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CAROLINE CENIZA-LEVINE, Co-Founder of SixFigureStart®

Caroline Ceniza-Levine is a career expert, writer and speaker with two published books, TV appearances and regular contributions to the Forbes career column. She’s spent over 10 years recruiting across many industry sectors, from executive search to campus recruiting.

Today she helps people find fulfilling and financially rewarding careers as the co-founder of SixFigureStart®, career coaching by former Fortune 500 recruiters. These credentials qualify her to be career coach, and her background in stand-up and improv make her a unique brand. An irresistible combination of smart and silly, Caroline’s career advice is highly entertaining and relatable.

JS:       SixFigureStart® is the career coaching company you launched in 2007. Tell me more about the services you provide and who you work with.

CCL:    SixFigureStart offers job search and career skills training by former Fortune 500 recruiters. We are hired by corporations and universities to coach and develop their students and employees. We also offer private 1:1 coaching to individuals.

Each engagement is different. For example, we might be hired to onboard MBA summer interns at an investment bank, or work with high-potential executives to accelerate professional growth.

When we launched SixFigureStart in 2007, we branded the company strongly around the Gen Y job seeker. We targeted campus recruiting – an underserved but exploding niche. Universities and corporations hired us to teach grads the skills to have a successful job search and transition into the workforce.

JS:       What are the most in-demand training topics for college students and recent grads?

CCL:   We provide workshops in everything from personal branding, networking and relationship building skills, to job search and interview preparation, to business etiquette.

In a tough job market, students need to do more on their own but they lack the training to be their own advocates. When you think about how much you’re paying for college, there’s a disconnect about how much a school can help you get a job. Lots of MBAs are coming out without jobs.

JS:       Is this a new problem? Why are these topics so relevant in today’s market?

CCL:   It’s the perfect storm of things:

  1. Gen Y grew up in the Internet age. They’re used to immediate feedback: Instant answers and search results. And they were raised by the original Me Generation.
  2. They’re coming into economy that has no loyalty. The market has changed: Fewer jobs means less learning experiences for new professionals because there are more experienced workers competing for the same jobs. In the past, you were granted time to learn from your mistakes. Companies invested in training and development programs.
  3. Given these conditions, I don’t think Gen Y is trying to evade work. They’re trying to work smarter and entering a difficult economy. The unemployment rate for young adults is much higher than the national average.

JS:       What are the typical kinds of engagements and how do you measure results?

CCL:   For our corporate and university clients, we give live presentations, keynotes and workshops. We’ve also produced webinars for basic skills training. Our case studies are all different. Each engagement is customized based on our client’s needs.

For 1:1 coaching, the themes are typically how to get a job or a promotion, or change careers.

For example, I worked with a Vice President at a major investment bank who wanted to get out of finance. She’s now director-level at second largest public school system, focused on community outreach and development.

In another case, I helped a senior executive from Big Pharma achieve his dream of leading a biotech start-up. I coached both of them on how to create a personal brand and be credible as C-level contributors in different industry sectors.

How do we measure success? It’s usually: Did you get the job you wanted? For our university clients, it’s: Are their students more employable? Are employers happier with students from our workshops? Are the schools attracting more employers to their career fairs?

JS:       How did you get into career coaching?

CC-L: First I was a management consultant, then an executive recruiter. I started my career as a strategy consultant in the investment banking practice Oliver Wyman. From there, I joined a boutique executive search that specialized in placing management consultants.

Then I was an actor for several years – doing improve and going to auditions. During that time, I was taking on recruiting engagements of my own.

I started doing tech recruiting part-time for Time Inc. then joined them full-time in their University Relations department. I began teaching Professional Development classes at Columbia, and doing campus recruiting. I was at Time Inc. for five years, and in addition to their campus recruiting I led their freelance and temp recruiting. So I went from very exacting, time-intensive executive search to the most high-volume, fast-paced recruiting there is!

Around 2007 the economy was showing its first signs of distress and I knew we were headed into a period where there wasn’t going to be much hiring or recruiting. That’s when I decided to launch SixFigureStart.

JS:       Why is career coaching important to you?

CCL:   I love all things career. I was an extreme career changer myself. Did I tell you I was a music major at Juilliard before I became a management consultant?!

I find the intersection of business, the broader economy and the individual to be fascinating. Your job is what feeds your children. It’s really personal, and yet it’s a barometer for the economy.

Career coaching is rewarding because it’s so impactful.

Another topic that’s important to me is around diversity and inclusiveness. I did a guest post for ADWEEK on the representation of Asian Americans in advertising, here.

JS:       What’s your best advice for young professionals entering the job market?

CCL:   If you take away nothing else: The art of searching for a job is separate and unique from skills you need to do the job. In other words, just because you have the skills doesn’t guarantee you’ll get the job. It’s the difference between the road test and driving. Just because you pass the road test doesn’t make you a good driver.

Today’s grads need to be savvy about networking, personal marketing, resumes, business etiquette, etc. They must pay attention to job search techniques early on. Networking is not something you can cram. It’s developed over a lifetime. Start now and keep at it.

JS:       And best advice for people looking to transition into a different industry?

CCL:   I wrote a Forbes blog on why career changers are like icky ex-boyfriends trying to get back together. Career changers come with a lot of baggage in an area that’s no longer relevant. Like the ex, they say, “Trust me, I’ll change. Just tell me what to do.” And the employers respond with: “If you really loved me, you’d already know what to do and you’d do it.”

Outsiders don’t get hired, only insiders do. Don’t make the employer draw the bridge from your current skills to the ones they need.


Interested in career coaching and SixFigureStart? Check out their web site, offering information for companies, universities and individuals, plus lots of free resources like a blog, career advice newsletter, radio show, etc.

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