Sierra Nevada Powerful Woman: Working with the next generation of professionals to succeed
RENO, Nev. — Living in a small town doesn’t necessarily mean being restricted to more limited career options, and Colleen Worlton, an expert content development manager at Intuit in Reno, says she stresses that every chance she gets with the younger audiences she coaches.
Worlton said that continuing to serve as a mentor to 20- to 30-year-olds who are working to establish themselves in their career path has its advantages — both for them and for her.
“Give me a group of millennials to coach, and I’m happy they’re not afraid to try things … especially in our company with leading-edge technology,” she told Sierra Nevada Powerful Woman. “We don’t have all the answers. And we’re competing at a very fast pace, and if you can’t come ready to learn, you won’t survive … but they’re willing to try.”
Worlton was born and raised in Yerington into a family that couldn’t afford to engage its kids with many social activities such as the Girl Scouts of the Sierra Nevada, which Worlton now actively participates in as a mentor and board member.
She’d spent time in Seattle and lived in the Bay Area, but after her husband became employed with IGT, her family made a move to Reno, where they’ve since raised three children.
READ MORE IN SIERRA NEVADA POWERFUL WOMAN: This story is adapted from the 2019 edition of Sierra Nevada Powerful Woman, a specialty magazine produced by the Northern Nevada Business View. The newest magazine, the second annual, was inserted in the May 27 monthly edition of the NNBV. Or, you can go here to read the digital version.
Worlton studied public relations and has spent 14 years with Intuit, where she’s been part of the company’s marketing team. She’s led various projects and developed content for small businesses, but also wanted to give back to the community through outreach.
“I grew up in Yerington; we were very poor, and I couldn’t afford Girl Scouts as a kid, so I have a lot of passion especially for outreach,” she said. “Last summer, I was down there, and it’s amazing. … The Girl Scouts try more STEM-based activities and they let them know they’re cared for.”
She said she joined the Girl Scouts board to spend time with younger girls age 6 through 18 — but she said she especially likes mentoring young adults.
“I actually love working with millennials, and what I love is they’re very bold and fearless. They know what they want, they know the terms and conditions they want it on,” she said, acknowledging that some people do hold a perception that millenials have a reputation for being lazy. “But in my experience, they’re super clear on what they want, and they’re not afraid to ask for it or advocate for it, and I’m always delighted by how often they get it.
“I wish how often I’d had that same boldness early in my career.”
When coaching and mentoring teens and young adults, Worlton said she’ll assist with tips on getting ready for the basics, such as preparing for an interview down to how to dress.
“I also talk about using inquiry to really understand the other person’s personality and to guide them on how to understand yours a little better, and how to advocate a little better, but we need to balance that,” she said.
She recalled recently helping someone decide which job opportunity to accept between two she was being offered.
“Our conversation was fun because she said, ‘I know you’re not going to tell me the answer,’ and when you help someone to think that way, they know they need to own their decision and ask questions or poke at angles they didn’t consider,” she said. “I’m not here to make their decisions.”
Worlton said working for a Fortune 100 company like Intuit has helped her to apply what she’s learned and put it to good use to help others.
“(With any job) this is what you do day in and day out, it should make you proud,” she said. “… The fact that you’re spending so much in this, it has to make your heart feel faster … I would encourage anyone who’s searching to keep those things in mind because it matters a lot.”
NARROWING THE SCOPE
Celeste Johnson first found her niche with human resources years ago while working a summer job at the Riverboat Hotel Casino in Reno. She had just turned 21, and at the time, she didn’t understand what HR really meant.
But as she gradually took on other jobs and tried brief stints with Employers Insurance and sought to finish a degree at the University of Nevada, Reno, she needed options to support herself as a single mother.
She finally connected with Jim Annis, who owned Applied Staffing and was starting up his Professional Employer Organization (PEO) division handling HR for other companies. He was looking for another staff member, and he hired Johnson.
“Jim really was a mentor to me all these years, so open to anything I wanted to do,” she said.
She stayed with Applied for 15 years and saw many changes within and outside of the company. She finally bought the company from Annis last year, taking over as chief executive officer.
The process took about a year and a half, but now, she says, she’s given the rebranded The Applied Companies a refined focus. So far, it’s paying off.
“We’ve narrowed the scope and … it’s easy to overpromise and I don’t want to do that,” she said. “The somewhat counterintuitive response is, ‘Here are more defined services; now I know what I’m paying for…’ and it’s better for the employees.”
Whereas Applied once would seek to provide a broader range of human resource and employment services, now the staff focuses on branding, staffing and executive recruiting, and Johnson said much of the career advice she offers to millennials also applies to anyone in transition.
Keeping one’s own health first is crucial, she said.
“It’s really about working on yourself,” she said, sharing how she takes time every day to exercise, listen to podcasts and remain in constant pursuit of new knowledge to improve herself. “I very openly try to show people I am continuing to learn. In all of our staff meetings, I’ll tell our team, ‘I just learned this new thing I want to share with you.’”
Improving mental health and morale is especially important, and she also strives to ensure others can count on her, something else she seeks to model for her employees and millennials who might be trying to figure out their next steps.
IT’S OK TO BE AFRAID TO FAIL
In recent years, Johnson said she has noticed more “entrepreneurial spirit” from Northern Nevadans in the local job market, which has been encouraging, with more women forming their own startups.
And it’s not all millennials, either. Johnson said she recently encountered at least one woman in her ‘50s who started a venture, and she said she encourages her kids at home to consider their options in the workforce.
Putting down one’s vision and goals on paper makes it concrete that something is achievable, Johnson said. She uses her own list on a regular basis.
“I’ll be damned if I keep checking stuff off of it,” she said.
For more experienced professionals training those coming in, though, she said it’s important to maintain the right attitude as much as possible.
“I don’t have the luxury to come into work in a bad mood,” she said. “You’ve got to be a good role model … and you’ve got to have a couple of bad jobs to appreciate the good ones.”
Women should remember it can be about presentation, especially in body language, and simple things like posture make difference.
“There still are situations when there’s only going to be one or two women at the table, and it’s a gender shift in the room,” she said. “ I think it’s important that you project confidence. … It’s certainly about modeling and encouraging. When I talk to someone, I do tell them they do a good job — it lights them up. It’s so important.”
Offering mock interviews or mock sales meetings also helps those who are inexperienced or less comfortable.
Finally, it’s also important to make and accept failure, Johnson said, whether in career or in life.
“Be OK with being afraid to fail … Be OK with being uncomfortable,” Johnson said. “As I look at my kids who are Gen Z and haven’t been in the workplace, they haven’t had a very uncomfortable life, and there’s going to be some lessons for them to learn.
“That’s how you grow. So you may not like speaking in public or working on a spreadsheet, but it’s OK to be uncomfortable.”
‘Get good at getting good at things’
GETTING OUT OF YOUR OWN WAY
Dr. Erin Oksol of Reno recently wrote, “Mind Your Own Business: 21 Days to Train Your Brain for Unstoppable Success,” her first solo book.
Oksol, in private practice as a psychologist for 15 years, said it was her passion to help others but finally felt she wanted to enter the realm of public speaking to inspire audiences and learn how to be a coach.
“What gets in our way is ourselves … and it turns out I am someone who’s good at getting good at things,” she said. “I just found out I’m resourceful.”
She channeled her strengths into her book to help women in the corporate world as well as solo entrepreneurs to become high performers, and she offers advice that targets this audience and prevents them from burning out.
“One of the biggest things I’ve noticed … women are naturally wired to help each other,” Oksol said. “But where we struggle is receiving the help. Women need to learn how to successfully leverage their relationships. Your level of success will be correlated with your ability to receive.
“And to be a high performer, you’re going to need dozens of people who will champion for you.”
Women are especially equipped to experience success as high performers, she said, because they are natural at connecting with others and demonstrating courage.
“(Being a high performer) means you’re in the top 3 percent of your profession, and at the same time you have wellbeing and you have awesome relationships and you’re not compromising things that matter like your health,” she said.
Oksol has been married to her husband, Garth, for 19 years, with three kids — Grace, 16, Emily, 13, and Zachary, 7. She said one of her highlights has been having all of them supportive of her as she’s spent her career helping others.
She recalled daughter Emily at one point, while the family was on a rare vacation, asking her how to develop and grow a business of her own, after she witnessed her mother become so successful.
“I’m just crying, it was so good,” Oksol said. “Having my family on board in this process and building this thing, it’s worth it and the hard work is worth it.”
Oksol said helping women learn who they are and helping them become high performers has been an important part of her coaching.
“I’m like the Fast Pass at Disneyland — but for your businesses building profits,” she said. “I think I genuinely love people … I try to add value wherever I go and I try to share goodness wherever I go.
“Magical things happen when you add value. … You need to add value and teach and inspire and instruct and educate.”
Oksol encourages those she speaks with to make sure they’re pursuing their dreams and purpose to keep them on track and not to let uncomfortable activities deter them.
“Get good at getting good at things,” she said. “You’re going to have do a lot of things you don’t want to do.”
Jessica Garcia is a reporter for the Nevada Appeal newspaper in Carson City.
The $625,000 deal included a low-interest SBA 504 loan facilitated by Nevada State Development Corp., the state’s largest SBA 504 loan provider. City National Bank partnered in the financing package.