What does it really take to find the right job for you? Claire McTaggart, a former management consultant turned founder of SquarePeg Hires, explains how she relaunched her career from being a management consultant to the founder of a new job hiring platform. We’ll discuss which factors really matter in hiring and some interviewing tips. Afterwards, during today’s Mental Fuel®, I’ll share my reflections on the stubborn appeal of job promotions.

Key Career Insights

  1. You have to make sure the promotions you’re pursuing would actually bring you the career and life satisfaction you desire.
  2. If you can’t imagine yourself enjoying your manager’s role, or your manager’s manager’s role, you may want to consider making a career pivot.
  3. Dropping your belief that promotions are the only road to professional success allows you to explore other career aspirations that could drive more career fulfillment.

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Resources Mentioned


Listener Challenge

During this episode’s Mental Fuel segment, I talked about the importance of considering whether earning that next stripe in your career, whether it’s a promotion or ranking or professional certification, will make a significant difference to your overall happiness. If not, give yourself permission to invest your energies elsewhere so you can make sure you’re achieving something you’ll truly find meaningful in the year ahead.


About Claire McTaggart, founder of SquarePeg Hires

Claire McTaggart SquarePeg HiresClaire McTaggart is the founder and CEO of SquarePeg, a new hiring platform that connects job seekers and employers based on fit, not just resume data. Before founding SquarePeg, Claire was a manager in the strategy practice of a large management consulting firm, where she also focused on hiring and recruitment. She lives in NYC but spent 4+ years in the Middle East. Follow Claire on Twitter and Instagram.

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Episode Interview Transcript

Teaser (first ~15s): It’s a feeling of treading water a little bit, that you are in a career, and you don’t feel yourself moving up fast enough. Are you learning enough? Are you satisfied? Are you motivated to come in every day, and are you excited about getting those promotions? And I wasn’t anymore.

Joseph: Okay, Claire. Thank you so much for joining me here on Career Relaunch. It’s great to have you here today.

Claire: Thanks for having me. I appreciate it.

Joseph: I’d love to start off by just having you tell us a little bit about what you’re focused on right now in your career and your life.

Claire: Right now, I’m focused entirely on running SquarePeg. It’s the HR tech startup that I founded around a year ago. We just launched this summer, so we are mainly focused on getting job seekers and employers onto our platform.

Joseph: That’s very exciting. Congratulations on the launch.

Claire: Thank you.

Joseph: We’re going to talk about SquarePeg throughout this conversation, but I would love to just get a very brief overview. I know you’re focused on helping to match candidates and companies. Can you just give us a very brief overview for now on exactly what SquarePeg does?

Claire: At a high level, SquarePeg matches jobseekers and employers based on fit. Instead of just looking at resume data, which is really only one, small piece of the puzzle, we use science-backed assessments to look at a whole range of attributes of what makes a candidate thrive at a job. Our assessments will look at personality attributes. They’ll look at what environment makes sense. We’ll look at cultural fit, incentives and preferences, and a whole range of data that really matters when it comes to whether an employee really fits with a company or with a team.

Joseph: I definitely want to come back to that because I think this whole idea of personality fit and trying to find the right company for you is one that a lot of people who are listening to this show are very interested in. I’d love to go back. I know you haven’t always been the Founder of SquarePeg. I was wondering if we could just go back in time and talk about your days as a management consultant before you founded this company, and then we can move forward from there. Can you just give us a glimpse into what you are up to before this? I think you were at Deloitte.

Claire: I’ve had so many careers and jobs. Like many people, I graduated with liberal arts degree, and my career has very much been a process of trial and error, trying something out and figuring out, ‘I really like these three things, but these three things were not right for me. Can I try something else and learn a little bit more?’ I was looking for all types of signals of what might be right for me. I started in journalism. I worked in foreign policy. I worked for a think tank. I worked in government. I ended up in consulting.

Management consulting made sense for somebody like me at the time, because unlike some other industries, management consulting, you really change projects, clients, and industries almost every few months. It gives you the opportunity to try out lots of different careers within one.

Management consulting, I was more of a generalist in our strategy practice. I would have a client in the oil and gas industry one month and then in the entertainment industry the next month. It was all strategy work, but it did allow me to see a range of career options and all different types of projects and approaches, which I think was very helpful for me at the time.

Joseph: For those people who haven’t worked as management consultants, can you just give us a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the world of consulting? Specifically, what was your life like as a consultant day to day?

Claire: There is a little bit more to consulting than just the jargon everybody makes fun of. I was in Monitor Deloitte, which is the strategy practice within Deloitte.

In terms of strategy consulting, we would do projects, either for the private sector or for the government on various problems that they were having, whether it’s a growth issue, a profitability, a new market entry for example, or there is just a company or a government entity that is looking to build a new five-year plan or one-year plan or release a new product. They would go to, then, a management consulting company to get advisory work on how they should build this plan, what exactly they should do, what the initiatives should be, and oftentimes a financial plan or a map.

Joseph: Can you just take me back to the moment when you decided to move on from management consulting? What was happening at that time for you?

Claire: I knew that I wanted to leave consulting and the corporate world for some time. I wasn’t sure what my next move would be though, so I was looking around and thinking what options might be available to me.

I remember reading an article in ‘The Economist’ about co-working spaces, WeWork mainly. It was saying in New York, you have this proliferation of co-working spaces that are filled with startups. I thought, ‘Wow, wouldn’t that be incredible to be part of the entrepreneurial team, starting a new business and a product, and working amongst all these other startups in this innovative environment? Wouldn’t that be incredible?’

I managed to find friends of friends who had startups and were working in some of these co-working spaces, and for our Thanksgiving break, I went back to New York, and I went to one of the WeWorks. I started speaking with people who were working in startups there, talking to them about how they had started their companies, how they thought of the idea, what it was actually like.

At that moment, I really decided I don’t want to miss this wave. I got to be a part of this. It seems so interesting to have all of these people with ideas, putting together teams, and trying to build something and make something happen. It just seemed and felt really close to what I thought I should be doing.

I continued a lot of those relationships talking to those people and originally thinking that I would join somebody else’s startup. That was what drove me to say it’s time to leave the corporate world and go into entrepreneurship. I definitely leveraged the help and experience of a lot of people that I knew who had done it to ease my way into the startup world.

Joseph: You mentioned this feeling that you kind of knew you wanted to move on from the corporate world. Can you explain exactly what it was about the corporate world that convinced you, you wanted to eventually make a change?

Claire: When I would interview candidates, one of the things that we always talked about internally in our recruitment team is, can you picture the person across from you becoming CEO of the company or becoming a partner? This was really important for us. Can this person become a partner? The interesting thing for me at that time—I was a manager—I could see my promotion track, and I could see my career track ahead of me, and I didn’t feel like I had the internal desire to become a partner, to grow to the highest levels within the firm.

I thought I have learned as much as I’d like to learn. I did four years in consulting, and I’d learned so much, and I didn’t have the drive to continue to push to become a partner where my role would be a lot of business development and sales. I also didn’t feel like the learning curve would’ve been as high for me as it would’ve been somewhere else.

It’s a feeling of treading water a little bit, that you are in a career, and you don’t feel yourself moving up fast enough. In my case, it was not up in terms of promotions because I was on track to move up in terms of promotions. It was about, are you learning enough? Are you satisfied? Are you motivated to come in every day, and are you excited about getting those promotions? I wasn’t anymore, and I was constantly talking to other people about their careers and what they’re doing and how they got that job and thinking, ‘Maybe it’s time actually for me to find something I could really be excited about.’

Joseph: What do you think was the major, day-to-day, cultural shift that you experienced when you shifted into the startup world?

Claire: It’s absolutely everything. There is a huge difference when you work for a large corporation that has a training and development program and that has a lot of people and an admin function for example. It is easy to put in a lot or not as much and be okay doing that. If I worked really hard, yeah, I would get promoted. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t, but either of those were sort of okay.

In a startup world, however much you put into it, this is the life of the company. If you don’t work hard, you will never make any money, and your company will fail. There’s much more responsibility on your shoulders and weight that you carry around about the success of the venture that is solely tied to your input and your ability to manage it.

Joseph: How do you manage the emotions of running your own business and all of those different functions you got to manage and the ups and downs of the business and things going well or things not going well? How do you manage that from an emotional standpoint?

Claire: It is never about things going well. It is always about managing and prioritizing all of the things that are not going well and learning to be okay with that. Because you’re starting something new, it is inherently about learning how to fail well, learning how to make mistakes and get over them quickly. What helped me a lot is, in my transition, I went through something called the Founder Institute, which I would recommend for any of your listeners who are currently in a corporate job or otherwise and are thinking about startups but don’t have startup experience.

What Founder Institute did is it put sort of structured program together, making sure that you are really interested and invested in this idea and have a plan in place. The other thing that it did, which I think is essential, is it brought in mentors on a weekly basis, of people who had started their own companies and been successful or failed many times before being successful.

There was a discussion early on about, are you able to handle the challenge ahead? Because it is most likely the case that this will take a longer time, more money, more effort than you think it will. People who had built companies that were doing $100 million in revenue would talk about, ‘Our first year was about learning from mistakes constantly.’ That provided a great network for me.

As soon as you understand that you are going to pivot constantly and make mistakes and learn from them, as long as you’re comfortable accepting that, then you’re on sort of the right path. That was really helpful to me coming from a corporate world where I was much more of a perfectionist and wanted really solid, polished work that would sell versus a startup, where it’s much more about trial error and experimentation and releasing things before they’re ready to see where the flaws and bugs are.

Joseph: Speaking of learning from mistakes and trial and error, I want to shift gears here a little bit, Claire. I know you’re in the business of helping to match employees with employers, and so I’d love to tap into some of your unique hiring insights that you’ve gained during your years of screening candidates. I want to reference a specific article that you just recently wrote in Medium, ‘The Definitive Guide to Interviewing for a Startup: What I Learned after Screening 42 Candidates for One Position,’ which is a great read and one I would recommend to everybody.

Just to touch on a couple of the common mistakes that you notice people making, which I think is important for people listening to this podcast, because a lot of people are career changers, and they’re trying to shift industries. One of the things you mentioned was being a jack of all trades. Can you just explain what makes that a mistake to say in an interview?

Claire: A job seeker or a candidate is often trying so hard to get the job and to fit into that mold that he/she is willing to say that they can do anything. I would ask people, for example, ‘Could you set up our Facebook analytics? How would you be with Google Analytics?’ or, ‘Could you do marketing?’ or, ‘Could you do blogging?’ You could see, in a lot of these candidates, their tendency to say, ‘Yes, I can do anything. Just you name it, and I’ll hit the ground running, and I’ll do anything that you want.’

As a founder, what that would say to me is you might not be self-aware of what you’re good at and where your limitations are, and we need somebody who is self-aware because we don’t have a lot of resources. It also means that you might not be honest about some of your shortcomings, which again is something that’s required. It will be hard for me to figure out where you would really be able to thrive from the beginning and where we would need somebody else to fill in those skills.

What I liked was somebody who came in and said, ‘This is what I can do on day one, and these are the types of things I can teach myself over the next few months that I know I could be good at if I were just given some time to be able to teach myself these things.

Joseph: You now just mentioned, Claire, day one. The other interesting point I thought you made in the article was about not having a day one plan. Can you explain what you meant by that?

Claire: The person across the table or on the other end of the phone, they’re working for the company, but they have their own set of issues and problems that they need to tackle. They are interested almost always in having somebody that can hit the ground running and can start adding value right away.

Rather than going into an interview and saying, ‘I will wait for you all to tell me what I should be working on, and I’ll wait for you to train me, and I’m happy to do whatever you would like me to do, and I’ll learn on the job,’ it was really profound when someone would say, ‘Look, here’s what I think about your company and your business. Here’s where I think that you could be doing a better job, and here’s where I could start working on that without your help or training or development. Here’s what I could do tomorrow if I joined.’

What that did is it put a picture in my head of this person sees maybe a flaw or an area of improvement that I don’t see, and they are able to go on their own without a whole onboarding process and start adding value in helping. That is really important to paint that picture in the mind of an interviewer.

I had somebody come in for a marketing role and say, ‘I’ve looked at your social sites, and I really don’t think that they’re optimized. There’s so much more you could be doing. If you’re really busy, here’s what I would do on my own. In week one and in month one, I’d write these blog posts, I’d set up this analytics platform. Here are the things I would just do right away.’ All of a sudden, now, I’m picturing, ‘What does my company look like with this person all of a sudden adding value without me having to spend a lot of time on teaching and training them?’

Joseph: I guess what might prevent people from doing that is that they’re afraid of saying the wrong thing or maybe proposing the wrong plan. Am I correct in interpreting, Claire, that you’d almost rather hear somebody’s best stab at what they would do versus nothing at all?

Claire: Absolutely. I don’t know if there is a really wrong way. Somebody might suggest something that isn’t a fair read of our business and what we need, but the fact that they can look at something critically, identify where there are areas of improvement and suggest ideas and an action in and of itself is indicative that that person might be able to add value.

Even if the idea is the wrong one, the process that they’ve gone through, saying, ‘I’ve reviewed what you’re doing. I have an idea of your business and your industry. I see areas for improvement, and I see a place where I can come in tomorrow and help you,’ is very valuable.

You want candidates who can put themselves in the context of your business immediately rather than what was much more common that people would say, ‘I’d wait for you to tell me. I’d be happy to learn anything. I want to hear from you what you think are your problems and how it affects them and what you think I should be doing, and then I would do it.’ That tells me that not only do I have to do my job now, but I have to spend a lot of time training and onboarding a person who may or may not be able to learn something. For a startup, we just don’t have the resources to do that.

Joseph: The last topic I would love to cover with you before we wrap up, Claire, is this whole topic of career assessments and personality profiles, which I know is your bread and butter right now. A lot of people who listen to this show may not feel 100% satisfied in their current roles, but they’re just not clear on what they want to do instead. Sometimes, people ask this question around, ‘Hey, is there some sort of a test or a career survey I can take that will help inform my next move?’

I’ve always struggled with what to recommend to people because I’m familiar with things like the Myers Briggs type inventory test and the strong interest inventory. I’m just curious, what’s your view of how people should be using these sorts of tests to inform their next career move?

Claire: This is essentially what SquarePeg is doing. Myers Briggs for example, it’s based on 16 personality types. It divides us all into 16 types. It’s really about who you are as a person. It’s not your career.

What SquarePeg does is it looks at a whole wide range of attributes and information, and then we’ll provide results in a report. We look at for example, workplace personality traits. Our assessments will say, are you strategic or innovative or detail-oriented? What type of roles would you thrive in? What type of environment is best for you? We’ll provide all of that in our report, but more importantly, our matching algorithm will identify teams and companies that you should be speaking with, and we’ll connect you directly.

The idea is that all of us, especially us career changers, are a lot more than our resumes. I might have worked in journalism for two years and decided it was not for me and then left. Now, if I’m going on a job board, it’s just going to see that I have a journalism background and try to match me with that. That is an inaccurate representation of my strengths, my qualities, who I am, and what I’d like to do.

What we’re trying to get at is a much wider range of what competency skills and experience you have but also what type of person are you and where do you thrive so that we can match you with an environment and a team that would really make sense depending on those results.

Our assessments, we developed them with a lead psychologist who’s written a textbook on personal assessment. We’ve now been using them with over 3,000 jobseekers to be able to understand a little bit more about themselves, receive the report, and then also get matched with companies.

Joseph: One of the articles I know that just came out in ‘Fast Company’ this past week was a little bit about your company. One of the things I thought you said that was very interesting is that your personality data is much more predictive of what makes someone thrive in a job. Why do you think it is that people just overlook that? You mentioned things like resume and these traditional hiring methods. Why do you think it is that people haven’t paid more attention to personality in the past?

Claire: It is interesting because this type of assessments have been around for hundreds of years. There’s been a lot of research that shows something like an IQ test or a skills test can assess somebody at a point in time for their maximum potential for example. I could assess you and say, ‘Here is your maximum, how hard you will work to achieve something on a test.’ It’s how well you take the test and what your maximum potential is.

What some of these workplace personality assessments can do, which is a little bit different, is show more of what you’d be like on a day-to-day basis. Not your maximum potential but what is a more typical working style of somebody of one type versus another. For us, it’s not 16 types, there are probably 4,000 or something.

In terms of why they haven’t been used, I think they have been used, and they’ve been becoming more and more important to employers but at the very end of the hiring cycle. It is common for an employer to go source candidates on LinkedIn or through a job post or a job board, screen their resumes, do a phone screen, interview them, and then at the very end, they might have an assessment for somebody that they’ve already wanted to hire. It’s like the very last step to look at anything.

Our view is this data is just as important as the resume data, so why not put it at the very top and be able to source candidates who are already a good fit for you rather than waiting until the end? The model of assessment is not new, and lots of companies have been using them for quite some time. What we are saying is that the assessment needs to come at the very top so that you’re learning more about candidates before you decide to interview them.

Joseph: What are a couple of ways that you’ve managed to look at your own personality and use that as a way of informing your career moves just as an example for people?

Claire: When I took the SquarePeg assessments, two of the attributes that I had that are high are proactive and innovative, which means I’m often not going to wait for permission for anything. I’m going to try to go out and do things on my own without ever being told to do it, and I’ll try to take risks and experiment a lot.

Now, that is great for an entrepreneur, but I also saw some of my weaknesses which are around being highly logical and also highly orderly. Where I need help is around structure and organization and making sure that I’m not just using intuition, that I’m using a lot of logic. That actually helps inform my hiring decisions. I wanted to hire candidates that were not like me and that were strong in areas where I was weak. It helped me in building a team, and it also helped me in interviewing candidates.

That self-awareness of the things that I’m not good at and the environments where I don’t do well, one, allowed me to outsource some tasks to people who do thrive at those various things and also helped me in building a team that’s diverse in terms of personality types.

Joseph: I think that’s a good reminder that these sorts of personality profiles are a good way for us as candidates to understand where it is we should go for our jobs, but also as a hiring manager, the types of people we can hire to help supplement us in those areas where we might not be as strong.

I’d love to wrap up, Claire, by just having you tell us where people can go if they want to learn more about the JobFit assessments you offer there at SquarePeg and how that whole thing work.

Claire: Anybody who’s interested in learning a little bit more about themselves or thinking about maybe switching careers or their next job placement can go on to our site. It’s www.SquarePegHires.com. You can sign in there and take the assessments. There are no wrong answers, and it’s under an hour. We’ll provide you with a free report and free job matching.

Anybody can go and do that now. We are open to the public, and we’re helping candidates all over, help find their jobs and get these career reports.

Joseph: I know that you also share a lot of really useful advice online and are active on social media, so where else can people go if they want to read more about your career and hiring insights?

Claire: We’re definitely active on social media: on LinkedIn, on Facebook, and on Twitter. They can follow our blog on Medium, which has a range of voices from people that work for SquarePeg as well as myself on issues related to career change and hiring.

Joseph: Thank you so much, Claire, for telling us more about startup versus corporate life, a few hiring insights that are really useful, and most of all, the ins and outs of how your personality can be a great predictor of solid company fit. Best of luck with SquarePeg. I might take one of those assessments myself.

Claire: Thank you so much, Joseph. It was great talking to you.

About Joseph Liu

Joseph Liu is dedicated to helping people relaunch their careers and have more meaningful careers. As a public speaker, career consultant, and host of the Career Relaunch® podcast, he shares insights from relaunching global consumer brands to empower professionals to more effectively marketing their personal brands.

About Joseph Liu

Joseph Liu helps aspiring professionals relaunch their careers to do work that matters. As a keynote speaker, career & personal branding consultant, and host of the Career Relaunch podcast, his passion is helping people gain the clarity, confidence, and courage to pursue truly meaningful careers. Having gone through three major career changes himself, he now shares insights from building & relaunching global consumer brands to empower professionals and business owners to build & relaunch their personal brands.