Austin Belcak (2013 BS in Biology)
Partner Manager @ Microsoft | Founder of Cultivated Culture in New York, NY
Tell us about your current job role/employer and what you’re currently working on.
During the day, I work to build and manage partnerships at Microsoft. We partner with advertising agencies that are plugged into the small business space. Microsoft provides marketing, management, and technical resources to help these agencies grow their business and, in return, acquire more Microsoft customers.
Outside of my 9-5, I founded a company called Cultivated Culture that aims to help people land jobs they love along with salaries they deserve.
The idea stemmed from the challenges I faced during my transition from graduating with a biology degree and a job in medicine, to working in digital sales at Microsoft. Over the past year I’ve helped people land jobs at Apple, Amazon, Google, Microsoft, Facebook, and more along with $1.5M in combined salary.
What personal and/or career experiences did you have prior to landing your current job and leading to where you are now?
I started my career in medical device sales where my company made the parts used in hip, knee, and shoulder replacement surgeries. I was a “bullpen rep” so it was my job to cover any extra surgical cases across North & South Carolina. That meant a lot of driving (sometimes 1000+ miles per week) and waking up at 3:30am to be at the hospital by 6. I quickly realized it wasn’t for me.
My next two jobs were in account management at startups in New York City. In addition, I started my own digital advertising “agency” on the side to help me build experience.
I was able to leverage all of the above to land interviews and offers at Google, Microsoft, and Twitter. I ended up choosing Microsoft and just crossed the 2.5 year mark there.
What was the most challenging aspect of your first “real world job” and what did you learn from it?
There are two that really stand out. First, coming to the realization that traditional job search advice usually doesn’t work. When I wanted to leave medicine and transition into tech, I applied online to over 100 companies and didn’t hear back from a single one.
Second, dealing with not having enough experience to change industries. When I did get interviews through family or friends, every employer told me I didn’t have enough experience for the job. After starting Cultivated Culture, I’ve learned that this is an incredibly common frustration for people looking to change their career path.
After hitting the century mark for job applications and not hearing back, I knew something had to change. Albert Einstein says the definition of insanity is doing something repeatedly and expecting a different result.
I ended up writing down four criteria for what my dream job looked like. The company, where it was located, the salary I wanted to make, and the age I wanted to “make it” by.
Then I combed through LinkedIn to find people who met those criteria and began reaching out. The conversations taught me two things that totally changed the game:
1. The best jobs with the highest salaries fill 80% of their positions via referral (not online applications)
2. If I wanted to be competitive, I needed to have real world experience I could point. That led me to start the digital advertising agency I mentioned above.
What advice would you give to new Wake Forest graduates about developing their personal life habits after college?
1. Your network truly is your net worth, and you can get in touch with anyone you want (from a hiring manager at Google to Tony Robbins).
Instead of going to dozens of professional meet ups or happy hours, choose one or two people you want to connect with. Research them, sign up for their newsletters, and look for ways to add value. When you reach out, give and don’t expect something in return right away. Over time, that will come.
2. Create like no one is watching. We’ve all had that idea for an app, wanted to learn how to code, or got curious about a new interest. When you have that moment, go out and take action. Sign up for an app development class online, learn photography, or start your apparel business.
That is the best time in your career to experiment and learn what you like/don’t like (both are equally important). Regardless of whether you succeed or fail, the experience you get will be invaluable.
3. Don’t compare yourself to other people. There’s always going to be someone with more money, more followers, a nicer place, etc. Set your own standards for happiness and progress, then judge yourself against your past results, not other people’s.
How have you made personal and professional relationships in your city, company, or community?
I picked a few people that I really admired and focused on building relationships with them. I’d follow them on social media, sign up for a newsletter if they had one, etc. then I’d look for ways to add value.
It could be as simple as sending an article related to a post they made, recommending a book, introducing them to someone, etc. I made sure my name was at the top of their inbox and on their social profiles a few times each month. Then I’d ask them to catch up for coffee or over the phone.
That’s helped me build relationships with everyone from people in upper management at Microsoft to Arianna Huffington.
Have you been mentored by anyone at Wake Forest or in your professional life? If so, what impact has that relationship had on you?
The Wake alumni network was incredibly helpful when I was looking for jobs. I reached out cold to a lot of people asking for guidance and almost every one welcomed it with open arms.
I encourage anyone looking to make a career move – be it undergrads or seasoned professionals – to tap into our alumni network. Wake has done a fantastic job of making that accessible and effective.
What advice would you give to current Wake Forest students and/or young alumni who are about to start their first professional job?
During your first few months, aim to grab coffee with everyone (from entry level folks to upper management) in a one-on-one setting. If they tell you they’re too busy, wait a day, then go out and buy two coffees and bring it to their desk/office. Ask them:
– About their role and their day-to-day
– The one thing they’d love to get from your team that they’re not getting right now
– What they like to do for fun outside of work
That will give you all the info and rapport you need to make a big splash.
What are your future career goals or plans? How are you being intentional about working towards them?
At Microsoft, I’m aiming to take the next step up on my team and continue to grow our partnerships so agencies and small businesses have all the tools they need to succeed.
At Cultivated Culture, my long term goal is to help 100,000 people find jobs they love and get paid what they deserve.
Every morning I write out my 30 day, 1 year, and 5 year goals. Then I follow that up with 3 things I’m doing that day to get me closer.
Story published in February 2018. For current updates about Austin, visit his LinkedIn page.