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Talking Career Transitions and Negotiations, with Caroline Ceniza-Levine

Talking Career Transitions and Negotiations, with Caroline Ceniza-Levine

Episode 8: Talking Career Transitions and Negotiations, with Caroline Ceniza-Levine

Caroline Ceniza-Levine has had a very non-linear career path. Starting as a classical pianist, then trying out banking, moving into consulting and then into recruiting. She now uses her experience to advise clients on reaching their goals. In this episode, Kristy and Sallie first discuss career change and what Ellevate members think are the most important elements for a successful transition and Sallie shares lessons she’s learned as she’s reinvented herself throughout her different career stages. Kristy and Caroline then talk advice for those thinking of changing their careers and about negotiations.

Episode Transcript

00:12 Sallie Krawcheck: Hey, everyone, we are podcasting here from the Ellevate Network offices in Flatiron District in New York where we're finally having a beautiful, sunny day. This is Sallie Krawcheck and joined by the president of Ellevate Network, Kristy Wallace.

00:27 Kristy Wallace: Hello, everyone.

00:28 SK: I know that you talk to Caroline Ceniza-Levine. I'd love to hear a bit about her. You gave me this piece of paper with her title on it, and it's reading career expert, executive coach, recruiter, author, speaker and comedian.

00:45 KW: That is correct.

00:46 SK: And the founder of SixFigureStart LLC. So this is a very, very busy woman.

00:51 KW: She is a very, very busy woman, and she is a mom and it's great. I'll tell you, this is one of the funniest episodes.

00:58 SK: So, she is actually a funny comedian?

01:00 KW: Yes, she is very funny, so stay tuned everyone 'cause this is gonna be great. And as you mentioned in her title, she has had a very nonlinear career path, which is something we know is of interest and a reality to many of our members. So her story is great. It's really interesting, but what she's really focused on in this episode is talking about negotiations. How to ask for that raise, how to know what you're worth. Practicing for getting over that nerves. So we're really excited to learn from what she has to share with us.

01:35 SK: Does she advise to use humor in negotiation?

01:38 KW: She does not, but she uses humor in talking about it so that makes it memorable.

01:45 SK: Yeah. So for our listeners, we have a couple of Ellevate Network survey results to share with you. As you know, we are always surveying the network, and part of what I know you all talked about are career transitions. So what the network told us, the Ellevate Network told us, is the most important thing in a successful career transition is resilience. That nearly a third of our women said resilience is what is most important and what matters most. The second most important thing with 23% of responses, so close to a quarter, is having a large network to call on, which obviously at Ellevate Network, we're not going to argue with. And then the third is just under 20%, having financial security before you change paths, which is also sort of my thing. The other poll that we would share with you is this career transition is not unusual. So we asked the women, have you ever reinvented your career? The answer is 46% said, "Yep, a few times." "Yes, and I found my calling" is about a quarter. "No, but I'm planning to" is just about 14-15%. And then less than 10% said, "I would like to but I'm terrified." So we've got women who are transitioning and women who are seeing resilience, having a network, and having financial security before you change paths as the important determinants, important drivers.

03:13 KW: So, Sallie, you've written a lot lately about your career transition, and I know you have had the wonderful experience of going from a very large company to a fun startup, where we're all very, very close and intimate with each other.

03:28 SK: Yeah, that's for sure.

03:29 KW: But what are some of the things you've learned from that?

03:32 SK: Yeah, I've actually transitioned a few different times, so it struck me recently. I didn't do in my 30s what I did in my 20s. I didn't do in my 40s what I did in my 30s, and well, now, I'm in my 50s and I'm an entrepreneur now. I find the big network helps; mostly, I find, as a means to learning. If you're thinking about making a transition, talking to the person in the office right next to you probably isn't gonna help, because the two of you have the same set of experiences. But having that network, calling on the network, learning from the network, and then sort of not taking failure so seriously. We women, the research shows, take failure more seriously than the gentlemen do and recognizing, "Alright, I failed this morning, I'm gonna fail this afternoon, plan on failing tonight again." But all I have to do, I tell my kids this all the time, put lots of lines in the water because you only need one great thing to come through. And so if you try for a lot of low probability things, only one of them has to come through before that.

04:42 KW: I do think also that you learn from failure. It's an opportunity to learn...

04:48 SK: In a big way.

04:51 KW: Yeah, and to change your thinking and to really be creative. So it's...

04:57 SK: What do they say? Don't let a good crisis go to waste? Don't let a good failure go to waste. You've got to wring everything out. So actually after I got re-orged out of Bank Of America, I spent the two days... The first day felt sorry for myself. The second day I called members of the board and asked them what I could have done better, even though I promise you, it was the last thing I wanted to do. I promise you, I had no desire to talk to them, to talk to anybody, to do anything but drink. But I wanted to learn from what had happened because it was such an important moment in my life before it faded for them. So I ran right back into the buzz saw.

05:39 KW: Well, that's great.

05:40 SK: Yeah, it was fabulous.


05:41 SK: It was such a good time, I can't tell you, what a blast.


05:46 KW: That's a good story. I don't know if I would have the fortitude to do what you did.

05:52 SK: Thank you.

05:53 KW: But I would like to think that I would. Well, thank you for sharing that Sallie, and now we're going to hear from Caroline Ceniza-Levine, her learnings and what she's experienced.


06:23 KW: Caroline, I know that you do quite a bit. You wear many hats and it's amazing. You're a coach, you're a recruiter, you teach, you do stand-up comedy. How do you do all that and how did you get into all those different roles?

06:41 Caroline Ceniza-Levine: So it seems like everything's disconnected, but there is actually a thread. I'm a trained pianist, so that's how I started, at Juilliard and Manhattan School of Music, and I was going to college at the same time. So I've always had the "do the serious stuff and do the art stuff." So the fact that I do comedy and still have my own business and do serious career stuff, isn't that far left field. But how I do all of it is, I pick and choose, I do the fun things and I do short enough commitments that they can all fit together. You can see that I don't have a traditional job for that reason, because there isn't anything that I do for 40 hours a clip in any given week.

07:25 KW: And how did you get into being a coach?

07:28 CC: So I'm a career coach and I came into that because I was in recruiting, and so there was that career thread. I would say that I got into career because I selfishly wanted first dibs at jobs that were coming up at school. So I was at Barnard College and I had to do work study to... I worked three jobs at a time to put myself through college, and so one of them was work study on campus and I picked career services, because I wanted to see the job posting and I wanted to talk to the employers about what they liked and didn't like.

08:00 CC: So I was a first year student and I was the gofer for the employers who recruited on campus, and I would ask, "Who interviewed well? Why did they do well?" And I could just see the different kinds of jobs. So that's what got me into career, but I never thought I wanted to do something HR-related. I just didn't think of that as an option. I thought, "Oh I'm going to do investment banking," because this was the '90s, and it was still... That was the job. Also because I was working my way through college, I knew that I had a lot of student loans, I didn't have a wealthy family to pay for my apartment and I wanted to live in New York City.

08:36 CC: So I picked banking. I became a summer analyst at Goldman Sachs, which is actually how I connected to Ellevate eventually because it was 85 Broads, which became Ellevate. And then I didn't like banking, which shattered my world because that was one of the few things that I thought was like gravity. But it was boring. I just thought it was transactional and boring, and the lifestyle was so hard, and I thought, "I need to like something if the lifestyle's going to be this hard."

09:04 CC: So I met, luckily, two former management consultants who were turned bankers, and they asked me what I didn't like about banking. I said, "Oh, I love the markets, but I don't like the transaction nature. I'd prefer to work on longer projects," and they said, "Wow, you'd be great for management consulting."

09:20 CC: So that was my first real job after graduation and that's an advisory business. So, of course, at the time I was advising global investment banks on billion dollar things, but it was still an advisory business. And so when I decided that that wasn't for me, and that was strictly for lifestyle reasons, I love the career, but I was married to another consultant and we had our first child while we were both consultants, which I describe as two single parents co-raising a kid.

09:50 CC: I mean that is the easiest way to describe it because of the travel and the scheduling. It was like, "Where are you next week? Oh, okay." So that was awful, we both actually ultimately left our consulting jobs, and I went into executive search because I remembered how much I enjoyed the whole career aspect. And I thought, "Oh, what's going to be job that's advisory like this and can put me into the career space?" And frankly, I did try a traditional HR route, but I was in my early 20s, I was making a six-figure salary, and I was unhirable. I mean, who's going to hire a 20 something?

10:33 CC: At the time, I had no real skills to speak of, I just came from a really expensive industry. So I had to find another decently expensive industry, which is executive search. So then that started the whole career thing.

10:46 KW: Do you find that the people you work with recognize that they're not in the right place?

10:54 CC: Yeah, I mean I think that my clients gravitate to me because I've changed careers and because they see that as a sign of hope, that perhaps they too can do interesting things and still be okay. That being said, I think that many times when people come to coaching, not always, sometimes I do get clients who know exactly what it is that they want to do, many times people come to coaching because they're confused. So essentially, they're not being pulled towards something, a vision of, "I want to do X." They're being pushed from something, "I don't want to do banking, I don't want that lifestyle, I don't want that, I'm bored, I'm undervalued," or whatever it is.

11:34 KW: So you know what you don't want to do, but it's, the world is your oyster in terms of what you do want to do, and it's hard to pinpoint it?

11:42 CC: Right. And so I really describe what I try to do with them as getting them from the push to the pull, because the ideal in being attractive to employers, frankly, or being attractive to clients if you decide to go into business for yourself, is when you're pulled towards something, a bigger mission, a bigger goal, changing something. It doesn't have to be the world, it could be just changing someone else, improving someone else's life in some way, shape or form, so that is the best reason to find a new career and a new vocation really. And so I try to get them past the negative stuff and into the more positive territory.

12:20 KW: Do you see that as a professional mission?

12:25 CC: I do, because it's the fun part of my job. And certainly recruiting fits into this, I mean the best part of recruiting was making that match and feeling like you put someone in what could be the beginning of this great adventure for them and for the company. So with management consulting, it felt the same way in the sense that I was improving something, but it was a billion dollar company...


12:52 CC: Many times and so that just wasn't as interesting to me versus when you are hiring someone for a job. It's that single person, it's yes, you're hired by the company, but it's that individual person. And when I'm coaching one-on-one and someone says that, "Oh, I never thought of it that way," or, "Wow, this is really doable." Or they actually do it. And it doesn't even have to be me talking to them. I get letters from people who read my articles, people I've never met, who've said, "I've been following your column and I got a raise," or, "I changed my life." And it's very rewarding.

13:31 KW: Do you see any distinct differences between men and women in terms of why they want to change their careers?

13:39 CC: I always tell people that unless you're a sociologist or specifically trying to do gender studies, this race to discover the differences between men and women is really not helpful. I get so many questions about negotiation tips for women, right? So do women negotiate differently? And I'm thinking to myself, when you're negotiating for your salary or for a job offer, that's on you. So you're... It's binary. You're either successful or you're not successful. You're happy with the result or you're not happy with the result. And you're not in there representing all women, Gloria Steinem be damned, or whatever, right? This isn't a Helen Reddy song. This is your own career.

14:28 CC: And so, I'm not punting the question. I obviously see differences among people, and I definitely can see that the double bind exists, for example, that women can be assertive, and it would be described as assertive for a man but it will be aggressive for a woman. That being said, I'm very outspoken, I'm pretty loud, I'm a comic, and I'm Asian. Those adjectives don't usually go together either. But I've never had it be a problem for me because I don't see it as a problem. I just assume that the person across from me is okay with it. And if they're not, we weren't gonna get along anyway.

15:12 KW: What are some of the reasons that you see for people transitioning out of their careers or looking for a career change?

15:19 CC: I think the most common push reasons are that they feel like they're not challenged, they're not growing, it's not worth whatever it is that they're doing. They either feel like they're working too hard for too little money or working too hard for too little fulfillment. There's something obviously that's missing, and sometimes it's from a career that otherwise was great. It might have been great before, and they're just at a different stage in their life.

15:49 CC: I'm working with a client right now, who happens to be a man, but I think he speaks for a lot of women and men in that he had a very storied career and achieved a lot of things and he's kind of looking around and saying, "I feel like I did everything I wanted to do there." And so he retired, actually, for about 18 months. And now he's like, "I have a lot of life left in me, I really wanna do something, there are a lot of interesting things in the world." But he has no idea what that is because he spent 25 years in a single industry, and he's not averse to going back, but he's not quite sure what that is. And I think that's a lot of people, where their life is just in a different space than their career. So they need to figure out how to meld the two again.

16:40 KW: What are some of the mistakes you see people make along the way during this time?

16:45 CC: I think a lot of people censor themselves too quickly. A lot of people try to pick their career based on what they're good at instead of what they enjoy, thinking that, "Well, just because I enjoy something doesn't mean that I'm going to be able to get a job." And that's actually true if you're 60 years old and then you decide you wanna be a Prima ballerina, that ship has sailed. But that doesn't mean that you shouldn't kind of linger in this notion of, "Oh, I've wanted to do that." Why is that? Is it the dance? Is it the performing?

17:17 CC: Because it will tell you something else, that actually could be useful towards your career decision. I do think the self-censoring is a big part of it. And related to that, I think is the self-censoring around taboo subjects like money, prestige, lifestyle, things that people might be embarrassed to ask for. I always lead with my clients in terms of money. I will ask them outright, "So how long do you have for this job search? And what's your minimum compensation? And have you run the numbers around that? And have you spoken to everybody else in your family?" Because it really isn't just about you.

17:56 CC: So I think people need to do the hard analysis and decide. There is a cost if you go from banker to non-profit executive, and there's also a psychic compensation that you get, but if you've brought yourself into a lifestyle that's x amount of dollars, that's what it is for the short term, at least. So you have to really look at that as well because your dream might not be as interesting once you start running those numbers.

18:27 KW: That really resonates. That's great advice. And I know, Caroline, that you have been a huge contributor to the Ellevate Network through our jam sessions, for those who don't know, there are weekly webinars and also writing content out, sharing with the community. And a lot of that is around negotiation. As we're talking about compensation and really asking yourself those tough questions, give me your top tips for negotiation.

18:54 CC: So, first of all to remember that negotiation is a process. There's a before, a during, and after. When people think about negotiation, they jump to what I call the during part, the actual event where you're sitting across from someone and saying, "I would like a raise of this amount, or the bonus of this, or this offer is great but... " So they think about that moment wherever it occurs, and by then, the negotiation is almost won or lost. I mean, there are so many things that should've been happening before that, so the preparation is really what I like to focus on with folks, and I would say that the first thing is to know yourself and what it is that you're asking for.

19:34 CC: It's so hard. I once coached a woman who negotiated for a living, so she raised money, millions of dollars for other companies. And so, when it came time to step in to a lead role, a C-level role, and I said to her, "Okay. So let's practice the negotiation," and I coach my clients on a recorded line, so they can hear themselves. And she said, "No, no, no, it's totally fine. I'm meeting with the head of the search committee. I've known him for a long time. I got this," and I said, "Well, let's just see." So, I said that I would play the head of the search committee, and she would play herself, and I asked her, "So, what are you thinking about in terms of compensation?" Dead silence.

20:15 CC: I thought I had lost the connection, and I said, "Are you still there?" She said, "Yes. I'm so sorry. Let's start again," and I said, "What are you thinking about in terms of compensation?" "Well, so, the, what, I, huh." And so, this continued about three or four times, and then I played her, and she played the head of the search committee until she started to just get into the negotiation. And thankfully, it was on my recorded line and not at the restaurant where she was going to be meeting this person.

20:44 CC: So you have to know what it is that you're asking for. You have to practice, and you have to practice in performance condition. So I really put her on the spot, and I wasn't going to let her go. And I do that with my clients because, thankfully, it'll be me or your mentor, or your friend from HR, and not when it counts.

21:03 KW: What tips do you have for young professionals, particularly those that are moving into first time management roles?

21:10 CC: Yeah. So on the negotiation front, I do wanna impart that it's meaningful. It's meaningful because, obviously, this is your salary that's going to compound over time, so past salary is a very strong anchor for future salary. And so, if you can negotiate a good salary now, it just sets the expectation going forward. So it's not just about now, and you can make it up later. I don't wanna set the bar so high that I make people nervous, but I just wanna point that out because I think people overlook that.

21:44 CC: And I also think too, I gave the example of the person 25 years into his career, and then he steps back and looks at, "Is this all there is?" You can do that at any point in your career. And you always should be looking at the trade-off between the hours that you're spending on the job and what you were getting out of it. And that includes the financial composition and what I had said before, the psychic compensation. So are you feeling fulfilled? Are you feeling challenged? And then also what are your priorities for the time? Because I can tell you that my priorities, and so have yours, have changed as you have children, or when you first get married, when you start deciding, "I'm gonna go for the C-level, and I need to get this experience in the middle of nowhere or out in the field in an emerging market. And I'm gonna uproot my whole family and it's going to be worth it." It might be that kind of equation, I mean there are just different priorities at different stages, so it's no one size fits all.

22:43 KW: So how'd you get into comedy? Because I love that aspect of you, and your personality, what you do, your mission.

22:52 CC: So I've always been interested in the arts. So I play the piano because I'm Asian, that's what we do. And then when I got into college, and I had a piano teacher who was a stock picker, who realized that I had no interest... I don't even like classical music, so then we discovered that, "Well, I don't have to do this anymore." So we talked about the markets the whole time. But I've always been a performer. I do like being involved in the arts, and so I dabbled in a number of different things. And I was acting, I took acting classes, I took improv classes, I took improv for a long time and I love it. But comedy... I love to laugh, so I love to watch comedy. And frankly, I came into it as a performer as an accident because I was writing a textbook on job search, and I was losing my snarky blogging voice. I don't think it's too snarky, you can read it on Ellevate, but blogging is a more conversational medium, and I had to write this textbook with key takeaways and assessments. And it was painful, and I thought, "I'm never gonna be able to write naturally again."

24:00 CC: So I noticed this comedy class that was taught by a former improv teacher, and I thought, "Oh, this will be great 'cause all you do is write your own stuff." And in six weeks, they took you from zero, because it was a beginner class, to a six-minute set. And I spent the whole six weeks laughing and laughing. Because everyone came in with material, and you would just get up there and work on material. And everyone had a different personality. And I ended up with eight of my other classmates... Out of a class of 15 people, we formed a group called Comic Diversity, which still exists today and we perform together. So it's a smaller group now 'cause some people have moved away, etcetera. It's almost six years old now. But that's how I got into it. It was just taking a class and just going for it.

24:47 KW: Is there anything I did not ask that you want me to ask or you wanna talk about?

24:52 CC: Wow, I ask that in my job interviews! That is actually a question that I use to stump candidates, and I should have thought of it for this podcast. No, I do feel like you covered everything. What I will say... I mean, I think I mentioned this, but I really wanna stress for folks about this notion of push versus pull, that you wanna get to a space where you really feel pulled by something that's bigger. And that's going to be different at different stages of your life. So in the first part of my life, it was money, big time. And I'm not embarrassed to admit it, and I'm glad that I admitted it to myself because it enabled me to do a lot of the things that I do now because I worked like crazy and amassed some savings that enabled me to take some chances. So there are different ways to do this. You don't have to do it the way your friend did it. And if you need help, find a coach, find a mentor. There are a lot of things to read or listen to on places like Ellevate. You don't have to do it by yourself.


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