6 keys to success from Steve Pogorzelski

As president of Monster.com and group president of Monster Worldwide, the 1983 journalism grad helped grow the company from $45 million in sales to $1.4 billion in revenue. Now CEO at Avention OneSource, a SaaS-based big data company located in Massachusetts, Pogorzelski is a generous and committed mentor to L&S students enrolled in the Taking Initiative career course. Here are his words of wisdom for forging a successful path after graduation.

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1. Take pride in your L&S education.

The ability to think analytically, pose meaningful questions, communicate well, solve complex problems and work collaboratively with people different from themselves are all attributes of L&S grads, says Pogorzelski. And they’re in demand in the workplace.

Pogorzelski couldn’t have found such success at Monster.com, a game-changing employment website launched in 1999, without some serious creative and critical thinking skills. “We were literally making up an industry as we went along,” he says.

2. Seek out mentoring opportunities.

As the oldest of five siblings in a blue-collar Milwaukee family, Pogorzelski learned to seek out mentors and is committed to guiding others, whether it’s his two grown children, his employees or UW students. He’s also on the board of director of six companies, a board advisor at three and a member of the UW Board of Visitors for the College of Letters & Science.

“I believe that coaching is a gift and one should give it and receive it in that spirit,” he adds. “I derive tremendous satisfaction from the whole process.”

When he Skypes from his desk with participants in Taking Initiative, an L&S career-prep course designed to help students articulate their skills and identify their talents, he shares his email address and encourages students to reach out to him. A handful always do, asking for help with resumes, networking or job interviews.

3. Treat interviews as competition.

“Applying for a job is a competition,” Pogorzelski says. “That is, there are others like you who also want the job. So, treat the interview like you would as an athletic competition. Practice and prepare to put yourself in peak condition and to beat the competition.”

And don’t forget to clinch the deal. Prepare a closing statement and be ready to tell the interviewer you like what you’ve heard, that you’re a good match and that you want the job. “Nine times out of 10, they don’t say they want the job,” Pogorzelski says of job seekers.

Alumni in Action

Steve Pogorzelski is one of many talented College of Letters & Science alumni who serve as professional mentors to students in the L&S Career Initiative. They visit or Skype into the Taking Initiative course (Inter-LS 210) three times each semester to spark students’ imaginations about their futures, expose students to opportunities that alumni can provide and help them begin professional networks early in their college careers.

For more information on getting involved, please contact executive director Rebekah Paré at rebekah.pare@wisc.edu.

4. Take risks. 

Pogorzelski has lived in California, New York (twice), Chicago and Boston. At Monster, he was responsible for 42 countries and traveled to most of them. He’s moved around and taken plenty of risks. 

He’s not afraid of failure, but regret is much harder to live with, he says. He keeps that in mind when opportunities come his way. 

“My litmus test is, if I don’t do this, will I regret it?” he says. 

Pogorzelski and his wife had just moved to New York for the second time when he was given the chance to work for Monster in Massachusetts. They both agreed it was worth the risk to take the leap. “It led to the opportunity of a lifetime,” he says. 

5. Make time to reflect.

Pogorzelski keeps two daily lists. The first is the standard to-do list, which he reviews in the morning to prepare for the tasks he’ll tackle throughout the day. 

But at night, he turns to his “what I did” list, which allows him to reflect on his day and analyze how he handled situations. Did he approach them in the best way? Could he have done something different? The list provides a chance to grow and not duplicate mistakes. 

“A to-do list is easy,” he says. “This is more about did I do it in the right way?”

6. Keep the right focus.

Focus less on the earnings potential of a major and more about the skills you’re gaining in college and in the workforce, Pogorzelski recommends. Sure, money is important, he says, but it alone will not fuel you through your career. 

“You have to find something you love and something you’re passionate about. Then you’re going to be successful.”

And keep an open mind about where those passions and skills can lead, even if it involves changing course. 

Right now, Pogorzelski is committed to achieving specific goals at Avention. But he’s not mapping out steps for what will come next. He never creates three- or five-year plans, choosing instead to focus on the present and let one success lead to another.  

“How can I be the best I can be in this job?” he asks himself. “Every day I’m learning more, being challenged and challenging myself.”