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Change Nation: Cathie Black (02/06/08)

Cathie Black on Finding Your Dream Job

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Cathie Black is the president of Hearst Magazines, home to Cosmopolitan, Good Housekeeping, Harper’s Bazaar, Esquire and O: The Oprah Magazine, among many others. In addition to growing the Hearst print titles, she has built an in-house digital media unit to focus on magazine-brand extension, from web sites to online video to mobile. Black has expanded Hearst’s online presence with original content and acquisitions—to date, the unit has launched 14 web sites and nine mobile sites. (These include 11 branded magazine sites previously managed by iVillage). She is also the author of Basic Black: The Essential Guide for Getting Ahead at Work (and in Life). Black shares her experience as it pertains to starting a new job.

What is the most important thing for people to remember as they are starting a new job?

First impressions are lasting impressions. The first 30 days of a new job is not your time to make a personal statement. You have to kind of feel the place, you have to sense the tempo. So if people are casual, then that’s great, you can be casual.

The other thing that I think is really important is to do the work. It’s not about looking and saying, what’s my next job here? You want to do whatever your assignment is. But don’t think of it only in the narrowest definition of the job because you want to do the work, and you want to do it well. Hopefully you are excited about whatever it is that you are about to start off on.

What attitude helps someone get off on the right foot in the first 30 days?

Well, I don’t know if there is only one way to be, but I am an optimistic, energetic person who thinks life is good. I like people who believe that the glass is half-full, not half-empty. So, if you’re the grump in the office or you regularly walk lethargically down the hall or wander in 15 minutes late, it’s pretty clear that for whatever reason you’re probably not going to be the major player on my team. And, if you want to be the major player on a team, you have to say to yourself “I’m not going to change this place in the first 30 days. I have to understand, how this place works.” It’s not about what you want, it’s about what they want and how you can move something forward.

What mistakes have you noticed that people typically make when they begin a new job?

Well, I think some of the mistakes are probably that they are anxious and maybe they are actually saying too much. I just read something recently that was about a young woman just starting out and she went out to dinner with a lot of executives. At the end of the dinner one of them said, “I’m going to give you some very good advice.” I’m assuming they were probably twenty to twenty-five years older than she was. The advice was something like, “when you’re around people who are more senior than you, it’s a lot smarter to listen and to try to learn as opposed to spouting off your own opinions when you’ve only been in a position for five days.” I thought that made a lot of sense because I think what she was doing was showing off and trying to have somebody acknowledge her—when in fact they really didn’t care what this twenty-two year old was saying.

How can someone begin to fit in at a new workplace?

Part of it is how you present yourself. Look like you’re a player as opposed to someone who is kind of crouching down in the corner hoping not to be recognized or asked her opinion about something.

Find a mentor. You don’t have to have a four o’clock appointment every Monday. Most people are very willing to give advice—you can say, “I’m brand new here and I’d like to learn more about the company, or what was your first job when you started out?”

I think there is a lot to be said about looking around. I remember when I went into USA Today. We were so busy, always on the road. It was very difficult. I never really built a support group inside the organization. Take your time to get to know people that have been there for a while. That’s going to help your transition period—saying to somebody, “may I have and a cup of coffee with you?”

What does it take to be a powerful person in the workplace?

I think for a prior generation, power was about the perks of the job— a car and driver, a corner office or flying first class. What I like to say is I know I have a powerful job. There are 2,000 people in this company who depend on my leadership, but it’s not really about power. I’ve never gone into a job for power. What I know is that I have a powerful job and I take that as a responsibility.

So, I don’t think it’s the dictatorial hierarchical power that existed before. In fact, I think there are a lot of attributes in the female personality that are very much in line with how the world is today, that is, consensus building. It’s not at all that I am afraid of making a decision. But, I believe if there are five people at the table and we’ve done our thinking and we’ve done our disagreeing, then we will come out at the same place. That allows me to have a more informed opinion. It’s the people that make things happen.

Is it important to have a career plan and a destination or is it about letting life and luck play a part? What is the balance?

I don’t know if you have to write out a five-year plan. I mean the world is swirling so much today. But it does make sense at the beginning of the year to ask yourself what your goals are. You can break them down into six-month increments. At the very least it gives you a little measurement tool. Then you want to reassess.

I think it can shift as you move along. Again, it’s not only a title. In the magazine business somebody might want to be an editor or an editor-in-chief or a publisher or the head of public relations. If that’s what you want to do then you have to think it out and say these are the steps that I probably have to take that are going to get me into that next role.

What if you make a mistake early on in a new job?

You can recover and you can apologize. But don’t apologize five times as though it’s the end of the world. Everybody has made a mistake. You say I’m really sorry I did that and it won’t happen again. And make sure that it doesn’t happen again.


What is the belief you personally go to during times of change?

To be centered. If it’s a time of real terrible change, I want to center myself so that the people who are watching me for signals see somebody who knows where she is going.

The best thing about change is…

…it will take you to a new place.

What is the best change you have ever made?

I gave up a very secure job as publisher of New York magazine to take a chance on this huge high-flying startup called USA Today. It changed my professional aspirations gigantically and it put me on a national stage. I learned a tremendous amount.

For more information on Cathie Black, visit www.hearstcorp.com.

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