At Ready To Succeed (RTS), Lucy brings together over 17 years of HR, recruiting, and interview coaching experience to supporting talented first-generation and foster youth college students in chasing their career dreams.
Early on, Lucy found that her greatest satisfaction came from helping others achieve their professional goals. She was able to do just that as HR Director for various communications agencies in New York and London, where she ushered hundreds of professionals through all levels of career development, from entry-level to the C-suite.
After 5 years at RTS of building career development programming, coaching and preparing scholars for competitive internships and early career jobs, she now oversees all career opportunities as well as their volunteer engagement with RTS’ wonderful community of supporters.
Can you talk about your career path, the different positions you’ve held, and how you ended up at Ready To Succeed (RTS)?
My career path can be summed up as 20 years and five jobs later. Being at Ready To Succeed is my fifth job. I started at RTS five and a half years ago. My path, every job I’ve had, and every company and organization I’ve worked with, and all the skills, they’ve really helped me be where I am, as cliche as that sounds. They have been pivotal experiences and it’s the right place for me. I like to say that being at RTS is my retirement job, and I’m only in my early 40s. This is my home, this is the right place, and it’s been a dream and a privilege to be with RTS. I never thought I would be in this role, and certainly not a nonprofit. It was serendipitous; my experiences particularly, the skills, and the relationships that have been key. I think for RTS alums and students, that relationship piece is the thing to take away. It’s so critical and it can start in high school. And it started for me at Riverdale.
How did those relationships start for you at Riverdale?
I was lucky to meet Bill McGowan ’78 when I was 16 years old at a career day. I gave him a business card I had printed through Yahoo at the time. I was interested in the broadcast business and he worked for CBS. The mentorship relationship blossomed. I had no idea that he would be my friend and mentor, and I certainly had no idea that he would be my employer for seven years. You just never know who you’re gonna meet, and how you’ll stay in touch and continue to develop those relationships, network, and contribute to them. I would meet him for lunch, or sometimes meet him at eight in the morning and had to get up at six to commute in and see him for breakfast; I didn’t want anything from him, just his guidance and mentorship. I didn’t want a job. I wasn’t asking for anything, but he really saw my contributions and he believed in me. He gave me an internship during college and again employed me for two months after I came out of college in 2003. It was during the dot com bust. It was a very hard time, like it is now, very tough economy…tough for early career candidates. He employed me, and so I was employed while looking for a full-time role. It was really that that started it, and having that relationship come from Riverdale was so meaningful to me, and we had that in common, our experience there. The school brought us together and the rest is history. He’s been a friend for over 20 years and pivotal in creating this pathway that helped me. I’m at RTS because of everything that I learned from Bill, my time at Clarity, and our clients.
The fact that 25 years ago Riverdale hosted a career day for high school students was an incredible value. We were taught writing, communication, and verbal communication skills. I learned to be a good writer at Riverdale, not in college. Another meaningful Riverdale connection was Justine Stamen Arrillaga, who led a Summer Enrichment Program at Riverdale when I was in high school. She went on to found the TEAK Fellowship. She’s someone I met in ninth grade on the bus going to the overnight kind of bonding camp that they used to make ninth graders do. She became my friend and my mentor. She also hired me for my first internship at 16 and helped me hone my professional skills. It was through Justine that I met the co-founder of RTS and wound up at my dream job. “Relationships” has sort of been my motto and it’s been the gift that I’ve been given. I’ve had all my five jobs come through a relationship. They did not come through an ad. They didn’t come through LinkedIn. They came through a person and a lead. The data says that 80% of jobs and leads are found through relationships and networking.
Can you tell us more about RTS and its programming?
Ready To Succeed helps first-gen and foster impacted college students with resources, relationships, and opportunities to be career ready. I didn’t know anything about the foster system when I started here. LA is the largest community population of foster youth in our country. Coming from careers in New York and Europe I didn’t know that so I’ve done a lot of learning here. I called Justine one day in January, a beautiful Santa Monica day, and said I think I want to move on from Clarity. I care very much about the business but I wanted to use my coaching skills — I started a career coaching arm of Clarity — to empower and give the same level of coaching, storytelling training, and messaging to those who didn’t have that access. This was an opportunity to help people. Why not offer this to regular people who also want to get a dream job, who also need to communicate their story and build confidence? I didn’t know where I could do this. I called Justine as she was my mentor to just talk it out. She said, “Hold on, don’t do your own thing. Don’t start your own thing. I think I have a friend of a friend. I think she’s kind of doing this. She’s like six months into it. I think her name is Romi — let me connect you, maybe you can talk to her and get an idea.” A month later I was sitting across from Romi having lunch. The rest is history. I mean, you can’t make the stuff up. That’s really how it happened. But, of course, the connection happened that way, and it was because of all these great mentors, my learning, and my hard work that it fit. When I started with RTS, they didn’t have a budget, they didn’t have pens, and they didn’t have business cards. We had six students and they didn’t have money to pay me so I was a volunteer, and I took a risk; I said, “I’ll do it.” I wanted to help students and I wanted to help them message their stories so that they can get a job or even a dream job. That’s how it started. Six years later, we have a robust program and I do get paid for what I do. I get paid well, and you can too. One thing for students and alums — there are nonprofits that are well funded. You can have a very fruitful career and make a positive impact. You can also do that in business, but nonprofits have changed a lot in the last 20 years and they pay competitive salaries. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
How do you advise students or applicants to be storytellers?
When Bill and I were growing his company, storytelling was not a household term. It’s everywhere now with TikTok and social media — we’re all in two minutes soundbites, it’s all about messaging and this idea that everyone has a story. I think for students who are applying to college, from writing their personal statement to their college interviews, to their networking in high school, to the alums who are in college and beyond, it’s sitting down and thinking about a couple of nuggets. What brought you to this person you’re talking to? What are you trying to contribute? What have you done in the past and where are you going? Just the why, and you can be authentic. People want real stories. They don’t want robots. They don’t want something formal, a message that sounds like a job description. Sit down, practice it on a few folks, practice it on a friend. I think bringing that personal touch, almost like the July 4th barbecue approach, is really helpful. It humanizes you and you can relax. Often we put our interview hat on, certainly, our students do, and they get very formal, and it’s very stifling. You might think that’s what the other person wants to hear, but it’s not. It’s okay if you don’t get the job. Also, I think preparation is key. Before you and I sat down, I prepared some thoughts. You don’t have to prepare for three hours, just half an hour. Think of what you want to share. What’s the story? If you were asked at a barbecue, “How’s your summer?”, you wouldn’t get nervous answering that. Same approach. You can bring yourself to it, it’s authenticity. The pandemic, if it taught us anything, is that we can have a cat in the Zoom, we’re human. We have lives, we have things happen to us. Bring what you’ve done, your skill set, your experiences, and your accomplishments, but also bring yourself.
You still have to be professional and succinct in your answers but we all have these magical phones, right? You can practice, record a voice memo, practice your content, and that will help you build confidence. It’s the employer’s job, or wherever you’re going for an internship, to make a judgment call. Your job is to ask yourself: Did I tell my story in the most persuasive way? Was I authentic? Did I answer the job description? That’s another thing, I find that early career candidates don’t often use the job description and that description is your friend. That’s the way you know what are the key skills, where you can align, and what content you can choose. One of the things Bill taught me at Clarity is that we are in the driver’s seat and we can control the content that we share. The interviewer doesn’t know what you don’t tell them. How can you be very intentional in what you choose to share from your successes and failures? Nobody wants a perfect person — they don’t exist. So be real, be authentic, be prepared, and be aligned with what it is that person needs and how you’re going to contribute to those needs.
Were there any significant experiences you had that impacted your career or valuable lessons you learned?
A lot of the experiences I’ve had stemmed from what I’ve never done before. My first HR job, I didn’t know what HR was, it came from a relationship. My first job out of college, I was an assistant in a PR firm and I didn’t know what PR was. It was a fashion PR firm and I didn’t know what an A-line skirt was. I was a good assistant and I did great work. Then, I worked for Justine for a year as she built TEAK. Then the PR firm called me and said, “Can you come back and do HR? We want you back, we really think you have a great way with people, and just come and you’ll learn.” Then, on the first day, they wanted me to fire someone. I had no training in New York State law or federal law. I didn’t know how to hire people but I had to interview 30 people a day. It was trial by fire. That’s what I learned. I don’t like to give advice, but if any of this can be helpful to those reading, if they can try one thing, it’s “figure it out.” That was my motto. From the very early days, I think Riverdale taught me that, you know, go figure it out, the curiosity of the mind. Riverdale developed that for me. You had to go figure it out. We didn’t have Google back then. I had to call mentors and I slept in my office. I worked six days a week. I had to learn the law from scratch. I did that again in London and figured it out. Then I did it again with Bill. We would go and train fortune 500 executives, a boardroom of all male executives. They used to think I was the assistant. I just had to figure it out and hustle — I’ve done a lot of hustling. I have my own HR business on the side, even when I was with Bill until I was consulting clients on their HR strategies. Then at RTS, I had done coaching roles but never worked with students before. It is very different from working with professionals, very, very different at $500 an hour. Students and college students, getting them to engage and not be afraid, I had to figure it out. I kind of put away that imposter and was brave. I think that taught me to take risks and be brave, you might mess up. The way we succeed is through mistakes, through learning. When people used to say that to me as a young person, I’d say, “Oh whatever, that’s not true, you’re just saying that.” But it really is true. When you’re living in it, it’s hard to believe that.
Lastly, I would like to invite all students, alums, young alums under five years; if you need something, if you want to talk about your interview or coaching, I’m happy to be of help if I can. Email me and connect with me on LinkedIn. Use the people that are willing to contribute and give back to your journeys. There are plenty of people — look for them, find them, and maintain those relationships.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.