It’s been said the key to becoming an expert in any field is to practice that specific task for 10,000 hours. But that’s a lot of time and your schedule is tight, so instead of dumping that massive workload on you, we talk to the experts, we glean the most valuable morsels of their expertise, and then we condense that knowledge into one informative and entertaining 10-minute nugget. Today we’re talking with Denise Felder of DeniseFelder.com. As a writer and career adviser, Denise excels at helping people find their paths to employment—a skill no doubt at least partially acquired during her own unique journey.
Your career path has taken you from print journalism to reporting online, and even reality TV production. Did the move to employment coach mean less fun on the job?
When you follow your passion you always have fun. Working in the media sounds exciting – and it is – but it is also hard work, long hours and can consume your entire life. One reason I stopped working in media was to gain some sanity. Now I help other people to figure out what they want in their lives and find careers that work for them.
You do a lot of career coaching with low-income clients—the people who probably need it the most, but often can’t pay for such services. How do you adjust for that dilemma?
Yeah, clearly I didn’t go into career advising to get rich quick. I purposely keep my service fees low so that money isn’t a barrier for someone to get the help they need. I’ve never understood the logic of charging an unemployed person a lot of money for career help. I also strongly believe in sharing information and pointing people to the many free resources out there. I post tips on my blog so job seekers and career changers can get the basic info they need, then make an appointment to talk about more specific or complicated issues. I’m more concerned with helping many people find the information they need to make informed decisions than I am about making a profit… for now (insert evil laugh).
How do you bring traffic to your site? It seems like reaching your target audience could be tough.
Look around. Job seekers are everywhere. Even people who are working are often looking for new jobs, or tips to help them get a promotion or make a career change. People ask their friends for career advice all the time. But your friend might not have the right information to help you. I hope I am a friendly and relatable voice in the confusing world of career information. I hope that people who don’t have a lot of work experience or are trying to move up from low-level jobs will come to me for information and support.
Social media is a great equalizer – any job seeker can find good career resources on LinkedIn, Twitter, and on blogs. And many low-income people use their smart phones to access this information. My site analytics show that they are finding my posts via Twitter and other social media. I also promote local job fairs and other free events for people to find career help. My focus is on distributing good career help – online or in person – I don’t blog to make money.
I read that you were greatly inspired by something that happened on 9/11. Can you share that with us?
In the fall of 2001, I was working for a reality TV show where people were put into dangerous situations and taught how to get out of it: “What to do if you are lost in the desert,” “what to do if you are attacked by a dog,” etc.
The morning of September 11, the clock radio woke me up to what was happening on the East Coast. I turned on the TV just as the second plane hit the Twin Towers. The rest of that day, and several days after it are a blur. I only remember watching CNN incessantly, calling my friends and family every chance I got, and wondering if the world was about to end.
In those moments after the terrorist attacks, I had one big thought: “Is this what my life is supposed to be?” The answer was “not really.” That’s when I become acutely aware that it’s not how you die that matters, it’s how you live that’s important. That’s when I knew that I had to leave TV production – it was good work, but not what I was meant to do.
After a few months of soul searching and looking at the parts of my past jobs that I enjoyed, I knew I was meant to be a career coach. I wanted to use my talents as a researcher and interpreter of information to help others make important decisions in their lives.
One of the scariest decisions I’ve ever made was when I decided not to accept any more TV jobs and only look for work in a new field where I had little experience. Knowing what I know now about career transitions, I would have done things differently. However, one thing I did right was to volunteer at a few nonprofits to gain experience and exposure to my new field. Volunteering led to my getting hired by a large homeless shelter to help the residents find jobs.
Eventually I moved back to the Twin Cities, and now I am a writer and a career coach who KNOWS this is what I am supposed to be doing with my life.
I imagine you occasionally get asked about establishing a career online as you have done. Is that a pipe dream for most people, or can anyone do it?
You can make a name for yourself and build a professional reputation quickly through social media. I highly recommend that job seekers – especially students and people new to their career fields – use their online profiles and communications to establish their career identity and actively participate in communities relevant to their professions.
Online networking is a great way to introduce yourself and share information with potential colleagues, business partners and employers. Of course you have to back up what you do and say online with your actions in the carbon world. You still have to have the skills and experience needed to succeed in whatever line of work you choose.
How did you come up with the name for your site, DeniseFelder.com? Ha. We kid! But seriously, are there pros and cons to having your site named after yourself?
I think about changing the name of my website and my career services business all the time. But DeniseMpls is easy to remember for social media and company info. My blog URL is DeniseFelder.com because I say that everyone should “claim their name and state their game” online. I was glad that I had a strong Google presence last summer when a different Denise Felder’s (no relation) mug shot showed upon the Internet. On one hand, I offer career help to people all over the country, so tying my brand to Minneapolis doesn’t make sense. On the other hand, I can use the name to get a lot of sympathy when it snows 6 inches in mid-April. On the other hand, I live in a place where it snows in April, so if I ever come to my senses and move I’d need to change the name anyway. On the other hand, I love it here and probably won’t move… Ask me again next winter.
I see you offer group career coaching. How does that work?
Job seekers often have the same basic questions or issues. Providing this information to a group of 10 or fewer can help people to process and personalize the information. Group sessions also allow job seekers to learn from each other – participants often have specific information about employers that I don’t. Plus, group coaching reminds people that they are not alone; other people have similar fears and frustrations.
What’s the job scene like in Minneapolis?
Overall, it’s good, better than in many parts of the country. The Twin Cities has a strong, diversified economy – the top companies are in a variety of industries. There are always job openings for all types of positions.
The problem with the Twin Cities is that we have one of the country’s highest racially based disparities in employment. Unemployment and underemployment for African-Americans, Hispanics and other groups is scandalously high compared to the White majority. One of my motivations for providing career services is to help underrepresented populations to gain wider access to the many employment and education opportunities Minnesota has to offer. The economic disparity in the workforce is the focus of my master’s degree research.
This could be a rumor, but, is it true that every Minneapolis citizen is required to have a 3-foot (aka life-sized) statue of hometown hero Prince in their home?
Some people have garden gnomes … It is true that everyone in the Twin Cities has a brush-with-Prince story. Mine is fairly remote: He was a member of my church, about five years before I started going there. And I think I went to his hair dresser once. My brush-with-Donny-Osmond story is more interesting, but that happened in L.A. not Minneapolis.
When not guiding people to their next job or brushing shoulders with Donny Osmond, Denise Felder mixes in some pleasure with business on the ol’ Twitter. Follow her here. Thanks for the awesome interview, Denise!