Jennifer Kushell is the author of “Secrets of the Young & Successful”, which is a New York Times Bestseller. Jennifer looks to help young people find their careers. She is the co-founder and president of YSN.com, which stands for Your Success Network. Her company aids young adults in over 100 counties to help find their passions, while making a name for themselves in the workplace.
Art Eddy: Tell me about your company, Your Success Now.
Jennifer Kushell: YSN, is actually the name of our company. Your Success Now is our focus. We exist to help people in career transition realize a lot more fulfillment from their careers and much greater success early on.
Especially when we focus on 18-34 year-olds, who are making the most important decisions of their lives, what and where to study, where to live, what to do for work, not to mention investments, community involvement, personal branding, they all represent really critical components of the foundation you build for yourself and how your opportunities unfold from there.
YSN.com offers insights, tools, and resources for young ambitious people around the world that inspires them, helps them see what’s really possible and arms them with what they need to make even their craziest ideas happen. We basically surround them with success, instantly.
We have another side to the company too, actually a start-up within it. We call it GO, the Global Opportunity Marketplace. The idea is to help young talent shop the world for opportunity. To change the negative tone about looking for work, and instead position the globe as a virtual candy store of opportunity for exploration, employment, entrepreneurship and experience.
When you start looking beyond your immediate environment and realize how big of a world is really out there, its extraordinary how much opportunity you can discover and, now, with GO, immediately tap into!
AE: What made you start this program up?
JK: I’ve been working with young people in over 100 countries since I was 19. There’s nothing more exciting or promising than seeing the spark go on in someone, the fire ignite in their eyes, their face light up, when they realize how much is possible for them. That happens all the time when we’re speaking at conferences; people are reading our books, articles, even engaging with us online though we can’t always see them there.
Seeing this over and over made me realize that what we did was really profound and important to share with as many people as we can. Being able to turn on this switch for a person is like watching the birth of ambition, and it literally can change the entire course of their lives in an instant. They look at the world differently, engage in it in such a more profound way, they make an impact, and if they can fold in some key learnings on setting up a career to foster this kind of thinking, they achieve incredible successes through their work and in their communities.
YSN has helped stimulate a lot of young leaders in the world, not to mention, helped countless people get on the right track with work so they too can love what they do, rather than join the masses who hate their jobs and trudge through their lives.
AE: What were some of the challenges that you faced in starting up YSN and how did you overcome them?
JK: People always thought we were a non-profit, not a serious business. A bunch of “do gooders” doing “touchy feely things”. Sure, being a social entrepreneur sounds cool, but no one really talks about how hard it is to stick to your guns about making a big impact in the world, while also building a really solid business at the same time. Sometimes those objectives just don’t line up. You have to make a lot of difficult choices. It took me a long time to get the balance right.
Taking on big projects for large companies wanting to make an impact with young people was one important move for us. It enables us to sculpt campaigns leveraging big corporate budgets to reach significantly larger audiences, consumers, or employees in more profound ways.
Now we build global campaigns with some of the biggest brands in the world. The SUBWAY Global Challenge is underway with players in over 50 countries and growing setting up and marketing their own Virtual SUBWAY Store. While playing a game, they are learning about franchising and being exposed to what makes SUBWAY such a unique company. We even built a Teacher’s Guide so that this could be used as a business simulation in the classroom.
I also love speaking at big industry conference and corporate events. It enables me to help them understand their next generation talent, be better employers, capitalize on new opportunities for growth, but at the same time, it builds our expertise further, increases our reach, and always leads to more engagements, which happen to be great revenue too.
A few years ago, I was finally convinced of why it was important to generate a lot of money, because then you can invest it as you want and need to. That’s the only reason we’ve been able to even launch GO to make a dent in global youth unemployment, which we’ve self-funded so far. Without that shift in thinking, we could never have the opportunity to fund our own crazy ideas for impacting the world.
AE: What is the best advice you have for people who are graduating college and looking to get into the workforce?
JK: Figure out how to do something that will make you happy for work. Don’t do something just to get a paycheck if you can avoid it. Really challenge yourself to align your interests and skills with a place that will let you express, cultivate and grow them.
Think about what industries and companies are interesting to you, and do something, anything there to get in the door. Your passion and ambition are going to speak to prospective employers much more than your lack of experience, if you’re in the right place. Or, if you have a special skill or talent, find any opportunity you can to practice, hone it. Even in unlikely places.
Take advantage of opportunities to build work experience with different people and companies everywhere you can. It may only take a few hours, a day, and a week to work on an interesting volunteer project. Offer to help out someone you really admire with something they’re working on that could add to your experience and connections. Also, recognize that you’re not limited in any way by opportunities that are listed in a career center or on a job board somewhere.
Opportunity is everywhere in the world. Sometimes you just have to present yourself as a resource in the right way, at the right time, to the right person, organization, small business, or executive to open up an opportunity that didn’t even exist. Get in the habit of doing this regularly and soon enough, you’ll have more opportunities than you know what to do with. Seriously.
AE: What are some of the biggest pitfalls in today’s job market search?
JK: Honestly, I think it’s the inadequacy of career counseling. Most people have no idea what their real job and career options are. Or they’re so focused on getting a job, getting a paycheck that they don’t make strategic decisions about where they should be working, or investing their time and energy in the first place.
Killing time, just working for the money or sitting around waiting for the “right” opportunity to come along when you could be building a career that keeps building experience, better opportunities, more money, is insane. Successes build upon themselves if you have a goal and some clear benchmarks about what the logical steps are to get there. Then everything gets easier and you keep getting closer to what you want. But that’s the core of so many of the problems people have in the workforce today. They don’t know what will really make them happy.
That’s why everything we do at YSN starts with that. Making sure you’re connecting with your passion, and building from there. Let your ambition drive you to put in the hard work, do the research, make the right investments. And believe in yourself and what you can accomplish.
AE: Your site looks to help those who are just starting out. Do you have any advice for people that have been in the workforce for a while and need a career change?
JK: Oh yeah. Actually, we do help a lot of people just starting out and hungry to show the world what they can do right out of the gate. But our biggest audience comes from people in career transition.
Most of them are late 20s, in that Quarter Life Crisis period where they’ve tried a bunch of different avenues and they’re just not as far as where they want to be. They’re ready and committed to digging in, making smarter decisions.
I’ve got to say though that a lot of parents and others end up lingering around when they find us too, because at the heart of it, we’re helping people connect the dots between where they are now and what they want, quickly. That’s why YSN stands for “Your Success Now.”
If I was to offer any advice to people in a state of career change, it would most simply be, listen, you’re not alone, so you don’t have to figure this all out yourself. There are many things you can do and strategies you can employ to change your situation dramatically. You just have to have the ambition, the dedication, the support structure, and the confidence to give yourself permission to take a few risks to make the results you want possible.