Engineer Melissa Dobbins was frustrated by the bias she encountered in interviews. So, she decided to put her problem-solving skills to work and tackle interview inequality. Now the CEO of career.place — a company that provides anonymous interviews aimed at cutting down on unconscious bias — this working mom spends everyday trying to improve the work experience for women and for her own team.
We asked Dobbins what she loves about running her own company, how career.place is making an impact and how she balances life and work. Then, she shared her best career advice.
Fairygodboss of the Week: Melissa Dobbins
Tell us a little about your career. How did you get to where you are now?
My career is a wonderful example of how you should always jump at every opportunity. I went to school to be an electrical engineer with a focus on semiconductor physics. However, even with the best laid plans… I spent exactly zero hours as a bench engineer.
I graduated during a recession where the best job opportunities were with the government. So, I took a job as an analyst at a three letter agency. I walked through the door on my first day on the job and I was told: "Congratulations! You are our new nanotechnology expert." My response? “Fantastic! What is nanotechnology?”
Over the years, through a series of similar experiences, I moved from nanotechnology expert to solar technology expert to data management expert to product strategist. Recently, after the company I was with successfully exited, I was looking for my next adventure. The interview process was incredibly frustrating, as I was being asked questions that would only be asked of a woman like “can you fire people? Because that is hard” or “how do you manage work life balance on a day to day?” I was not being asked questions that evaluate my ability to do the job.
The engineer in me screamed. Well… all of me screamed. But the engineer screamed the most. And I was overcome with the desire to FIX IT. So, I formed career.place.
What is an accomplishment that you are proud of?
Just one? I have two kids, a wonderful husband and a successful company staffed with great people.
What is a challenge that you've faced and overcome?
The answer to this is based on a loose definition of “overcome,” as it is a challenge that will always be in my life. I am dyslexic. My head of marketing (who is editing as I type) believes my dyslexia is more impactful than I do, but this is how I overcome it. All my writing is reviewed. And I mean all of it — every text, every post, every twitter blurb. While this is a challenge, it is not an inhibitor.
Who is YOUR Fairygodboss? and Why?
I don’t have one. I have never worked for a woman. This is one of the reasons why it is so important to do what we do at career.place.
What do you do when you're not working?
Wait, we can stop working? Just kidding. When I am not working, I love spending time with my family, working on my fantasy novel (yup, a dyslexic writing a novel), and watching and intricately critiquing Star Wars, Marvel, and more recently children’s movies (with my kids, I swear).
If you could have dinner with one famous person - dead or alive - who would it be?
Another just one… It is a tossup between Isaac Asimov for showing what is possible, Richard Feynman for proving what is possible, and George Lucas for making the impossible possible for us all.
Lightning Round: What is your karaoke song?
"Try Everything" from Zootopia. It's surprisingly start-up relevant while being kid-friendly.
Lightning Round: What is your favorite movie?
"Star Wars: A New Hope."
Lightning Round: What book would you bring with you on a desert island?
"Rendezvous with Rama" by Arthur C. Clarke.
Lightning Round: What is your shopping vice? What would you buy if you won the lottery?
My shopping vice: Books and anything Star Wars or Marvel. If I won the lottery, I would buy every employee who helped make career.place what it is something BIG!
What is the #1 career tip you'd like to share with other women who want to have successful careers like you?
Be confident and do not compromise your abilities, your values or yourself.
Why do you love where you work?
This is my company and I am my own boss. Yes, there is stress and pressure because everything I do impacts career.place and the people who believe in me to lead this company to success. However, I am passionate about what we do — ending bias in hiring — and it drives me every day to push harder. If I didn’t love where I work, would that not be my fault?