Discovering Your Transferable Skills, with Benny Kuo

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Find Your Dream Job, Bonus Episode:

Discovering Your Transferable Skills, with Benny Kuo

Airdate: March 11, 2019

Mac Prichard:

This is Find Your Dream Job, the podcast that helps you get hired, find the career you want, and make a difference in life.

I’m your host, Mac Prichard. I’m also the founder of Mac’s List. It’s a job board in the Pacific Northwest that helps professionals find fulfilling careers.

One of the best ways to get good at job hunting is to talk to people who do it well.

That’s why once a month, I interview a Mac’s List reader who found a dream job.

Today I’m talking to Benny Kuo. He’s a product marketing manager at CRU, Inc. It’s a company that makes removable data drives for computers.

Benny Kuo knows how a network can help your career.

In a story you can find at macslist.org, Benny says he landed his current job through connections, not via a job board.

Benny learned about this hidden job through people he met in graduate school.

Last year, Benny celebrated his first anniversary at CRU. He joins us today from Vancouver, Washington.

Benny, welcome to the show.

Benny Kuo:

Hi, thanks, Mac. Glad to be here.

Mac Prichard:

Well, it’s a pleasure to have you.

Benny, you’re a product marketing manager at CRU and it’s a company, as I mentioned, that makes removable data drives.

Tell me, Benny, why do you love your job?

Benny Kuo:

I love my job for a couple of different reasons. Can’t list them all here, however, I’d say the top two are, 1, I get to wear many different hats and I have varied responsibilities in marketing, so that’s been giving me a lot of different viewpoints on marketing. When I came out of school, I said, “Okay, well, advertising does not equal marketing but what other things are there within that umbrella?”

Number 2 is the people that I work with in those roles. As I said, I have varied responsibilities and so I work in cross-functional groups and teams, so I’m working with sales, marketing, operations, and logistics team to fulfill my responsibilities and bring value to the company.

That’s really why I love my job. There’s never a dull moment when wearing many different hats.

Mac Prichard:

You’ve been in the position for more than a year now. I know you’ll be celebrating your 2nd anniversary, I think at the end of 2019.

Why is it a good fit for you, Benny?

Benny Kuo:

You know, Mac, I believe it’s a good fit for me because it’s an exciting role. As I mentioned, there’s never a dull moment and I really have the opportunity to interface with different groups and people and that’s what’s exciting to me.

I’ve definitely found out that I’m not really a person that likes to sit in, say, one functional area and do my job over and over again. I really like the variation from day to day, week to week, and so something for that is, we recently acquired a company called ioSafe about 8 months ago and so we’re working with a new team and I’m learning the easy and hard parts about bridging two cultures and communities together. So as I grow my career, I’m utilizing all of these different experiences to gauge, how do I want to become the manager that I want to become with these experiences?

Mac Prichard:

You mentioned bridging two cultures and now, let’s talk more about that because as I was preparing for our conversation, I was really struck by the fact, Benny, that you’re in a marketing job now and you have a Masters in Business Administration but your undergraduate training is in music and that is a very different world than marketing and the digital industry, isn’t it?

Benny Kuo:

Yeah, absolutely. It’s totally different cultures and that was something that was a little difficult for me to reconcile at first. Going into undergrad, I thought I wanted to be a music teacher and throughout undergrad, I learned I had a lot of different interests, one of them being fixing computers. That was kind of my road path to where I am today, the introduction to the technology industry and bridging those two cultures, you’re right Mac, it’s difficult but I’ve been able to take those experiences from my undergraduate career and my gap year to launch into marketing.

One of those experiences was working for the undergraduate admission office and being able to discuss to high school students or transfer students the value of the music department at my undergraduate college and I didn’t really know it at the time but I was building those skills and that insight for, how do you sell? How do you market to certain customers? Which were the high school students, really.

That was a really cool experience for me.

Mac Prichard:

How did the skills you acquired in moving between those two cultures, Benny, help you? Both in your job search and in your career but particularly during your job search.

Benny Kuo:

Yeah, so one of the things I found interesting was, there’s many managers who come up with questions of, “Well, why music? And how did that lead you into your MBA and business and going into industry?”

And one of the interesting things is that many managers today, and there’s been some articles out by some prominent newspapers saying that, “Well, as much as we like people going into traditional career paths, such as getting your business degree in undergrad and then maybe going to grad school right away or maybe even a couple of years down the line, we’re really interested in looking for people that have a varied, broad experience.”

When I was going into my job search, I utilized that experience of, “Well, I was in a liberal arts college. I also did music, so I was a performer, so I feel comfortable speaking to different clients and groups of people.” That’s exactly how I could bring value to the company, and also leveraging the fact that I’ve had some more business training to be able to provide analysis and review for the company.

Mac Prichard:

I know that you found your position through your contacts at graduate school, not through a job board. Tell us more about that. How did that happen?

Benny Kuo:

Yeah, so, how that happened was actually an interesting story. The COO of my company at the time, he had put out a search and he reached out to my graduate college and said, “We’re looking for this position, this marketing position.” Now, it had been posted, a professor of mine had even referred me to it, to our class and said, “Look at the job board posting and let us know if you’re interested.”

And my network really propelled me into thinking about this. This position was a different role, as you mentioned, it was a hidden job, so the role that was advertised had limited responsibilities. I’d been looking at the wall with the job posting for a couple of weeks and I kept saying, kept bringing up reasons why not to, as bad as that sounds, but in the end, really the interest of me applying was utilizing the cover letter to explain what I had been doing. Instead of crafting it as, “This is what I can do for this job,” I said, “Well, these are the things that I’m currently doing. Here’s the value that I could bring to the table, and let’s have a conversation.”

You know, it worked out. It ended up with some of the management saying, “You know, let’s bring in Benny in. Let’s have a discussion on what more he could bring to the table.” Ended up being that there were some gaps in skill sets that I was able to fill and they offered me the position after a couple of interviews.

Mac Prichard:

Okay, so when you saw this publicly posted position and you didn’t think it was a good fit, you didn’t stop thinking about the company and the opportunities it might offer. You used that as a chance to reach out to people, leveraging your contacts from graduate school to have conversations to identify other opportunities for a job that was never publicly posted. Is that a good summary, Benny?

Benny Kuo:

Yeah, absolutely. That is a great summary and I know from the hidden job market, that sounds to be what really happens, is engaging in those conversations and bringing to the table, “This is the value that I can bring. These are the skill sets that I’m great at. Is this something you need?”

Mac Prichard:

What I like about your story is that when you saw that it wasn’t the publicly posted position that was the best fit and it didn’t match your goals, you didn’t turn away. It got you thinking about what you wanted to do and you used it kind of as a back door to go inside the  company and have those conversations.

Benny Kuo:

Yeah, absolutely.

Mac Prichard:

Well, let’s talk about the rest of your job search. You described how you found the position and how you started those conversations. What did you find made the biggest difference in your job hunt?

Benny Kuo:

The biggest difference in my job hunt was being open-minded, as we mentioned, about how this position really opened up. I had a focus of entering the marketing field and I looked at the growth opportunities rather than the job itself and that’s really the most important thing that I feel was really great.

What didn’t really work for me however was the, I guess, spray and pray approach. Many times I hear of people, and myself included, just sending out dozens of or hundreds of applications, hoping that something is going to stick and you’ll receive an interview notice, invitation.

However, I think really narrowing down and understanding what your strengths are is really the best way to go about your job search.

Mac Prichard:

What advice, Benny, would you give to a listener who might be struggling with coming up with that narrow focus and isn’t quite sure how to do it?

Benny Kuo:

Yeah, that’s a great question, Mac. I think one thing is really taking a step back figuring out what strengths you have and understanding yourself, and so whether that’s a strengthsquest or a personality test or looking at the previous jobs you’ve had and crossing out all of the different responsibilities that you didn’t like. I feel like those are the things that really help in understanding what you’re looking for.

Also, looking at the current jobs out there and not only looking at the job titles, but really what the responsibilities are. I find that is the most important thing. Not necessarily the title, because companies have all these different titles and it may be completely different from one company to the other, however the responsibilities are almost the same.

It’s very difficult to do your job search by saying, “I would like to find a marketing assistant job.” That may look different from a Fortune 500 company vs. a startup company.

Mac Prichard:

When you were having those conversations about this opportunity, how did you, for a job that wasn’t written down, I’m gathering, how did you get clear about what the position would involve and how did you know, Benny, that it was the right fit for you?

Benny Kuo:

Initially, during the interview process, my boss and I had a discussion over the phone really quick on what this position could look like. I think he was really gathering information on, “Do we move forward with Benny at all? Is this a good fit to start the conversation?”

And it ended up, it was. During the in person interview process we really had a high-level discussion. More strategic on, “The company is here in 2017. These are the conversations we’re having, the customers we have, and we’re really just interested in hearing your thoughts of where your experiences and your insight on the technology world, how is that translating into bringing value to the company?”

And then after that conversation, they started having internal conversations and was able to write a job rec to send to me and, “Take a look at, these are the responsibilities, after our conversation, that we would like you to fulfill. Is this something that still interests you? Is that something that is worth pursuing?”

Mac Prichard:

How did you prepare for that first high-level conversation? How did you get clear before you walked into the room about the value you might offer the company and what kind of challenges they might face?

Benny Kuo:

I’d done a lot of research on the company, on its competitors that I thought were competitors, and also utilized some high-level thinking that I got from graduate school. So I did some SWOT analysis which is Strength, Weakness, Opportunities, and Threats, and took a look at, “Okay, well if I was sitting in this company today, what do I think they bring to the table and what do I think are out of our control?” And I started there.

Mac Prichard:

In your article for our website, Benny, you talked about how your search went on for a period of time and there was a challenge for you, finding that balance between being productive and proactive but also kind of taking some sanity breaks, too.

Tell our listeners how you did this and how you stayed focused and sane at the same time.

Benny Kuo:

Absolutely, yeah, so one thing that did not help was I was relocating to the Portland Metro area after graduate school, so, I did that first. That was a stressful time but after that, I started taking a look at job boards, reaching out to people in the area, even connected with a couple of startup CEOs, and really just trying to understand the community and how to get in.

How did I take some breaks? Actually there’s a funny story. My now fiance, girlfriend at the time, she and I took a beach day about a week and a half after I moved into the Portland Metro area. She’d been living in Portland for the last two years while I was doing my graduate degree about two hours away by car, and so the relative closeness was great for us.

But during that drive, I actually got a phone call from one of the staffing agencies I’d been working with and I felt really bad because we were going over the mountains during that call and it was really hard to hear. But with that story, that’s how I was really balancing being proactive and also taking breaks, was saying, “You know, this is a good time to see some friends. Have a social life that I haven’t really had in a while.” And then also connecting with recruiters in the area that could really help extend my reach to be able to find those nuggets of job opportunities.

Mac Prichard:

Well, finally, Benny, what’s your number one job hunting tip?

Benny Kuo:

The number one job hunting tip I would have is to jump in. I think our communities, such as friends, parents, religious organizations, or social organizations, they’re worried about us finding the right job right away and a little contrary belief, but I think it’s about knowing what you don’t want to do. I’d cross the responsibilities out of things that you dislike or if you had left a company that didn’t feel right, well, what were the things that didn’t line up with you?

You’ll eventually find the right job for what you offer, but in the meantime, I’d say volunteer or find a survival job. Something that’s going to get you by because at the end of the day, there will be translatable skills and I think building those right away is one of the most important things.

I think the most important thing is jumping in. Either volunteering or finding a job that’ll get you by until you find the right one.

Mac Prichard:

Good. Well, thanks so much, Benny for sharing your story. You can learn more about Benny Kuo’s job search by visiting macslist.org/stories. And check out the Mac’s List website for dozens of other success stories.

Every Friday, we add a new interview with a Mac’s List reader who’s found a dream job.

Go to macslist.org/stories.

In the meantime, thank you for listening to today’s bonus episode of Find Your Dream Job.

When changing jobs or career paths, many people send out dozens of resumes, hoping that at least a few of them will result in an interview. If they’re lucky, they might even get a job offer. Before you send out a flood of resumes, however, you need to take some time to figure out your transferable skills and what you can offer to a company. Then, use your network to discover jobs that have not been posted or publicized. On this bonus episode of Find Your Dream Job, Benny Kuo and I talk about how he used his connections to find his current job. We also discuss why having an undergrad degree in an unrelated field may actually be helpful on your job hunt. Learn more about Benny’s career history below in this installment of our Success Stories series.


What do you do for a career? Who do you work for?

I work in the high tech sector as a product marketing manager for CRU, Inc.

I develop strategies for our business to grow and define the customer segments, research companies & markets, coordinate tradeshow events, and formulate strategies for product offerings to grow or create markets.

How long did it take you to find this job?

I started my job hunt about six months before graduation. My interview process with CRU took about two weeks, and I started at CRU a month after graduation.

How did you find your job? What resources did you use? What tool or tactic helped the most?

This was a hidden job! CRU connected with my school’s career center for a different position in the same department. I asked the professor that helped advertise this job if he could connect us. I sent in a cover letter and resume speaking to my experiences for that particular job and also what my latest work experiences exposed me to. This led to a discussion about expanding the position to fill other needs too.

Overall, I used Mac’s List, the OSU and Willamette University career boards through HandShake, and my contacts.

What was the most difficult part of your job search? How did you overcome this challenge?

The most difficult part of the search was feeling productive and staying engaged. Finding the balance between taking a breather and productively searching for a job was a challenge.

I overcame this by breaking the job search into segments and celebrating small wins, like meeting with the CEO of a company or learning more about a company I didn’t know much about.

What is the single best piece of advice you would offer other job seekers?

Seek out recruiters and stay connected with your network. I worked with two recruiters a few months before graduation to understand the job market in Portland and identify what my skills were worth. It was also helpful to hear what skills trends and hot markets they had seen the prior few months, so I could start working on any skills gaps for the specific market I was entering.

Why do you love your job?

I love the growth opportunities at CRU. I’m already engaged in several projects and utilizing what I learned in business school. In my second month, I had already presented an analysis at an all-hands meeting including the board of directors.

For more job search resources, visit Benny’s website and blog.