An Interview with Mark Menezes – Supporting Youth Careers during a Global Crisis

In this interview, we speak with Mark Menezes, a career coach in New York City helping professionals navigate their career journeys and find more fulfilment. Mark discusses how we can better evaluate difficult career decisions, seeking jobs during a pandemic, and navigating the entry-level job market in this new normal. At Unbuilt Labs, Mark has provided invaluable advice to our Summer 2020 Product Management Intern, Sam Kamau, who is looking to better understand how he can measure success in his program for improving underprivileged high school students’ computer literacy in Kenya. Continue reading to learn how Mark supports young professionals and students he works with, and how the impact he has made in the corporate, small business, and startup worlds.

Samuel Kamau for Unbuilt Labs : What was your most difficult career decision? 

Mark Menezes : Career decisions are generally easy when your decision is widely supported by those in your circle. A decision I made, on my 30th birthday by coincidence, was not this case. I resigned from a six-figure prestigious Corporate job that I was very dissatisfied with. Why this was particularly difficult was that I decided to resign without a plan lined up. I wanted to spend some time away from the professional arena to have a period of personal reflection without a defined timeline. Very few in my circle, if any, encouraged this decision, and some may never understand it. Through this process, however, I have learned more about myself and what I want in my career than at any other point in my life. It was the first time I made a decision that was in the best interest of me, and not a decision that my family, friends, or colleagues wanted for me. 

What advice would you give current job-seekers? 

Maintain an optimistic and open-minded mindset. Although we are facing unprecedented and tumultuous times, there have been a number of historical downturns that have severely impacted the job market, of course as recently as 2008.  Few professionals look back at 2008 as the time their career was damaged or over.  Sure – many took longer to find work, while others strategically changed course, but majority of those who battled through this most recent downturn are doing just fine today and have even learned a lot from job-seeking during a challenging time.  Also – being open to exploring opportunities that may not seem like an obvious fit is important.  Sometimes it’s the less obvious route or role that we are actually better suited for.  

How would you recommend navigating the challenges of the corona virus?

Something I would recommend that I have been doing personally is to catch up with those we have not been in touch with for a long time. I have re-connected with dozens of former colleagues, friends from University, among many others. We are often absorbed by the bubble we are in (primarily who we live and work with) and connecting with this variety of people will help broaden our perspective and feel more comfortable navigating the challenges of the pandemic.  These conversations can also sometimes lead to further clarity for ourselves or even a new opportunity may present itself.  

What is it like working with you? 

I like to relate to everyone I work with on a personal level. There is almost always some similarity in our backgrounds, careers, or struggle shared in common that I find with those I work with.  I like to truly understand what someone is looking to gain, not what someone said they should or what they think is expected of them. Having conversations authentically gives my clients the best opportunity of self-reflection and their best chance at achieving the improvement they are looking for.  

What is one lesson you learned early in your career that you have kept with you till now? 

Someone once told me “Take advantage of your company or else it will take advantage of you” and that has really stuck.  This is not because employers are ill-intentioned, but because it is their upmost priority to maximize productivity of their employees, as it should be. If a great opportunity presented itself within my companies (whether a travel assignment, rotation, or ability to work on a high-stakes project), I would speak up and advocate for myself to secure the opportunity, even if I thought it might be a long shot. Not only was I more often than expected given what I wanted, but I was also given credit for being a proactive employee. If you don’t personally advocate for what you want in your career, no one else will do it for you. 

Do you have a favorite book? 

I really like Mark Manson’s recent books. There are tons of books out there as to how to be more productive and chase your dreams, but his books do a great job of articulating the unrealistic expectations we often set for ourselves. There is more opportunity in the world than ever before, yet our collective happiness as a society, is at an all-time low.  Ambition, goal setting, and chasing dreams are all good things, but accepting what is out of our control is a message that I don’t believe is being shared enough.  

 I am currently helping underprivileged highschool students in Kenya gain computer literacy. How would you measure the impact of education on students? How do you quantify the impact of career coaching?

Providing underprivileged high school students in Kenya the opportunity to gain computer literacy is an awesome initiative and provides the ability to unlock human potential. 

Education is far more than courses, lectures, and assignments, it is likewise about maximizing human potential. The impact of education should also be measured differently for everyone. For some, the impact is discovering what they are highly skilled in or one’s ability to invent, build, or create. For others – the impact might be having a positive influence on others or fostering social progress.  

The impact of coaching is also one that does not have one specific measure. Some of my clients have a very specific goal in mind – to secure x job at y company, therefore the impact of coaching would be putting that candidate in the optimal position to make that happen. In other cases, some are seeking a better quality of life or finding a career path better aligned with their interests or values.  In these cases, helping those find more fulfillment and happiness in their careers is the impact I love to see. 

Mark Menezes is a Career coach in New York City helping professionals navigate their career journeys and find more fulfillment. He has nearly a decade of corporate worldexperience working with people from all over the US and various countries around the world, been consistently awarded for on-the-job coaching, and has a variety of experience within the Corporate, small business, and startup world.

Samuel Kamau has always been passionate about leveraging technology to provide socially impactful solutions for the world’s most pressing problems. Growing up in Kenya, he founded Ridhika, a non-profit that advises the local Education Department on ways to introduce computer science in high schools. He led product and pricing strategy for enterprise clients at FluxWater, a social enterprise aimed at providing equitable access to water. Since the global outbreak of covid-19, he has been at Basil Labs studying the relationship between mobility, employment, and consumption in both developed and developing economies. He is looking forward to exploring Gen Z’s consumption pattern of sustainable products in the US, and working with Yuan on research communication at Unbuilt Labs. Sam is the recipient of the Google Africa Scholarship, a Forbes Under 30 Scholar, and a member of the Middlebury Men’s Rugby Team.

  • Middlebury College, B.A. Economics and Computer Science ‘21

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