A 32-year-old startup CEO threw up the first time she tried to negotiate a raise -- and it inspired her to launch her own company

Kathryn MinshewKathryn Minshew, pictured, wanted to give people a leg up in their careers.
  • The MuseCEO Kathryn Minshew started the company to give people the kind of career guidance she wished she’d had early on.
  • For example, she says, the first time she tried to negotiate a raise, she felt extremely uncomfortable – and threw up afterward.
  • So far, The Muse has helped over 50 million people find the right jobs and companies.

Kathryn Minshew was telling me about why she started The Muse, the career-advice and job-search platform she cofounded in 2011.

Mainly, she said, it was the desire to “help unlock some of the mysteries of navigating your career,” like finding your dream job or petitioning your boss for a salary bump.

“I also,” she confessed, “have my own experience.”

At 32, Minshew is The Muse’s CEO. She’s incredibly poised: Her answers to my questions were both thoughtful and easy to understand, and I found myself nodding along, vigorously, as we talked in a tiny conference room at The Muse headquarters in New York City.

The experience Minshew was referring to is the time she tried to negotiate a raise early in her career – which has included stints at McKinsey & Company and at the Clinton Health Access Initiative.

“I was so uncomfortable,” she said. “I felt nauseous for the entire day before it happened.”

She and her boss were located in different cities, so the exchange took place over the phone. “To go into a conversation with my boss and say, ‘Thank you, but I think I’m worth more’ – I had no idea how to do it,” she recalled. “I didn’t really know anybody who could coach me through or walk me through how to do it.”

She did not get the raise.

“Afterwards,” she said, “I threw up in a toilet.”

“Luckily, I learned that the sky doesn’t fall when you don’t get the raise,” she added. “So that was useful.”

But the experience stuck with her, and it made her realise that even someone smart and competent could fumble a standard step in building her career.

Over time, she realised that “a lot of what the modern workplace considered the marks of success were just learned behaviours – do you know how to stand up, look someone in the eye, and give them a firm handshake when you meet them? Yes or no?”

And she began to consider: “Is that really a marker of, ‘Are you a good professional?’ Or is it a marker of, ‘You’ve been privileged enough to have someone in your life that told you exactly what to do and how to show up in a way that made you seem like a young person of potential?'”

Minshew realised she wanted to give other young professionals the kind of career guidance she wished she’d had

An idea took root. “I just got fascinated by how the internet could democratize access to career information,” she said.

That idea originally manifested in PYP Media, which Minshew described in The Wall Street Journal as “a community platform for career-focused women.” But disagreements among the founders soon led to the dissolution of the company. One of the other PYP founders, Alex Cavoulacos, went on to become a cofounder of The Muse.

As Minshew wrote in The Journal, The Muse reached 20,000 active monthly users in its first month – it had taken PYP a year to hit the same milestone.

Minshew focused on giving young professionals the kind of career guidance she wished she’d had. Today, The Muse features advice on answering interview questions and getting a promotion as well as personal essays on subjects like quitting a job to travel.According to Entrepreneur, the site has also helped over 50 million people find the right jobs for them.

By sharing this kind of information, “you can take an individual and give them a leg up, and give them a better shot at being seen for their skills and their abilities in an interview,” Minshew said, “not being seen for how well they know how to play the game.”

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