Female Disruptors: Melanie Feldman and Anna Schuliger of Going Places On The Three Things You Need To Shake Up Your Industry
Your industry is small. Always do your best work. — The first corporate job I had was different than what I had imagined as a student, but I got the best advice while working there: “No matter what you do, always do your best work.” I had to check myself, because I was letting my personal feelings dictate what was important rather than realizing the job was the most important. Give yourself the maximum amount of chances for people to see what you can do by doing your job well. Those with whom you work will travel to all kinds of places as life takes them on their journey. If you do good work, they can bring you along, too.
As a part of our series about women who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Melanie Feldman and Anna Schuliger of Going Places.
Melanie Feldman is a career coach and co-founder of Going Places. She’s been helping people get their foot in the door since authoring Bold: Get Noticed, Get Hired in 2013 which is now used in college curriculum courses at Lehigh and Carnegie Mellon University. She has since built a successful career speaking to students at colleges around the country including University of Pittsburgh, NYU and University of California Berkeley, while using the Get Hired method to land jobs at some of Silicon Valley’s top tech companies.
Anna Schuliger is a communications designer and co-founder of Going Places, who has spent the last decade helping professionals develop their own personal branding through resumes, cover letters, websites and formal presentations. In addition to perfecting her writing and design skills as a communications specialist in NYC, Anna is also an accomplished artist and founder of The Dream Wall Project, a traveling interactive art installation.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
Melanie: I was an average student, but I’ve always found crafty ways to get to where I want to be. I became a D1 college athlete by sending a video to dozens of coaches. I got my first job by sending a cold email to the right person (even though I had applied multiple times to their open positions). I got in touch with the person who gave me one of my first interviews after guessing their email address a bunch of times.
I worked at my first job for over a year before realizing how their hiring process worked. In all of the times I had applied online, no one had even seen my resume. It’s not entirely the company’s fault, either. It’s just a broken system. So the next year, I began writing Bold: Get Noticed, Get Hired to highlight creative strategies from real people who went from the bottom of the resume pile to the top — just like I managed to do.
I ended up getting where I wanted to be without ever applying to a single job. Starting Going Places has been my dream ever since I landed that first role. I’ve been coaching the methods I’ve used successfully for years, and now we’re able to create resources so anyone can get hired at a job they love.
Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?
We are disrupting the current online job application practices of employers, recruiters and candidates in order to provide equal opportunity for entry into jobs. By providing accessible and affordable resources, we are working to close The Networking Gap so anyone can understand how to navigate and find success with the hiring processes as they function today.
Nearly 80% of candidates hired come from the referrals of employees who currently work there. Companies are relying on their qualified employees to provide access to more qualified candidates, so all they end up doing is hiring their friends. Because of this, there are socioeconomic barriers to entry that prevent qualified candidates from even getting a chance. The current system is not providing anywhere near equal opportunity for all candidates.
We are exposing that cycle and breaking it. We are teaching people how to become an internal referral without having to be a friend prior to your interest in a company. The phrase “It’s not what you know but who you know” has only worked to the advantage of people with social capital, privilege and wealth.
We teach everyone why it’s necessary to stop participating in the online application process. In reality, by the time you see a job opening, a referral has already been through at least one round of interviews. This unfair, dated and useless online system is yet another barrier to entry that gives people false hope, and then crushes their confidence and evaluation of self-worth as they receive rejection after rejection.
It is even more important to develop necessary networking skills early on in your career so you can achieve upward mobility. All of us can achieve a more fair and just system that is based on talent, ideas and ambition, and help create a diverse and vibrant workforce that advances social good.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting?
Melanie: When I was trying to land my first job, I had burned myself out applying and hearing nothing back. I was doing a lot of research into creative ways people got employers to see their resume, so I went to the cookie shop and had cookies made in the shape of a foot that said, “Just trying to get my foot in the door!”
I sent the cookies with my resume, and they actually did make it to the right person. The manager replied to my note, “Hi Melanie. Thanks for the great cookies. There’s no job for you.”
Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Melanie: My instinct was right: The goal is to connect with a human being, but the second part of that was about adding value and presenting myself as a valuable person. I got a response, which was great after applying so many times, but I failed to show them how I could bring value to their team.
We all need a little help along the journey. Who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?
Melanie: For me, it’s Neil Everett. He’s an advisor and mentor to me today because years ago he gave his time to someone (me) he had never met before based on a cold email. That generosity has always stuck with me. It affects how I respond to similar situations now that I am further along in my career, too. Neil’s own personal story has inspired me to stay involved with the career development space for all of these years. He showed me that anything is possible: Achieving the highest success in your industry is something that an average person can do with the right formula. And I want more people to know that, too.
In today’s parlance, being disruptive is usually a positive adjective. But is disrupting always good? When do we say the converse, that a system or structure has ‘withstood the test of time’? Can you articulate to our readers when disrupting an industry is positive, and when disrupting an industry is ‘not so positive’? Can you share some examples of what you mean?
Disrupting is positive when you are changing something for the betterment of the individual and the common good of society, and disrupting is negative when you’re doing something for profit while hurting people along the way. Yes, you have to make sure you’re taken care of, but you have to make sure your skills are being used to positively impact those around you.
We created a digital resource after personally coaching people and growing our business through word of mouth. We were directly helping people, but only those we knew through existing connections. So, we were simultaneously worsening a larger problem. That was why we wanted to create a more affordable online resource for the lifetime of the user.
Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.
1 — Your industry is small. Always do your best work.
Anna: The first corporate job I had was different than what I had imagined as a student, but I got the best advice while working there: “No matter what you do, always do your best work.” I had to check myself, because I was letting my personal feelings dictate what was important rather than realizing the job was the most important. Give yourself the maximum amount of chances for people to see what you can do by doing your job well. Those with whom you work will travel to all kinds of places as life takes them on their journey. If you do good work, they can bring you along, too.
2 — Take your blinders off when it comes to finding your dream job.
Anna: At the beginning of your career, becoming preoccupied with your dream job can lead you down a frustrating road. You can’t go from start to finish in one step. Instead, work your ass off at the best job you can get with the skills you’ve got right now. Your dream position is what you can secure now that acts as a stepping stone to your ideal future. In a way, the next job is your dream job, because it’s leading you to your ultimate goal.
This differs for everyone, but after graduation, I chased a dream of becoming an independent artist with no experience. I ended up working three unrelated jobs to make enough money for rent, and had no energy or time left to focus on my goals. If I had utilized my skills for one full time job related to what I hoped to achieve, I could have found more opportunities more quickly.
3 — Treat everyone really well.
Melanie: Early in my career, an intern on my sales team went on to work for one of our biggest clients. This person controlled all budgets given to my company. If I hadn’t taken the time to cultivate the relationship, I wouldn’t have been able to have the success I did with that account later on.
Obviously, you should want to be a good human being regardless of what it could do for you. What being a good person does for the world is much more important. A good side effect is that while being the best version of yourself, you can get you places you never thought possible.
We are sure you aren’t done. How are you going to shake things up next?
We want to work with organizations that are working to provide access to career resources to underserved communities. We want to create original content that features the talents of self-starters, hustlers and creators of all backgrounds and perspectives. We want to help creators who are imagining and working towards a more equitable society.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by ‘women disruptors’ that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?
Melanie: I can speak to my personal experience coaching professionals for over seven years. In the cases where I am coaching those younger than me, there is no noticeable difference; however, when I coach senior level executives with 10–20 years of experience, they are almost always women.
When I used to have an introduction call with a man, it was a different type of conversation. I would make sure to explain my credentials and prove that I deserved to be giving them advice. Instead of the established hierarchy I enjoyed automatically with my other clients, it felt more like an interview. I had to win the job. In my experience, for a man to choose a woman for an advisor, she has to prove herself above and beyond their expectations.
Do you have a book, podcast, or talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us? Can you explain why it was so resonant with you?
Melanie: The 4-hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss made me feel empowered early on in my career. He positioned himself as an ordinary person accomplishing extraordinary things and gave actionable takeaways that anyone could replicate for themselves. After reading it, I was inspired to write my book, and I wanted it to do the same for others.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
One of our favorite quotes is: “If you ask 100 people out on a date, and 99 say no… you have a date!” It speaks to a core part of our method about embracing rejection and looking at the positives. Whether personal or professional, rejection is a part of all of our lives. When you learn to embrace rejection as redirection… That’s where anything becomes possible!
If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
Anna: We would want everyone to feel connected, appreciated and valued. The first idea Melanie and I ever collaborated on was when we lived together in NYC. It was a token we named Launa Coin. She grew up in Hawaii, where launa means “to meet”. We designed a small number of tokens with a subway line on one side, and various compliments on the other.
We wanted it to be a way for people to create positive connections with each other during their commutes. The idea was that you would get one, share it and then pay it forward. We even planned a system where you could see who had been given that same message before you. We wanted to be a part of a community where people could find joy in paying it forward.
At the end of the day, it was simply a way to work on something meaningful together outside of our day-to-day jobs. But to this day, anytime we see an act of kindness in public, we’ll text each other “#launacoinisreal”.
How can our readers follow you online?
FB, IG, Twitter, LinkedIn: @yougoplaces