Storytelling about Black Swan Careers with Olga Etkina

Welcome to the Use Case Podcast, episode 184. This week we have Olga Etkina on from Black Swan Careers, and we’re going to be learning about the business case or use case for Black Swan Careers.

Thanks, William

Show length: 29 minutes

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Olga Etkina
Founder Black Swan Careers

Olga Etkina is a Career Expert who helps ambitious job seekers find jobs they love by working smarter, not harder.
She is the founder of Black Swan Careers and creator of Cultivate Career Authority, an online career education program helping ambitious job seekers find career clarity while mastering interview and salary negotiation skills that pay lifelong dividends.


Music:   Welcome to RecruitingDaily’s Use Case Podcast, a show dedicated to the storytelling that happens or should happen when practitioners purchase technology. Each episode is designed to inspire new ways and ideas to make your business better as we speak with the brightest minds in recruitment and HR tech. That’s what we do. Here’s your host, William Tincup.

William Tincup:   Ladies and gentlemen, this is William Tincup, and you are listening to the Use Case Podcast. Today we have Olga on from Black Swan Careers, and we’re going to be learning about the business case use case for Black Swan Careers. We’re going to learn about a little bit about Olga as well. So let’s just jump right into it. Olga, welcome to the show.

Olga:   Thanks so much.

William Tincup:   Would you introduce both yourself and Black Swan Careers?

Olga:   Sure. So a little bit about myself. I am a career expert, and I have about a decade of experience within the talent acquisition, HR vertical. So I have been incredibly lucky and privileged to be able to build out some incredible teams at companies like Goldman Sachs, Bank of America, ClassPass, and prior to actually starting Black Swan Careers, I was the head of talent acquisition at a company called Chief, whose sole mission is to get more women into positions of leadership.

At Black Swan Careers, our mission is to democratize just career coaching in general for everybody. What we do is we help ambitious professionals create careers that they love by working smarter versus harder. This is because historically we think of a job search as this incredibly tedious, time-consuming, emotionally and physically taxing experience. I’ve been in this industry long enough to see a change a million times over. Now we have so many incredible tools and strategies that we can implement to make this whole experience that was once tedious, we can now do it incredibly strategically and efficiently. That’s what we teach our students.

William Tincup:   So the democratization of career coaching, that’s for everybody. So it’s not just the high performers or high potentials, et cetera. This is for all employees. The main, your buyer if you will, is it HR, is it Learning? Where in the organization do you kind of pierce?

Olga:   Job seekers. It’s great for anybody. It’s great for new grads, it’s great for anybody who is currently open to new opportunities, somebody looking for career change. It’s really the perfect first … If you’re in a position and you think to yourself, “Okay, I’m actually interested in something new,” or, “I’m looking for a job,” the perfect place to start is at Black Swan Careers with our educational resource, which is called Cultivate Career Authority.

William Tincup:   Black Swan Careers. What’s the origin story here? How’d you come up with the name?

Olga:   I created the company during the pandemic, and I was part of what many call the great resignation. I think once I started working from home, I realized, “Wow, I’m so much more productive and so much more creative.” I had all these ideas and the idea of commuting and coming in every single day into an office, at least not on my own terms, was no longer something that I was willing to do. So the pandemic is a black swan event, a negative one. A black swan event is basically a really impactful, unforeseen event that can happen in your life. It can be positive or negative. At Black Swan Careers we like to focus on the positive, and the whole mission behind the name is that we want people to see just what kind of potential they can have with their career.

We provide them with tools that they can then create the most amazing experiences and career experiences for themselves. Simultaneously at the same time, we also with the information that they hold and the strategies that they learn in any kind of environment, whether they lose their job, whether they get laid off or whatever it may be, they can reimplement these strategies and very quickly find a new role or much faster than previously thought.

William Tincup:   How much of this is concierge? You navigate the technology or people, whatever, either-or, or a combination thereof is helping people through this process and how much of it is just different ways the technology is then taking them and guiding them through, take this test, assess for these things. What are your priorities, et cetera? Kind of giving them an exploration because one of the things that comes to mind is you don’t know what you don’t know. Especially if you’re in a career, maybe you’re unhappy, well, you know that. Check. You’re a pain to be around. Check. Got it. But you don’t know what is the potential? What’s transferable? What else could I be doing if I weren’t doing this?

Olga:   Yep. Well that’s exactly the point why this whole curriculum, Cultivate Career Authority was created, which is self-paced. It’s six core modules, there’s four bonuses, but then there’s also supplementary one-on-one strategic sessions available for people as well.

The way that I thought of it was what I realized in my decade-long career within talent acquisition is that I would continuously have conversations with people, with candidates, and it amazed me how much people don’t know about information that could help them in the job search or information that could get them more money during a negotiation or people just undervaluing themselves in general.

It hit me that all of this information that I’ve accumulated over the last decade, I think everybody knows that’s just not the case. Time and time again when I worked with students when I was doing one-on-one coaching as well, it was amazing to me how people really don’t know the extent of the strategies and the behind the curtain view of how businesses make decisions and how much it actually helped them during the process. That’s what Cultivate Career Authority is. It’s a self-paced course. Whoever nominates take it, students go through the self-paced course. It’s six modules with four bonuses. So essentially you cultivate a success mindset. You find career clarity and strategy. You optimize your resume and your LinkedIn, you optimize your job search, you sharpen interviewing skills, you sharpen negotiation skills, you negotiate a salary increase, and you prepare for on-the-job success. Of course, finally you need to understand hiring laws and any type of bias that you can potentially come across.

It’s quite literally preparing the job seeker for anything that may come up in their job search from the absolute beginning, which is we need to figure out, are you in the right mindset for the volatility of a job search all the way to, okay, you’ve accepted an offer, you’re starting a job soon, but let’s talk about the first 90 days for you to actually start successfully in that role. The whole course goes through all of these things in different modules. Wherever people get stuck, they have the ability to get add-on strategic sessions with myself and it’s just one-on-one. It’s private. The reason I did this is because I’ve been a part of one-on-one coaching, I’ve been a part of group coaching, and what I realized is that group coaching … There’s a lot of different opinions, but this is just my very own … It’s just maybe not as impactful. You don’t get the one-on-one strategic kind of-

William Tincup:   [inaudible 00:   08:   14] vulnerability. I mean, if coaching done well, it’s like counseling or group therapy or therapy in general. There’s a bunch of vulnerability that you have to deal with. You have to put yourself out there. Sometimes in groups that happens. Check. Sometimes. Oftentimes people will hold back and they won’t be as vulnerable and then-

Olga:   100%.

William Tincup:   You kind of hamstring the coach because they’re not getting all the information because you’re not giving them all the information. It’s like going to your doctor and giving them partial information about how you feel. It’s interesting. I’ve got a couple things. One is, you’re a career expert, I am not. But 100 years ago people would ask me my advice about this. I would tell them, “Listen, here’s how I would solve for this. I’d go away from everybody. I’d go off into the woods like Emerson, and basically I’d do kind of an expertise inventory. What skills do you really have, and what’s easily accessible?” Not something that you’ve got to go get a PhD for, but what do you have? What’s close? So do an inventory and be brutally honest with what you have.

Second inventory, do a passion inventory. What do you really care about? You say you care about the whales. Okay. Fair enough. Whatever. What do you really care about? Again, be brutally honest. Then the last overlay for my advice to them back then was, and where can you make money? So now if you can overlay things, okay, that’s great. But if you can’t make money and let’s say that’s the goal, then you’ve got to figure out how to overlay those things to where the market will then pay you for those things. So, first of all, I want you to tear that advice apart just because I don’t give it anymore. It’s okay.

Olga:   You know what? I wouldn’t. I think every single person is different, and different strategies work for different people. There’s no one- size-fits-all. But actually what you are talking about is quite similar to … I don’t know if you’ve heard of this, but it’s Jim Collins’ Hedgehog Theory. If you actually do the work for the Hedgehog Theory, it’s the exact same things. What are you deeply passionate about? What skills were you born with, and what skills have you mastered? Finally, what is your economic driver and how can you make money? It’s all relatively the same, but every single person just is more optimized in different situations. For you, it’s in the woods, for somebody it may be something entirely different. For others, it may be in a setting with their friends and collaborating and then talking through this.

So I don’t think there is a one-size-fits-all. I think that’s the beauty of where we are now is that there’s so many different ways of figuring out and so many different products and so on to figure out what you actually want to do. We’ve never been in a more exciting market where you can very quickly leverage the skills that you’ve had in another role and step into a different role because companies are hiring like crazy. That’s really the whole point. Actually, I’m glad that you brought this up because you mentioned the career concierge. I have a 90-page workbook that I created. It’s completely free. I’m happy to send you the link for your listeners.

William Tincup:   Please do.

Olga:   It’s completely free. It’s 90 pages of just helping individuals … It’s actually a blueprint for how to land a job without a career coach. So it’s giving them all the information to do this themselves. I made it in response to the pandemic and everything that I’ve been seeing because I don’t know how much time you spend on LinkedIn, but I continuously saw so many recruiters who I completely feel for as well, because I am one as well, who are saying they’ve never hired more, they’re exhausted, da, da, da, and they’re all burnt out. It’s true, we’ve never hired more.

But on the flip side, you also see a lot of pain from people who have not found their roles yet, who are struggling. They’re frustrated. They don’t understand why this process or why this market is not working for them but rather against them. Realizing that, I was like, “Okay, we still have a ton of work to do.” This 90-page career workbook is essentially a free blueprint of how to land a job in this highly competitive market. Then if anybody feels, if you’re going through the workbook and you feel like you want additional help and you want to dig in deeper, you have the opportunity to then enroll in Cultivate Career Authority. It’s absolutely not necessary. The Career Concierge, the workbook, is more than enough information to land most people into roles that they love. But for those that need additional help, Cultivate Career Authority is there.

William Tincup:   Again, it gives you something to help you navigate. Some people … This gets down to kind of learning styles too … We all learn differently. So handing someone a 90-page PDF, for some learners that’s just … It could be-

Olga:   It’s not enough.

William Tincup:   You could tell them exactly where the pot of gold is, and that’s just not how they learn. I like that you have a multidimensional approach to, “Hey, listen. How do you want to learn?” Everyone learns differently, but everyone’s going to approach their career and maybe the next step in their career differently, and that’s okay. No square pegs, no round holes. Let’s actually create something that’s unique to you.

We’ve talked about job seekers. I know that’s the core audience. Do you see a future at one point, especially on the outplacement side, I want to say enterprise, but not necessarily the enterprise, but when people have to do RIFs, when people have to do layoffs, et cetera, furloughs, which I still don’t know what that word means actually, do you see that Black Swan Careers has a place there to help people that are exiting a business?

Olga:   Absolutely. It’s a great idea. I think that it could definitely be part of an off-boarding program where companies can automatically give whoever is exiting a company enrollment into this course as a supplementary way of saying, “We’re so sorry this has happened, but here is how we are setting you up for future success.” So, yeah. Absolutely.

William Tincup:   First of all, it’s just goodwill. We romance folks on the way in. If it doesn’t work out, whatever, if it doesn’t work out, let’s help them get onto their next greatest adventure however we can, whatever we can do. It just seems like a great way to assist people and giving them great advice and helping them get to their next greatest adventure. So it just seems like a logical step.

You mentioned students a few different times. Do you find, Black Swan Careers, do you find yourself focusing a lot on the early stage career? I want to say college audience, but even early stage, do you find yourself that’s kind of a sweet spot for you?

Olga:   So actually most of the people that I’ve worked with have been career changers. So individuals who, and you wouldn’t think so, but it’s the bulk of the individuals that I’ve worked with and they’re people who maybe have been impacted by COVID. Particularly, there’s one client that I worked with who went from working in food and beverage in the restaurant industry for a really long time, but wanted to break into the corporate world. Specifically, it’s a very specific niche industry. We knew that it was a really heavy undertaking because somebody with no corporate experience stepping into corporate is hard enough, but when you make the niche really small, it makes your chances of success even smaller. Yet we were able to do it. I think it was a really clear sign to me that this strategy is not just for people who are going from one similar job into another job or maybe new grads. It’s information that you can use wherever you are in your career journey.

Initially we started with one-on-one coaching, and it was significantly more expensive. What I really realized after speaking to a number of business mentors is that every single person was like, “You need to be charging at a minimum $3,000.” The best price is anywhere from 6,000. I remember thinking, “Who are we helping with these prices? Who’s able to afford these types of prices when they don’t have jobs?”

This is part of what actually motivated me to create this type of hybrid course with one-on-one strategic add-ons available is because I realized nobody who is, unless somebody obviously is coming from money or whatever else, but most people who are online who are talking about struggling, they’re not in a position to be paying thousands of dollars out of pocket for something that may or may not work. When we created the shift of Cultivate Career 2.0 and when we re-strategized, we realize that the biggest importance for myself is that I wanted to make it as accessible as humanly possible while simultaneously still being a business versus a nonprofit.

William Tincup:   You ride that line.

Olga:   Yes. Yes. That’s why, and so when you look at any other career coaching programs, they will be in the thousands of dollars. But yet for Cultivate Career Authority, if you sign up for the actual course and you get a supplementary add-on for one-on-one strategic advice, you’re still paying under $1000. That is the whole point is that it’s meant to help as many people as possible without actually diluting the quality of the content because I see that happening so much online is that if you’re paying a lower price, you’re getting maybe a fraction of the information that you actually need, and that rubs me the wrong way so much. For me, I was like, “You know what? This is information everybody needs to know. This is absolutely something that most people should be able to afford, and with an add-on with one-on-one strategic support, they should be able to get that one-on-one type feel as well,” because some people need that. That option should be there, and with most courses that’s not available.

William Tincup:   Well, that’s the democratization part that I love is you’re making it available. Again, you’re not pricing people out. Those that can afford the thousands, that’s fantastic. Good for them. There’s so many other folks that can’t afford that. What have you seen with kind of underrepresented or communities, different groups of people that maybe this would’ve been a struggle before, and in the way that you all are approaching it, you’re making it easier for again, pick underrepresented in any way you want to, but just how have you seen it just help people kind of get to a different place, get to a place that maybe they would’ve never imagined that they would’ve been able to get to? What have you all seen so far?

Olga:   I mean, the barrier to entry is just lower. So I’ve spoken to so many individuals who have taken it and they’re like, “I would’ve never been able to afford this if this was more expensive.” There’s students that I spoke to or prospects that I spoke to initially when I was still doing the one-on-one type coaching and they were quite up front. They were like, “I’m so sorry. This sounds incredible, but I cannot afford that. I’ve been out of a job for X amount of time.” Seeing those same individuals come back and take the course and implement it in their lives. I mean, it’s so rewarding. That’s the whole point.

So yes, we are definitely seeing a lower barrier to entry. More individuals are coming in, and they’re taking the course, they’re getting one-on-one supplementary coaching if needed. They’re literally implementing this into their day-to-day careers or jobs and so on. This is some of my favorite statistics, but we’ve seen people land their dream jobs. We’ve had clients who have actually gotten 40% increases on their raises. This will vary depending on individuals and time commitment and so on, and so the 40% is not something that every single person is going to get. But we’ve seen some really meaningful change and impact, and that’s what it’s about.

William Tincup:   Do you have a favorite story?

Olga:   I do. So it was actually, I told you before, my favorite story is, is … I’m not going to mention her name, but-

William Tincup:   No, no. [inaudible 00:   21:   51]

Olga:   Yes. Somebody who, again, she was working in food and beverage. She was in it for quite some time. Was quite unhappy because of course, as you know, or I don’t know if you know, but I spent six years in food and beverage in the beginning of my career, when I was younger and culture is there, it’s not a focus. You’re just worked to the bone. You’re not respected as you should be. She was desperate and she was drained-

William Tincup:   Added to that, it’s an old boys club, but-

Olga:   Yes. 100%. She was tired, she was drained, she lost her job, and she couldn’t find a way to break into corporate. But she didn’t want to go back to food and beverage because one, it was the middle of the pandemic, and two, she was just done. We’ve all been there in our careers where we’re like, “I can’t do this anymore.” She came to me, she was pretty, not distraught, but she just needed help. I knew that this would be a pretty big undertaking because again, it was, it was the moment that I realized, okay, is this strategy going to work for somebody who is not only changing careers but doesn’t necessarily have all the skills that are required for a corporate job and just stepping into it and hitting the ground running?

The learning curve could be fairly large. You run the risk of companies seeing that and not wanting to take the risk. That says nothing about her not being able to do the job. It’s just the companies potentially don’t want to take that risk. We knew that. She ended up getting a job in her favorite company at her favorite niche. It was an amazing experience. I’m trying to remember how much more she negotiated, but it was a pretty impactful amount where again, she never has to worry about going back to food and beverage. She never has to worry about if something happens with this job, she can always leverage her network and the strategies that were implemented. I speak to her every so often. She’s like, “I’ve never felt more free and just supported,” and that’s exactly what it’s about. It’s about providing people with that information and those strategies, so they can use them over and over and over again and never have to depend on a company.

William Tincup:   So I’ve got to ask you two questions. One is when you were in TA, then as opposed to now, I’ve seen a shift of a lot of recruiters that have moved from just skills and experience to those things and potentiality. Some of that’s market driven and some of it’s just they’re opening their eyes to a wider audience and thinking about, instead of just going in and saying, “Okay, you need 10 years of experience, mechanical engineering degree,” this, that … Checking all the different boxes. They’re looking at it differently. So how did you when you were a recruiter, question, as a recruiter, how did you look at skills, experience, potentiality, et cetera, versus how you would look at it now? If you were to, again, you won’t, but if you were to go back into talent acquisition, you’re global head of talent acquisition at pick your favorite company, would you look at talent differently?

Olga:   I think to be completely honest, I think this speaks less to recruiters changing their strategies or the way they look at candidates. I think it’s more that companies are, they’re dealing with a reckoning that if they don’t create cultures that empower employees and empower candidates, then they won’t hire the best people. In general, I think culture within companies are becoming more just empathetic, more open, and the companies who are more empathetic, who are more open, who hire candidates based on their potential versus, did they go to Harvard or did they not, I think those companies are doing a lot more successfully overall. Every recruiter that I’ve ever spoken to, even before this massive culture shift happened, we’re always on the side of we’d love to help as many people as possible. But if our companies are not open to it, if the hiring managers aren’t open to it, it’s a really difficult hill to climb.

William Tincup:   Oh yeah. You’re pushing a boulder up the hill.

Olga:   Correct. Exactly. I think what we’re actually seeing is that more companies and more senior leadership and hiring managers are opening up their eyes and realizing that, “Hey, there’s a lot of incredible talent out there. Let’s really utilize it and just take away these barriers to entry that we had before and get as much talent in as possible.” That’s what I think is-

William Tincup:   It’s funny, first of all, I like that you didn’t give recruiters all of that credit. You basically said because of COVID, culture was pretty much defined by your headquarters, your location, the office. That was the culture. Without the office, what is culture? You went on to define that. I love that.

Back in the ’60s a lot of defense contractors, NASA, et cetera, they’d just hire smart people. I remember people at McDonnell Douglas and Lockheed Martin, and all of these, General Dynamics, all these different companies tell me these stories, “Yeah, we would go to University of Texas and we’d go into every department. It didn’t matter. We didn’t care what degrees. Just people that are smart. We didn’t have a job. We just hired smart people, and then we’ll figure it out later.” I’m like, “Well, that’s so reckless. That’s absolutely reckless.” But you think about it, it’s like, well, with what they were dealing with, again, that type of company solving those types of problems, it kind of makes sense.

Now they don’t do that. Now you go to Lockheed or Raytheon or any of those types of companies, and it’s really boxy. They’re hiring very specific people for very specific things. I’m like, it’s interesting that they got away from that and I’m like that’s probably some of the stuff that made them successful is they just … 3M was the same way. I don’t know if you ever studied 3M, but 3M, that was their hiring strategy. Hire smart people. Done. Okay. They didn’t even have job descriptions. I mean, that was the funniest part is, so digging into and like, “Oh yeah, job descriptions. Yeah. We didn’t have those. We were just told to go to the University of Michigan and hire 10 people.”

Olga:   Yeah.

William Tincup:   Huh? Okay.

Olga:   I mean, it’s incredible. I have definitely worked for companies in the past that have wanted very specific education, very specific experience. What happens in those cases is that you have this confirmation bias on the team. There’s no diversity of thought. There’s no diversity of experiences or just lack, there is a much less percentage of all of those things. What happens is the solutions that you come up with are not as creative as they could be. So it’s actually less of an impact on the business, in a negative way … You impact the business and potentially the revenues and everything else much less than you would otherwise. I love that. I think more companies should find a way to keep being able to get all the information and keep the integrity of the hiring process high, but simultaneously be open to understanding that great talent can come from anywhere. It’s really your mindset, it’s really the way that you go about solving problems and so on that really matters.

William Tincup:   Drops mic. Walks off stage. Olga, Thank you so much for coming on the Use Case Podcast. I absolutely appreciate-

Olga:   Thank you so much for having me.

William Tincup:   Absolutely. Thanks for everyone listening to the Use Case Podcast. Until next time.

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William Tincup

William is the President & Editor-at-Large of RecruitingDaily. At the intersection of HR and technology, he’s a writer, speaker, advisor, consultant, investor, storyteller & teacher. He's been writing about HR and Recruiting related issues for longer than he cares to disclose. William serves on the Board of Advisors / Board of Directors for 20+ HR technology startups. William is a graduate of the University of Alabama at Birmingham with a BA in Art History. He also earned an MA in American Indian Studies from the University of Arizona and an MBA from Case Western Reserve University.


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