These Experts Reveal Their Winning Formula for Career Advancement

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Sick of the same old career advice? The advice that tells you to find your passion, work hard, and hope you someday “make it”? Yeah, me too.

Olivia Gamber and Kevin Kermes, the minds behind Career Attraction, turn stale advice on its head by offering actionable, results-oriented job-hunting and career strategies.

In our interview below, I asked them all about millennials and work: how to climb the ladder when you have student loans, how to network without feeling slimy, and — yes — how to make more money.

Their answers were refreshing and astute — and you won’t want to miss them.

How to advance your career (even with student loans)

SLH: Why did you start Career Attraction?

Kermes: I started Career Attraction in 2008 because when I looked at what really made me happy, it was helping individuals navigate their job search.

We offer self-directed digital programs with a community and group coaching, as well as one-on-one private coaching with our team.

Through that, we’ve helped over 15,000 professionals find work they love.

Many of our readers would love to accelerate their careers but are burdened with student loans. Can you relate to that?

Gamber: I got my bachelor’s with no debt, but did end up taking out $20,000 in loans for my master’s degree in industrial organizational psychology.

I was able to pay that off in one year by maximizing my income growth. And that’s really the process I outline in my ebook, “The Career Upgrade Roadmap: 90 Days to a Better Job and a Better Life.”

It’s the exact framework I used to identify the role in the market that I would love and get paid what I was worth — without having all the experience and credentials.

Unlike what many of us are told, you’re still able to get compensated and make six figures without 10 years of experience. That’s how I paid off my loans so quickly.

Grad school’s a big expense. How did you make that decision?

Gamber: I’m a huge proponent of ROI (return on investment). So I talked to people who graduated from my master’s program and figured out what I could expect, income-wise.

My biggest recommendation is: Do not make an investment and go into that much debt unless you’ll earn more than you owe in a single year.

(Writer’s note: For example, if grad school is going to cost you $50,000 total, Gamber only thinks it’s worth considering if you’ll earn at least a $50,000 annual salary after graduating. Ideally, though, you’d earn much more; for example, her investment yielded a 300% return.)

Where did you work after getting your degree? How much did you earn?

Gamber: My first job out of grad school, I was an organizational development specialist.

And this is what’s interesting — I started out making $60,000, and within 11 months, I was able to get a new job that paid 70 percent more.

At the new company, my title was Manager of Organizational Development — the same job but with direct reports. When I first got there, my salary was $105,000; when I left, it was $130,000.

Um, what? How did you manage that?

Gamber: I continued to negotiate for more responsibility and compensation.

It’s about selling yourself and your value and understanding your audience — which is the executive. Getting in their head and figuring out what’s keeping them up at night and how you can position yourself.

That’s the type of stuff we teach. We’re very pragmatic in terms of looking at the market instead of focusing on yourself.

What if someone has a job, but is afraid of rocking the boat by looking for something else?

Gamber: The biggest belief that keeps people paralyzed — millennials especially — is “I’m lucky to have a job.”

That belief system keeps people from thinking anything better exists. It keeps them from even wanting to explore because they’re convinced they have no value to offer.

But what if they have debt? Then it’s way scarier to make a leap.

Kermes: Nobody is advocating that you leave your job and give up your compensation to go find something else.

You’re going to leverage the job you have now — and the success you’ve had — for a better job.

If you’re championing mediocrity on a daily basis and just kind of getting by in your current job, then you need to fix that right now. And if you feel like you don’t have enough responsibility, identify something that can be fixed — and then just fix it.

Once you produce the outcome, you have something you can leverage internally to get greater responsibility or greater compensation. Or, if your current employer won’t do it, you can take it elsewhere.

Look at the market for your own career advancement

Let’s back up. What do you mean by looking at the market?

Gamber: It’s figuring out: Who is the person I can help? What problems do they have? Where can I be most successful?

Then it’s determining if you’d like the job — and if you could get the job. That’s front-end target identification.

So let’s say you’ve identified a target: a problem to solve and a job that lets you solve it. How do you sell yourself to the employer?

Kermes: One of our frameworks is the XYZ Technique: I help X do or understand Y so that Z.

X is the person you’re going to work for, Y is the problem that’s keeping them up at night, and Z is the outcome they covet.

Instead of trying to go into interviews and give what you think are the “right” responses, figure out where your value is and what you can do exceptionally well.

How to make the right career moves and find opportunities

For finding these opportunities, you don’t recommend using job boards or recruiters. What else are people supposed to do?

Kermes: Once you figure out your message, your value, it’s sharing it with your network.

It’s getting introductions to new people and finding people who say, “That’s exactly the problem we’re dealing with right now. I’d love to talk to you more about that.”

It’s incumbent upon every individual to beat their own drum. In many cases, you can create an opportunity for yourself.

Can you break down exactly how you’d do that?

Kermes: In my first year out of the military, I devoted every day during my commute to getting on the phone and connecting with people.

I never asked for a thing — aside from if somebody was talking about someone who’d had a significant impact on their career or life, I’d say, “Hey, would you mind introducing me to them? They sound like an awesome person to connect with.”

The rest of the call would be all about them as a person — was there anything I could help with, etc. It’s about reciprocity, and quite frankly, about being a good friend.

When millennials are bogged down by so many other things — student loans, rising rents, etc. — why should they make their careers a priority? Isn’t just getting a job and paying their bills enough?

Gamber: Oh my gosh, no. If you’ve got a negative net worth, cash flow is the lifeblood of your household.

And cash flow can only be increased with a higher salary — which can only be increased with a higher-value position.

Kermes: Moreover, nobody is going to do it for you. Nobody is going to care more about your career and growing your bank account and your net worth more than you.

And I can tell you, from the ripe old age of 47, your concerns and obligations are only going to increase exponentially.

In addition to earning more money, how can you find a job that’s fulfilling?  

Gamber: The biggest mistake millennials make is focusing on “I want this” or “I want that.”

Flip that on its head and look for problems in the market that you’d be excited to solve, that you’d be really good at solving, and that also add a lot of value — a problem people care about getting solved.

Because when you become great at something that’s also valued, that’s where fulfillment comes in. When people lack fulfillment, it’s because they don’t see the impact or value of what they’re doing.

A big thanks to the experts behind Career Attraction for sharing their killer job advice with us! If you found this helpful, I recommend downloading Olivia Gamber’s free ebook, “The Career Upgrade Roadmap: 90 Days to a Better Job.”

This interview has been condensed and edited.

Interested in refinancing student loans?

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1 Important Disclosures for Laurel Road.

Laurel Road Disclosures

  1. VARIABLE APR – APR is subject to increase after consummation. The variable interest rates are based on a Current Index, which is the 1-month London Interbank Offered Rate (LIBOR) (currency in US dollars), as published on The Wall Street Journal’s website. The variable interest rates and Annual Percentage Rate (APR) will increase or decrease when the 1-month LIBOR index changes.

2 Important Disclosures for SoFi.

SoFi Disclosures

  1. Student Loan RefinanceFixed rates from 3.999% APR to 7.804% APR (with AutoPay). Variable rates from 2.480% APR to 7.524% APR (with AutoPay). Interest rates on variable rate loans are capped at either 8.95% or 9.95% depending on term of loan. See APR examples and terms. Lowest variable rate of 2.480% APR assumes current 1 month LIBOR rate of 2.07% plus 0.91% margin minus 0.25% ACH discount. Not all borrowers receive the lowest rate. If approved for a loan, the fixed or variable interest rate offered will depend on your creditworthiness, and the term of the loan and other factors, and will be within the ranges of rates listed above. For the SoFi variable rate loan, the 1-month LIBOR index will adjust monthly and the loan payment will be re-amortized and may change monthly. APRs for variable rate loans may increase after origination if the LIBOR index increases. The SoFi 0.25% AutoPay interest rate reduction requires you to agree to make monthly principal and interest payments by an automatic monthly deduction from a savings or checking account. The benefit will discontinue and be lost for periods in which you do not pay by automatic deduction from a savings or checking account. *To check the rates and terms you qualify for, SoFi conducts a soft credit inquiry. Unlike hard credit inquiries, soft credit inquiries (or soft credit pulls) do not impact your credit score. Soft credit inquiries allow SoFi to show you what rates and terms SoFi can offer you up front. After seeing your rates, if you choose a product and continue your application, we will request your full credit report from one or more consumer reporting agencies, which is considered a hard credit inquiry. Hard credit inquiries (or hard credit pulls) are required for SoFi to be able to issue you a loan. In addition to requiring your explicit permission, these credit pulls may impact your credit score
  2. Terms and Conditions Apply: SOFI RESERVES THE RIGHT TO MODIFY OR DISCONTINUE PRODUCTS AND BENEFITS AT ANY TIME WITHOUT NOTICE. To qualify, a borrower must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident in an eligible state and meet SoFi’s underwriting requirements. Not all borrowers receive the lowest rate. To qualify for the lowest rate, you must have a responsible financial history and meet other conditions. If approved, your actual rate will be within the range of rates listed above and will depend on a variety of factors, including term of loan, a responsible financial history, years of experience, income and other factors. Rates and Terms are subject to change at anytime without notice and are subject to state restrictions. SoFi refinance loans are private loans and do not have the same repayment options that the federal loan program offers such as Income Based Repayment or Income Contingent Repayment or PAYE. Licensed by the Department of Business Oversight under the California Financing Law License No. 6054612. SoFi loans are originated by SoFi Lending Corp., NMLS # 1121636. (www.nmlsconsumeraccess.org)

3 Important Disclosures for CommonBond.

CommonBond Disclosures

  1. Offered terms are subject to change. Loans are offered by CommonBond Lending, LLC (NMLS # 1175900). The following table displays the estimated monthly payment, total interest, and Annual Percentage Rates (APR) for a $10,000 loan. The Annual Percentage Rate (APR) shown for each in-school loan product reflects the accruing interest, the effect of one-time capitalization of interest at the end of a deferment period, a 2% origination fee, and the applicable Repayment Plan. All loans are eligible for a 0.25% reduction in interest rate by agreeing to automatic payment withdrawals once in repayment, which is reflected in the interest rates and APRs displayed. Variable rates may increase after consummation. All variable rates are based on a 1-month LIBOR assumption of 2.08% effective July 25, 2018.

4 Important Disclosures for Citizens Bank.

Citizens Bank Disclosures

  1. Education Refinance Loan Rate DisclosureVariable rate, based on the one-month London Interbank Offered Rate (“LIBOR”) published in The Wall Street Journal on the twenty-fifth day, or the next business day, of the preceding calendar month. As of August 1, 2018, the one-month LIBOR rate is 2.07%. Variable interest rates range from 2.72%-8.17% (2.72%-8.17% APR) and will fluctuate over the term of the borrower’s loan with changes in the LIBOR rate, and will vary based on applicable terms, level of degree earned and presence of a cosigner. Fixed interest rates range from 3.50%-8.69% (3.50% – 8.69% APR) based on applicable terms, level of degree earned and presence of a cosigner. Lowest rates shown require application with a cosigner, are for eligible, creditworthy applicants with a graduate level degree, require a 5-year repayment term and include our Loyalty discount and Automatic Payment discounts of 0.25 percentage points each, as outlined in the Loyalty and Automatic Payment Discount disclosures. The maximum variable rate on the Education Refinance Loan is the greater of 21.00% or Prime Rate plus 9.00%. Subject to additional terms and conditions, and rates are subject to change at any time without notice. Such changes will only apply to applications taken after the effective date of change. Please note: Due to federal regulations, Citizens Bank is required to provide every potential borrower with disclosure information before they apply for a private student loan. The borrower will be presented with an Application Disclosure and an Approval Disclosure within the application process before they accept the terms and conditions of their loan.
  2. Federal Loan vs. Private Loan Benefits: Some federal student loans include unique benefits that the borrower may not receive with a private student loan, some of which we do not offer with the Education Refinance Loan. Borrowers should carefully review their current benefits, especially if they work in public service, are in the military, are currently on or considering income based repayment options or are concerned about a steady source of future income and would want to lower their payments at some time in the future. When the borrower refinances, they waive any current and potential future benefits of their federal loans and replace those with the benefits of the Education Refinance Loan. For more information about federal student loan benefits and federal loan consolidation, visit http://studentaid.ed.gov/. We also have several resources available to help the borrower make a decision at http://www.citizensbank.com/EdRefinance, including Should I Refinance My Student Loans? and our FAQs. Should I Refinance My Student Loans? includes a comparison of federal and private student loan benefits that we encourage the borrower to review.
  3. Citizens Bank Education Refinance Loan Eligibility: Eligible applicants may not be currently enrolled, must be in repayment of their existing student loan(s) and must make the minimum number of payments after leaving school. Primary borrowers must be a U.S. citizen, permanent resident or resident alien with a valid U.S. Social Security Number residing in the United States. Resident aliens must apply with a co-signer who is a U.S. citizen or permanent resident. The co-signer (if applicable) must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident with a valid U.S. Social Security Number residing in the United States. For applicants who have not attained the age of majority in their state of residence, a co-signer will be required. Citizens Bank reserves the right to modify eligibility criteria at anytime. Interest rate ranges subject to change. Education Refinance Loans are subject to credit qualification, completion of a loan application/consumer credit agreement, verification of application information, certification of borrower’s student loan amount(s) and highest degree earned.
  4. Loyalty Discount Disclosure: The borrower will be eligible for a 0.25 percentage point interest rate reduction on their loan if the borrower or their co-signer (if applicable) has a qualifying account in existence with us at the time the borrower and their co-signer (if applicable) have submitted a completed application authorizing us to review their credit request for the loan. The following are qualifying accounts: any checking account, savings account, money market account, certificate of deposit, automobile loan, home equity loan, home equity line of credit, mortgage, credit card account, or other student loans owned by Citizens Bank, N.A. Please note, our checking and savings account options are only available in the following states: CT, DE, MA, MI, NH, NJ, NY, OH, PA, RI, and VT and some products may have an associated cost. This discount will be reflected in the interest rate disclosed in the Loan Approval Disclosure that will be provided to the borrower once the loan is approved. Limit of one Loyalty Discount per loan and discount will not be applied to prior loans. The Loyalty Discount will remain in effect for the life of the loan.
  5. Automatic Payment Discount Disclosure: Borrowers will be eligible to receive a 0.25 percentage point interest rate reduction on their student loans owned by Citizens Bank, N.A. during such time as payments are required to be made and our loan servicer is authorized to automatically deduct payments each month from any bank account the borrower designates. Discount is not available when payments are not due, such as during forbearance. If our loan servicer is unable to successfully withdraw the automatic deductions from the designated account three or more times within any 12-month period, the borrower will no longer be eligible for this discount.
  6. Co-signer Release: Borrowers may apply for co-signer release after making 36 consecutive on-time payments of principal and interest. For the purpose of the application for co-signer release, on-time payments are defined as payments received within 15 days of the due date. Interest only payments do not qualify. The borrower must meet certain credit and eligibility guidelines when applying for the co-signer release. Borrowers must complete an application for release and provide income verification documents as part of the review. Borrowers who use deferment or forbearance will need to make 36 consecutive on-time payments after reentering repayment to qualify for release. The borrower applying for co-signer release must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident. If an application for co-signer release is denied, the borrower may not reapply for co-signer release until at least one year from the date the application for co-signer release was received. Terms and conditions apply.
  7. Average savings based on 18,113 actual customers who refinanced their federal and private student loans through our Education Refinance Loan between January 1, 2017 and December 31, 2017. The calculation is derived by averaging the monthly savings of Education Refinance Loan customers whose payments decreased after refinancing, which is calculated by taking the monthly student loan payments prior to refinancing minus the monthly student loan payments after refinancing. The borrower’s savings might vary based on the interest rates, balances and remaining repayment term of the loans they are seeking to refinance. The borrower’s overall repayment amount may be higher than the loans they are refinancing even if their monthly payments are lower.
2.57% – 5.87%Undergrad
& Graduate
Visit Earnest
2.80% – 6.38%1Undergrad
& Graduate
Visit Laurel Road
2.48% – 7.52%2Undergrad
& Graduate
Visit SoFi
2.47% – 7.99%Undergrad
& Graduate
Visit Lendkey
2.57% – 6.65%3Undergrad
& Graduate
Visit CommonBond
2.72% – 8.17%4Undergrad
& Graduate
Visit Citizens
Our team at Student Loan Hero works hard to find and recommend products and services that we believe are of high quality and will make a positive impact in your life. We sometimes earn a sales commission or advertising fee when recommending various products and services to you. Similar to when you are being sold any product or service, be sure to read the fine print understand what you are buying, and consult a licensed professional if you have any concerns. Student Loan Hero is not a lender or investment advisor. We are not involved in the loan approval or investment process, nor do we make credit or investment related decisions. The rates and terms listed on our website are estimates and are subject to change at any time. Please do your homework and let us know if you have any questions or concerns.