Start and act before you are ready. I like to be fully prepared and for a while thought I needed to be in order to start my first company. At some point I realized you can never be totally ready and you must jump in and take the risk. If you are open to meeting people and build a network along the way, you will have a whole community to reach out to with questions or issues along the way. And hire experts for things you do not know how to do and/or have absolutely no interest in learning!
I had the pleasure of interviewing Marcelle Yeager. Marcelle founded two companies to help people advance in their careers. Career Valet is a job search preparation service for mid- to executive-level professionals, and ServingTalent is the first recruiting agency for U.S. foreign service and military spouses. Marcelle holds an MBA and her advice has been featured in publications such as U.S. News and World Report, ClearanceJobs.com, MONEY Magazine, The Ladders, Monster, and FlexJobs.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?
I grew up in New Hampshire and moved to Washington, D.C. for university. After graduating, I spent two years working in Moscow, Russia to strengthen my language skills. When I returned to Washington, D.C., I got a job in strategic communications at a public affairs firm where I could utilize my Russian skills, knowing nothing about the communications field. It turned out this was a great fit because I’ve always loved writing and working with people. I then moved to the federal government for a short period before returning to communications consulting. Only two years later, my husband joined the U.S. Department of State’s Foreign Service and we were sent to Uzbekistan with our 10-month old and dog for two years to begin a lifestyle where moving around the world every two to three years is the norm.
Why did you found your company?
I founded Career Valet when we moved to Uzbekistan. While the consulting firm tried to keep me on board, it was not possible. For years, I had been helping friends and family with their resumes and questions about their careers. I asked myself what I would do for free and realized that was it. ServingTalent came about several years later because I met so many talented unemployed and underemployed Foreign Service and military spouses on our journey. I met attorneys who could not find work, PhDs working in the mail room of an embassy, and software developers without jobs. Yet these are people who jump on the phone for an interview and land a job during an airport layover while moving their family from Korea back to the United States.
Other than job boards for military spouses, no one was bridging the gap to correct misunderstandings employers have about us spouses and actually help spouses land jobs. Several spouses had asked me over the years if I’d thought about doing recruiting for this population, and then I met Maggie Varona in Chile — a U.S. Navy spouse — who was also passionate about tackling this issue, so we started the company from there.
What is it about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?
Not only are we the first recruiting company for U.S. foreign service and military spouses, we are approaching recruiting in a different way. Standard recruiting firms have scores of candidates who they don’t know well with skills that blend together and don’t stand out. We know our candidates well because we are who we represent as our entire team is made up of spouses. We video or phone screen every candidate who comes to us, keep in touch with them through newsletters and correspondence, and update our data regularly. This enables us to provide accurate information to employers such as how many people have intermediate to advanced language skills and where they are located.
The talent we represent is one-in-a-million and they have soft skills that are difficult, if not impossible, to teach. Our candidates tend to be extremely self-motivated because they handle challenges every day without the support of a relocation agency while their service member or Foreign Service officer spouse works overtime. We buy groceries, a car, register children for school in a new town or in a foreign language, and work.
We all need a little help along the journey — who have been some of your mentors?
Three amazing women immediately come to mind — Naomi Hattaway, Amel Derragui, and Stephanie Ward. They are all entrepreneurs who care so much about the missions of their respective businesses and are driven to succeed and pivot when necessary despite the amount of time it takes to reach their ultimate goals. In other words, it’s about helping people and the journey and not all about the end destination or making a ton of money. Their support is a large part of what keeps me going. My husband has also been an incredible supporter and champion along the way and puts up with my regular brainstorms!
How are you going to shake things up next?
We started meeting with members of Congress this year to garner support for our population of spouses and recommend legislative fixes to help spouses maintain employment in the U.S. and overseas. It’s also important to continue to find ways to raise the profile of our candidates among employers to build awareness of the incredible untapped and misunderstood talent within our ranks.
I am always looking for ways to refine our strategy to enable us to expand by working smarter, not more. Part of this is figuring out how else we can differentiate from the rest of the recruiting industry.
Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.
1. Start and act before you are ready. I like to be fully prepared and for a while thought I needed to be in order to start my first company. At some point I realized you can never be totally ready and you must jump in and take the risk. If you are open to meeting people and build a network along the way, you will have a whole community to reach out to with questions or issues along the way. And hire experts for things you do not know how to do and/or have absolutely no interest in learning!
2. I heard somewhere that most businesses that succeed are the result of patience and persistence, even if they are not the best ideas out there. Many others would have succeeded if founders just kept going, but many entrepreneurs give up. Success does not happen overnight unless you get lucky and VERY few do.
3. Figure out what’s a true pivot in your business and what’s a distraction. This came out of the Alice community’s Circular Summit this year. You may have a ton of new ideas to inject into your business, but you need to be smart and figure out what is worthwhile and what isn’t.
What’s a book/podcast/talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Share a story with us.
“Building a Storybrand” by Donald Miller. He also has a podcast with some good advice, but the book changed my thinking about a lot of our messaging for prospective clients. He presents the idea that your customer should be the hero of your story/business, not your business, and you need to position everything in that way. It totally makes sense, but until he went through examples and suggestions on how to do just that, it never occurred to me.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. 🙂
Marie Forleo. I love that she largely focuses on helping creative entrepreneurs and shows her personality, as I can see how that’s instrumental in building a following and business. Also, I’ve danced since age 4 and her dance breaks and parties remind me of all the choreography I’ve done in classes and with friends over the years!
How can our readers follow you on social media?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!