The Happy Engineer Podcast

146: Practical Optimism Leads to A+ Careers with Ken Schmitt | CEO at TurningPoint Executive Search | Author

Does optimism help you or hurt you in an engineering career? What question should you never ask when networking? Where are the best jobs found right now?

In this episode, Founder and CEO at Turning Point Executive Search and “The Practical Optimist” author, Ken Schmitt, is here to help you land your next level of success at work.

For 26 years Ken has been searching for the best talent on the planet, and realized the importance of balance between practical realism and joyful optimism. He knows how A-players land A+ opportunities.

If you want to play at the top of your game, you’ll want to know how Ken uses an external ecosystem to maintain balance, and the one question to never ask when networking.

Ken also shares where 80% of the best opportunities are found today.

Now he supports professionals in channeling both the logical and the visionary pieces of successful leadership. In addition to moderating domestic and global leadership panels, he is the Founder of the Sales & Marketing Leadership Alliance where he spent 11 years interviewing CEOs, business leaders and entrepreneurs about the best way to make an impact in the modern business world.

So press play and let’s chat… I’m optimistic about this episode changing your career!

Join us in a live workshop for deeper training, career coaching 1:1, and an amazing community!  HAPPY HOUR Workshop Live with Zach!


The Happy Engineer Podcast

WATCH EPISODE 146: How Practical Optimism Leads to A+ Careers (ft. Ken Schmitt)



LISTEN TO EPISODE 146: Practical Optimism Leads to A+ Careers with Ken Schmitt | CEO at TurningPoint Executive Search | Author

Previous Episode 145: Secret Guide to Communicating with Business Teams with Chris Fenning | Award-Winning Author of The First Minute


Secret Guide to Communicating with Business Teams

In this episode of The Happy Engineer Podcast, Ken Schmitt and I dive deep into the crucial qualities of tacticians and strategists in the hiring process. We explored the impact of company culture and self-awareness on career paths, emphasizing the need for proactive career development.

Here are three top insights:

1. Understanding the difference between a tactician and a strategist during the hiring process is crucial. Learning how individuals describe their actions and experiences can provide valuable insight.

2. Emotional intelligence (EQ) becomes increasingly important as one advances in their career. Technical skills are essential early on, but the ability to collaborate and communicate effectively across different departments is essential.

3. Building and maintaining a strong network is key for career progression. Nurture relationships, network consistently, and seek opportunities to connect with professionals in your industry.

To go deeper and build an action plan around these points and why all this matters, click the podcast link below and listen to the entire conversation.



With 26 years of recruiting experience, Ken Schmitt, a San Diego native, launched TurningPoint Executive Search in 2007, now employing 7 professionals in a 100% remote work environment. A former Enterprise Rent a Car leader with 5+ years of experience, Ken worked in San Diego and Orange County, managing teams from 5-15 professionals. He published “The Practical Optimist” in 2023, a book chronicling his entrepreneurial journey. TurningPoint, recognized among San Diego’s Top 150 Fastest Growing Private Companies, focuses on high-touch talent placement in diverse business structures.

Ken is also the Founder and CEO of the Sales & Marketing Leadership Alliance (SMLA) since 2011, committed to providing professional development and networking opportunities. As an avid social media user, Ken maintains one of Southern California’s largest LinkedIn networks. He serves on the executive boards of San Diego Sports Innovators (SDSI) and Talentor Global, mentors for Junior Achievement, and earned his BSBA in Economics from the University of San Diego. Ken resides in Carlsbad, CA, with his wife Juliet, raising two accomplished sons.



Please note the full transcript is 90-95% accuracy. Reference the podcast audio to confirm exact quotations.

[00:00:00] Zach White: All right. Happy engineer. Welcome back Ken super pumped to see you again. We just hung out last week on your incredible podcast, are the practical optimist. and welcome to the happy engineer. So glad that you’re here, man. Thanks for making time

[00:00:12] Ken Schmitt:. No, likewise. Thanks so much for inviting me in. I’m looking forward to our conversation as always.

Expand to Read Full Transcript

[00:00:17] Zach White: No doubt. So can I want to leap right into. What you’ve done with your book and your podcast around this word optimist and not just the optimist, the practical optimist, maybe to set the stage, the engineer in me, let’s define some terms, understand what we’re talking about.

[00:00:35] So. What is optimism the way that you see it? If we just talk about, you know, what is an optimist and optimism, let’s get on the same page. What is that for you? 

[00:00:46] Ken Schmitt: it’s a great question. I think it probably can be defined by just looking at the graphic on the cover of my book. Actually, it’s a glass of water.

[00:00:53] Right. That’s half full and there’s a ruler next to it. And it’s that, you know, very cliche, but very apropos saying of, as a glass half full or glass half empty, how do you see the life? How do you see crises? How do you, of show up when things are going well. Or things are not going so well, you, do you come to any conversation or interaction with the idea that this is going to be great?

[00:01:14] I’m going to learn something from the person that I’m talking to that I’m engaging with. And so for me, that, that natural optimism, excitement, engagement with the folks that I’m interacting with all comes from a very positive place. and I look at things as a, as an opportunity versus as a stress point, if you will so you used a word, the word natural, and I had a little Freudian slip earlier. I said eternal when we were talking about the title of your, your podcast. and it leads me to this common question I get as a coach. And I’d love to hear your thoughts. Is this something that is. It’s part of our DNA, it’s part of who we are, it’sknow, there from the beginning, it’s nature, or is it conditioned?

[00:01:54] Zach White: Is it our environment? Is it nurture? Can we change it? Can we flip flop? What’s your perspective about a person’s personality type in relationship to optimism? Where does it come from? Can it be changed? What’s your experience with that? 

[00:02:11] Ken Schmitt: Yeah, I mean,it’s a blend of both. Really, I’m, I’m rarely in the camp for any issue out there that you, you’re all of one or all of something else and that you can’t learn the opposite, right?

[00:02:22] My, my belief is that we all are predisposed to be a certain way. I was predisposed to be more optimistic and to see life with, know, the glass half full, if you will. But that being said, it doesn’t mean that I have to work. Any differently than somebody else who might not see it that way.

[00:02:38] It just means that the opportunities that I have, the, the life experiences that I have going into those, I’m wired to think of them more positively. Now, that being said, there are many times as a small business owner, as you know, where, you know, you could be the most optimistic person in the world, right?

[00:02:55] And you’re looking at things so positively and you just have. Crisis after crisis that just crushes you. we actually went through that just recently with our business where we had a very, very slow, four and a half month period, which is very unusual for us, especially that time of the year.

[00:03:10] And even with my optimism. being very optimistic forward, if you will, even with that, it was tough getting through. And there are things that I, that I do in my life that helped me to keep that balance. So I think the flip side of that, if somebody, for example, the reason I have the book titled the practical optimist is that I get the optimistic side from my dad.

[00:03:30] The visionary, the idea guy, the guy that, you know, that cliche around, you know, uh, an entrepreneur is what he was all about. And as entrepreneur, you know, definition is jumping off a cliff, right. And building the parachute on the way down, right. That’s, that was, that was him figure things out, say yes and figure them out.

[00:03:47] My mom, however, on the other side was very practical, still visionary and still a brilliant woman, but more methodical. More, more of an engineering, if you will, know, kind of a mindset as far as that detail oriented. So she wasn’t pessimistic, but she wasn’t nearly as optimistic as my dad was.

[00:04:04] And so I had that balance, you know, kind of wired in me. 

[00:04:08] Zach White: So that’s a good segue, maybe to set the stage around who you are and what you do. And part of why my curiosity about optimism in relationship to your work is, is really, peaked because correct me if I’m wrong, 26 and counting years. You have been leading Turning Point Executive Search, your own, uh, organization that you founded, your CEO, and doing executive recruiting and leadership role recruiting, in corporate for a long time.

[00:04:38] And I imagine you being an optimist didn’t make everything just go swimmingly to your point. There’s been a few challenges along the way. how does practical optimism inform the way that you… Lead the business the way that you work. 

[00:04:56] Ken Schmitt: so I’ve been in recruiting as an industry for 26 years. I’ve been running turning point now for 16. So I had, I had that balance early on in corporate environments where I was, the employee, and then I launched my own company back in 2007. So now, I am the person leading the business, in recruiting, I mean, it’s, it’s, there’s a lot to unpack and get into if we can, if we did.

[00:05:16] Um, but. Recruiting, you have to be relatively optimistic person in recruiting. And I think showing me showing up with that kind of predisposition to be optimistic has helped to grow the business has also helped me to attract, know, the amazing, very strong, long tenured team that I have working with me today, which has been great.

[00:05:37] Again, back to what I said before, even though I’m optimistic, quite often, it doesn’t mean it makes it any easier, you know, to come into those situations, recruiting as an industry. is something where you’re, know, you’re matchmaking to put it really simply, right? I had a boss once when I worked at hydric and struggles who used to say, you know, we’re the business of changing people’s lives.

[00:05:59] And that’s by nature and optimistic, very positive, a force to have out there and impact to have in people’s lives. That was really important that I kind of kept that in mind, but you’ve got to also balance that out. You can’t. You can’t be so overly optimistic in recruiting in a way where you are overselling a position or you’re overselling a candidate to a company, right?

[00:06:20] you’ve got to maintain that neutral stance, if you will, that neutral setting to make sure that you’re not trying to cram a square peg in around a hole, but that it’s really a good balance for both sides. And that’s where you have to have that, that practicality that comes into play and make sure that you’re not doing a disservice to either the employer or the candidate.

[00:06:39] Zach White: So Ken, the engineer in me relates to this because I’d say, on average, if we’re painting with a broad brush, most engineers get labeled or categorized as being a bit more skeptical, critical, negative, balanced, disruptive. Pessimistic things won’t work. We, we can come up with a lot of reasons why things won’t work.

[00:07:02] We’re quick to tell you all of faults and flaws in your designs. And part of that’s by training and by what we’re required to do to deliver. safe and reliable designs in the products and the technology that we develop. And I think in some cases, we end up a bit more, know, conditioned to that side.

[00:07:22] Maybe we’d call it the practical side. In some cases, it’s truly a pessimistic side of the coin. I’m curious then, has optimism… Ever failed you has optimism ever been the wrong approach or in some way it led you down a path in your business or in, you know, what you do where it’s like, okay, I, I over indexed on optimism here and the practical or even borderline pessimistic side might have been more.

[00:07:52] Necessary in that moment. Does any moment or story come to mind where that might be true for you? 

[00:07:57] Ken Schmitt: are many ideas and many examples come to mind, but I have two specific ones. One is internal and one is external. The external one was with a client of mine this was somebody who I’d worked with.

[00:08:08] It was a, of, of an agency, right. In the agency world. And, I had decided to allow them to take a little bit longer to pay their bills. Then I normally do an extra 90 days, right? And in recruiting, once you place somebody in a job, once somebody signs the offer letter, starts the job, that’s typically when the last portion of our fee is due.

[00:08:28] But I actually extended that out. Well, unfortunately, the person that they hired through us didn’t work out. It wasn’t the right fit, which happens once in a while, but it’s less than 4 percent of the time. So it’s pretty rare. But then we start to work on the search again to find someone as a replacement.

[00:08:42] My optimism took over. And said that, Oh, this client they’ll pay the last bill. I gave him that extra time. I’m still working to find them a replacement. They’ll pay it, know, fast forward about another three or four months. They still hadn’t paid. They had, know, made up excuse after excuse and I being my optimistic self.

[00:09:01] Kept thinking, Oh, they’ll do it. I’ll give them more time. We’ll have our conversation. We’re still engaging, blah, blah, blah. And you move through that, right? So at the end of it all, they continued to not pay. I had to then use my attorney to get involved to say, Hey, look, this is due. This is overdue, the end game was that they eventually paid.

[00:09:19] But my optimistic side really, kind of blinded me to realize this client was just playing games the whole way through. And that was the deal. was, that was quite unfortunate. So I learned in my view, as long as I’m learning something during those times where I’m overly optimistic or when I’m overly practical, if I can take that lesson and then move forward to the next, engagement or interaction, then, it’s been worthwhile.

[00:09:43] And so the internal situation was. We hired an employee it was a junior employee, somebody who had not done the kind of work that we do in the past. So I knew going in, I’d have to train the person. And I made the mistake of giving them all of my leads. In other words, rather than having them be self sufficient to bring in business on their own, I was giving them, leads that came through just regular phone calls and through the website, thinking that would give them some confidence to learn the business.

[00:10:08] And eventually they would take over. Well, so fast forward 18 months. So a year and a half, I had not only spent inordinate amount of time, trans person, I actually hired an outside coach to also work with this person. Uh, I was still giving them leads and they didn’t generate any leads on their own in that entire time.

[00:10:26] Uh, and again, me being overly optimistic, I kind of brought it back on myself. What am I doing wrong as a leader? How come I can’t motivate this person? Why can’t I get them engaged? And so again, I needed a bigger dosage of practicality to make me realize this person was not going to work out no matter what I tried.

[00:10:43] And eventually we had a part ways. 

[00:10:46] Zach White: Those are both great examples. Canon. I have one when you just gave that internal story that popped to mind, very similar situation where I had a team member. Who I really respected and they had done a lot of good work for me in one area for over a year and a half, almost two years, and you gave them some new assignments to tackle.

[00:11:06] And it was same kind of thing. I just handed a chunk of work that I had been doing to this person. And it was very critical to the success of our marketing and sales engine for our coaching business.Really, you know, trusted this person to get the work done and every day, know, we had a reporting system where the activity levels of that particular task were being reported out.

[00:11:27] And I kept looking at the reports. It’s all getting done. The work’s getting done. The work’s getting done. But the results over time just slowly started to decay and decay and decay. And I continued to convince myself this must be something external, you know, the global economy is shifting or the landscape of LinkedIn and the strategies we’re using are no longer working.

[00:11:50] And maybe people are Being saturated with coaches and there’s no more people who want coaching and I might need to close the business down. You’re like, it got almost existential at one point, kid. It was really quite interesting. Yeah, and I’m really turning that on myself to your point and believing that it could not be this person.

[00:12:09] You know, there’s no way it could be this person. And finally, my coach challenged me, like, Hey, have you been really going shoulder to shoulder and watching this person do the work and coaching them well and, and checking on that activity that’s so critical? And one of those, you smack yourself in the forehead, because Ken here, I’m coaching my clients to do the same thing and I had a blind spot in my own business.

[00:12:32] And sure enough, know, the work wasn’t getting done, but because the reporting was independent of the actual activity, There was, some deceit in how that was being reported. And I had to let that person go immediately. It was like, know, we have a no, no tolerance policy around integrity in our company.

[00:12:49] So optimism let me down that moment where I was blinded by my desire to see the best in this person. And I didn’t follow a robust system of checking or auditing or even just. Pure coaching coming alongside and helping, which as a coach is kind of embarrassing to say, but I think we can all fall into that.

[00:13:09] So what’s the safeguard? if you are biased on this optimistic side, if you want to believe the best in people, you always see the glasses half full. What’s the tool or the technique to bring that practical side in? And stay balanced and stay centered. 

[00:13:25] Ken Schmitt: single biggest thing that you can do and that I do is surround yourself with a wonderful ecosystem of support, right?

[00:13:33] And it’s both an internal ecosystem in terms of your employees and other executives, if you’re running a larger organization or a large department or a large company. that internal ecosystem, but also externally, I actually have a chapter in my book that talks about how it’s kind of lonely at the top when you’re running a department or especially if you’re running a company, right?

[00:13:50] Where you could be very, very close to your team, but they’re only going to be so candid and so honest to a certain point. At the end of the day, I’m the one running the company. I write the paychecks, right? I’m doing all this, making these decisions. and I have a great relationship with my team, but I realized that there’s always going to be a little bit of a filter there, no matter what.

[00:14:10] So having that external ecosystem. Is really important to bounce ideas or concerns or questions off of people, especially if I’m very fortunate in that I’ve, built my own ecosystem, both inside the recruiting industry and also outside. So when there are things going on, like over the last, like I said, four and a half months where things were very, very slow, unusually slow for us, I was able to tap into that external ecosystem to really kind of level set and say, Hey, is it just me?

[00:14:39] And if the answer is yes, it is just you can for whatever reason, then I’ve got to look at what I’m doing and how I’m doing it and tweak things accordingly. But that time frame was showing the same kind of slow activity among pretty much all of my peers out there. So having that external ecosystem to benchmark and level set to bounce things off of, that helps me to kind of stay A little bit more grounded and a little bit more realistic as well and not get overly pessimistic when things are down or overly practical or overly optimistic as well.

[00:15:10] You’ve got it in some form or fashion have that sounding board. I call it my quasi advisory board. Yeah. these are leaders. These are executives that you really respect that have done a lot of work themselves. and they have their own self awareness just like you have your self awareness and you’re balancing those two to figure out how to get through it at whatever issue or crisis you’re happening to be going through at that time.

[00:15:34] Zach White: I think this is something engineering leaders really. Struggle to create, maybe within their own organization, they might have a mentor or two, some people that they look up to. occasionally I’ll meet, you know, engineering manager or director who’s done a great job building this advisory board or external ecosystem.

[00:15:51] But most of the time can, it’s a big gap, especially for those newer engineering managers who haven’t really gotten to a point where this becomes critical yet. And for me, this is where. Your coaching is, is a huge asset when you have that external coach, somebody who can help you read the label on the outside of the bottle that you’re stuck inside, you have to say, Hey, like, Hey, this, this is what’s really going on for you.

[00:16:15] Ken Schmitt: So. And I have a coach also just in, you know, I’m, I’m, I’ve been married to a therapist for 31 years. So communication is certainly not an issue for me, right? I used to joke. I was my, I was my wife’s only client for many, many years. Now I’m still one of many though. and I think, I don’t know if optimism and, transparency necessarily go hand in hand, but for me, transparency is really important, both with my team.

[00:16:42] In terms of what’s happening in the business, what’s going on. I don’t wear my emotions on my sleeve, but I’m very transparent with them. And the same with that external ecosystem that I’m talking to. but I really try my best to normalize things. know, some people think, Oh, I don’t, I don’t need a coach.

[00:16:56] that means I’m broken or something is wrong. Quite the opposite. If you have the self awareness and the personal confidence to say, I, I need and can use a coach and I know it’s going to make me a better engineer, a better CEO, a better, whatever it might be, then, know, kudos to you. Then you, you are going to definitely surpass others around you.

[00:17:15] If you enlist the support of an executive coach like yourself, that can really help to elevate you to the next level, but also help kind of shine a light on some of your blind spots and that’s what I think is fantastic about coaching the well 

[00:17:27] Zach White: said Ken, one of the things I always, I think this, I never say it because it would not help to say it, but I get told a lot of times, especially on social media and other places, know, Hey, thanks for your content or thanks for reaching out, but I don’t need a coach.

[00:17:43] And I always think to myself, man, that’s the person. Who needs a coach more than any other person I’m coaching right now. But the fact is they’re not ready for it. They don’t want to receive it. And I’m totally fine with somebody saying, I’m going to choose not to have a coach. I don’t want a coach right now.

[00:17:59] And it’s intentional and it’s conscious, but when we immediately close our mind to, I don’t need a coach for me. I just think of people like, know, Jim Rohn and Tony Robbins and Bob Proctor and Zig Ziglar and the greats of these spaces and all of them who worked Leaders and still, who are the, the most successful in their domain, the top athletes, the top entrepreneurs, the top executives, those people who don’t need a coach, they’re already at the top of their game.

[00:18:30] All have one. So if you’re an engineering manager, don’t tell me you don’t need a coach. If you don’t want one, that’s fine. But we, we all can benefit from it. So can that said, let’s hit the other side of the coin really quick. I mentioned engineers are, if we had to pick, they’re probably biased towards the practical, if not even pessimistic side of this coin.

[00:18:51] So what’s the way. to bring ourselves toward a more optimistic or balanced practical optimism in our leadership style and how we approach challenges and crisis and these things. What’s the way to do that? Or should we? Is it even fruitful? What would be the reason? To aspire toward that, if you’re currently on the opposite side of the coin.

[00:19:14] Ken Schmitt: there are, there’s a lot of things that you could do. Certainly. I’m, I’m a big believer in a balanced life in terms of work, but also, know, play having fun, with family and those kinds of things. But it also, back to that self awareness. Knowing enough and being willing to admit who you are and what you need is really important.

[00:19:31] So for me, this is what works for me. a, I’m a big believer in journaling, And in good times and bad times, I am spending 15 minutes to half an hour at most every morning, journaling what happened yesterday, what’s going on. Things I’m stressed about, things I’m excited about, what have you.

[00:19:47] that’s the first section. The second section is, what did I do right yesterday? especially if you are predisposed to be a little bit more pessimistic and looking at how things are maybe not going the right way in the grand scheme of things, if you can at least pinpoint two or three things that you did yesterday, That was a good decision.

[00:20:03] That was positive that you did well, that you think, wow, I did a great job with that. Whatever, maybe it could be personal. It could be with friends. It could be, business related, but really given yourself that, that positive affirmation, if you will, and reminding yourself that things are positive and so are you.

[00:20:18] And then the third thing I do, the third category in my journaling is things that I’m grateful for. And again, this is at least for me, there’s so many great things. I’m so thankful about so much of my life, but there are little things. Like I, you know, I live in San Diego and so I’m grateful for the fact that it’s, was literally 80 degrees here every day for the last 10 days and here we are in November, right?

[00:20:39] So I’m grateful for that. I love having a very large display on my house for Christmas this is end of the year for when we’re recording this and I do one of those kind of crazy Christmas houses. And so I wrote in my, in my journal. I’m grateful for, you know, for my creativity.

[00:20:55] I don’t always work with my hands very often in recruiting, but when I do this stuff, I get to create decorations. So, small little things that remind you of what you did well, and then small things that remind you of what you’re grateful for. That’s what helps me kind of maintain, if you will.

[00:21:10] That optimism. I don’t think it’s going to convert somebody who’s naturally pessimistic into all of a sudden be an optimist, but there’s so much crap going on in the world every day, all the time, right? It’s easy to get down. It’s easy to feel bogged down by all the world events out there. But if you think about what’s going on in your world and your family, your friends, whatever it might be, and take note of that every day.

[00:21:32] That really helps for me, it helps to of jumpstart my day with that positive mindset going into whatever is going to be in front of me for the next 24 hours. At least I start off with that positive mindset. 

[00:21:45] Zach White: A good addition to a journaling practice to add. What did I do right yesterday? I actually just released, know, an episode and a training around gratitude for the Thanksgiving holiday here in 2023 and a big fan of gratitude journaling.

[00:22:00] That’s pretty common to talk about and took an engineering lens on that. It was, it was a really fun episode to deliver, but this idea of what did I do? Right. That’s a great thing. And as a coach, I remind my. Clients, you know, when you meet somebody, you’re not meeting them, you’re meeting a conditioned mind, you know, and people have their paradigms and their mindsets and their worldviews and their beliefs.

[00:22:23] And so much of our life is happening on autopilot and subconsciously, and we’re not always actually paying attention. And so just to start bringing that conditioning little by little, I think. You’re wise to say, don’t expect a day of gratitude journaling or writing down what you did right yesterday to change you into an optimist, but if you would commit to that every day for a year and five years and a decade later, know, it seems like, oh my goodness, Zach, you’re crazy, a decade, but it’s those little conditioning moments consistent over time.

[00:22:56] That will shift your paradigm and I’ve seen it happen for clients. It’s not fast, but you can do it. I think the engineers would be super frustrated at me if I have a superstar executive recruiter on the call. And we didn’t talk a little bit about what’s going on in that space for their own career development and also for those senior leaders who are doing hiring.

[00:23:15] So let’s shift and talk about that really quickly. A couple of key things. I am curious for you. When it comes to skills, acumen, and we’re going to talk for the moment at the sport executive level, you know, director and above maybe even more VP and C suite type roles, what are the most important things as you’ve been doing this now in your own business for 16 years and continue to place top talent in organizations around the world?

[00:23:47] What are those top skills that you believe really need? To be present and be sharp to place the right talent or choose and hire the right talent. Or if somebody is seeking to be that right talent, what do we need to focus on? What are those from your perspective? Yeah, it’s interesting 

[00:24:05] Ken Schmitt: you know, when you first start off your career, right, we call them, you of early career professionals, right.

[00:24:09] At school or out of, a grad school, whatever it might be, the technical aspect of who you are as a candidate, as an employee is really important. what do you know, what are the facts, the figures, the processes, that’s really important. The more advanced you get in in your career, right?

[00:24:25] The more seasoned we don’t say people are old. We say people are seasoned in the recruiting world, right? Which is funny. Cause now that I’m in my mid fifties, I’m now one of the seasoned people. I’m a seasoned recruiter early career. Exactly. I’m seasoned myself. so as you become more seasoned. Not that that technical expertise or that iq goes away or is diminished, but I will tell you, it does take a backseat to the eq right?

[00:24:49] as you advance in your career, you’ve got to be able to understand those around you. You’ve gotta be able to understand how to read a room, whether you’re pitching a new budget, or an an increased headcount. Or a new tool, a new platform, a new technology, whatever it might be, you’ve got to be really aware of what’s happening around you.

[00:25:07] And having that emotional, know, quotient, that emotional, wherewithal to know what’s happening and how to approach a situation becomes very, very important. One of the things that I’ve seen evolve, especially in the last five years.

[00:25:19] So it’s happening even pre COVID and we do a lot of recruiting and marketing and sales. It used to be that marketing and sales were very siloed, right? Marketing would do X, Y, Z. Then it would stop and they would hand it over to sales and sales takes that lead and runs with it to do the next three things.

[00:25:34] These days, it’s much more of a circular, collaborative relationship. Marketing and sales have got to be together. And if they’re not, there’s going to be something broken along the way or product development is going to be sent on a goose chase to create something that makes no sense at all for the actual customers.

[00:25:49] The same thing is happening over the last, know, five to seven years with technical individuals, with the IT side, the engineering side, it’s important to have the technical skills. Don’t get me wrong, but having the ability to collaborate, IT folks and engineers and software developers, they really should be talking to sales and marketing and sales and marketing should also be engaging engineers, right?

[00:26:12] To understand what it’s like to walk, know, a mile and the other person’s shoes, as they say. But also to inform decisions that you make and to also see the ripple effect of what you decide to do as an engineer, as a developer, how that affects what marketing does, how that affects how sales goes out to market to really talk about the products now in the marketplace.

[00:26:32] So that collaborative. mindset that willingness to collaborate and reach out to other people that are outside of your normal scope of influence and communication outside your, your department, that communication piece is really, really important, especially the VP, director of VP and, and C suite levels, the 

[00:26:52] Zach White: word aware is.

[00:26:54] I think super key, you know, it reminds me when you think about EQ and these skills of collaboration and influence and leadership and how that all plays out, especially for a technical leader, we tend to approach EQ with an IQ bias. You know, I want to learn about, understand the knowledge trainings, and we bring that IQ.

[00:27:19] Lens and paradigm of where success is found into our EQ world. what I see happen, Ken, is somebody will know the material and they have a basic understanding, but it’s like they went to driver’s ed. They know how to drive the car. They can turn it on. They know what all the things are, but they haven’t actually driven it on the highway.

[00:27:40] enough to that point where they’re not still completely stuck in their own world, know, and so a seasoned driver, the driving part is on autopilot and they’re really soaking in awareness of their surroundings, know, their brake lights way up ahead as they’re scanning, know, as somebody next to them and they need to maybe be careful because it’s more dangerous or there’s a semi or whatever.

[00:28:03] I see that’s the thing. Where engineers struggle is they might understand the concepts, but they lack the awareness. Oh, in this meeting, so and so looked really upset. I wonder what’s going on. Maybe I need to loop back with them before we make this decision and figure out if they’re unhappy with the direction we’re going because they didn’t say anything.

[00:28:22] And usually they always speak up like those little moments. I think that’s a place that we struggle. And so if I take that concept you’re sharing, it’s super important. We want to master it, but how do you screen for that when you’re making a hiring decision? what’s the way to know if somebody is actually.

[00:28:41] Got that skill. 

[00:28:43] Ken Schmitt: we have this exercise that we go through with every candidate for any job that we’re recruiting for. It could be CEO, could be head of operations, head of HR marketing sales, of across the board, technical roles across the board. But, know, we call of peeling back the layer, right.

[00:28:57] as though you’re pulling back the layers of an onion, But you’re diving more deeply into every decision. that candidate has made rather than saying, know, tell me how, how you think, well, what does that mean? It’s a very open ended question, or the worst possible question you can ask is tell me about yourself, which has absolutely no value.

[00:29:13] And I still hear people asking that question. It just drives me crazy. So I hope no one in your audience is going to use 

[00:29:19] Zach White: that. There’s not a single happy engineer I’ve ever met who would ever dare to ask that question. Oh yeah, 

[00:29:25] Ken Schmitt: exactly. So instead you say, rather than, than asking for just a really quick example, instead you say, tell me about the last three deals that you did, know, quote unquote deal can be a project.

[00:29:35] It can be a marketing campaign. It can be, you know, a sales, know, blitz, whatever it might be. That’s relevant to your particular function. I want to hear about the last three. And what you’re looking for is not just what was done. But how was it done? how is the person describing it? If there’s any issues that come up, does the person always say, you know, them?

[00:29:54] You know, does the employee or the candidate say them? And when things are going well, do they always say, I, I did this really well, but my team didn’t do such a great job in this other area. Right? You’re looking for those kind of cues. You’re looking for, okay, so who or what was the catalyst for this project or this deal, whatever it may have, this campaign, whatever it was.

[00:30:11] Because you’re looking for opportunities to figure out. know, is this person more of a tactician, which is not a right or a wrong, bad thing if they’re more of a tactician versus strategist, but if they’re a tactician, then they are really good at taking things that other people give and tweaking around the edges, but really good at delivery and execution, if instead they say, yeah, well, I had this idea or I was, I was kind of confused about this.

[00:30:32] So I brought it up to my CEO or my CTO. And we decided to go this route and try this project and see how it played out. Now you’re talking to a, more of a strategist. it’s somebody who thrives in being creative, who’s not shy about bringing ideas to the table, even to their, to their superior.

[00:30:49] So peeling back each layer and asking more in depth questions about those, those, know, three deals or projects, whatever they might be, that really helps quite a bit because you’re getting a good sense from that employee, from that candidate, how they think. How they, how, or if they utilize their ecosystem around them, know, what do they do when things get difficult and things are, are challenging or not going the way that you thought they might go?

[00:31:12] how are they approaching that? did, what did they do to persevere and push through that? So those are the things that we’re looking for when we’re actually screening candidates for those positions. 

[00:31:22] Zach White: That’s good. And actually makes me think can even more important. these high levels of the organization to engage professionals like yourself in that hiring process.

[00:31:32] Because I’m imagining, man, how many interviews would it take? How many conversations would it take for me to really become? world class at discerning. Do I have a tactician in front of me or a strategist in front of me? Do I have somebody who’s a master with emotional intelligence in front of me or a rookie?

[00:31:50] yeah, we could probably close some of the gaps pretty quick. Get over that 80, 20 of what you really need to know and understand. But at the same time, when we talk. Mastery, there’s a lot of nuance to this. And so I think it’s even more important when we’re talking about critical roles at a senior level to have people like yourself involved to help us make those assessments.

[00:32:10] know, I know what I want, but I don’t know how to, if it’s sitting right in front of me, I wouldn’t know it. So how do I get that assistance? I think that’s huge. 

[00:32:17] Ken Schmitt: And I think, I think the environment, I mean, back to your, one of your earlier questions about, you know, is it the environment or are we wired a certain way?

[00:32:23] I think that is also true. This is after 26 years of recruiting, but that’s also true when it comes to company culture and type of company, right? Someone might be a fantastic CTO and they’ve spent the last 12 years in companies that are, 10 to about 40 million in revenue. That’s CTO for that kind of a role is a very scrappy, very resourceful, very hands on right type of a CTO going from that role into, know, being this CT or even a strong number two in a company that’s now half a billion dollars, 500 million, the way things get done is so different, the process, the timeline, the number of stakeholders, the the budget, the resources, that’s very different.

[00:33:05] So the environment. Certainly informs how you operate, how you show up and back to that piece about self awareness, know, knowing where you thrive. I love being a CEO. a, I think I’m a very good CEO, but I have a team of eight. Could I step into a role where now I’m running a company where there’s 150 people?

[00:33:23] I don’t think so. I, I, maybe I can get there eventually, but that’s going to be a very, very long, you know, kind of learning a steep learning curve for me. So again, that self awareness and being okay with where you thrive and then showing that value and staying in that environment wherever you possibly can.

[00:33:40] Really good. 

[00:33:41] Zach White: And for the engineering leaders, I coach one of the things we work on Ken is like, what is that vision of where you want to be? Is it. You know, CTO of the 10 small, scrappy, tiny company. Just local here, or is it, Hey, I want to be in the C suite at Meta. Okay. These are extremely different places to land.

[00:34:03] And just because they have the same title doesn’t mean there’s anything in common with those jobs, which is 

[00:34:08] Ken Schmitt: intuitive to them. Yeah. Neither of those is right or wrong. It’s just what, what’s right or wrong for you. Right. And I talk about this a lot on my podcast and with other executives, even just some general light career coaching, if you will.

[00:34:20] It’s really important to understand that you don’t have to be a leader to be impactful. You don’t have to lead a team to be impactful, right? You don’t have to have people reporting up to you to make a difference. There are so many amazing individual contributors who are leading in way of how they do things, their process, how they think, right?

[00:34:40] They may not have direct reports on the org chart, but they’re still leading, right? That’s great. Not everybody can be a VP or a CTO. That’s just, know, it’s just by, by nature of the numbers out there. It’s impossible. Right. And so you can be a strong number two or number three and still have a pretty big impact.

[00:34:57] And that is great. Having that self awareness is huge. Mhm. 

[00:35:01] Zach White: I could tell you there’s a lot of engineers who actually really crave that job, but they feel pressure that you need to go become a people leader because that’s where the big money is. Or that’s what everybody else says is significant or important to do.

[00:35:14] So I really appreciate you sharing that. Last thing on this point, Ken, before We wrap it up for today. I hear a lot of people present with a mindset that they’re just going to do great work, let their work speak for itself and wait for a call from Ken or a LinkedIn message from Ken when that great opportunity to make it to the next level is presented to them and things just keep happening and they’re just going to keep doing good work and they don’t plan their career at all.

[00:35:45] What would be your perspective or response to a person with that mindset? Stop. 

[00:35:52] Ken Schmitt: Stop. Stop. Stop having that mindset. 

[00:35:55] Zach White: And. Delete. Okay. I’m really glad to hear that. I agree. Tell me more. Why would you say that’s not a great way to approach it? Yeah. Stop. 

[00:36:02] Ken Schmitt: And I’m, I’m, I’m being a little bit, you know, facetious here, but, it’s all about, again, and maybe for me, it’s back to that optimism.

[00:36:09] I’m a big believer. I’m, I’m Gen X. Right. So I grew up with both parents that worked. You know, I’m 53 now. So, you know, I, I couldn’t find what I was looking for 16 years ago in a corporate environment. So I said, I’m going to go start my own, right? Not every generation is wired or conditioned that way, not every individual across generations has that confidence or naivety, whatever it may be to start your own business and think you can make it work.

[00:36:33] so I think that’s, a start, but in terms of. Waiting for your career to happen to you, which is the phrase that I use, it can work. It can work. But if you have aspirations and goals you want to get somewhere, you really can’t sit around and be passive.

[00:36:47] you’ve got to be the one to drive your career, right? and I’ll give you just kind of general numbers. So at the VP level and above, you’ve got about a 10 to 15 percent chance of getting a position from a search, from a recruiter like me, okay, 10 to 15 percent chance, you’ve got less than a 5 percent chance of getting a position through some kind of online job posting that maybe you applied to, right?

[00:37:12] Which means that. 80%, let’s call it, of those jobs out there are not coming from the two places that you might think about first and foremost, a recruiter or a job posting. Where does the 80 percent come from? Network, right? Your network is a huge, huge contributor to how your career progresses, and you can’t be a passive individual and expect to have a decent network.

[00:37:35] You have to go out and seek it out. Now, I’m a recruiter, so it comes naturally to me. I have a very large network. I’m not saying you have to have, tens of thousands of followers and LinkedIn and start a podcast and do all these things that you and I do, but you’ve got to start to be more proactive.

[00:37:50] You do have to create that ecosystem, whether it’s a group of CPAs or attorneys or insurance folks, or other folks that are leaders in different departments and functions, sales leaders and marketing. Those are the folks that you’re going to be relying on. That will have your back. That will keep you top of mind when they hear about an open position, either at their company or elsewhere.

[00:38:11] And that’s where that, that 80 percent of the other jobs comes from is from your network. And again, that’s not a passive endeavor. That’s a much more proactive endeavor. So that’s what I would recommend. That’s why I kind of joked and said, stop thinking, know, you’re just going to get a call from me.

[00:38:25] You might get a call from me, but I have, hundreds of thousands of people in my database. And we fill about, we complete about 20 to 25 searches every year. So, you know, do the math, right? The odds are slim. So you’ve got to go out there and create that network, and rely on that network, and help the network out.

[00:38:42] It can’t be just a one way street, right? It’s got to be, uh, you’re going to help them, and hopefully they’re going to help you, and you can add value both ways. 

[00:38:49] Zach White: It’s so good. I agree a thousand percent. So it’s always good to hear it from someone else. so people don’t think it’s just Zach beating this drum of, yeah, just be intentional and really set out a plan and get ahead of it.

[00:39:01] And frankly, this networking piece you’re talking about, the sooner you start that, the better. Some people think, Oh, I don’t need that. Cause I’m still junior in my career. It’s not that important now, but yeah, in 10 years. Those people you’re building a relationship now might be the people who you are hiring or who are hiring you.

[00:39:18] And so keep, keep those relationships strong. You never know when. Yeah. 

[00:39:22] Ken Schmitt: And keep being consistent. I mean, I’m amazed at how, how often over 26 years of recruiting, I hear this phrase all the time over all those years. From very senior executives that find themselves looking for work, either their company got sold or it was a layoff or restructuring or whatever it may have been.

[00:39:39] And then I say, God, can I wish I didn’t let my network get stale? Because when, and you understand that when you’re working 10, 11, 12 hour days. The last thing you want to do, is go to a networking event or, talk to somebody that’s, that’s at a different company that’s one of your, your peer advisors, and you don’t have to spend, know, 10 hours a week, but carve out one to two hours a week, if you can, maybe start with one hour, start with that and have some kind of a networking type conversation with somebody that’s not in your company, that is going to be a resource for you and that you can help out as well.

[00:40:11] Start with one hour a week. Okay. That way when, if you do find yourself, in job search mode in transition, then you’re not starting from scratch. 

[00:40:19] Zach White: So good. Ken, tell us where to find your book, your podcast. And if anybody does need help on executive search, everything about you and to follow up with you, learn more from you, where can people get connected with Ken?

[00:40:34] Ken Schmitt: what we do as recruiters, you know, a lot of great articles and blogs uh, book information, as well as the podcast, it’s all on our website, which is just I’m LinkedIn. So we have a company page. We have a group, we have all kinds of things.

[00:40:52] Just Ken Schmidt recruiter is who I am on LinkedIn as well. And I’m always happy to be a sounding board. If anybody has any questions about. Career progression or trying to overcome this or that in their current role. I’m more than happy to listen and be a resource and help out wherever I possibly can.

[00:41:08] Zach White: Brilliant. I. I’m speaking to you, happy engineer for just a moment. Go check out the practical optimist, the book and the podcast, wherever you’re listening to this, just jump over, search Ken Schmidt or search the practical optimist. You will find it, give it a follow, give him a rating. Listen, you’re going to love what you hear there.

[00:41:26] And of course, shameless plug. I’m excited for our episode to drop Ken on your show. Exactly. Me too. A great conversation. Um, and also for the first three. listeners who shoot me an email with the practical optimist in the subject line, and your address where you want the book shipped to, I’m going to send you a free copy of Ken’s book because it is, it’s that good.

[00:41:46] I want you to get a copy. So Zach at oasisofcourage. com shoot me an email and I’m going to send you a copy of Ken’s book. So don’t delay, grab your phone, shoot me that email right now. And Ken, let’s land the plane. Thank you again for being here. This is so interesting. We could go all day, I’m sure, but excited.

[00:42:04] Excited to hear your perspective as we wrap up. You know, this extremely well as a recruiter, how important it is to ask great questions. You know, questions lead, answers follow. And if we want better answers in life and our career and business, we need to ask ourselves better questions. So what would be The question that you would lead the happy engineer with coming out of this conversation, if they want better answers in their career in life.

[00:42:34] Ken Schmitt: I think it comes back to self awareness. what do you want is the question, but why do you want it? is the bigger question, Do you want the prestige and the credibility of being a CTO? Again, this is not a judgment. It’s just, you know, it’s not a right or wrong.

[00:42:48] It’s what, what are you looking for? And then are you willing to do what it’s going to take to get to that point? So that’s a big question. It’s not just what you want to do, but why do you want to do it? easier as you progress through your career in your early twenties. You don’t really know what you want per se, or you don’t have enough experience at that point to say, Oh, I’ve done this.

[00:43:06] I don’t like that. And I do like this. As you progress, keep track of that. And I would say the question to ask yourself on a regular basis is what am I learning? what am I adding to my personal and my professional repertoire that I, that will help me go going forward? a great way to kind of work this out as far as the mechanics go is your resume.

[00:43:27] People typically only write a resume when they are in job search mode. Oh man, I got to sit down, write this out. What did I do 10 years ago? What was that role that I had over there? And it’s, a pain, right? resume should be a live working document. And every, at least every quarter, it should be updated, right?

[00:43:45] What did I do in the last quarter that was great? What did I do that wasn’t so great? You’re not going to put all your failures on your resume, but you’re going to keep track of that, right? and Having that live document as a resume helps you answer that question. What do I want to do? And am I doing what I need to do to get to that end game?

[00:44:01] That’s really important. So that resume is a great tool to use to rely on to help document it. And just to remind yourself that, I’ve done these great things. What’s next? 

[00:44:14] Zach White: Pure gold. What do you want? Why do you want it? Ken, thank you again for being here with the happy engineer, your generosity, your wisdom today.

[00:44:23] This has been awesome. we’ll have to do it again sometime down the road and good luck. Hope those four months of slow are behind you and things pick up quickly from here, man. Thank you, Zach. 

[00:44:32] Ken Schmitt: They definitely are. I appreciate that. So perseverance is really important. Everybody keep that in mind.

[00:44:36] That’s right. 

[00:44:37] Zach White: Don’t give up. 

[00:44:38] Ken Schmitt: Don’t give up. Yeah, no, it’s been great. Thanks Zach.