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HRExaminer Radio

Guest: Kathryn Minshew, CEO, Muse
Episode: 161
Air Date: March 25, 2016


Kathryn is the Muse’s CEO. She was named to Forbes’ 30 Under 30 in Media and Inc.’s 15 Women to Watch in Tech. Kathryn has spoken at MIT and Harvard, appeared on The TODAY Show and CNN, and contributes on career and entrepreneurship to the Wall Street Journal and Harvard Business Review. Before founding The Muse, Kathryn worked on vaccines in Rwanda and Malawi with the Clinton Health Access Initiative and was previously at McKinsey. Follow her on Twitter @KMin.


Audio MP3





Begin transcript

John Sumser: Good morning and welcome to HR Examiner Radio. I’m your host, John Sumser. Today, we’re coming to you live from, I hesitate to say it, beautiful Downtown Minneapolis, Minnesota where they have snow. For those of you who follow this show for a long time, you may understand that I have tried to navigate my life over the last 20 or 30 years to completely avoid the snow. Here, in Minneapolis it’s like oranges in Florida; it’s their primary product, I think. Today, we’re going to be talking with Kathryn Minshew, who’s the CEO of something called Muse. If you haven’t seen Muse, go see Muse. Kathryn is one of those people who’s destined to become a landmark in the HR tech industry. She’s building out Muse in ways that defy conventional wisdom for what a tech company ought to be in the 21st century and you’re going to love getting to know her. Kathryn, how are you?


Kathyrn Minshew: I’m doing great. I’m so happy to be here.


John Sumser: It’s nice. We’ve talked a lot over the years and it’s good to memorialize it every once in a while in one of these radio shows. Would you take a moment and introduce yourself to the audience?


Kathyrn Minshew: Absolutely. Well, I’m Kathryn Minshew. I’ve been pouring my heart and soul into the Muse for the past four-and-a-half years. You can check it out at I think that I guess I’ll tell the quick story of how I got here, maybe, as a way of introduction. Does that work?


John Sumser: That’s great. That’s fantastic.


Kathyrn Minshew: Yeah, so I guess I’ve always been someone who is fascinated by how people choose the right career path for them. How they decide what is the role their going to take or the path they’re going to follow. For me, my story … I’m from Washington, D.C. I grew up fascinated by the world of international relations. I think, in retrospect, it came from the TV show, “Alias” and form Model UN. It’s funny, when you look back, where you get the ideas about what you want to be when you grow up, so to speak. I thought I wanted to work for the government or the foreign service. Ended up spending some time in an embassy in Nicosia, Cyprus and realized that the vision of the foreign service that I had in my head was not the reality of that career path.


  I took a job at McKinsey in consulting and that’s really where I came up with the idea for the Muse with my co-founder Alex or Alexandra. She and I … We had both been consultants at McKinsey. She’d switched into a recruiting and HR role there for a period of time and so she was seeing some of the challenges that businesses were having finding great talent and I was looking to leave McKinsey so I was spending a lot of time on various career sites and seeing some of the challenges for an individual to navigate their career effectively. We kept talking about it and one day we were like, “You know what? It has to be better than this.” That’s my story.


John Sumser: That’s great. That’s great. You followed your curiosity down the rabbit hole and found the Muse. What’s the Muse?


Kathyrn Minshew: Yep, so the Muse is the most trusted and beloved destination for people navigating their career. You could think of us like a marketplace with individuals on one side and companies on the other. On the individual side, we’ve been used by over 50 million people. Our audience skew a bit millennial so our average user is 29; 2/3 women; 54 percent non white and most of them are coming to the Muse for job search, for career advice or for professional advancement. We offer skill building and all sorts of topic … Everything from being a great manager, communication, et cetera, and on the other side we have hundreds of companies that have these visual photo and video profiles of what is it like to work at their company.


  We help them attract great hires. We help them get those people to apply in their hiring process. We connect directly to their ATS and we work with businesses like gosh, Facebook and HBO. Marriott and Geico. The GAP has a great profile. Dropbox. It’s really a fascinating cross section of businesses. For us, it’s all about how do you help a company tell their story in a really visual, authentic way? Then, for individuals how do you help them decide what’s the right company for them? Then, when you make that match, I think that’s where the magic happens.


John Sumser: That’s really interesting. You’ve just launched this coaching service. Can you tell me about the coaching service and what that means to you and what the business is like?


Kathyrn Minshew: Absolutely. In fact, it’s so exciting for me to finally see this live because I feel like this is the beginning of … Let’s say the third pillar of the Muse. The first pillar of the Muse was career advice, contend and resources. We’ve been providing this since the end of 2011. I think that we’re seen as experts in the career advice space; we power career advice channels on Forbes, Inc., Mashable, Time, a number of other platforms. That started the business. Then, we rolled out this job search and company expiration element, which has been very, very successful and has been booming over the last couple of last years. The third piece, which was missing, was coaching and skill development. What happens when content can’t get someone all the way there or when a business wants to promote someone to management but actually needs to help them understand how to be an effective manager?


  Contrary to what a lot of us would like to believe, magically being a good manager isn’t necessarily something that you’re born with and that’s okay. I realized over the last few years that you have these interesting career transition points. One of them, frankly, is when young people graduate from college. They’ve been trained, so to speak, in a certain academic discipline but there are so many things that they don’t necessarily know about operating in the workplace and the Muse was filling in that gap. We started having employers who would send their employees to our free classes; they would be sending Muse content out to all of their millennial employees but a lot of them were asking us for more.


  That’s where coaching came in. We launched Muse Coach Connect in November of last year. This is the one of a much, much larger vision and the idea is to start, we found some of the absolute best career coaches, leadership coaches, job-search coaches, et cetera, on the internet. We spoke with, I think at this point, several hundred and we are featuring them on the Muse and allowing people to sign up for time with them. Every coach is rated and reviewed. For example, there are a couple of our coaches who have 25 5-start reviews. Anybody who gets three star and below, we dig in on both sides; we’ll find out what’s wrong.


  We refund people if the coach experience isn’t absolutely top notch because, for me, the brand of the Muse is all about that trust and that beloved career destination and I think that we can provide … Step one is if you’re looking for career advice from an expert, I want the Muse to be the site that helps you find the right person. Then, going forward, as you can imagine, we’ve had a number of businesses come to us and say, “We already love the career advice on the Muse. We love this coaching product. Could we talk about putting together a version for our business where, when we promote someone to new management, you help supply some of the resources they need to be successful?”


John Sumser: What an interesting thing. Give me the larger picture; the larger picture is like, let me guess, automated mentoring as a driving design element of the development process for the employees? Is that where you’re headed?


Kathyrn Minshew: You know, I think that that’s certainly a piece of it. For me, the question is how do you learn the skills that you need to be successful? If you’re an individual, how do you learn those skills on your own? If you’re a business, how do you make sure your employees have them? I think we have all of the pieces to play a really key part in that process. I mean, the big vision is careers are so complicated for so many people. I think they’re becoming, in some ways, more complex because when you think about 20 years ago, a lot of people started out and they would be a junior analyst and then a senior analyst. Then, a junior associate and then a senior associate.


  Career path was fairly linear. Now, there’s so much cross movement; people are switching functions. People are switching careers. Businesses are reorganizing themselves and there are jobs that exist that people couldn’t even think about a decade or more ago. I believe that the world needs a place for people and businesses to more effectively navigate that complexity. I think the Muse can be that place. Whether you just need a quick piece of advice; maybe you need an article; maybe you just need to text a coach or maybe you need to really sit down and talk to someone about how to realize this next step in your career.


  I think that we can provide that for individuals on the one hand through our consumer platform and for business on the other hand through the ability or them to both recruit great people through their Muse profiles, which we’re already doing on a daily basis, and also then onboard, engage, train and retain those people going forward. You probably saw there was a big Deloitte survey that came out in January of this year. I think it said something that 1 in 4 millennial employees is planning to look for a job in the next 12 months and the number one reason was they feel that they are seeing a lack of career and leadership development. This is such a priority for a generation that occupies most of the entry and mid-level roles right now in the workforce. I don’t think a lot of companies have the tools or resources in place to provide a lot of granular leadership and career development for the younger people. I think that’s something that is understandable, given the current structure of things. I believe that we can help change it.


John Sumser: It’s interesting. I mean I got to ask you if the lack of career development is a driving factor in employee morale, say? Isn’t part of the problem helping people to understand that work isn’t like school and that there isn’t a next class to take? That, at some point in time, development is your problem, not the company’s problem?


Kathyrn Minshew: Mm-hmm (affirmative).


John Sumser: The impatience that somebody in the millennial generation might feel about lack of a career path is partly because there’s no such thing as a career path? I understand where the idea came from but I’ve never met anybody who actually had one. I hear a lot of talk about the fact that there used to be career paths. I never met anybody who had a career path. Everybody I know has a story like yours; went to the foreign service, that’s wasn’t it. Went to consulting; that wasn’t it. “Here I am, a brand new, shiny entrepreneur. I think this is it.” That’s their career path. That’s a career path and it’s really hard because you can’t plan for what I just described. You can’t plan for it.


Kathyrn Minshew: Absolutely.


John Sumser: You can prepare for it but you can’t plan for it.


Kathyrn Minshew: Exactly. I think that that preparing is interesting because if you focus on acquiring useful skills as opposed to prepping yourself for a specific role, you’ll find that you can take many of those with you and when I look back to some of the work I did earlier in my career, even though I’m certainly no longer working in global foreign policy or international development, many of the core, underlying skills have proved useful. I think you’re hitting on two things that are a really important to how I see both the larger space and also the Muse’s role in it. One is that I think that our balance is very important between the aspiration and the tough love. What I mean by that is one of the things that I hear frequently, both from individual users of the Muse and from CEOs of companies that are working with us to recruit is that they love the balance between the aspiration of your career; the idea that you can and should eventually find professional path that’s satisfying and exciting to you but also the tough love of, and you’re going to have to work at a lot of jobs.


  You’re going to have to learn a lot of things. You’re going to have tough days and you cannot just throw in the towel. It’s this sense that I do think some young people of every generation, frankly, need to hear. I don’t think this is limited to any specific generation; I think it was probably just as applicable 10, 20, 30 years ago, is this balance the positive, the aspiration and the tough love. I think that’s what’s made the Muse so successful. Now, we have this audience of 50 million people every year; we are giving them the career advice and the content they need and then we’re connecting them with jobs and telling them, “Look, here’s what you need to expect. Here’s how you need to uphold your end of the bargain to be a great employee to find this long-term path that you’re seeking.” I think that the companies that work with us to hire off the Muse platform and then have their Muse profiles and some videos, I think they also appreciate that element of what we do.


John Sumser: If I listen to you, I’d be very tempted to think that this is really a sophisticated media play but something tells me there’s an underlying technical story that doesn’t bubble up in the “We’re a counseling business,” or “We’re a good advisory service,” right? If you wanted to build a good advisory service, you would’ve stayed in the consulting business. Tell me the technical story.


Kathyrn Minshew: Absolutely. We have an incredibly sophisticated back-end system and it lets us do a few things. For companies, it lets them target the types of people that they’re looking to hire with a tremendous amount of sophistication. For example, we … I think you know how the Muse product works. This is for people who don’t. We have hundreds of photo and video profiles of great companies on the Muse. We have freelancers in every market that we’re active in. We will send in a fully trained photographer, videographer to the company. They’ll take gorgeous, high-resolution photos. Sit down and interview some of the employees on camera; create really short, snappy, high-quality, smartphone-friendly videos. Then, we package all of this into a profile that lives on the and also can live on that company’s career site. For example … Actually, a great example I saw yesterday is Spanx.


  You probably are all familiar with Spanx, the women’s shape wear brand. If you go to, go to the bottom of the page, they have a link called “careers.” Below that, a link “working at Spanx.” If you click on “Working at Spanx,” it goes directly to their Muse profile. Companies are using us in many cases to really amplify their employer brand messaging to a totally new demographic. Again, particularly have this massive audience of very diverse, very engaged millennials. The technical back end is interesting because we’re starting to be able to see both some fascinating trends on our platform and some targeting. We can start to look at who looked at engineering and technical roles in Chicago and Austin in the past 45 days and then we can reach out to those people with targeted engineering content as well as career opportunities, interesting companies.


  The story of a engineering manager at Dropbox and the product they’re working on, which for some people is just going to be a fascinating read and for others it’s going to be their pathway to start considering Dropbox as a place to build their engineering career. Other things that we’re seeing are around demographics because we have a lot of veterans on the site. People that are coming back to the workforce after taking time off for family. Allowing companies to target them with their messages, in certain ways, but also for those individuals, allowing them to have a personalized experience on the platform.


  We’re obviously still in progress with a lot of this; we are still a growing company so there’s a lot of things that we are still building out but for me, the most important thing is it has to work for both sides. If we give companies what they want at the detriment of our users, we’ll lose the best people. If we give individual users what they want to the detriment of our companies we won’t be successful as a targeting and recruiting platform. For now, what we’ve really been focused on is making it a great experience for both sides and building up both the channels for companies to amplify their employer brand and to reach this millennial demographic and then also this very, very sophisticated targeting, which underpins everything. Make sure people are getting to the right place.


John Sumser: Well, so that’s … I love the way that what you’re doing folds everything that you’ve learned into it. The way that you just described that problem is maybe the most elegant way I’ve heard it described. It’s really a foreign service view of having equity in the deal for both sides, from beginning to end of the deal. That’s not necessarily a standard-issue business view of how the world works and it’s exciting because it balances out the bias that’s embedded in most employment systems. Do you find and can you measure whether or not that makes your users more confident in what you do?


Kathyrn Minshew: I believe that it does. I think measure … I don’t know that right now we’ve had a thoroughly, data-driven way of confirming that but it’s certainly something that we see whenever we talk to both individuals on the Muse and also the 500-plus companies that work with us. One of the things the companies say is, “People who come into the Muse have done their homework; they know about my company. They are engaging in a way that I’m not seeing on any other sourcing channel.” For individuals I think it’s important to them that they feel like we have their best interest at heart because, frankly, for far too long I think that the recruiting industry has prioritized needs of companies at the expense of the needs of individuals.


  For me, it’s about balance because, again, if you are a phenomenal sales person or great engineer or just ace operator, you want to be involved with a community that respects you and respects your time. If you’re a business, who do you want to hire? You want to hire those top people and they’re the first people who get drive away when a platform isn’t respectful of its community and of its user base. I think the reason that the Muse has been able to grow so fast is that we really do our best to make sure that there’s value on both sides and that it’s the best companies and the best people and that we’re creating a level playing field for them to come together.


John Sumser: There’s an interesting question about how you scale something like this. The reason that your competitors deliver a lower-quality product is they do the equivalent of dragnet fishing. They just throw the net out and drape it along behind them and catch whatever goes into the net. Your approach is to be significantly more selective in what you catch in process and that results in a higher-quality thing. The question is how do you get that to scale so that your pricing comes … I don’t know if your pricing is in or out of align but it seems to me that you’ve articulated a more expensive way to do business and so the scaling of the business would have to have something to do with optimizing that process so that price and value were in direct sync with each other.


Kathyrn Minshew: You know, I don’t know if it’s a more expensive way to do business. I think it’s a more thoughtful and a more efficient way. There’s as reason I’ll say that, is a lot of what we do, we’re able to create quality at scale of the technology that underpins our business. When I think about the audience, what’s been interesting is it’s not … It’s both broad and elite. I know I need to explain that a bit more. What I mean is we have succeeded in creating a community that caters to the most highly qualified, the most sought after, just the most talented of the labor force but that also is not exclusive or unwelcoming to those at all levels. If you Google “Career advice,” one of the top things you’ll see is the Muse. We get people coming from personal referrals from top colleges and universities and top businesses.


  We also get a lot of people from social media and from Google who just want a little bit of help. I think that when people look at the Muse, they say, “Wow. This is such a high-quality experience it must be limited; it must be elite.” That is actually not true. I mean, we couldn’t have attracted 50 million people a year if we were only going after a small subset. I think, with all due respect to those other platforms, I think they need to watch their back because I think we have found a way to provide a better experience, a higher-quality experience at scale and without needing to dumb it down to make money.


  Without needing to dumb it down to go big. I think that the world of recruiting has changed. The ways that people could hire, that companies could hire in the past no longer work and I think that companies are going to have to … and many of them are … Many of the companies we talked to are very aware of the importance of their employer brand. They want to improve the career sites; they want to be out there in different channels. They want to be reaching the next generation.


  For us, yes, there is a quality in what we do but I absolutely believe it scales and I think we should do another one of these in a year and you can tell me how right or wrong I am but I think we are very, very quickly catching up to many of the more legacy players. I think we’re doing it not because what we do is necessarily a lot more expensive. In fact, our pricing is very much in line with a couple of the big market players but it’s by providing just a all-around better experience on both sides at a very similar price point.


John Sumser: Well, we’ve really chewed it up and there are so many things I’d like to ask you that we haven’t had a chance to get to. One of them, you should’ve heard this, is I would love to talk to you more about how analytics is going to drive your future. It seems to me that you’re heading in a very interesting direction on that level and maybe we’ll do that in the next conversation. Now, is there anything I should’ve asked you that I didn’t?


Kathyrn Minshew: Oh, that’s a great question. You know, I think that I’m glad we touched on the coaching part of the business because I think for us one of the biggest things that differentiates us is that we’ve created this creator development resources for the job seekers and non-job seekers, alike that we’re attracting. One of the reasons a lot of companies work with us is that many of our users aren’t yet at the point of looking for their job but they’re in that consideration or awareness phase. We talked a little bit about how we’re different, so no, I think we covered most of the big things. Is there anything else that you wanted to ask me that you didn’t get a chance to?


John Sumser: Well, no but why don’t you just tick off the two or three things that you hope a listener will take away from the show and we’ll wrap it up that way?


Kathyrn Minshew: Great. I think firstly, I hope a listener will take away that individuals, now more than ever before, are looking for career development and for resources and I don’t necessarily think … Actually, this is something you said earlier. I don’t necessarily think that it’s a business’ responsibility to invest huge amounts of money and time in these things but I think that there can be real win/wins created, particularly given the accessibility of inexpensive, high-quality, online education. There’s a possibility for real win/wins to be created by helping individuals find the right career development for them and helping businesses provide inexpensive career development to their employees. I think the “Why’s” of career development and its importance in the space is number one.


  Two, I think I just always have to hammer home that if your career site doesn’t have visuals, if it doesn’t have video, you’re losing the chance to convert people who are looking for those things. You know they saw a picture is worth a thousand words. I always encourage people to think about how to bring multimedia into their career site and it doesn’t have to be signing up with someone like the Muse; it can be finding your employees and having some of them who are more artistically included taking pictures. It can be looking at even Instagram of accounts of younger employees but I think that visuals are taking over part of the recruiting process, whether we want them to or not. Finally, I’d just say that I think when you create a great experience for all parties in a relationship or in a transaction, that’s how you’re most likely to win.


John Sumser: Fantastic. It’s been great having you. Would you mind reintroducing yourself and tell people how they might ahold of you?


Kathyrn Minshew: Absolutely. My names Kathryn Minshew. I’m the founder and CEO of a company called, which is building a trusted and beloved destination for navigating your career and for businesses to hire great people. You can get ahold of me at; @DailyMuse, D-A-I-L-Y M-U-S-E, which is our company Twitter handle or my person Twitter handle is @KMin. @ K-M-I-N. We’d love to hear from people and always happy to chat more on employer branding hiring and everything else.


John Sumser: Thanks very much, Kathryn. It’s been great having you. I really appreciate you taking the time to be here and we will see the rest of you some time next week. I hope you have a great, great weekend. Thanks for tuning in. You’ve been listening to HR Examiner Radio. I’m your host, John Sumser. ‘Bye-bye, now.

End transcript

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