career trajectory has been (people love talking about themselves). It could be that you joined the same student clubs or have similar backgrounds, so the contact feels some sort of invisible tie to you.

2. Offer a (reasonable) next step: Instead of asking directly for a job as the next step, you should ask for something that is still relatively non-committal. Ask the contact for a 30 min chat. Make sure that the chat is for you to learn about them and them to learn more about you.

3. Personalize the email: I hate receiving emails where you can clearly tell someone used a template and just changed the recipient’s name. It feels like dating one of those douchey guys that just call every girl “Sweet Cheeks”.  It’s shallow and repulsive. You don’t want to convey either of those feelings. Therefore, it’s important to make it seem that you’ve done your research on not only the company but also the person you need a favor from.

What happens when your career is stuck?

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Recently, a friend of mine quit her job. She had been in the same position for 4 years without any prospect of moving into a new role. She had tapped her manager and her internal network for years, but nothing came. In her mid-thirties, she knew she needed to take action before she became truly stuck.

Unfortunately, my friend’s case is not unique. Especially in the 30’s / post-grad school level, I’m seeing quite a few talented, young business professionals getting stuck. They are stuck because 40 and 50 year-old’s in the next level are also stuck, creating what is being coined “the grey ceiling” and backing up the talent pipeline along the way. They are stuck because the company doesn’t get rid of under-performers but simply “repositions” them.

As a result, the following scenarios usually play out when young professionals are stuck:

1. You work longer and harder. To vie for that one promotion (because someone finally retired!), you compete with at least 10 smart, capable, driven co-workers for that golden spot. As a result, you try to get an edge by gluing yourself to the office. If you do end up getting the promotion, then the question is will you have to go through this all over again?

2. You keep moving laterally. You squeak long and often enough to your manager, your manager’s manager, and anyone who’s willing to listen. As a result, the powers-that-may-be answered your prayers for a new position, but it turns out that it’s not up but sideways. The good thing is that at least you get a holistic perspective trying out different job roles. The bad thing is that years later you still find yourself moving in a crab-like fashion.

3. You’re bored. This is the worst scenario because you’re young, good looking, and ready to do something meaningful. At this point, you’ve invested a boatload of money and time into your education, so the worst thing that can happen is that you waste all that potential by sitting idle at your desk, pretending to work while surfing Facebook / Instagram / Twitter. 20 years later, you find yourself still sitting idling but at a desk in the basement with the same job title (and stapler).

4. You’re bored but enterprising. This is basically Scenario #3 but instead of surfing social media sites, you end up using that idle time and potential to start your own gig. Another friend of mine has been doing this for months. He wakes up early every morning, goes to work to fulfill the minimum requirements, and focuses his energy on his start-up. He’s about to quit his corporate job and launch his start-up full-time. Good for my friend, but not so good for his company.

5. You quit. Sometimes, you gotta get out to go up. As much as you may like your company, if there’s limited upward mobility, then sometimes the best thing you can do for your career is to look elsewhere. Another friend of mine did just that. He went from years of being individual contributor to a job at another company that was willing to give him people and a budget to manage. The company and your manager may have the best intentions to help you progress, but sometimes you have to be very keen about what is possible and what is probable.

 

How to find and do work you love

What an inspiring TEDx Talk by Scott Dinsmore! It’s completely worth 18 mins of your time. 

1. Become an expert on yourself: Understand yourself. If you don’t know what you’re looking for, then you’re never going to find it.

2. Do the impossible and push your limits: People don’t do things because they tell themselves they can’t or other people tell them they can’t. Make incremental pushes to prove yourself and others wrong.

3. Surround yourself with inspiring people: “You’re the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” – Jim Rohn. Be with people that inspire possibilities.

Thanks to Everyday Power Blog for directing me to this.

The best time to look for a job…

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The best time to look for a job is when you’re not looking.

A head hunter recently gave me this piece of sage advice after I told her that I was happy in my current position. This statement really made me think. Looking for a job when you’re still happily employed means…

  • You’re not desperate. Since you’re not begging everyone and their mom to give you a job, your self-confidence is still in tact. I’m sure having a healthy self esteem helps your job search. Employers can smell the desperation. You’re also more desirable to recruiters when you have a job title and a business card.
  • You’re financially stable. Having a steady stream of income while job hunting helps in so many ways. You can afford to buy a nice suit. You can hold out longer in a salary negotiation for higher pay. Your landlord or family won’t be pressuring you to take whatever paying job that comes along.
  • You can set a high bar. Since you have time on your side, you can be selective in your options, waiting until an exciting opportunity comes along. You don’t have to settle for the first offer that comes along in fear of a prolonged gap on your resume. Especially if you’re happy at your current job, the new opportunity would have to really go above and beyond your current situation, where you already enjoy the work and where you’ve already built a network and track record.
  • You learn more about yourself. The aforementioned head hunter pitched me a job that made me realize how much I really like my own job. It also made me realize what areas I like about it and what areas I would like for it to improve.

When we’re in a job, we often get too comfortable until we’re not (because we’re bored, overworked, or unappreciated). And that’s when we start looking for the next gig…whether it’s because you’re desperate to leave, asked to leave, or already voluntarily (or involuntarily) unemployed. From this piece of advice, I think we need to keep our eyes open at all times for opportunities that may come within or outside your current organization.

So the next question is: how do you passively look for a job (either internal or external)? Unless you have Peter Thiel‘s track record and high profile, it’s unlikely that headhunters and others would be calling you every second for a new and exciting opportunity.

  • Learn more about what opportunities you would be interested in. As mentioned, the bar for the next big thing should be high, but also make sure you make the bar specific. For example, if you love everything about your job except for the availability of international opportunities, then make sure you look out for opportunities similar to your job with a global slant.
  • Keep your LinkedIn profile in tip top shape. This head hunter (and others) found me through LinkedIn. It’s important that you keep your information up-to-date. Also, putting a professional picture (that doesn’t make you look like Mr. Burns from The Simpsons) probably helps as well.
  • Stay connected to your network. Whether it’s your school’s alumni club or even ex-co-workers, catch up with them on a periodic basis. See what they are up to and maybe they’ve stumbled upon opportunities that may interest you.
  • Talk to your mentors, boss, and co-workers. If you do like your job, then chances are you like your organization. Why not casually talk to your co-workers to see what other job vacancies are around the organization? Also, if you know what you are looking for, then it could even be helpful to steer your boss / mentors by saying…”For my next position at XYZ company, I would love to get more exposure to [insert what you’re looking for]”.

Once you have opportunities lined up before you, the difficult part then is to decide if and when to switch. But I guess that’s a good problem to have…

Can you clearly articulate your career goals?

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Several months ago, a senior leader suddenly asked to have a quick coffee chat with me. First thoughts that crossed my mind: Am I getting fired? Did someone in the office catch me on Facebook? Is my skirt too short?

Instead, the senior leader asked about my career plans. “Where do you see yourself in the next 2 to 3 and 5 to 10 years?” After my job interviews, I pretty much stopped thinking about my career plans. As dread was overcoming me, I gave the most eloquent answer I could muster up: “I…um…*cough*…I think…I like…um…marketing??” More chunks of verbal vomit spewed out of my mouth as I completely soiled myself in front of someone who has great influence over my career success.

However, I’m not alone.

It turns out that many of my peers, who some are highly intelligent and articulate, transform into the same babbling idiot when confronted with career conversations. We talk in vague terms without being able to succinctly sum up: what do I want to achieve in the next X years? This wonderful Fast Company article confirms the pattern. My generation of professionals not only have a poor career vocabulary but we also feel uncomfortable articulating our career goals. (Think preaching abstinence in rural mid-America in front of pregnant teenagers.)

The consequences of not being prepared and / or having these conversations can be quite serious. As shown in my instance, the senior leader may not recommend me for a position I would be excited about because (1) I sounded like a fool, and (2) I couldn’t communicate my career goals. For many of my peers, it means going into “limbo” jobs. These are positions that they are not excited about but that keep their options open. However, if you spend many years in “limbo” jobs without figuring out your career objectives, choices will be made for you. Naturally as you get more experience in one area, other doors will be closed. Therefore, if you don’t figure out what you want in the first place, then you’ll naturally just get stuck.

After this embarrassing experience, I decided to have the “career talk” with myself and people that know me the best, figuring out the following questions.

  1. Where do I want to be in 10 years? Why?
  2. What am I currently good at? Do I want to continue to hone these skills? How do these skills fit into my long-term objectives?
  3. What other skills and / or experiences do I need to achieve my career objectives?
  4. What are types of positions would enable me to gain these skills and experiences?

Dejavu. This past week, the same senior leader asked me the same question, and I was more than prepared. I painted a clear long-term career vision and proposed specific next steps to get there. At the end of our conversation, the senior leader offered to look for opportunities that matched my interests and that fit into my objectives. REDEMPTION!!!

And here you go, a small but true example of how a career talks could really help.