How To Build a Dream Career, From the Woman Who’s Helped Hundreds
Primary Director of Talent Gina Yocom spends her time shaping teams and advancing careers. Here’s her perspective on standing out and getting ahead.
Gina Yocom’s job, put most plainly, is to build careers. As a Director of Talent at Primary, she sources leads for fast-growing companies in our portfolio and also cultivates professional development communities around key startup job functions—Chiefs of Staff and Account Executives so far, with more on the way.
So she has a well-developed perspective on what does and doesn’t work for people out looking for their next role or just developing a competitive edge. And across all dimensions, passionate, human networking is a recommendation she returns to again and again.
Knowing how much her networks and know-how have shaped hundreds of careers—including my own—I asked her if we could round up some of her best advice on building strong networks as the foundation of building a great career.
What kind of characteristics and experience most give candidates an edge?
Intellectual curiosity is key when I think about the stamina and resilience of a candidate—do they have the willingness and understanding to ask questions to go deeper? Are they asking questions about the business that are beyond what would DIRECTLY impact their role—i.e. not just round of funding, TAM, customers, etc., but questions that are more about how the product works, the mission and the problem it solves, what the customer needs are, and the vision for the future. When candidates show that they are able to go a level deeper, it tells me a lot. Startups can be tough and have lots of highs and lows, and when candidates are able to dig in, it shows me they have an understanding of the space, willingness to learn, and an interest in the mission that, if they choose to join, will carry them through the harder days.
Passion for learning—at startups, no matter the role, employees will be learning and growing at an accelerated pace. If this is not a motivating driver for you, then startups will not be a fit in the long run.
High EQ, low ego, and hustle are the perfect trifecta for early-stage startups. You want excellent collaborators who can be scrappy and do what it takes to get the job done. If you haven’t done that before, then hopefully that is coming off in the way you’re explaining your story and what you are looking for next. The “in the trenches” experience is helpful, but I can identify the qualities when I see it, regardless of past work history.
What’s something you recommend people focus on in their resume?
Resumes should reflect two things: what you’ve done and what you’re looking for next. If you are looking for a role similar to your current one, show me your output and how amazing you are by using numbers and the impact you have on the business. If you are looking to pivot into something new, show me that you are a beast at your role now and have capacity for more versatility. For example, if you are an Account Executive but started an L&D Network on the side and are looking for community roles, I would want that experience front and center. Crisp and tight mission statements are also super helpful in setting the narrative for me to understand how to read your experience and where I can help.
Let’s say I’m looking for a job and I’m really not finding the right opportunity. What might I be doing wrong?
If you are finding that the roles you are searching for are not resonating with you, or you are not landing them based on your experience, it is good to assess why that is. Are you looking to pivot? Are you looking for a different experience than what you’ve had? What are you optimizing for?
Another way to look at it is thinking about where you want to be in five to 10 years and work backwards from there. What roles will get you there?
After you have the clarity on what you want. If the jobs you are looking for feel out of reach, then start to look for people with that similar title and what experience they’ve had in their career paths. Network with them. How did they get that job? What path did they take? What advice do they have for someone who is looking to go down a similar path? Learn as much as you can with every conversation. You hopefully learn how to leverage your experience into that career path—or you learn maybe it’s not the path you want to take afterall. Either is okay!
What’s a common thing people get wrong about networking?
Showing up with no tact or curiosity about the other person or treating the conversation like we are robots exchanging data. Those are truly the conversations that could have been an email.
Tell me about a recent candidate who blew you away. What’s one strategic thing they did in their job search that others might learn from?
I continue to be impressed with the quality of candidates we see come through the portfolio. There was one candidate in particular that came through the Primary Chief of Staff Mastermind Network that was over the top impressive in her strategic approach to leveraging the network and relationships to open up doors to roles that weren’t even posted. She identified a business that really resonated with her and asked for an informational interview and was able to put together a business case that identified the gaps they had and where she could fit in as a Chief of Staff to scale their business. It was incredible because putting that deck together, she did market research, founder and competitive analysis. Her approach did two things—it was an excellent exercise for her to understand what she really wanted and scope her own role proactively, and presented such a compelling business case not only about how impactful she would be in the role, but also taught them about their own business as she was able to come at it from a different perspective. It taught me the power of networks, and when used effectively and proactively can truly catapult someone’s career into opportunities that didn’t even exist.
What’s your advice on a few ways to keep building your network while you’re happily employed?
As someone who builds networks professionally, I find it funny that I have to remind myself to do this as well. An easy way is to plug into a professional community digitally—that way you are keeping on top of trends, communications, seeing new members, and also getting a chance to meet in person. The level deeper is to utilize that to build relationships that can be truly a catalyst for your career. It is immensely helpful to be able to have conversations with people outside of your day-to-day and chat about careers, compare how organizations and teams are designed, what they are seeing in the market, and just trade knowledge and best practices. Those relationships are what connected me to the role at Primary. Those connections are still how I learn about the industry, connect on new challenges I am facing, and adapt the way we think about the portfolio impact here. My advice here would be to constantly be thinking about this and making time for it instead of thinking about this from a transactional lens or only coming up to meet people when you need something. You want to build that relationship with people authentically, and the best way to do that is to add value and to make those connections when you aren’t necessarily looking for something in return (i.e. A JOB) instead of learning about people.
In terms of finding these connections: any professional networks you can join, I’d highly recommend! There are a lot of great communities out there that are meant to facilitate a lot of connections. Be really targeted in what you want to learn—new industries, new roles, or folks who have leveled up in your space—and reach out with the curiosity to learn and openness to provide value where you can.