Behind the career: Stephanie Goetsch

May 26, 2013

Position: President of Spark Career Strategy, a Bethesda-based career services company.

Stephanie Goetsch moved up quickly in the human resources field, reaching the rank of a global human resources executive before age 30. While friends and family considered her a success, inwardly she hit a crisis. The job was unfulfilling. So she saved up, quit and started Spark Career Strategy.

When you decided to strike out on your own, what steps did you take to decide what to do?

My first step was to understand my strengths. I was basically rewriting my résumé. Not my résumé to the job, but who I am as a professional. This is an environment that I was very familiar with. I see every week hundreds of résumés. I still do. I’m familiar with how to write a great résumé, but every résumé is always for someone else. I stood back and said, “What about this really speaks to who I am and what I’m good at.” I started with a laundry list of likes, don’t likes. I went through my past performance reviews. I thought about, in the course of my day, what moments do I light up? Which do I shut down? I asked friends and family when they saw me light up. Then I assessed whether there was a need for these strengths. Do I have the skills that other people would purchase or need in the market for this to become a business or where could I repurpose these skills in a career that would make better sense for me?

How have you grown as a leader?

I was in many ways a sole contributor. Now, I see every team member as a team member. I do not see the hierarchy and the structure. Everyone has something so valuable and I am so hungry for other folks’ great ideas and talents. I didn’t think of it as “you report to me.” Also, I now know my strengths and weaknesses. I think that’s the single greatest lesson a leader can learn is where they shine and where they’re outshined by others’ talents and then to give way to that.

What are the greatest hindrances to doing that?

Fear. Ego. Ego comes out of fear. Fear that someone will take this away, that they will see me for who I am and recognize that I’m not really all these things that I sold them on. If we own up to that, we can grow to new levels or help others to grow. If the leader isn’t growing, than no one else is. Then the team is afraid to ask questions or afraid to “lean in” because the leader is so busy pushing everyone back so no one comes into his or her territory that everyone is stifled by the fear.

Where do you feel the human resources field needs improvement?

Many view human resources as a roadblock to get through the door. I think we should view human resources as an advocate, someone who is there to help offer support. There’s also the idea that it can become a very metrics-heavy game on a recruiting side. How fast can we turn this around? We stopped caring about the people and started caring about the numbers. There’s a big opportunity to shift the impression of what we’re doing but we have to do that based on the candidates that matter.

— Interview with Vanessa Small

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