Cathie Black Tells Class of 2009 to Reshift Thinking in Career Search

Cathie Black
Cathie Black
Melissa Kong '08 recently had the opportunity to interview Cathie Black, president of Hearst Magazines and Hamilton's 2009 Commencement speaker. In the following article, Black describes her experiences looking for that first job and offers advice for the Class of 2009.

A quick glance at Cathie Black's corporate biography would leave anyone impressed. From Cosmopolitan and Esquire, to O, The Oprah Magazine and Harper's BAZAAR, Black manages the performance and development of some of this country's best-known magazine brands in her role as president of Hearst Magazines. During her career, she has worked with top media and business figures, such as Al Neuharth, Francis Ford Coppola and Oprah Winfrey. And, given her long list of remarkable media achievements, it comes as no surprise that Fortune magazine has kept her on its "50 Most Powerful Women in Business" list for more than a decade. 

But who is the woman behind the name and why is Ms. Black such a relevant choice for this year's commencement address? 

As the Class of 2009 makes the transition from college to post-graduation life in a less-than-perfect economic environment, no one can relate better than Black, who, like many, has had a career filled with transition. She encountered one of her first career challenges soon after graduating from Trinity College in Washington, D.C., with a concentration in English. "Everyone told me there were no jobs for English majors. But just like everyone else, I pounded the pavements with very few contacts in the advertising world," Black said. 

It's no surprise that her efforts were successful. She landed a spot as a sales assistant for Holiday magazine. Of that position, Black says, "I just worried about doing the best job I could every single day. I did not worry about things that were too far ahead." It is a challenge not to worry about the future, particularly as a young graduate trying to launch a career in difficult economic times. 

Black insists there are still plenty of opportunities out there today, noting, "You may have to re-shift your thinking. You may not wind up exactly where you thought you'd be right after college. But do not be afraid to try something different for a few years. … It's not putting things off, it's just taking a different route to get where you want to go." 

In her best-selling book BASIC BLACK: The Essential Guide for Getting Ahead at Work (and in Life), Black provides motivating, and often comical, anecdotes of her own personal career experiences. Her career successes stem, in part, from an unspoken assuredness about what her passions have been from the very beginning of her career. But many recent graduates are uncertain about what career paths they want to pursue. Black's advice? "If you don't have a clear idea of your calling, just think about what you like doing," she said. Whether it is sports, crafts, cooking, being outdoors or teaching kids, Black suggests making a list of five things you like doing, and then researching three careers you might explore that relate to each of those five things. "This takes work," Black said. "You cannot expect the answers to land on your lap. Sit down, think about it, and be open to doing different things." 

Black's honorary degree from Hamilton will be the 10th she has received from a college or university. Though she is considered one of the most successful women in her field and has received many honors to prove it, Black reminds us that success is something we define by and for ourselves. "Success is very personal…it is not a set of expectations. You are the one who has to look in the mirror each day and ask, 'What do I love doing?' Being successful is doing what you love to do, everyday." 

Having graduated from Trinity College, Black is no stranger to the benefits of attending a small liberal arts school like Hamilton. One of the best things about a liberal arts education is that you have the opportunity to learn about any and every subject you might be interested in. But, there are certain lessons that only come with time. Reflecting on all of the lessons she has learned since her own college graduation, Black says, "I wish I had known then not to be so afraid of failure. Everyone makes mistakes. You shouldn't repeat them, but you can't be afraid of making them." 

The members of the Class of 2009 are in for an engaging and motivating address from Cathie Black at Hamilton's commencement ceremony this weekend. While the Hamilton experience is unforgettable, it is only the beginning. In life post-college, Black says, "Be broad in your thinking and your expectations. Be ready to be expansive and to give back." Hamilton prepares each of its graduates with the tools it takes to do these things. Now, all that is left for the Class of 2009 to do is to "take charge and dream a big dream."

-- by Melissa Kong '08

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