Women in Business Q&A: Jamie Peretz, Founder, 2MyCareer

Jamie Peretz is founder of 2MyCareer, a college to career advising service to assist ambitious college students and recent graduates in realizing the careers they have worked toward. Candidates receive consultation designed to give them the knowledge and skills required to turn their academic and other achievements into meaningful employment. Prior to founding 2MyCareer, Jamie was a managing director at Korn Ferry International, the global leader in executive recruitment and talent consulting. Previously, she held executive positions in investment banking at Credit Suisse and JP Morgan, and was an attorney with Pillsbury Winthrop. Peretz holds a BA from Princeton University, and MBA from NYU and a JD from Georgetown University.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
While it is my experiences as an executive recruiter that are the most direct link to my current leadership role, all of my career, educational, and athletic experiences have combined to give me the ability to lead 2MyCareer and effectively advise college students and recent graduates in order for them to obtain their first choice career. As an executive recruiter for 15 years with Korn Ferry International, the world's largest executive search and talent management firm, I advised dozens of clients across the globe on hiring strategy and candidate selection while simultaneously interviewing thousands of professionals. As a result, I have very extensive insight into what companies seek in their employees, and why. As a former investment banker and lawyer, I have very relevant experience with complex industries, and with a large array of varied clients. I have also had the privilege of mentoring students through several non-profits, which has turned out to be as meaningful for me as it has been for them. Additionally, as a competitive amateur equestrian, I have learned much from my trainers about leading and coaching individuals in high pressure situations.

How has your previous employment experience aided your tenure at 2MyCareer?
My years at Korn Ferry were instrumental and invaluable in many ways. It was an experience that I frankly don't believe could have been replicated in any other industry. Executive recruiters, or headhunters, are responsible for finding the very best candidates for a specific job. In that process, the headhunter spends a lot of time identifying the right candidates, persuading them to consider the opportunity, meeting and interviewing each and every individual, introducing the best potential hires to the client, overseeing the prolonged hiring process and finally, negotiating the employment agreement. This entire process has given me expertise about what candidates really need to get the offer. I have participated in innumerable hiring decisions, and have witnessed over and over again who gets hired and why. While a candidate must have relevant experience, that is only part of the equation. Successful candidates all have highly compelling narratives that truly distinguish them from their peers. Fortunately, college students and recent graduates are still at a stage in life where they can optimize all of their academic achievements, interests, and experiences to create individualized and special narratives. Students are also avid learners who greatly benefit from this personalized advice. Already immersed in an academic environment, they are accustomed to teachers, coaches, and mentors, and eager and open to learning.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at 2MyCareer?
The highlights of my time at 2MyCareer have occurred each and every time that one of my clients has secured a desired position. We are always beyond thrilled and we give credit to one another where it is due. The adrenaline and emotions are high, and the sighs of relief are audible. And while I wish that the first career job market was less competitive, today's challenges do make victories sweet. There have been two types of challenges to date. The first challenge is when an individual articulates a desired career path that to me seems, at first blush, and after further consideration, unachievable. For example, an art history major without a science background is not a good candidate for NASA. The puzzle that we then need to solve is, how can we optimize the art history student's academics and other myriad experiences while simultaneously addressing their interest? Are positions where collecting, archiving and then marketing information about an organization like NASA achievable? The second type of challenge is one that I share with all small advisory firms. How do I get the word out about 2MyCareer? I do a lot of networking, both social media and the old fashioned kind, and I give talks and workshops at different venues, such as colleges and parents associations. I do admit that I have a leg up in networking. Part of how an executive recruiter ferrets out the best candidates is by talking to lots and lots of people, and that has always been a part of my personality.

What advice can you offer women who are looking to start their own business?
I think that anyone starting a business needs to truly expect the unexpected, and to expect to devote enormous amounts of time and energy into their product or service. I have learned that the unexpected things will be both good and bad, and there will be events that will point you in directions that you may not have even considered in your business plan. For example, I had planned for 2MyCareer to work with college students beginning sophomore or junior year. More of my clients however, come to me as seniors or recent graduates. These students are just as welcome as the sophomores and juniors, but require a somewhat different approach and strategy. Not a problem, but an unexpected twist. Another unplanned clientele for 2MyCareer has been international students studying in the United States. With a million international students here at any given time, it seems in retrospect surprising that I had not anticipated their interest, especially since I worked with so many international clients at Korn Ferry. These students also require a slightly different approach and strategy. I've enjoyed becoming highly informed about the unique challenges these students face. This has required me to be flexible and to be able to travel to locales such as China on short notice for meetings with educators and students. This, once again, has been unexpected but exciting!

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
I have found a great way to make this easy. The secret to my work/life balance is to devote part of my weekends and vacation breaks to pursuing my other passion - horses! My equestrian endeavors feed my drive and energy for my work. To quote the late President Ronald Reagan, "there is nothing better for the inside of a man than the outside of a horse" (or for the inside of a woman!) There are many reasons why I love riding horses. Horses are such graceful and strong animals. The thrill of galloping around a field or jumping over fences is addictive. You are outdoors in a beautiful setting getting a full workout. Riding demands one's full attention and therefore clears the mind as effectively as meditation. I also compete at horseshows as an amateur in the hunter/jumper world. Like any other individual sport, when it is your turn, the heat is on! And when you perform well with a four-legged companion, it is a proud moment. The thrill and focus of riding translates into a real boost for my efforts at 2MyCareer.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
I have found that the two biggest challenges for women in the workforce are interrelated. The first challenge, in many industries, including those that I have worked in, is that women are not "one of the guys" and don't want to be. I recognize that this sounds ridiculously simplistic, but I have witnessed it over and over again. Women often have different reference points, experiences, family responsibilities, athletic interests, sensitivities, hobbies, communication methods - the list is never-ending. And while none of these differences theoretically matter to anybody, they result in women's workplace support systems and networks often diverging from those of the men. Step back and consider how many men that you know really have a "best buddy" who is a woman? This affects not only the workplace milieu of many women, but sometimes also affects their ability to build the same familiar relationships as their male counterparts with suppliers, contractors, and clients, among others. Therefore, the second challenge for women is finding mentors. Once again, I don't believe that men intentionally choose not to mentor women. In fact, many try extra hard to do so and some are successful. But it can be hard for a man to mentor a woman, especially when your wife raises her eyebrows every time you affectionately, and innocently, mention your mentee's name.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
Interestingly, I was not fortunate enough to have been mentored by senior women while working in either executive recruiting or investment banking. But that is because senior women are rather scarce in both of those professions. While there are certainly plenty of senior women in executive search, there are very few at the very top. My own most significant mentor was a former Head of Korn Ferry's New York and East Coast offices, Chuck Wardell. Chuck was very instrumental to both my professional and personal life because he taught me not only to really see and believe how talented I was at my career, but to not hesitate to simultaneously pursue my equestrian dreams. He really taught me how to "go for it" on two fronts at once. He encouraged me relentlessly, but was not shy about nicely pointing out any area that could stand improvement.

What is super special about Chuck became apparent after he had left Korn Ferry and was running another major search firm. It turned out that most of my colleagues at Korn Ferry's New York office believed that they had a unique relationship with Chuck. And I have learned that this quality really and truly defines leadership. Not surprisingly, BusinessWeek named Chuck one of the world's most influential search executives in 2008, and Chuck started his career as a decorated combat veteran, having served with distinction in Vietnam. I was, and still am, in awe of Chuck.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
A female leader that I have very much admired for a long time is fellow Princeton alum, Wendy Kopp. Not only is Wendy the founder of the national teaching corps, Teach for America (TFA), but she has continued to grow TFA into the very recognized leader it is today. Incredibly, Wendy proposed the creation of TFA as her Senior Thesis for Princeton's Sociology Department. TFA recruits graduating seniors from selected colleges, trains them for five weeks, and sends them for a minimum of two years to some of the country's most needy classrooms. Since 1989, over 30,000 Teach for America teachers have instructed more than 3 million students in 34 states. And if that wasn't enough, Wendy is now working on expanding the global program, Teach for All, which is already active in 22 countries. But I would not have had my career to date, nor become the person I am today, without personal attention from the other female leader I admire, my mother.

Blossom Peretz - Bunny to her friends and family - graduated from Yale Law School as one of 7 women in a class of 160. She began her career as a lawyer in the days when many law firms would openly, and without explanation, refuse to interview a woman. My mother did many things as a utilities lawyer, and was chosen by another woman, Governor Christie Whitman of New Jersey, to create and run the Office of Ratepayer Advocate, which aligned the state's interest in having financially viable competitive utilities with its interest in providing safe, adequate, and proper service to all utility customers. She balanced all of this with raising three successful children. Needless to say, the entire family was there for her swearing in by Governor Whitman, a proud and happy moment we will always remember.

What do you want 2MyCareer to accomplish in the next year?
What I am most looking forward to for 2MyCareer in the next year is to continue our rapid growth. This will be accomplished by continuing to distinguish our company for the way we help clients craft and communicate a personal narrative that leads to a gratifying first career. While I would never have launched this business without the extensive experience and real passion that I have, it is truly humbling for me to acknowledge how much more I have learned. While my core understanding of what makes a graduating student more competitive in the job market than his or her peers has not changed, I readily admit how much more I now understand about this generation and both its challenges and gifts. I am as determined now as I was then to give them the tools they need to successfully land and master their first career. And I still want more for 2MyCareer. More client success stories, more collaborations, more awareness of the wisdom of college to career advising, more confidence from this generation about all that they have to offer, the list goes on and on. Of course, I also want to see the general business climate continue to expand to make room for this generation. Finally, I want to see these students and their parents happy and excited about this big next life step, and I hope that they will continue to benefit from my advice. The huge smiles, and sighs of relief, make me so grateful that I have been able to assist and pass along my recipes for first career success!