Finding frustration on both sides of a job interview, this Fairygodboss of the Week founded a start-up to provide solutions for both employers and interview candidates. Claire McTaggart’s journey to find purpose along with career success will inspire you to do the same, no matter what industry you’re in.
Fairygodboss of the Week: Claire McTaggart
CEO and Founder, SquarePeg
New York, NY
FGB: Tell us about your career. How did you get to where you are now?
CM: I've switched careers many times, and have always been excited by the prospect of trying out different industries and roles for fit. Before I started a tech company, I worked in journalism, foreign policy and strategy consulting. I got the idea for SquarePeg as a manager at a consulting firm, when I was on the other side of the table evaluating candidates to hire. The difficulty in finding the right talent from resumes and interviews alone was as frustrating as a hiring manager, as finding the right career had been as a job seeker. Existing solutions didn't seem to address the fundamental problem of matching for fit, so I decided to work on the outlines of a more personalized job matching platform. I put together a small team and we built SquarePeg, which launched this July. We now have thousands of job seekers using our platform to find careers that fit, and a few dozen companies using SquarePeg to hire.
FGB: What is an accomplishment that you are proud of?
CM: I'm truly proud of the team of people working for SquarePeg. We are a lean company with an oversized mission, but each of us sees the value and potential in what we are building, and each brings to the challenge a unique perspective. We have a very diverse team in every sense of the word — including personality types, skills, experience, working styles, you name it — and that has helped us push one another to think about hiring differently. It's an accomplishment to go from an idea to a company with working products and users who love what we do, and I attribute most of that to the team of people behind SquarePeg.
FGB: What is a challenge that you've faced and overcome?
CM: Learning how to focus my effort on the few things that matter most has been a challenge for me, and it's one of the most important lessons to get right as a CEO. It is in my nature to want be involved in every aspect of the business, and I can spend days thinking about how we could improve every detail of our product and operations. But if I did that, we would never get to market.
One of the things I have learned as a founder is that I need to let some things go, especially the bells and whistles that aren't integral to our success. Following an agile development process has helped me maintain focus and not become a bottleneck to our progress. It forces us to be clear with our priorities and goals — and to release products to the public before they are perfect — so we can learn what matters to our users. Allowing team members to have a high degree of autonomy over their work has also been important, as I only get involved in an issue when it makes sense to do so.
FGB: What is the #1 career tip you'd like to share with other women who want to have successful careers like you?
CM: Career success is defined differently for everyone and can translate to many accolades other than title or salary. But any type of success almost always involves trade-offs, and knowing what those are is important to defining the type of career you want. What has worked for me is identifying one to two career goals that matter most in the medium to long-term, and then being honest about what I'd be willing to sacrifice to achieve them.
I switched careers into the corporate world with the goal of getting promoted to manager as fast as I could, and I was willing to forgo any sense of work-life balance to achieve that. Since founding a start-up, my career priority is now the success of this business. This goal requires me to give up my short-term earning potential (or salary) to invest in the company first. This type of thinking is never easy, and neither are the choices. But once you are comfortable with what you are willing to invest to be successful in your own right, the path becomes a bit clearer.
FGB: Why do you love where you work?
CM: It starts with the mission — SquarePeg is building a platform that can change the way people hire and get jobs, and it is exciting to be a part of that. It makes my day when I get emails from early users who believe in our vision and what we are developing. I also love the challenge of it. As an early start-up, we have to experiment and innovate to get ahead; there is a lot of trial and error involved. But unlike established companies, we have much more freedom to make mistakes and try things that don't scale, for the sake of learning.
FGB: Who is YOUR Fairygodboss? Why?
CM: Irene Ryabaya and Diana Murakhovskaya of the Monarq Incubator. They are working to help accelerate female-founded tech companies through concentrated exposure to investors, mentors and other founders.
FGB: What do you do when you’re not working?
CM: I recently picked up golf, so I can alternate start-up stress with golf stress on weekends. I can't tell if it's the frustration of the sport or the one good shot out of 50 that brings me back, but I'm having a lot of fun with it.
FGB: If you could have dinner with one famous person — dead or alive — who would it be?
CM: This is hard. Can I say drinks with Winston Churchill, dinner with Milton Friedman and dessert with Richard Pryor?
FGB: What is your karaoke song?
CM: “Total Eclipse of the Heart,” but I usually save that for last.
FGB: What is your favorite movie?
CM: “Spaceballs.” May the schwartz be with you!
FGB: What book would you take with you on a desert island?
CM: Besides a "The Dummies Guide: How to Survive on a Desert Island," I think it would finally be a good time to get through Adam Smith's “Wealth of Nations.”
FGB: What is your shopping vice?
CM: I don't enjoy shopping, so not many vices there unless you include trips to Costco, where I'll buy a years' supply of everything in one go.
What would you buy if you won the lottery?
CM: If I won the lottery, I'd buy an apartment bigger than the closet I have now in New York, fund SquarePeg's Series A round and then invest the rest. That's probably too boring, so I might add a hot-sauce-of-the-month club to the list to spice things up.
Fairygodboss is all about women helping other women - so each week, we celebrate a woman who made a difference in another woman’s career. Is there a woman who has made a difference in your career? Celebrate her and thank her by nominating her here.