272 : Rehabbing Your Career (w/ Kanika Tolver)

Zach chats with Kanika Tolver, founder and CEO of Career Rehab LLC and author of Career Rehab: Rebuild Your Personal Brand and Rethink the Way You Work, on this special Saturday episode themed around rehabbing your career. A senior project manager with the U.S. Department of the Treasury, Kanika is no ordinary “social-preneur” – she’s a rebel entrepreneur and certified professional coach, a serial innovator who’s fueled by an extraordinary commitment to social change and helping others create their own “epic lives.” True to her book’s name, she outlines the importance of rebuilding your personal brand and rethinking the way you work, and she lists some of the telltale signs she experienced when she realized she needed to undergo a career rehab of her own.

Find out more about “Career Rehab: Rebuild Your Personal Brand and Rethink the Way You Work” on Amazon.

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Check out her personal website.

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Zach: What’s up, y’all? It’s Zach with Living Corporate. Now, look, man, y’all know what it is. We’re coming to y’all with real, authentic conversations every single week. So we’re having these conversations talking about that real real, okay? We’re having conversations that center underrepresnted, marginalized, underestimated, oppressed voices, experiences and lived identities in the workplace, and today is no different, man. We have a great guest. Her name is Kanika Tolver. Kanika Tolver is no ordinary socialpreneur. She’s a highly decorated information technology federal government professional, rebel entrepreneur and certified professional coach and a serial innovator who’s fueled by an extraordinary commitment to social change and helping others create their own epic lives, not to mention she’s the CEO and founder of Career Rehab in Washington, D.C. Career Rehab focuses on assisting career transitions and transformations for students, professionals and retirees. Her company provides career coaching programs, events, webinars, and digital resources to help people reach their goals. She’s the acclaimed author of Career Rehab: Rebuild Your Professional Brand and Rethink the Way You Work. In that book and in the conversation today we’re going to be talking about, amongst a wide array of things, what’s holding you back from taking the next step in your career. She’s been featured on CNN, CNBC, CBS Radio, Yahoo, Glassdoor, Black Enterprise, Entrepreneur, The Washington Post–she’s been all over the place, you know what I’m saying? So without further ado, welcome, Kanika. What’s going on, now?

Kanika: What’s going on?

Zach: All right, so look, I read the bio, but let’s talk about, like, the why behind the career coaching and things that you do and really how you transitioned from tech and the public sector and, like, this social entrepreneur work that you’re doing now. Like, how did that come together?

Kanika: It came together because I was just really at a place where I felt alone at work, and I felt like, you know, I was growing professionally and I was making a lot of money, but I really felt like I wasn’t being my true, authentic self, and I really wanted to help people. Like, I wanted to help people get to the places that I was able to reach in my career, and not having a lot of support at work just kind of–you know, my passion was doing career coaching and helping people with resumes and stuff like that, so that’s kind of how I moved into the career development space. 

Zach: So then let’s talk about, like, what were some of the key differences as you transitioned from working in the public sector, doing tech work to now going into personal career coaching? 

Kanika: I mean, I still work in the technology industry for the federal government, so I still have my day job as a federal government employee, but what it kind of looks like as far as being an entrepreneur and having a full-time job, it’s pretty much me kind of been just building my career coaching clientele over the last three to four years. So I started off as a resume writer. I was helping people get a lot of good federal government job, a lot of good, high-paying tech jobs ’cause I was already in the industry, so I kind of started to do that and I started to kind of market myself online, and then I kind of transitioned into wanting a book deal and wanting to be an author and wanting to showcase a lot of the clients that had success with me in my book, but also I wanted to make sure that I was telling a true story of, you know, how my career life has gone for the past 10 years. I’ve had my own personal challenges. So that’s where Career Rehab kind of came into play, ’cause I felt like we all need career innovations. You know, we all need to take our career to the next level in some way, so. 

Zach: You’re absolutely right. I also think it’s easy–when you consider, like, the history of America and, like, progress for Black and brown folks in the workplace, of course Black and brown people had jobs in corporate-like settings before the ’60s, but when you talk about that, like, real influx, we really haven’t been largely represented but for some less than, like, 50 something odd years, and we’ve only had all of our rights on paper–on paper–since, like, 1965, so… when you think about that, like, you and I, we’re like the first generation of folks born with all of our rights–or we’re the second generation. It gets kind of hairy, right, ’cause you think about, like, really Gen X, they’re the first generation of people who were coming into the professional space with all of their rights on paper, and even still today, right, there are still folks who are, you know, 30 or in their late 20s who are first-generation professionals, folks who graduated from college. So when you think about, like, career rehab, the concept of career rehab or just needing to, like, really assess where you’re at and what you’re doing, those things–that’s a novel concept for a lot of people who really just started getting into this space, you know what I mean?

Kanika: I agree. I think me being more of a millennial, I think the Gen X’ers, they were the ones that really set the tone for, you know, helping to establish good–I would say the baby boomers established work ethic, right, being loyal to jobs. That’s my parents’ generation, and then you have the Gen X’ers who they started to get educated, they started to get jobs, but the millennials I think are the game-changing generation because we wanted more than just the education and the job. We want passionate work. We want work that matters. We want people to know our worth, and I think that Gen X’ers were a little bit more like “I’ma just do what I’m told to do and this is my job, I got it, I got my papers, I got my college degree, I got my education,” but they didn’t really rock the boat the way millennials and the newer generations are rocking the boat within the workplace. 

Zach: No, I agree with that. I think it’s interesting because when you look at, like, the research that continues to come out, and then you look at social media that continues to, like, really be a game changer in terms of democratizing information and making things just really accessible, when you talk about just the reality of inequity, right, when you talk about, like, from pay inequity to opportunities to promote and rise within the ranks, to hiring and, like, the exclusivity of some of these social circles and how a lot of even these technology pipelines and things like that are really closed off. I do believe that we’re in a different generation now than we were, you know, 15 or 20 years ago where we just didn’t–people knew, but now we know we know, you know what I mean?

Kanika: Right, yep.

Zach: So when you talk about, like, career rehab and rebuilding your personal brand and rethinking the way you work, like, can we talk about some of the core tenets of that? Like, what does that mean, and where were you in your career that made you say, “I need a rehab?” Like, what were some of the telltale signs that you needed to rehab? 

Kanika: So rebuilding your personal brand was kind of, like, for me at a point where I was leaving my good federal government job to go into private sector, and I was scared. I was like, “Oh, my gosh. Like, I’ve been in the federal government space. This is comfortable,” and I went to go work for a company by the name of Deloitte. I didn’t know anything about the company, so I had to rebuild my personal brand as far as my resume and my LinkedIn profile to be able to talk the talk of private sector, because the government talks totally different than private sector. So that was a time where I was really going through a transition of being unhappy in my government job, and I was like, you know, “I have to rebrand myself if I’m gonna be able to get into a very innovative company. I’m gonna have to shift the way my brand has been looking as far as my resume and as far as, like, my LinkedIn profile.” So that was kind of how I started to shift my mindset about how I thought about personal branding, because in government you just don’t think about personal branding like that, right? You think about “This is a good government job, and I worked for this, and I’ma be here for 30 years,” and my family and my aunties and my mom, everybody pretty much around me, was like, “Get a good government job,” and I’m like, “This is not even really necessarily me, but I’m gonna do it.” So that’s kind of the shift that happened in my personal career.

Zach: So let’s continue to talk about this. I’m trying to understand when we talk about rethinking what it is you need or really what you want out of your career, like, what would you say are some of the biggest kind of, like, traps or patterns in your coachees that you see that lets you know that they need to be coached or that they need some help?

Kanika: Rethinking the way that you work is a career mindset shift, because so often we don’t really focus in on talking about, like, getting paid now, getting the money, power and respect. That’s one of the things I coach people on, is it’s not just about getting the job offer, it’s about getting the money, power and respect, and the power and respect comes into play when you become a subject matter expert. You have the power and respect to be marketable. I think a lot of times in our community of people of color we just get so validated by “Oh, I’ma get this, like, nice-paying job,” that we still don’t get the power and respect at work, so that’s a mindset shift. Another mindset shift that I see, that I have even applied to myself and even applied to my coaching clients, is things like “commute’s worth the coins.” It’s okay to have a realistic commute. It’s okay to ask for remote options from home. I think we so often are scared to ask for the work-life balance component of things in the workplace, and it has made us feel like we kind of, like, have a slavery mentality towards the job instead of the job offering us the things that we need in order to have balance.

Zach: Yeah, and I think that also comes though from, like, a very real fear of loss, right? Like, you know, the system that we live in today, you need money to survive, and if you have people who maybe they’ve interviewed at fifty ‘leven jobs and this is finally the job that said yes, it’s hard to then, if you see you making those requests as a risk to keeping your job and then by relation keeping your lights on, you know, it’s tough, right? So it’s kind of like, you know, when you talk about that self-assessment to understand how to ask and then even facing those fears of asking. Like, what does it look like for the people that you talk to to help them get over some of the fears that they have in advocating for themselves?

Kanika: I think one thing that I want to touch on when we talk about personal branding is that we have to continue to try to the best of our ability to align our personal brand of who we are as individuals with an employer brand that will make us feel like we feel good about this job situation, right? So it’s important that when we’re looking for jobs and interviewing for jobs that if there are things on our list that we desire to have in addition to our annual salary, if it’s work-life balance, if it’s paid time off, if it’s remote options from home, I think it’s important to do research on the job just as much as they’re doing research on you as you come into interview with them. I think we apply blindly and we go on job interviews blindly not really looking at all of the other things that the job may or may not offer from a culture perspective or from a benefits perspective.

Zach: And so then what does it look like to, like, assess a company to make sure that their personal brand does align with yours? Like, how does one go about that type of research?

Kanika: So that type of research can happen through websites like Glassdoor.com. You can also–what I’ve done and what I’ve coached my clients to do is it’s important to reach out to–what I usually do in the past is I reached out to Black and brown folks that worked at the company and I connected with them on LinkedIn and I either, you know, had a Zoom call with them or coffee chat or we met up for lunch, or we just talked on the phone, and I just wanted to get their insight on how the company culture is for them and how things have been working out for them, ’cause sometimes Glassdoor, it has some good, consistent information about the companies, but it’s also good to talk to the people that already work for the company.

Zach: Absolutely. I have folks hit me up on LinkedIn, Black and brown folks hit me up often. Let me, like, not even exaggerate. Like, a lot. A lot asking me about “I know that you work here now,” you know, “Would you recommend this being a place for me?” What would be your recommendation or advice on how to ask and how to network, you know, in terms of asking people who currently work there and, like, how to reach out? What are some of the best practices for you?

Kanika: Some of the best practices for me have been just developing a standard direct message template through LinkedIn and introducing yourself. The first thing you want to do is edify them, edify their profile, make them feel good, make them feel comfortable for them coming in to talk to you as a stranger. So I try to make the person that I’m interviewing like, “Oh, hey. I see you work at This Company and I see you have an awesome profile and you’re an expert at this particular subject,” and then I go in and I say, “Well, hey, I just wanted to reach out to you just to connect with you to see how you’ve been enjoying the company, and I’m interested in applying or I have applied to X job, and I would love to chat with you to see how your experience has been.” So I try to send out maybe close to 10 messages, because not everybody’s gonna respond back. Some people are scared to talk about company culture with a stranger, and some people just don’t care–some people just don’t really use LinkedIn and they don’t respond, and a lot of people would be willing to share their experiences, and I try to get a diverse perspective. So I don’t just say, “Let me just reach out to all the Black folks.” I’m looking to reach out to a diverse set of people. So, you know, Asian, white, Black, female, male, you know what I mean? So I don’t get just one perspective.

Zach: Right, right. So let’s talk a little bit about your work with [?] and your work with Entrepreneur, right? Like, how did you create that relationship, and what does it look like to maintain that, and how does it help the work that you do today?

Kanika: I pretty much got a book deal with Entrepreneur a year ago, probably maybe December 2018ish I should say. Maybe a little bit over a year ago, but going into 2019 I got a book deal, and that relationship is really good. I was pretty much trying to get a book deal for a while with Career Rehab. Career Rehab actually got turned down by a lot of other publishers. So Career Rehab was pitched to Entrepreneur. They loved the idea. At first they had a lot of–if anybody knows Entrepreneur’s brand and their magazine, they have a lot more entrepreneur, business-based authors on their roster, so they were looking for opening up an arena for more career topic-type authors, so I came in right on time for this particular time that they were looking for people, and they were looking for more minority women authors because Entrepreneur has a lot of white male authors. So that’s kind of how that relationship happened. I got on the phone with them. I pitched them the idea. They really liked it. We started writing in January 2019, and then the book came out a year after that, this year, 2020. So it was a really good relationship. What I like about the platform and I like about what they’re allowing me to do is they’re allowing me to re-use a lot of the Career Rehab content in the book through articles. We’re gonna be doing webinars. They’re also allowing me to highlight other things that I want to talk about, like we featured Minda Harts. We’re featuring Netta Jenkins with Dipper. So I’m using the platform to also highlight us in a way. You get it? So I’m using mainstream media, things that they’ve never seen from an African-American woman who’s an author, but I’m saying, let’s shed light on all of these awesome people that I know in my network as well.

Zach: Yeah, I’m just really honored, you know what I’m saying, that you came on our platform to talk about your book, to talk about just some basic tenets on some of the things we don’t know and how we build, and I do think I talk to folks–’cause I’m 30 years old, and most millennials, at this point they’ve been at their jobs for at least 5 or 6 years, right? Like, they’ve been working for 5 or 6 years, and a lot of us, we’ll get hired somewhere after we do undergrad and then we do grad school, a lot of us will then be at our jobs for, like, 5 or 6–and those of us who didn’t do any type of post-grad, you know, we’ve been working for 7, 8 years, you know, if not a little bit longer, and so I think it’s important for us as we look at a new decade, like, what does it look like to do an assessment and make a determination of “Am I really where I need to be, and if not, what does it look like for me to create a path either at my current employer or to seek opportunities elsewhere?” Before we let you go–this has been a dope conversation–let’s get some shout-outs in here. Where can people learn about you? I want you to plug your stuff. And then any parting words you have for us.

Kanika: You definitely can find the Career Rehab book on Amazon.com. You can find me KanikaTolver.com. I’m pretty much on Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn all @KanikaTolver. Those are my handles. They’re all pretty much the handle, KanikaTolver. And, you know, you can just find me on, like, a lot of other podcast shows. I’ve done a lot of interviews, so yeah.

Zach: Man, I appreciate you. Kanika, this has been fire. Y’all, this has been Zach. You’ve been on the Living Corporate podcast. You know, we everywhere, okay? You can check us out on Google or whatever your search engine is. Firefox, you know? What’s another one… Edge?

Kanika: Chrome. Safari.

Zach: Chrome, whatever, you know what I’m saying? You out there. Just Google us – Living Corporate. You know, we out here, but if you’re into domains, living-corporate–please say the dash–dot com, and then we’re also at livingcorporate.co, livingcorporate.us, livingcorporate.net, livingcorporate dot… shoot, all of the livingcorporates except for livingcorporate.com ’cause Australia owns livingcorporate.com, okay? So when y’all go to livingcorporate.com and y’all see corporate apartment rentings, don’t be like “What happened?” No, I told y’all. It’s living DASH corporate dot com, please say the dash, or you can do livingcorporate dot any other thing besides .com and we’re gonna pop up, okay? Now, make sure you follow us on Twitter @LivingCorp_Pod or Instagram @LivingCorporate, and, you know, our DMs are wide open. If you have a question, a listener letter, you want to send in something for us to read on the show, we can do that. Until next time, this has been Zach. You’ve been listening to Kanika Tolver, CEO and author of Career Rehab, VIP entrepreneur with Entrepreneur, career coach, speaker, educator, technology consultant professional. ‘Til next time, y’all. Peace.

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