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Episode 47: What Really Matters to Your Future Employer with Marc Cenedella

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Episode Description

Marc Cenedella, best-selling author and Founder and CEO of Ladders, Inc. the website connecting $100K+ professionals with employers and recruiters throughout the US, is a renowned thought leader on job search, career management, and recruiting. In this dynamic and candid episode, Carol and Marc cover everything from what you can do during your career break to help you win the job, what to say in an effective elevator pitch, to how to convey the right attitude about learning new technology, and so much more.

Links to Episode Content


Ladders Resume Guide (affiliate link)

Ladders 2019 Interviews Guide (affiliate link)

Read Transcript

Carol Fishman Cohen: Welcome to 3,2,1 iRelaunch, the podcast where we discuss strategies, advice, and success stories about returning to work after a career break. I'm Carol Fishman Cohen, the chair and co-founder of iRelaunch and your host for today. Today, we are thrilled to have The Ladders founder, Marc Cenedella.

As our guest, I have admired Marc as a leader in the career space forever, and have been quoting his advice, especially his article on How Not to Embarrass Yourself When Doing the Elevator Pitch since 2010 when it came out, we're going to be talking about elevator pitches and a lot more today.

Marc, welcome to 3,2,1 iRelaunch.

Marc Cenedella: Hey, thanks so much for having me.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Well, thank you for being here. As I mentioned, we are big fans of your advice on elevator pitches, and we have referenced you on many occasions, including at our iRelaunch conferences and in our new Return to Work Roadmap online product.

And now that we are talking to live and in-person, would you give us some advice please, on how a relauncher, which is someone who has taken a career break and now wants to go back to work, would think about and come up with the elevator pitch? Should it include the career break or should it be more passion focused as you advise people in general, I'm assuming who have not taken a career break?

Marc Cenedella: Sure. Well, again, thanks for having me, excited to be on the podcast. The returner to work has to think about what the person who's ultimately going to hire them is looking for, to a certain extent. It doesn't matter what they did or did not do in terms of a break.

Previously what their future boss is looking for is somebody who can contribute. Who can do the job and can help that boss achieve their goals this quarter, or this year, this month. The elevator pitch really needs to be focused on how you're bringing your passion to a set of problems that could be relevant to that future boss.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Got it. And, can you give us an example from that piece and actually just in general of how you do the elevator pitch, regardless of a career break or not so people can get a sense of your approach?

Marc Cenedella: Overall it's expressing what you've done, and what you want to do with enthusiasm, what you're looking to do next, and why you think you're a great fit, those four things.

So it might be, “I've been a leading expert in advertising for years. I love the advertising space because getting messages out to consumers is fascinating to me. I'm looking to do it again in consumer packaged goods. And I think I'd be terrific for your brand Acme, because you guys are doing a lot of interesting things in CAD to Bitcoin and I'd be terrific in helping you get that message out.”

That's what elevator pitches are, those four sentences. And so thinking about, how much do I talk about my break? Nobody is going to hire you because of your break. So it's got relatively little to do with your future boss other than you might feel that you need to explain it, or why you've got a three or four or six year gap in your work history. So might say in your elevator pitch, “Now that I'm returning to the workforce after raising a family, I'm looking to do such and such.”

But overall for a pitch, when we're talking about the 30 seconds, that you're really encapsulating your value to a future employer, I think you really want to stay with

that value you're delivering rather than something else about your personal or professional situation that doesn't necessarily directly communicate that value.

Carol Fishman Cohen: I'm glad to hear this. It does reinforce the approach that we use when we're guiding relaunchers. I'm actually a relauncher myself.

I took an 11 year career break and went back to a finance career after being home with kids. But we tell relaunchers not to apologize and to be very brief about their career breaks and then to move on immediately to why they're the best person for the job. So if the person says, “What, gosh, tell me about the six year career break?” You can say, “Yes, I took a career break to care for my children, and now I can't wait to get back to work. In fact, the reason I'm so excited about this position is...,” and then it sounds like you could segue right into what you are there for.

Marc Cenedella: Yeah, it's obviously it's a hindrance because it's different from most of the candidates or professionals that they're talking to for a particular role.

So, it is a bit of a hindrance and you don't want to ignore that, but it is not the reason that you will get hired or not hired, as it doesn't really have that much of an impact on why you are going to get hired or not hired. Why spend time?

Carol Fishman Cohen: Right. You're saying, just get into the information that is relevant to the employer, which is how you can add value.

Marc Cenedella: What is she looking to hire? What is he looking to add to his team? And let’s focus on that.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Got it. Thank you. That's super helpful. We've also noticed that you have a few pieces of advice as you're out in the public domain with a lot of great advice. And some of that advice is constructed in terms of a single best piece of advice on a variety of topics, and we wanted to know if you could talk about a single best piece of advice for relaunchers who are making their way back into the workforce after an extended break, and it could really be in any category of the job search process.

Marc Cenedella: Sure. My single best piece of advice that I stumbled upon as I've been doing career advice and advising folks for two decades is, when it gets to that point of the interview, when they ask, “Hey, is there anything else you'd like to ask me?” Ask, “Sure, how do I help you get a gold star on your review next year”? And this piece of advice has been the most effective, I've gotten most of the most positive feedback, and it is transformative often in the interview because it shows you in a light that your future employer, your future boss is unaccustomed to seeing candidates appear in.

That is the role of somebody who is really there to help your boss get ahead and, you are not just concerned with your own performance or your own future, but that you realize that you're part of a team and that part of that team’s successes, reflecting on the boss and that you are there to help the boss of the team achieve shared goals.

So that's been my single best bit of advice for a long time.

Carol Fishman Cohen: And I think it all applies for relaunchers just as much as anybody else. Right? I love that piece of advice and you don't hear it very often, so it's really unique and I think it's important for relaunchers to hear this.

So thank you.

Marc Cenedella: And look, you gotta remember, you gotta be Channing Tatum cool. Not, you know, Jonah Hill, obsequious and kind of sniffling. The important thing is that you're not trying to be a brown-noser or apple polisher anything like that, but you're simply saying, “Hey look, how do I help you get ahead in your own endeavour?”

And mostly what I hear from people, bosses, future bosses, that I ask this of say, “I've never had anybody ask me that.” A great way to stand out for something other than what you happened to be doing these last few years and refocus all of their attention on what you're hoping they focus their attention on, your future contributions to the employer.

Carol Fishman Cohen: That is great advice. You know, I'm curious about your reaction to the question that we've heard is that's a good one to ask, which is, if you and I were to sit down in six months and I had done an excellent job, what would I have accomplished?

Marc Cenedella: And that's also terrific, because that causes the future boss to kind of outline what are the achievements that they're looking for over the next six months.

And then you can speak specifically to how you can help achieve those more. Probably what I recommend people do is, even prior to going into the interview, when you're meeting with HR or you're talking to a recruiter, even your future boss, when you're setting up that interview or that time to come in, ask, “What are the three most important things for the success of the person in this role?”

And it should be three, not seven. It shouldn't be one. Three gives you a few different things that you can talk about. If you're a bit stronger in one than the others, you can focus on that. But that gives you the roadmap and the game plan for how you ought to structure your time in the interview.

So if your future boss says, “Hey, I'm looking for somebody, a logistics expert,” and you say, “Well, what are the three most important things?” And they say, “Organization, ability to expand warehouses rapidly and shipping cost efficiency.” You can now go through your resume and through your background and pull out the two, three, four, five bullet points and achievements that most directly speak to that.

So that when you go into the interview, you can say, “What I heard you say was that these are the three most important things. Is that true?” And, “Okay,” it's true, It's great, “Here's how I think I've delivered on those in the past and how I can deliver on those in the future.” So that gives you a means for structuring your conversation.

That is just a heck of a lot easier than going in and winging it. Right?

Carol Fishman Cohen: That is terrific.Thank you. I've also never heard that before, so thrilled that we're getting such expert and unique advice here. Thank you.

You are listening to 3,2,1 iRelaunch, the podcast where we talk about strategies, advice, and success stories about returning to work after a career break.

This is Carol Fishman Cohen, your host, and we are speaking with the Ladders founder, Marc Cenedella. It’s just great, getting some great wisdom from him today.

So, Marc, I want to move on and ask you about age discrimination. relaunchers tend to be in their forties, fifties, and sometimes older, and can be highly focused on issues of age.

We're just interested in, what's your experience and advice about age discrimination? You actually have an article that has the best title called, When the Kid Interviewing You Says You're Too Old. That's one of our favorites. I'm sure you've written other pieces, but just give us your thoughts on that.

Marc Cenedella: Sure. Well, first off, age discrimination exists in this country. It's true. It's a real thing. I was shocked to find it when I got into the business two decades ago, and it's only gotten worse over the last 20 years. So my overall advice to folks is that age discrimination is mindset discrimination.

And what that means is employers have discovered that in this very turbulent, fast moving environment, that companies that rely on the past and sticking with the tried and true tend to get run over. And they end up being casualties in the marketplace. And on the other hand, what they learned is that companies that are flexible and that can adapt and kind of transform their business every 18 or 36 months are the ones that tend to get ahead as a result.

What they've discovered is that we need people who are flexible and who can learn and who are curious and who don't have a sense of “not invented here” about new technology or new ways of doing things. For better or worse many employers and many managers feel that older candidates, older professionals come to the table with a preconceived notion of how they're going to do their job, and aren't really very flexible and learning.

Overall, just if we look at it statistically, it probably is true. And probably people who have been doing a particular job for 30 years probably have pretty strong opinions on how to do that job for somebody who's only been doing it three, but for you coming back into the workforce, what you need to think about is that while there's nothing you can do to stop age discrimination, what I observed over the years is that, I've seen candidates who have succeeded despite their age. And I've seen candidates who have failed because of it. Once you succeed, despite their age, come in with an open, flexible mindset that they display in their answers and their demeanor, and in the specific examples they give in the interview.

What I mean by that is it's best if you can go into your interview and let's just go through a few examples. So one, describing situations in which you adapted a new technology, to a problem at hand. “Hey, that is Slack. It has been a great tool for me,” or, “I implemented Zeplin at my company,” whatever it was.

Some of the newer tools are explaining how you use those technologies and deliver value.

Now look, it's best if the technologies that you describe aren't from the seventies. So, say you implement eight track tapes, probably not your best idea. Another example would be recounting in the past how you were able to help younger staff get to a solution that was stumping everybody. And what you want to display is look, “I'm helpful. I've got some knowledge, and I'm not above helping people get there,” not lording it over them or not being arrogant about it, but sharing how you're able to do that.

And then, conversely also sharing a time when a younger staff or manager gave you feedback that you were able to put into place and be constructive with. A big fear of younger managers is no matter what to tell you, the candidate, you're not gonna listen to me. And even if the evidence is blaring and I made a decision that we're going to go blue and not red, the fear is that you're going to say, “Well, we gotta stick red because red is tried and true. It's how we've always done it.” So demonstrating in your interview that that's not the case and that you're able to take feedback and actually change your behavior as a result is helpful.

Maybe the fourth one would be sharing in a specific and vivid way your passion for the specific field that you're in and you're trying to stay away from generalities. “Oh, I love advertising,” but you know, digging into what you love about photo-shoots and what you love about executing a user research or what your thrill is in executing new campaigns.

And what companies have discovered is that, passionate people who really care about the work and care about the professional endeavor over and above working at the company, tend to do a heck of a lot better than people who are just taking the job. So if you can display that and it's especially helpful.

If during your break, you took some steps to scratch that itch and further develop that area of a passion. If you can share that with your interviewer, then that goes a long way to kind of showing the curiosity, the engagement, the passion, and the interest in new things that maybe when it comes to older folks in the workforce, there is a bias against bullying that they bring those to the table.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Okay, Marc. One thing that I hear you saying that, that we sometimes think about is how to convey a fearless quality about learning new things. We've heard employers say it's not as important to me that the person knows every piece of the latest tech that's being used, but it's important to me that they have a fearless attitude about learning it. Any comments on that or how to express that?

Marc Cenedella: So I agree. And the best way to demonstrate a capability is to demonstrate that capability. So if you want to convey that you have a fearless embrace of new technologies, then go out and embrace new technologies. Do a blog, have an Instagram feed, do something on Twitter, create your own webpage.

In your particular field, there's probably a wide variety of new technologies being applied to your field. Find a way to show that you are actively learning about those and trying to implement them in your professional life. I know if you're coming out of the workforce and you're not currently employed, you can still demonstrate a high level of interest and engagement.

And honestly, to a certain extent, you have an advantage in that if you don't have any deliverables this week, because you don't have a full-time job, you've got way more time to dig into the training and dig into the user manual and dig into the tutorials than anybody who's got a full-time gig does.

So if the standard software in your industry has just released version 7.9 and everybody else is still on 7.6, if you dig into 7.9 and can kind of know all the new features and think through intelligently how various potential employers could implement them, that can be very helpful.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Yeah, that's a really good idea. We work with a lot of big companies on helping them to introduce, implement and expand formal mid career internship programs. And one of the programs that we work on is with IBM, it's called IBM Tech Re-Entry and they hire mostly data scientists in this return-to-work program. And the people who have taken the step to go out and take and complete, for example, an MIT Ed-X program in Python, that credential is considered legitimate and actually a high point of someone's background. And people who have had that kind of coursework then thrive in their program and succeed when it's over and get hired. So that's an example of coursework, but I love this idea of focusing on the most used technology in a particular field.

And learning the latest version of it, which could be a version, as you're saying that even in the company, they haven't adapted yet.

Marc Cenedella: It's almost certain that they haven't adapted yet. Most companies are kind of at the 18 or 24 months technology upgrade cycle. If you're digging into the next version, most commonly used software programs, there's almost no doubt you're going to come into that interview with more knowledge about the future features than they currently have. You can say, “Hey, so I imagine you guys are using the feature from Acme Software 67. What do you think about the new things that they're implementing with geo and interest specificity in 69 and is that something you think you're going to apply?

Can be very helpful and especially in battling ageism and because one of the other pieces that we've thought about is as an antidote to aging, it's subject matter expertise. And essentially that's what you're saying here, if you can deliver it, talk about the latest version of popular software technology.

Carol Fishman Cohen: They're going to be focusing more on the substance of what you're saying, and the fact that you are familiar with this, than the fact that you're over 55.

Marc Cenedella: And let’s underscore that point. Sometimes coming into an interview as an older worker, you can approach it with a little bit of fear or intimidation about, “Hey, am I up to date enough?”

And, when this goes wrong, how people try to address that is, they show up wearing clothes that reveal too much about their desperation maybe, that they're trying too hard. They're trying to learn the new bands, the new lingo of the kids, and like that's very surface and inauthentic and it doesn't work.

But if you can go up with a genuine curiosity and interest in a knowledge and a substantive knowledge about new things, then that's how you set yourself apart as. Look, I might be 30 or 35 or 40 years into my career, but today is day one of the day that we are going to get the customer's business for today.

And I am fully here and prepared and excited about applying all the tools and resources and learnings that I have to that problem here today.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Wonderful. Thank you. That is so valuable for our relauncher community. Marc, let me just change the topic for a minute and ask you, why did you start The Ladders? And can you explain what The Ladders is and how relaunchers could best use it as a tool as they are proceeding through their relaunch?

Marc Cenedella: Sure. We're a community for folks at the higher end of the professional range. We focus on a $100K plus careers. I started the business 15 years ago in Manhattan after being a senior vice president at HotJobs, which was the number two job board in the country behind Monster during the first internet era.

We sold that business to Yahoo for a half billion dollars back in 2002. And I've just always been fascinated about work in economics before business school. Then I think coming out of business school, I stumbled into HotJobs and was just really fascinating to me, this application of the hard stuff to the soft stuff.

So, online recruitment is applying computation and statistics and data science, the hard stuff to the soft stuff of people's fears and emotions, ambitions, desires and careers. And so I really just find that super engaging and interesting. So I started a newsletter focused on $100K plus careers 15 years ago with three subscribers in August of 2003.

And today we've got 10 million subscribers. We provide news information, entertainment, advice, and tools to people in the $100K plus community that ends up being about the top 25% of the workforce. And, we're here to help you get ahead in your career and it's everything from light-hearted articles about words that people use wrong or use right in the office to serious stuff about dealing with the harassment issues that are in the news today, or dealing with age-ism or dealing with getting the promotions and getting ahead in your current job all the way over to tools, where we've got 300,000 jobs paying over $100K live on the site today. And you can go through and apply and look, interact with recruiters.

So that's what Ladders does and I love the career space and everything about it.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Wow. That's incredible. I love hearing that story and how far you've come since the very beginning of it and in really not that long of a time when you think about it. Well, thank you Marc, we want to wrap up by asking you the question that we ask all of our podcast guests, and that is your favorite piece of advice for relaunchers, even if it's something that we've already talked about in our conversation today


Marc Cenedella: So, I think specifically for relaunchers, what I'd say is you're coming back into the workforce and your highest anxiety is probably in addition to a little bit of worry about how will I do once I get a job is figuring out where that job is.

And I've been a little bit disconnected maybe, because I haven't been spending a hundred percent of my time on it. So you have this high level anxiety, then that left to its own devices, you tend to apply by drilling into all of your friends and contacts with, “Do you know any about any jobs?” and that's an error.

I think the favorite piece of advice for relaunchers is going to be something from John Lucht who wrote Rites of Passage, and he’s not passed away, but it was a great piece of advice. I met him earlier in my career. His advice was when you're looking for a role and you're talking to your network, don't ask for a job, ask for a reference.

And what I mean by that is most of the folks that you are going to talk to or network with, or go back out to reconnecting coffee or breakfast or lunch with, they're just not focused on the job market. They're focused on doing their job. So when you're asked them, “Hey, do you know about any jobs open?” The truth is the answer is no, because they're not thinking about it.

And by asking them a question that they have to tell you, “No,” now they feel bad, you feel bad, you haven't gotten anywhere. So, John's bit of advice that I'll repurpose here is, don't ask for a job, ask for a reference. So when you're reconnecting with your old friend, Sally, that you worked with 10 years ago, “Hey Sally,” (when it gets to that point in this job search, you know how to eventually get to that point), “Can I use you as a reference now?” Most people will say yes. And that does a few things. One is they feel a little bit flattered that you think about using it as a reference. It's easy to say, “Yes,” doesn't cost them anything to say, and it turns them into somebody who's now rooting for you a little bit,

as opposed to having to say, “No,” and feel bad that they didn't have a job for you.

Now, they've got a little bit of a positive thing and you're in a little bit in the back of their head. So that over the next four weeks, eight weeks, 12 weeks is they're just going about their day to day. Maybe when they hear about something open, it'll just jog something in their mind. “Ah, I should tell my friend about this role.”

So it's a small difference that leads to a big change in outcome where you're moving from, “Hey, do you know about any jobs?” to, “Would you be a reference?” Changes it from a negative and not really any place to go to a positive that could lead to a lot of good stuff in the future for you.

Carol Fishman Cohen: I love that advice. Thank you, Marc so much and thank you for joining us today and sharing your wisdom. We are so privileged to be able to hear from you. Can you tell our audience how to find out more about The Ladders?

Marc Cenedella: Sure. You can go to T H E L A D D E R S .com. And I've also got two best-selling books on Amazon, Ladders 2018 Resume Guide and Ladders 2018 Interview Guide. Just search on my last name, Cenedella or The Ladders. You'll be able to find them in the Kindle version only on Amazon.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Thank you and it's Cenedella just so people know is spelled C E N E D E L L A.

Marc Cenedella: Right. I'll just keep going with the vowels. A lot of vowels.

Carol Fishman Cohen: . That's great. All right. Thank you, Marc for joining us today.

Marc Cenedella: Thanks so much.

Carol Fishman Cohen: You have been listening to 3,2,1 iRelaunch, the podcast where we discuss strategies. advice and success stories about returning to work after a career break. And we were thrilled to have Marc Cenedella the founder of The Ladders as our guest for today. I'm Carol Fishman Cohen, the chair and co-founder of iRelaunch and your host. For more information about iRelaunch go to

And if you liked this podcast, be sure to rate it on iTunes and your favorite podcast platform, and be sure to share this podcast with a friend on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media. Thanks for joining us.

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