We catch today’s Contessa in the midst of a career transition. After spending two years with the Douglas Cherokee Economic Authority, KC Curberson-Alvarado has just accepted a new role as Career Success Coordinator with the Hamblen County Board of Education. Both these roles involve connecting youth with career opportunities—so, suffice to say, she’s got some great advice to share.
Of course, one doesn’t become a career guru without some hiccups along the way. Fresh out of university, KC took her first job in sales with a sound booth manufacturing company, a position that wasn’t exactly aligned with her current direction. Although this wasn’t her ultimate career goal, she made the most of the opportunity, picking up some invaluable marketing knowledge during her tenure. In her current role, she’s selling people—not sound booths—but finds that many of the necessary skills are one and the same. The lesson? Stay humble, and approach every job as a learning opportunity.
Today, KC is moving towards her ultimate goal: to direct a program that helps teens crystallize their career and education goals. And she’s getting close—her new role involves working with students to find their “giggle job,” a career that they love so much, they just can’t help but giggle. Read on to learn how KC found her own giggle job and pick up some tips on how to find yours!
HER STARTING POINT
QWhat was your first job post-college?
AIt was with a company called WhisperRoom, Inc. They created, designed, manufactured, and sold portable, modular sound booths. I started working there as a part-time receptionist while finishing school. When I graduated, they offered me a sales position. I was really hesitant. I like sales, but I hate working on commission, and their product was very technical. Over the next three months, I studied manuals and learned everything I could from where the wood was manufactured to what the bolts were coated in to measurements—even what the booths smell like when they first arrive (if you’re curious, it’s similar to the smell of a children’s plastic pool).
QHow has your college degree prepared you?
AI connect businesses and industries together to develop educational tools and pathways to prepare our youth for the workforce. My products are youths—how can I help them promote themselves better in the workforce? How can I connect with them to give them vital information? [I’m currently taking] college courses in marketing, which teach me to focus on my demographic, find out what they like, and how they perceive things, then put it into their language.
QWhat about working for a nonprofit sparked your interest?
AI wanted something more purposeful. I knew selling and marketing sound booths allowed others to obtain certain dreams, but it wasn’t as fulfilling as I wanted.
I am a product of the nonprofit I now work for. At age 3, I learned to read at Head Start, and later at 15 I was a part of their Workforce Investment Act program, which allowed me to gain experience in a courthouse. These opportunities prepared me for life. I wanted to be a part of an organization that was doing something that powerful.
QWhat internships or other experience did you gain during college? How do you think this help you?
AI wasn’t able to take on any internships beyond the work experience program I participated in at Douglas Cherokee when I was 15. I do feel that if I’d had the opportunity [to complete one], I would have had a better grasp on what I wanted to do. However, I like the path I took—it made me a better, humbler person. I am grateful for every experience I have and every job I get because I know what it feels like to go without.
My experience in sales taught me the most about my current position. [It’s just that] my product is now people. I coach people to promote themselves and manage their brand. I also help people sell their companies to potential employees as a great place to work.
The key to this job and every job is to truly listen to and hear what someone is saying. Sometimes it’s nonverbal. But if you pay attention to the visual cues and body language, you can help someone find their niche, which will lead them to their destiny. That is marketing and the ultimate sale.
HER BIG BREAK
QYour current role is with the Douglas Cherokee Economic Authority, for the Hamblen County Workforce Development & Education Partnership. Tell us about the organization and what it does.
ADouglas Cherokee Economic Authority (DCEA) is a nonprofit agency that helps people become socially and economically stable. The programs vary from rental and utility assistance, to parent mentoring and financial aid preparation, to workforce development and senior nutrition. The program I direct is a county & city mayor’s initiative to help with [youth] workforce development. I connect industry with education and help to create programs that develop the workforce.
We support community workforce efforts such as career fairs and school events. One of our most effective activities is our teacher externship program, which takes teachers out of the classroom and places them in a manufacturing environment to give them a first person experience. It gives them a great understanding of how their academic subjects correlate with work in the plants and what skills today’s workforce needs.
QNonprofit work, while fulfilling, can also be challenging. What are some specific hurdles you’ve encountered?
AIt’s what you make it. The work is daunting but fulfilling—it is all in what you put into it. You have to pat yourself on the back from time to time. Another challenge is successfuly communicating and sharing your vision with everyone. It takes a lot of mini meetings, lunches, networking, connecting, and supporting activities to make everyone come together.
QIf we had the chance to peek at your schedule, what would an average day look like?
AI wake up at 4:35 a.m., pray, drink my green tea, and head out for a Tabata workout at my local gym. I’m back home at 6:00 a.m. when I shower, clean, plan out dinner, and read my bible or a devotional. I wake my five-year-old son up at 6:45 a.m. (and try to amp him up, we’re not the best morning people!). I drop him off at school at 7:35 a.m., then arrive at work around 7:50 a.m. Once I get to my desk, I turn on NPR’s Morning Edition then start making my to-do list. I make a list for home and work. I make myself some oatmeal, then begin to “eat the frog,” meaning I tackle the worst thing on my list.
After that, I usually have several meetings. I sit on several boards and councils that meet monthly. The meetings can range from talks on diversity to helping human resources with safety measures. I’ll then grab lunch with a coworker or friend before heading back to my office to catch up on emails, post on our Facebook page, and coordinate our next program or event.
I end my work day around 5 p.m., but I still answer urgent emails after hours. I go home and cook, then either head to soccer practice for my son, workout, or have movie night with my family. We also love going to a local park. My husband puts our son to bed at 9 p.m. after his bath and we usually watch some UFC or a movie together or I work on homework. Lights out at 11 p.m., but most of the time I’m down by 10:30 p.m.
QWhat do you want to accomplish in your current role?
AMy ultimate goal is to direct a program that will allow me to interact with teenagers on a daily basis and help them to develop their own goals. I am working on my MBA, which will allow me to teach and take on other leadership roles.
QWhat would you say has been the most rewarding experience of your career thus far? What about mistakes or career hurdles?
AFinding a solution for someone who does not see a way. Being able to guide a student to college who didn’t think they had a chance or helping them find their first job is an amazing feeling.
In the past, I wasn’t assertive or aggressive enough about what I wanted because I didn’t want to be seen as mean (or the other word society uses for aggressive women). Now I know that it’s how you go about it. If you are polite but strong and clear you can get a lot done—but be ready for the same to be asked of you. This give and take doesn’t mean you lose authority [but that] you gain it as people will see you as accountable and definitive.
QWho are some mentors that have helped you grow?
AMy mother who always worked to make sure we had more than enough, even if it required her to work two jobs.
Gladys Clay- she was a professor at a local college and a family friend. She helped me see African American women in leadership roles. She did it so well that everything suddenly felt attainable to me.
My Director, Susan Luker. She’s been in government and nonprofit work for many years and has lived to tell the tale. She is positive and straightforward. She guides me without overshadowing me. When I make a mistake, we go over it to see what can be changed the next time. She accepts my opinions and ideas and takes them into consideration, which is uplifting to me in my work because I have input. I thoroughly enjoy working with and for her and will always be indebted to her for her mentorship.
QBesides work, what are some of your passions and hobbies?
AMy passion is helping others whether it’s giving them resources, being a voice for them, lending an ear, or even praying for them. God is in all I do, and I hope my interactions lead others to Him. I spend my time serving in several ways. First, as the Vice Chair of a Hispanic leadership organization called HOLA Lakeway that helps integrate Hispanics into our community; second, as the board member of our local homeless shelter, MATS; and third, as a Worship/Praise Singer and Church leader at my church.
I maintain work-life balance by limiting calls and emails after 5 p.m. and on weekends. I don’t keep my phone near my bed. I make sure when I am with my family, I am present. This means I don’t have games on my phone. I also must make time to pray and work out or anxiety and fatigue kicks in, which slows down my momentum.
Finally, I remember I will fail in something every day whether it’s being a mother, worker, friend, etc., but I will not fail in that same area every day. I am not Superwoman, nor do I strive to be.
I live by this mission statement: “I will always do what is best, right, good, and profitable. I will invest my time in what’s truly enduring, and may the way that I conduct myself exemplify Christ and may my interactions bring me closer to Jesus.” If what I am asked to do doesn’t line up with this statement, then I am not doing it. You won’t find me at the clubs or bars, but you may find me in front of a basket of wings enjoying a UFC fight with my phone on vibrate.
QAnd finally, what do you wake up looking forward to? What’s next for your career?
AI wake up looking forward to the smile on my son’s face, hearing my husband’s laugh, and getting ready to conquer the day. I love a challenge—don’t ever tell me it can’t be done.
My next career step is right around the corner. I’ve accepted a new position as the Career Success Coordinator at our local school system. This is leading me to the next step of getting one-on-one time with students at the beginning of their careers, which is my ultimate goal. I want to help as many people as I can find their passion. I have a friend, Richard Beaty, who says everyone deserves a “giggle job.” [The idea] is that on Monday you giggle on your way to work because you are so excited about getting there. I want to help everyone find their “giggle job.”