Dawn Ohaver-Moyer, Author + Entrepreneur

Interviewed by Emily

Years ago, I slouched in a Miami conference room listening to guest speaker after guest speaker discuss ways on how to better our sorority chapters. Several yawns later, Dawn Ohaver-Moyer approached the stage and single handedly rehabilitated the atmosphere. We read about Dawn, the Senior Director of Marketing at GlaxoSmithKline, earlier in our pamphlets as we dreadfully waited for the long day to begin.

Instead of going on and on about herself, Dawn immediately opened the floor up to the hundreds of future female leaders for dialog. Intrigued, I stood up and took the third position behind the microphone and listened to the women in front of me ask for her best advice. Feedback included: Never take no for an answer. Believe in yourself. Work hard.

Now it was my turn. For some reason I trusted this women. I knew there was something deeper to her approach. I opened my mouth and word vomit flew out as I complained about working two jobs, completing multiple unpaid internships and on top of it all, I was in Miami to learn how to lead a sorority that upcoming year. I didn’t have even have an actual question for her.  A smile lit up her face and she stood up from her seat and started a round of applause.

What did I do to deserve this? According to Dawn, it was my honest struggle that awarded me these cheers. All of a sudden, girl after girl stood up and let it all hang out! As weights were lifted off our shoulders, we were reminded that we were not alone in our own heads, constantly wondering if all of our hard work was worth it. But as we stared at Dawn, we realized that she was the prime example that it would all pay off. She wasn’t there to tell us how to walk our paths, but she was there to validate that every journey takes its toll and that it was actually a step in the right direction.

Since then, Dawn was inspired to become a career coach and write an amazing book, Keys to Marketing You to Get the Job and is the co-founder of Potential Essential.

Since Dawn never gave us her elevator speech that day, I reached out to her to provide some light hearted insight.

Where did you grow up? Did your surroundings influence your path in life? If so, how?

I grew up in Hobbs, New Mexico.  It is a small town who’s economy is very heavily dependent the price of oil. The economic health of Hobbs varies widely, and not in the way you might think. When gas prices hit rock bottom, like it has recently, the town in essence ‘goes out of business’ because there’s no demand for oil or gas.   Seeing how national and international events so heavy impacted the financial well being of my small town and its people impacted me in two ways. First, it drove me to always think in broad reaching strategic terms as a businesswoman- I’m always thinking of the bigger picture.  In addition, I recognized that I wanted to understand more about the world and have a more diverse experience.  This is one of the reasons that I went to school in Philadelphia.

You wrote an amazing book. When did you realize you wanted to help others further themselves in their careers?

I realized early in my career that being successful for me, meant ensuring those around me were also successful….whether it was a team member, an employee or a customer.  For me leadership is not just what you do, but how you do it and the fingerprint you leave on the project and/or the people involved. My business partner says I practically beam when I see someone we’ve worked with reach or exceed their potential. This feeling or reaction I have become even more amplified for me when I started mentoring less experienced business people and college students.  I realized could assist them with their goals by using my marketing, business, and personal experiences.   

Did this experience further your own career?

After working with and observing college students through mentoring programs, it was clear there was an opportunity to develop an approach to assist them with differentiating themselves in a crowded job market.   My co-founder (Jenny Casagrande) and I developed a way to communicate how marketing principles can be applied to personal branding to demonstrate their strengths and experiences to prospective employers.  Our goal is to translating marketing principles into practical winning formulas that help individuals and businesses reach their goals.  Ours clients now include small business owners, women’s leadership associations, non-profit organizations focused on career development and colleges / universities.

Did it further my career? From my perspective, absolutely. I went from a senior leadership position in a huge organization, to being the CEO of my own company. Both roles gave me the opportunity to help people, but with Potential Essential, I get to see people benefit from what we offer every day, first hand. I get to see and hear individuals practically ‘light up’ as they build confidence in their skills and abilities. I’m able to help small and medium businesses meet the needs of their customers better and more efficiently. It’s tremendously satisfying and fulfilling.

What do you think is the biggest struggle women go through in their careers and in life? What is your advice on how to overcome this?

I think the biggest struggle is twofold: achieving the work life balance myth, and not being true to ourselves.  I call work life balance a myth because there will be times when you have to put more energy into your work than you can other areas. However, there is a flip side to this. There will be times when you need to put more energy into other areas of your life and your trajectory or progress in your career shouldn’t suffer.  Trying to ensure a balance each day is impossible, but having the self-awareness to recognize when you need to shift and adapt is key to feeling fulfilled in both areas.   

I often see women fall into the trap of not being true to themselves. I certainly have. What I mean by that is letting others determine your style, or career path, and even your dress.  Society often sets out cookie cutter expectations that don’t fit everyone, and women, especially fall victim to those expectations. When we try to fit a mold vs developing our own style and career path it can really sabotage our success. What makes us unique is our strengths and differences, and that’s not always obvious when you have your head down and are working hard to succeed.

What was the best advice you have ever given to a client and the best advice you have ever received?

Having great skills and experiences isn’t good enough these days to stand out in a job search or to develop your career.  You need to develop a personal brand that will differentiate you from the other candidates by representing who you are or what you can deliver so the employer knows how your strengths, skills and experiences can help them. Everyone we’ve met has some experience that’s really worth translating into language employers and managers need to hear to acknowledge it.

The best career advice I received was: when you are comfortable in your job you have stopped growing, so continue to seek out new opportunities or projects.

How to do feel about women’s dress in the workplace? Is it important to maintain the professional look, with heels or do you feel like being comfortable is more acceptable these days?

Great question!  I think it’s important for women to dress professionally and also with their own style.  For example, heels may not be your thing. Personally I love them and have several I call my power pumps. Either perspective is just fine. What is more important is that each of us is confident in our style, and yet fit into the culture of the company you want to be working at. I think overall standards have relaxed and broadened a bit in the corporate world and that great- more room for a range of personal expression  Where I have seen this fall apart is when women wear clothing or accessories that are too distracting or casual for the industry they are in and their appearance becomes a complete distraction from their abilities. To me that’s self-sabotage.

One rule of thumb that we often give is: If you feel comfortable wearing what you are wearing to the interview or important work meeting out with your friends for drinks at a club at the end of the day, this is probably not professional attire. If you feel like you need to run home and change in order to go to a club with your friends, this is professional attire.

Would you like to leave us off with a fun fact about yourself?

I am a distant relative to Nancy Ward a Beloved Woman of the Cherokee, which means that she was allowed to sit in councils, vote and to make decisions, along with the tribal chiefs in the 18th century.  Legend has it Nancy fought beside her first husband (Kingfisher) on the battlefield. She supposedly chewed his bullets so that the resulting rough edges would create more damage.  When he was killed, she picked up his rifle and continued the fight, leading her people to victory.   When she was too old to travel to council meetings, she sent her cane to represent her views and vote. I like to think this is where I got my drive and passion from.